Salt of the Earth
Packing for tour and remembering Charlie Watts
God bless Charlie Watts.
Hearing Charlie Watts play made us feel like we'd all live forever.
It takes all kinds and I’ve shared the Econoline bench with most of them by now. One thing I’ve noticed over time is that I like traveling with people who take an interest in their surroundings. Architecture. Food. Cornfields... whatever. Charlie Watts never left home without a sketchbook. He drew a sketch of every bed he ever slept in.
And then there’s the playing. Unimpeachable. I played a Stones tribute show a few years back with an ace backing band. I mean, great players to a man. Solid. I did my two numbers and then watched the gig from out front. And after a dozen songs or so, hearing one Stones classic after another, I could only think, “Whoa, playing those songs is hard, man.” There’s so much to that recipe, so much personality. And yet, to hear Charlie say it in his typically understated cool, he considered himself nothing more than the timekeeper.
Charlie and the Stones. They invented a kind of language. Just cue up Honky Tonk Women with Keith’s banjo guitar lick intro and Charlie’s fill that comes in. Ooh yeah! It's thrilling. Every time.
I read somewhere that Mick said, "In the 60's we were young, good looking and dumb. Nowadays we're just dumb."
I shared that quote with my friend Blake and he said, “You lost me, Prophet. Charlie was never young, never a pretty boy, never dumb, but ALWAYS fly. Black/charcoal tee/gay Caesar haircut on the gig; bespoke head to toe off the gig.”
Blake’s got a point.
Check out this video for It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (but I Like It):
I can almost hear Mick being all, “It’s going to be cool, we’re all going to wear sailor suits. And the room will fill up with bubbles. And then we will be up to our necks in bubbles.“
Of course, they’d all be standing except Charlie, seated on a stool (or a throne, rather). By the time the bubbles get up to their necks, Charlie has been completely submerged. Like a horror movie. But what does he do? He just rolls his eyes and flashes that sly grin of his. Because he’s Charlie Watts.
I know I’m late to the party here, but I still can’t believe he’s gone. Hearing Charlie Watts play made us feel like we'd all live forever. Of course I love that the Rolling Stones with Steve Jordan behind the kit are out there making it happen. In stadiums, no less. And by all accounts playing great too. But at the risk of being a killjoy, it’s fair to say Charlie did leave a monster-sized superhero hole that can’t be filled. His touch. His relaxed feel. His whole posture. His style.
He was suave. He had dignity. Oodles of it. Enough to carry the rest of the band if need be. Who, to be fair, as James DePrato says, “are starting to look more like the cast of The Real Housewives of Miami every day.”
Then again, Real Housewives or not, we should all be so lucky.
And you can’t help but love that Charlie's heart was in the jazz and the Big Band music of his youth. Charlie Parker and the rest. It went hand in hand with his lifelong obsession with Savile Row tailoring. The man could wear a suit. I couldn’t find the quote anywhere but I seem to remember when asked if he lifted weights, Charlie said, “No, never. Muscles don’t look good in a suit. I stretch and do sit-ups.”
Then there’s his attitude toward touring. When asked why he kept doing it, he said he felt sorry for Mick and Keith. “What would they do?” Charlie didn’t seem to need any of it. The money. The adulation. But somewhere along the line he realized that as long as he was playing he managed to stay in good health. It was the stopping where the inertia sets in. (Note to self.) That’s when he got sick. And he’d had a couple scrapes with cancer.
Oh one more thing: “I’ve got nasty habits. I drink tea at three.” Lines all come from somewhere. I’m pretty sure this is where that one came from:
Charlie was said to have an anvil road case that could be rolled out into the studio exactly at exact tea time, where the doors open and a fine China tea set is rolled out. Complete with those dainty china cups, a sugar bowl and the rest. I can see the man now, napkin on his lap, stirring gently. I picture them in the studio listening to a playback. Keith is lighting a Marlboro and Charlie dunks a biscuit into his tea. That’ll put the bustle in your hedgerow.
Where did all this come from? It’s coming to you live from my so-called “office” down here at 7th and Market where I’m trying to get my act together (a life’s work!) and pack some merch and picks and cables and strings (the list goes on and on and on) for a solo tour. And I just heard Salt of the Earth. So good. Dig the fills on the outro fade.
God bless Charlie Watts. God blessed us with him.
And come see me if you can. I’m on tour now.