Royal Blood’s Ben Thatcher on the legacy of Charlie Watts: “He put the roll in rock’n’roll”
Following the sad news of The Rolling Stones’ drummer’s passing, Royal Blood sticksman Ben Thatcher tells NME about Watts’ iconic swing style and enduring influence
“I first heard The Rolling Stones when I was really young, around the same time I heard The Beatles. They’re one of those iconic, go-to bands that you had to listen to first as a child. I was immediately drawn to the drumming, and really into the songs as a whole. I know now that Charlie brought this swagger and jazzy swing to the rock’n’roll music that they were playing.
“He wasn’t really into rock music, and it was Keith Richards that introduced him to rock’n’roll and made him fall in love with it. He came from listening to jazz drummers, and so when he joined the Stones, he had this flair about him and a uniqueness because he’d come from a different world.
- READ MORE: Charlie Watts, 1941 – 2021: the ballast that kept The Rolling Stones tempered and on-track
“You can absolutely hear that in his playing, too. He’s a guy that played for the song. He could do the flashy stuff as well but chose not to. One strange thing with his playing, he very rarely hits the snare drum at the same time as the hi-hat, and that’s a very unique Charlie Watts style.
“In that realm, he’s an underrated drummer – he’s like the Ringo of the rock’n’roll scene. John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon and all these guys were quite bold and flashy and had these big personalities, but the way that Charlie took to the drums was almost the total opposite. He wasn’t a showman – he was there as the best-dressed guy, looking smart as fuck, and would go out and play for the song, letting Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood do all the performance.
“I think Charlie fitted into The Rolling Stones perfectly because he had these showmen all around him and he didn’t really want to do that – he wanted to sit back and just keep it all together.
“There are so many Rolling Stones songs that influenced me, and he influenced every rock’n’roll drummer. None of us would be doing what we’re doing without him. He evolved rock’n’roll music. He brought the shuffle and the swing to rock music. He brought the roll to rock’n’roll.
“I never met Charlie Watts but I did manage to see The Rolling Stones live a few times. The main one for me is when they headlined Glastonbury in 2013. I was lucky enough to be there that day in the front row, and got to experience that amazing show.
“When trying to remember Charlie, there’s one thing that sticks out: his style, both on and off-stage. Obviously there’s his drumming style, but it’s also how he went about himself. He was the smartest guy, and appeared very clean-cut and that showed even in his drumming. He was the glue. Everyone else in The Rolling Stones was wild, and still is, and that’s a great part of rock’n’roll music, but you also need the backbone and someone to keep everything and everyone together.
“Speaking for all drummers in the community, we’re all shocked and saddened by his passing. His legacy will live on through his music and his drumming, and musicians will all carry on listening to him and being inspired for years to come.”
As told to Will Richards