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How Charlie Watts Joined the Rolling Stones

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Though they publicly celebrated a 50th anniversary in 2012, guitarist Keith Richards says the band members themselves count January of the next year as the Rolling Stones‘ real beginning. That’s the month Charlie Watts officially joined.

A mainstay ever since, Watts became one of the best-known drummers in rock music history. Ironically, though, his background was primarily in jazz before a chance meeting with British blues pioneer Alexis Korner. Watts was working as a graphic designer for an ad company when he accepted Korner’s offer to play with Blues Incorporated, a London-based group that had also featured occasional appearances from an aspiring young singer named Mick Jagger. Watts met Jagger and the other members of the fledgling Rolling Stones in mid-’62, and completed their lineup by joining on Jan. 9, 1963.

Watts played his first gig with the Stones a few days later on Jan. 12, 1963, at the Ealing Blues Club in a six-piece lineup that included pianist Ian Stewart. By that June, the group released their first single, a cover of Chuck Berry‘s “Come On.” With the release of their second album, they shot to international superstardom, beginning a winning streak that would see the band become one of the most important musical forces of the rock era. The Rolling Stones are widely regarded as “the greatest rock and roll band in the world” for their contributions, and Watts’ approach is a vital part of the loose-but-rock-solid swagger that has become the group’s sound.

Watts is just as solid offstage. Married to his wife Shirley since 1964, when he’s not working he leads a relatively quiet life mostly away from the media spotlight — a sharp contrast to his headline-grabbing bandmates. He and his wife breed horses, and he has maintained his lifelong interest in jazz with a series of projects including the 32-piece Charlie Watts Orchestra. Through all of the craziness of the Rolling Stones’ career, his low-key approach has earned him the universal respect of his bandmates.

“Charlie continues to be the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones, and not just when he’s perched on the drum stool,” the Stones’ website states. “Everyone respects him for his quiet and polite approach to the business of being a member of one of the most successful bands in history. As a jazzman he understands the power of collaboration, never seeking the limelight he swings and always provides the Rolling Stones with the rock solid foundation.”

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