Happy Birthday to the Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie Watts, who turns 72 today (June 2nd). Watts is the second-oldest Stone; co-founding bassist Bill Wyman is 76, Mick Jagger will turn 70 next month, Keith Richards is 69, and Ron Wood turns 66 on Saturday (June 1st).
Out now is Watts' latest solo project, the Live In Paris collection from his latest side band, the A, B, C & D Of Boogie Woogie. The band takes it's name from the initials of the four members: Axel Zwingenberger on piano, Ben Waters on piano and vocals, Watts on drums, and Dave Green on bass. Formed in 2009 they have quickly established a reputation at the forefront of boogie woogie music. Live In Paris was recorded over several nights in September 2010 at Paris' Duc Des Lombards jazz club. The setlist is a mix of originals, improvisations, along with blues and boogie woogie standards. Highlights on the collection include "Down The Road A Piece," "St. Louis Blues," and "Route 66."
Back in early 1962, Watts played in Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, who performed a Saturday night residency at London's Ealing Jazz Club. It was there that Stones founder Brian Jones frequently sat in with the band. By April of 1962, Mick Jagger joined the band, but soon decided to form his own group with Jones and childhood friend Keith Richards, naming their new combo the "Rollin' Stones" after the Muddy Waters blues classic.
By early 1963, Watts joined Jagger, Richards, Jones, Bill Wyman and keyboardist Ian Stewart to become the original lineup of the Rolling Stones.
In 2010, the Stones camp issued a denial that Watts would be sitting out of the band's yet-to-be-announced next world tour. The statement was a direct response to the rumor that Keith Richards' main solo collaborator and X-Pensive Winos drummer Steve Jordan would sit in for Watts on the road.
When not playing with the Stones, Watts has often worked on jazz-related projects. And in December of 1964, only a few months after the Stones released their debut album, Watts published a book, Ode To A High Flying Bird, a tribute to jazz legend Charlie Parker.
Although literally generations of rock drummers have cited Watts as an influence on their playing, Watts, a jazz aficionado, claims not to really be a fan of rock music.
Since the 1980s, Watts has led and recorded and toured with a variety of jazz ensembles during the Stones' downtime. To date, he has released seven solo albums of jazz music including his most recent release, 2004's Watts At Scott's. It was that same year that Watts successfully battled throat cancer.
Watts has had the only stable family life of any of the Stones, having remained faithful to his girlfriend and then wife of over 40 years, Shirley, throughout the Stones' career.
Watts, who was able to resist the lure of hard drugs throughout the '60s and '70s, developed a brief heroin addiction in the early '80s but soon after found the resolve to kick his demons.
Charlie Watts explains the deep musical kinship between himself and Keith Richards is almost like a sixth sense: "It's very easy playing with Keith. Very easy. Your only critic is yourself, really. He doesn't say, 'Oh that's 'orrible,' and you don't stop playing if whatever. It's like, 'That's how you wanna do it? See what 'appens. I didn't like it, but you liked it.' Y'know?' He's very easy like that, very easy to play with. And if it's good, he's very complimentary about it. Very comfortable to play with."
Despite all their inner-band sibling rivalries over the years, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' love and admiration for Charlie Watts has never diminished: "(Mick Jagger) Charlie's like, very quiet and he won't speak to you (laughs), and I don't know if that's a good idea. (Keith Richards) Charlie; Charlie to me is the Rolling Stones."
Ron Wood says that although Charlie Watts loves playing jazz best of all, he can't hide the thrill he gets from drumming for the Stones: "He hasn't lost interest, 'cause he's a jazzer at heart. I think that's what he would like to be doing, but I can see him enjoying his rock n' roll."
The Rolling Stones perform tonight (May 31st) and Monday (June 3rd) at Chicago's United Center.
Photo Courtesy of PRPhotos.com