Sympathy For The Drummer: Why Charlie Watts Matters
Most people know that Charlie Watts matters – most people that would read a book about how Charlie Watts matters would already know I reckon…hell, I already wrote my own piece arguing much the same ages ago – but that didn’t stop me lapping up Mike Edison’s take on things. There are many reasons to feel comfortable in Edison’s hands here – not least the fact that he’s a drummer himself. But he’s also a damn entertaining writer and this book hurtles along at near fever-pitch, at times almost replicating the way Watts will take a sinewy groove (say Slave from Tattoo You or Mixed Emotions from Steel Wheels) and give it its very own form of propulsion.
By proxy you get a potted history of The Rolling Stones of course – Edison coming from the angle that they’re The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the world and a) therefore by that title alone arguably they have the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll drummer, but also b) the reason they’re the greatest is because he’s the greatest.
So there’s something approaching hyperbole – sure.
A creative, engaging, entertaining licence to run full-throttle through the last 50 years waving a flag that essentially says, over and again, “Charlie’s Good Tonight, ain’t he?”
In and around that you get the weave of the guitars from first Keef and Brian and then Keef and Mick and then – almost superlatively – Keef and Ronnie. Those guitars duck and dive and poke and prod in and around the songs, defining the shape of them and then stretching to allow everything else to happen – from the bobbly throb and thrum of Bill’s bass to the peacock strut, blues-soaked harmonica and sexual swagger of everything Mick Jagger has to offer and for all of that to happen the rigidity comes from Mr. Watts. He’s tight but loose. He gives the structure. And sticks to the knitting. He isn’t there to show off. He’s there to serve the song.
Across his now nearly 60s years with the band he’s had many opening drum fills that set the tone and of course there was the eventuation of lifting the hand off the hi-hat on the 2 and 4 to give the backbeat its utter prominence. There are these little innovations, usually by fluke. But there’s an utter devotion to the groove and to the song.
Again, you probably know all of this already. Most Stones fans do. Most drummers and drum-fans that aren’t caught up in the Neil Peart or Mike Portnoy schools know this (and some that do bow to those gods still know it too). But it’s fun to read. And there are some great band anecdotes. And in that same way that Mick Wall has with a rock-read Edison just pushes the groove of the writing the whole time. His stick stirs and whirls but hardly ever twirls. His language bends and sways and is lithe and limber and funny and frenetic and you can’t help but get caught up in it all.
For those reasons and for the utter fact that Charlie really does matter – really is the best and most consistent thing about the music made by The Rolling Stones – this book is a must. You’ll read it and listen again to the albums or album highlights. Edison spends time on some of the records you possibly haven’t spent time with in a while. That’s helpful too. For those reasons I think this book about why Charlie Watts matters really matters.
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