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Charlie Watts - Raging Pages

  by Lisa Torem

published: 16 / 7 / 2020

Charlie Watts - Raging Pages


In her 'Raging Pages' book column Lisa Torem enjoys 'Sympathy for the Drummer: Why Charlie Watts Matters', a new book which pays tribute to the legendary Rolling Stones drummer.

The pages of 'Sympathy for the Drummer: Why Charlie Watts Matters' are crammed with detailed rock/country history, gonzo imagery and keen insight. Accomplished author Mike Edison weaves a gazillion zany stories around his subject, some of which loyal fans will already know (like that famed London drug bust or the one about Charlie, dressed to kill, punching Jagger in the face after being called, “my drummer"!), in which case, Edison’s contemporary writing style takes on a starring role, alongside digs and kudos to rock celebs that Charlie and his merry men courted, hated, or tolerated. If you’re a superfan, you’ll dog-ear Edison’s outrageous litany of descriptors, and either shake your head in agreement or shove your fist up the table of contents. But, if you’re a fledgling, this book will educate you well about the Stones’ essential tunes, their ultimate standing in rock music history and the underrated legacy of Watts himself. At times, it’s easy to forget why the book is called what it’s called, as Edison’s reach is far and wide (which is actually quite entertaining), because Charlie’s name seems to float in and out of focus. Still, it’s all okay, it’s sort of like watching a fly fisherman on a sunny day, you know his bait will bring in the goods, but don’t get the fry pan ready just yet. Take a little time to amble. For my money, I loved this: Edison’s “weaving” about when addressing songs (some hits; some flops) that remain lodged in our subconscious. He brings them to life, reminding us why they worked; why they couldn’t, how Charlie’s genius salvaged a couple of drug-addled remnants. How did Charlie make those classic hits even better? When sizing up the arrangement of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, Edison proclaims that the Stones’ long-term drummer “drove straight down the middle of the road, and it was flawless,” whereas “a hundred other drummers” would have been “looking for places to push their way in.” Wherever possible, the author elaborates on such points by citing Charlie’s own words, taken from other interviews. In this case, Charlie generously gives credit for the successful recording to their then-new producer, Jimmy Miller. Despite the title, the contents are certainly not “Charlie Watts-centric,” but there’s a lot of great storytelling around the bend. Edison, here, describes Mick Jagger’s percussive contribution to ‘Street Fighting Man’: “the maracas explode like a Molotov cocktail hitting the front door of a bank. Suddenly the revolution had begun.” The author goes out on a limb, connecting the Stones and Charlie to other genres of music: disco, punk, you name it. And there’s even some dark points; like when Charlie went over the deep end, drug-wise, for a spell, but soon enough, he was back at the kit, cleanly-shaved, with his neatly-pressed vest and trousers. Charlie’s non-Stones projects are fascinating to hear about, as well. And those cunning jazz techniques he so brilliantly lent for a lifetime to his squawky mates - can’t get enough of those. It’s imperative to mention that Edison is also an accomplished and well-educated drummer. That said, when confidently name-dropping members of Led Zeppelin and The Who, and asserting that, “John Bonham, too, had absorbed Krupa and Max Roach into his style”, or that, “Keith Moon, another Krupa disciple, dabbled in anticipation but couldn’t commit,” it’s safe to say Edison aced his music history homework. Whilst ticking off the various departures of former Stones, he illustrates how Charlie not only survived these line-up changes, but made everyone around him shine. The author’s affection for the book’s cymbal-crashing subject is crystal clear: “Charlie weaved and dodged in between Keith Richards and Bill Wyman, and he put the spotlight on Mick, making sure that every word had the full weight of the groove behind it." Here, he waxes rhapsodic about ‘Rough Justice’ from 2005’s 'Bigger Bang': “It sounds like Charlie is taking off on a rocket to the moon. I could listen to those fine moments over and over again.” So, if Charlie Watts really does matter to you as a reader, you should definitely grab this book. There’s enough pathos and sympathy for this drummer to go around and then some.

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