(CNN) — Charlie Watts, the unassuming son of a truck driver who gained global fame as the drummer for the Rolling Stones, has died. He was 80.
”It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts. He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family,” his spokesperson said Tuesday in an emailed statement to CNN.
“Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather and also as a member of The Rolling Stones one of the greatest drummers of his generation. We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members and close friends is respected at this difficult time.”
The band had announced earlier this month that Watts would miss the band’s upcoming North American leg of its “No Filter” tour after undergoing a medical procedure for an unknown condition.
Watts became part of the Stones’ longtime foursome alongside singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards and bassist Ronnie Wood, anchoring the band’s blues-rock sound from his drum kit for more than 50 years.
His first love was jazz
Always a reluctant rock and roll star — his true love was jazz — Watts was born in 1941, when Hitler’s bombs were still falling over London. He grew up in the west London suburb of Wembley.
From a young age, Watts was passionate about drumming. He would “rap out tunes on the table with pieces of wood or a knife and fork” before his parents bought him a drum kit when he was 14, his mother said. He went on to study graphic design at the Harrow School of Art.
His first job was in advertising and, in his spare time, Watts wrote and published a children’s book about jazz legend Charlie Parker called “Ode to a High Flying Bird.” The preface read: “This story was compiled by one Charlie to a late and great Charlie.”
At the same time, Watts played in a band with Alexis Korner, the founding father of the British blues scene, in Ealing, west London, where the late Stones member Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton were also guest musicians.
In 1962, Jones formed the Rolling Stones with singer Jagger, pianist Ian Stewart and guitarists Keith Richards and Dick Taylor. Watts turned down the group’s first offer for him to join, finally conceding and playing his first gig with them in January 1963.
In 1964, the Stones reached No. 1 on the British pop charts with their cover of Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now.”
The Jagger-Richards songwriting team created its first bona fide classic, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” in 1965. The band enjoyed a string of hit singles well into 1966, including “Paint It Black,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Get off My Cloud,” “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby,” and “Lady Jane.”
The group maintained enormous popularity for decades with classic albums like “Aftermath” (1966), “Sticky Fingers” (1971), “Some Girls” (1978) and “Tattoo You” (1981), and with massive stadium tours that took them all over the world.
He and his wife lived in rural southwest England
In the 1980s Watts finally found time to pursue his passion for jazz and formed a 32-piece band called the Charlie Watts Orchestra. Their first gig was in the legendary London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s, where Watts was a frequent, if undercover, visitor.
In the early 1990s, Watts released several albums with another group, the Charlie Watts Quintet, including a tribute to Charlie Parker.
He married Shirley Ann Shepherd in 1964, and the couple had one daughter, Seraphina. They remained married until Watts’ death.
Watts, a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004 but fully recovered.
He spent most of his time on his estate in Devon in southwest England. His wife bred horses and owned a well-known stud farm.
In more recent years, Watts formed an old-school blues band called the ABC&D of Boogie Woogie, preferring to play in intimate clubs. He nevertheless continued to play with the Stones, most recently on the European leg of the band’s “No Filter” tour in 2018.
Watts is survived by three of his longtime Stones bandmates: Jagger, Richards and Wood.
Musicians Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Elton John and more shared their memories of Watts on social media and expressed condolences to his family and bandmates.
“Charlie was a rock and a fantastic drummer. Steady as a rock.” McCartney said in a video.
“A very sad day. Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer,” John wrote in a tweet. “The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company. My deepest condolences to Shirley, Seraphina and Charlotte. And of course, The Rolling Stones.”
Drummer Steve Jordan, a former member of the house bands for “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night with David Letterman,” is scheduled to take Watts’ place for the Stones’ upcoming tour, which is scheduled to start on September 26 in St. Louis.
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