The Rolling Stones Reflect on Loss of Charlie Watts, Detail Plans for Upcoming Tour

Ronnie Wood,Mick Jagger,Keith Richards - Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Ronnie Wood,Mick Jagger,Keith Richards - Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The Rolling Stones have kept a low public profile since the death of Charlie Watts on August 24th, but in a series of new interviews with longtime Rolling Stone writer David Fricke, they talk about the devastating loss, moving forward with drummer Steve Jordan, the song selection for their upcoming tour, and a possible continuation of the tour next year, which happens to be their 60th anniversary.

The main topic through all of the interviews was the loss of Watts. “The thing about Charlie was that he was always there, always played beautifully and was always willing to discuss what to do about it – how he could make it better,” Mick Jagger said. “He held the band together for so long, musically, because he was the rock the rest of it was built around … The thing he brought was this beautiful sense of swing and swerve that most bands wish they could have. We had some really nice conversations in the last couple of years about how all this happened with the band. It’s a huge loss to us all. It’s very, very hard.”

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Keith Richards felt the same way. “Charlie had an incredible sense of humor,” he said. “And my joy was I loved to crack him up. If you could hit that spot, he wouldn’t stop, and it was the funniest thing in the world. He had an incredible sense of humor that he kept to himself unless you sparked it. And then it could be painful to laugh.”

“A most vital part of being in this band was that Charlie Watts was my bed,” he continued. “I could lay on there, and I know that not only would I have a good sleep, but I’d wake up and it’d still be rocking. It was something I’ve had since I was 19. I never doubted it. I never even thought about it.”

They’ve spent the past few weeks rehearsing with Steve Jordan. The drummer has been in their orbit since the Eighties, and he was a member of Keith Richards’ band X-Pensive Winos. “He’s very respectful of Charlie,” Jagger said. “He played with Keith before we started the rehearsals, and then he did homework, listening to the tunes. When we talk about what Charlie did on this one, we listen to the original record, and then we listen to the live versions. There’s certain licks that we want to do, that Charlie did. There’s certain drum licks that one doesn’t think about, but they’re part of the tune in a way that a bass part or a guitar part is part of the tune.”

Richards said he started working with Jordan back in July. At the time, they hoped it would be a temporary situation and Watts would return to the group once he recovered from his illness. “Steve brings with him a lot of knowledge about the Stones,” he said. “He’ll say, ‘No, Charlie plays like this.’ Steve is so meticulous, so aware of the seat he’s sitting in. Steve said this to me: Charlie played the drums. He didn’t hit them.”

The tour doesn’t officially begin until September 26th at the The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, but on Monday they performed a private show for New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft at Gillette Stadium. The set was heavy on hits like “Miss You,” “Start Me Up,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Sympathy For The Devil,” but they were a few surprises, including the first “19th Nervous Breakdown” since 2005, and the live debuts of their 2020 tune “Living in a Ghost Town” and the Chi-Lites song “Troubles A-Comin.'”

The latter song appears on their upcoming 40th anniversary edition of Tattoo You. “It’s a funny album,” Jagger said. “It’s not an album where you can say we went into X studio, we spent six months and this is the album. It’s just tracks that got recorded any time from 1972 to 1981. It wasn’t really an album. It was all over the place. It doesn’t have a kind of center.”

They generally play 19 songs at any given show, but Jagger said they’ve rehearsed 80 or 90 tunes for the tour. “I’m not saying we just touched on them, jammed on them,” he said. “We can actually play them. That’s a huge amount. Keith and I were saying, the reality is that we have to do at least twelve, 13 numbers that most everyone knows…We have a couple of numbers from the extras in the Tattoo You reissue. We do ‘Living in a Ghost Town,’ which sounds pretty good. We’ve got tons of numbers from most eras. So we have a big set list. We can certainly change up the set list. But we still have to do ‘Paint It, Black.'”

According to Ron Wood, the addition of Steve Jordan has given even familiar songs a new feeling. “‘Street Fighting Man’ has a new energy,” he said. “‘Midnight Rambler’ has a new approach. We thought, ‘Oh dear, how are we going to do ‘Midnight Rambler’? Because there’s another language of its own in that song. It takes its own course now, and Steve, if anything, is leading the charge: ‘I’ll tell ya when it’s gonna speed up, I’ll tell ya when its gonna be dynamic.; To see Keith say, ‘Okay, then, you tell me’ – it was a really different thing. And Mick’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take that.'”

“Charlie would have loved it,” Wood added. “There’s an energy that Charlie projected through his sticks, but Steve projects it physically as well. Whereas Charlie sat dead still, Steve is moving, and so is the whole drum podium. You can see the satisfaction on Keith’s face, on Mick’s face.”

The tour ends November 20th at the Circuit of the America race track in Austin, Texas, and Jagger said he’s not ready to say whether they will wrap it up once it’s done. “I’ve been asked that question since I was 31,” he said. “And your answer is the same. I don’t know. I mean, anything could happen. You know, if things are good next year and everyone’s feeling good about touring, I’m sure we’ll do shows. I’m just trying to concentrate on this tour now.”

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