Charlie Watts 1941-2021

by Chris Murray on October 18, 2021

Charlie Watts and Shirley Shepherd, London, 1963.  By Eric Swayne.

I was moved when I heard Charlie Watts had passed on in August. The Rolling Stones have long been my favorite band. I was at their very first concert in New York City while in high school, an afternoon concert at Carnegie Hall on June 20th, 1964. I went on to edit a book of photographs called Rolling Stones 50×20 almost 50 years later (Insight Editions).  That book included many photographs of Charlie, taken by Gered Mankowitz, Gus Coral, Eric Swayne, Barry Feinstein, Baron Wolman, Bob Gruen, Michael Cooper, Claude Gassian, Mark Seliger and more.

Charlie Watts, De Lane Lea Studios, London, 1963. By Gus Coral.

I also featured original prints of Charlie in numerous exhibitions at Govinda Gallery, featuring well over 30 photographers who had taken pictures of him. The public loved those exhibitions.

Charlie Watts and Keith Richards, Muenster, Germany, 1965. By Bob Bonis.

To me, Charlie was very much the heart of The Rolling Stones, keeping that rock steady beat, and propelling the Stones along musically. His sweet smile and amazing personal style was enduring. The Rolling Stones will not be the same without him.

The Rolling Stones, Masons Yard, 1965. By Gered Mankowitz.

I have a personal story about Charlie, a pastime I will always remember with great affection. Over a dozen years ago, Charlie came to Govinda Gallery one evening with two friends, Caroline and Isobel, who worked with him while he toured with the Stones. Caroline and Isobel were also friends of mine, and had told Charlie about my gallery, and the remarkable historic home and studio of my friend, the artist John Dreyfuss, located directly across the street from Govinda Gallery. Charlie said he would like to see Halcyon House, the name of John’s home and studio.

Charlie arrived with Caroline and Isobel at Govinda that evening, and I took the opportunity to show him the collection of remarkable Jazz photographs I had acquired from exhibitions I had for photographers William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard and William Claxton, three of the greatest Jazz photographers of all time. Charlie truly enjoyed looking at and holding the original signed prints, and knew everything about each of the musical artists depicted in the photographs, the clubs they were photographed in, and more. He is an extraordinary jazz historian. He clearly appreciated the vintage nature of each photograph.

I remember especially his enjoying a photograph by Bill Gottlieb of Duke Ellington and one of his big bands. Charlie went on to name every single member of the band, and when he got to the bass player, Junior Raglin, he commented to me that he was the bass player who introduced the ‘walking bass’ to Jazz. I was totally blown away by Charlie’s expertise. It was an experience I treasure to this day. Charlie was so relaxed, so cool, and his company made me so happy. Here is that Jazz photograph…and I still have it.

Portrait of Duke Ellington, Junior Raglin, Tricky Sam Nanton, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Ben Webster, Otto Toby Hardwick, Harry Carney, Rex William Stewart, and Sonny Greer, Howard Theatre, Washington D.C., 1938. By Bill Gottlieb.

After a fine time at Govinda Gallery, we all went over to John Dreyfuss’ home and studio. Charlie loved seeing the historic Halcyon House and enjoyed John’s studio and his art. It was impressive. We thanked John, and then got into Charlie’s limousine and went up Wisconsin Avenue through Georgetown to Enzio’s, a family-style Italian restaurant and had a great meal together. Charlie treated us to dinner, we had a fine time and some great conversation. We then said good night. I have always admired Charlie as a great musical artist, and now he was in my heart forever. Thanks to Caroline and Isobel for bringing Charlie to Govinda Gallery. And God bless Charlie Watts.

The Rolling Stones, Saint Lazarus Church, Mexico City, 1995. By Fernando Aceves.

Charlie Watts, A Bigger Bang Tour, Angel Stadium, Anaheim, 2005. By Fernando Aceves.

Last evening I was thinking of my dear friend and photographer extraordinaire Gered Mankowitz, whose photographs of The Rolling Stones are the definitive document of the original lineup… the greatest lineup, of The Rolling Stones. I invited Gered to contribute some words about Charlie for this tribute. This morning I was thrilled to have Gered respond to my invitation with some heart felt words about Charlie, his “older brother”, and an exclusive photograph I had never seen before. Please enjoy this special addition to my post honoring Charlie Watts. Thank you Gered.

“I was 19 years old when I toured the USA with the Stones in the Fall of 1965, and Charlie was like an older brother to me. Rock solid, gentle, charming and modest he was a steadying influence for several weeks of Rock & Roll madness and I have felt close to him ever since in spite of only seeing him infrequently during the past 50 years or so. Charlie took me to a couple of jazz clubs in New York city and introduced me to the extraordinarily cool and mysterious world of the Half Note and the Hickory House – great moments that I have never forgotten. We were also together the evening of the infamous North-East Coast blackout on November 9th 1965 having been out shopping that afternoon. It turned out to be the largest blackout in history at the time, lasting for several hours and trapping around 800,000 people in elevators across the North-East – for us it just seemed like another surreal moment during this crazy period in time!” – Gered Mankowitz

Charlie Watts at Home in Lewis, Sussex, The Summer of 1966. By Gered Mankowitz

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