The late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts didn’t have any aspirations of playing in a rock and roll band when he was a child. From an early age, Watts was obsessed with jazz, and the first record he fell in love with was responsible for sparking a life-long love affair with the genre.
While he had no interest in rock music, the Rolling Stones offered something different. His bandmates were like his brothers, and even though Watts had no interest in similar acts, he adored every facet of being a Rolling Stone. “I don’t really love rock and roll. I love jazz. But I love playing rock ‘n’ roll with the Stones,” Watts once famously quipped.
When discussing his favourite drummers, Watts consistently selected figures from the jazz world as his inspirations rather than those from the realm of rock. Although he was an incredibly calm person, Watts was always animated when talking about his love of Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach.
However, it was the saxophonist Earl Bostic who acted as his introduction to jazz. After listening to his music, Watts began to expand his exploration into the genre, and it soon became an obsession for him.
“The first record that was mine that I fell in love with was a thing called ‘Flamingo’ by a saxophone player called Earl Bostic,” he once recalled to BBC 6 Music. He continued: “I was into jazz straight away. That was my uncle’s. Then, soon after that, I bought a record called Walkin’ Shoes by Gerry Mulligan.”
Elaborating on his first love, Watts said: “Earl Bostic was a sort of R&B jazz player, and Gerry Mulligan was out and out jazz. I don’t know why, but I was into jazz straight away. Soon after that, I heard Charlie Parker, and I loved it, and I still do.”
Watts concluded: “I still listen to the same records that I played back then. They have the same emotions for me. I love hearing Gerry Mulligan’s band of ’54.”
While Watts was required to restrain his jazz tendencies when he played with The Rolling Stones, it still crept into his playing style and it proved to be a critical component of the band. “Charlie Watts gives me the freedom to fly on stage,” Keith Richards once remarked of his former partner in crime, which perfectly epitomises his talent. Although Watts’ playing stale wasn’t dominating, it unselfishly provided the foundation which allowed the rest of the band to shine.