Charlie Watts: The Epitome Of Cool, And A Total Gentleman
About ten years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Charlie Watts. He was promoting Live In Paris, by his band The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie. Boogie-woogie is a piano-driven, blues-based type of music that — like everything that Charlie Watts seemed to love — predated rock and roll. I knew I had to do some preparation to be able to credibly talk to him about this.
I recalled listening to a recording of a peer interviewing Charlie years earlier for his jazz album, Long Ago And Far Away. The interviewer didn’t know much about jazz and Charlie was audibly disinterested. I remember the question, “Do you like any new rock music?” and Charlie dryly offered Elton John and the Dire Straits as examples of new artists. He also seemed to sense that the interviewer was looking to cut to the chase. You know: ask about the Rolling Stones. He clearly wasn’t there for that.
I’ve loved the Rolling Stones for as long as I’ve been listening to music, so I definitely understood the temptation (and I had not ever interviewed a member of the Stones). But as the song says, you can’t always get what you want. I listened to both ABC&D albums – the live one and the one before it, The Magic Of Boogie Woogie, both of which were a blast. I was glad that I could honestly tell Charlie that I liked his music. I also decided to wear a tie and dress shoes — everyone knows how dapper Charlie is.
I got to the hotel suite — early, of course. Soon, Charlie and Dave Green, his longtime friend and the upright bass player in the ABC&D of Boogie Woogie (and some of his other projects) walked in. Charlie sternly looked at me and said, “This is Dave.” Which I interpreted as meaning: “This is Dave, who you’ll probably note is not in my other band, so don’t even think about it.”
Happily, my research paid off as did this comment: “Your From One Charlie To Another project turned me on to Charlie Parker.” It was the first of two projects that he did in the early ’90s, paying tribute to the legendary jazz pianist. I wasn’t lying. I was becoming interested in jazz at the time, and I hadn’t heard of Charlie Parker yet. But the drummer from the Rolling Stones paying tribute to a jazz musician is bound to get non-jazzheads to pay attention. It did with me. By the way: I don’t love to say things in interviews that just seem like I’m trying to ingratiate myself to whoever I’m talking to. But on the other hand, I put myself in his (very nice) shoes. If *I* was the drummer in the Rolling Stones, promoting a non-Stones project, and every interviewer there really just wants to ask about Mick and Keith, I might be happy to hear that someone knows about my albums.
“Really?” He looked surprised.
It wasn’t a long interview — Charlie Watts doesn’t really need to speak to you for a long time — but he definitely warmed up a bit after that. And towards the end, he brought the Stones up (surely he knew that I was burning to ask a Stones question). He kind of off-hand mentioned that the 50th anniversary was coming up and made some really cavalier comment like, “I still like playing with them” or something. And then his expression softened and he said something like, “But we’re going on 50 years together and that’s something!” I knew that’s all that I was going to get and I wasn’t going to push my luck. He and Dave walked out of the hotel suite and I sat at a table, and popped open my laptop to do something or other.
And then I sensed someone behind me. I turned around. “Good job,” he said, grinned and walked back out. I was stunned. It was such a nice gesture. It was just two words, but they came from rock and roll’s most economical drummer… and one who doesn’t suffer fools. I didn’t get to ask about “Under My Thumb” or “Sympathy for the Devil” or “Paint It Black,” but as the song says, “but sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” I don’t mean to overdo it with those lyrics; I didn’t necessarily need to hear those two words. But they have definitely helped my frame of mind when I’ve done other interviews that I didn’t feel went as well as they could have: “Charlie Watts once told me, ‘Good job.'”