Time Bandit: Charlie Watts Took Us All The Way Back
I have a close friend whose favorite Rolling Stones song is “Sympathy For The Devil.” The reason for this is because his father’s favorite Stones song was “Sympathy For The Devil.” To the best of my knowledge, my father didn’t have a favorite Stones song. Or a favorite Beatles song. Or any other song.
There was scant music in my house growing up. A couple of early Beatles records. Jesus Christ Superstar. The Carpenters Greatest Hits. Two copies of John Denver’s Greatest Hits. Issac Hayes Black Moses that neither of my parents could recall actually buying. A Chicago album that my dad played once or twice. In other words, when it came time for their eldest child to discover music, I was more or less on my own.
Perhaps that’s why I so clearly remember moments when others shared music with me. Like the friend in middle school who played me both the Ramones and Minor Threat for the first time one afternoon. Or the backpacking raver who came crashing on our couch during college with a stack of CDs by Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack.
Lots of good stuff came from record store clerks, obviously. But something always felt slightly transactional even when I really dug the record. Music magazines were another good resource, but journalists have a tendency to make music sound amazing in print even if it wasn’t all that in real life (I have been both victim and perpetrator of this).
What I always appreciated most were the recommendations that came from artists themselves. A cover song. A co-sign. A t-shirt worn on TV. Kurt Cobain was famous for this, giving life to esoteric acts like Daniel Johnston, Flipper and The Vaselines.
Perhaps that is why when it was announced that Charlie Watts passed away yesterday, my first instinct wasn’t to hit play on any of the dozens and dozens (and dozens, and dozens) of classic Stones records. It was to think about the jazz music that he loved and felt the most akin to. The songs that taught him how to swing. What music would Charlie Watts want played at his funeral? It was probably not his own.
Fortunately, this was an easy question to answer. The internet is full of interviews with Watts talking about his favorite drummers. There’s also a terrific episode of the Talk Music With Me podcast with Watts biographer Mike Edison that delves into the jazz and blues that inspired Watts before offering a deep and equally gratifying playlist of Charlie’s own best moments behind the kit.
Some artists are creative wellsprings. The music that inspired people like Paul McCartney and David Bowie often sounds dated and peculiar comparison to what those songs wrought. Others, like the Stones, and Charlie in particular, are more like mighty rivers whose own incredible artistry always hinted at something a little more formidable upstream. Something more authentic — even though there was never anything inauthentic about Charlie and Co.
This sort of thinking can almost become fundamentalist if you’re not careful. But looking back, and then further back, and then further back again, doesn’t belittle the accomplishment of those who built upon what came before. It honors them as part of a lineage which they, by definition, hold in reverence.
In the end, I uncovered a live recording titled Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band. Released in 2017 on Impulse!, it features a tribute to jazz drumming titan Elvin Jones written by Watts and famed session drummer Jim Keltner. There are two 1940s standards written by big band leader Woody Herman and jazz composers Axel Stordahl & Paul Weston respectively. And three gorgeously rearranged Stones songs — “Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — that reimagine what might have been had Mick and Keef shared Charlie’s obsession with Charlie Parker instead of Howling Wolf.
As a mix of tributes, covers and originals, these selections are as good a sampling as any as to what Charlie Watts might want to posthumously say about himself. When facing down Watt’s mammoth body of work with The Stones, one that has helped shape the contours of history for over half a century, this more modest proposal seemed like a good place to start.
PS — Thank you to Charlie Watts for so much amazing music. (Josh & Chris)
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Salient statements from this week’s music news.
The next great takedown battle might not be label-versus-platform, but platform-versus-platform.
Takeaway: Groovy Bot allows for a social listening party on Discord, largely using the audio from YouTube videos. It has become hugely popular over the past five years, with some estimates suggesting it has more than 250 million users. It has now caught the attention of Google and YouTube.
Feeding the streaming beast has become a billion-dollar business itself.
Takeaway: The $1.3 billion valuation puts DistroKid in the billion-dollar-plus distribution club alongside the likes of Believe – owner of DistroKid rival TuneCore – which currently carries a public market cap of €1.64 billion ($1.93 billion) on the Paris Euronext.
$500 micro-grants could keep the most indie of indie promoters in the game.
Takeaway: While artists are not technically eligible, they can work with a host or venue to organize a show and apply for a grant.