Charlie Watts, the legendary drummer whose jazz-inflected grooves kept The Rolling Stones rolling along, has died at the age of 80. The tributes have been pouring in, and amidst all of the fond remembrances, one memory sticks out as being more fond than most: the time Watts punched Mick Jagger.
The anecdote comes from Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards’ 2010 autobiography Life. During a period when Jagger was one of the most famous people in the entire world — and, as Richards tells it, among the most irritating — Watts was one of the few people willing to put him in his place.
“There was a rare moment, in late 1984, of Charlie throwing his drummer’s punch — a punch I’ve seen a couple of times and it’s lethal; it carries a lot of balance and timing,” Richards wrote. “He has to be badly provoked. He threw this one at Mick.”
It happened in Amsterdam, when, according to Richards, “Mick and I weren’t on great terms.” Still, the two men went out for a night on the town, and “I lent him the jacket I got married in,” — a gesture that may have saved Jagger’s life.
“We got back to the hotel about five in the morning and Mick called up Charlie. I said, don’t call him, not at this hour. But he did, and said, ‘Where’s my drummer?’ No answer. He puts the phone down.”
For the vast majority of drummers, that would have been the end of it, but Watts was a special individual. “Mick and I were still sitting there, pretty pissed… when, about twenty minutes later, there was a knock at the door. There was Charlie Watts.”
He wasn’t disheveled or dressed in pajamas, either. “Savile Row suit, perfectly dressed, tie, shaved, the whole fucking bit. I could smell the cologne!
“I opened the door and he didn’t even look at me, he walked straight past me, got hold of Mick and said, ‘Never call me your drummer again.’ Then he hauled him up by the lapels of my jacket and gave him a right hook.
“Mick fell back onto a silver platter of smoked salmon on the table and began to slide towards the open window and the canal below it. And I was thinking, this is a good one, and then I realized it was my wedding jacket. And I grabbed hold of it and caught Mick just before he slid into the Amsterdam canal.” Considering how drunk Jagger was in Richards’ telling, rock history could have turned out quite differently if the singer had remembered his coat. “Why did you stop him?” Watts reportedly asked. “My jacket, Charlie, that’s why!”
Watts wasn’t satisfied with the one punch, and it required Richards’ intervention to prevent more. “It took me twenty-four hours after that to talk Charlie down,” he wrote. “I thought I’d done it when I took him up to his room, but twelve hours later, he was saying, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna go down and do it again.’ It takes a lot to wind that man up.”
There will be other great drummers, but there will never be another Charlie Watts.