Keith Richards on Charlie Watts’ Drumming

If it hadn’t been for Charlie, I would never have been able to expand and develop. Number one with Charlie is that he’s got great feel. He had it then, from the start. There’s tremendous personality and subtlety in his playing. If you look at the size of his kit, it’s ludicrous compared with what most drummers use these days. They’ve got a fort with them. An incredible barrage of drums. Charlie, with just that one classico setup, can pull it all off. Nothing pretentious, and then you hear him and it don’t half go bang. He plays with humor too. I love to watch his foot through the Perspex. Even if I can’t hear him, I can play to him just by watching. The other thing is Charlie’s trick that he got, I think, from Jim Keltner or Al Jackson. On the hi-hat, most guys would play on all four beats, but on the two and the four, which is the backbeat, which is a very important thing in rock and roll, Charlie doesn’t play, he lifts up. He goes to play and pulls back. It gives the snare drum all of the sound, instead of having some interference behind it. It’ll give you a heart arrhythmia if you look at it. He does some extra motion that’s totally unnecessary. It pulls the time back because he has to make a little extra effort. And so part of the languid feel of Charlie’s drumming comes from this unnecessary motion every two beats. It’s very hard to do—to stop the beat going just for one beat and then come back in. And it also has something to do with the way Charlie’s limbs are constructed, where he feels the beat. Each drummer’s got a signature as to whether the hi-hat’s a little bit ahead of the snare. Charlie’s very far back with the snare and up with the hi-hat. And the way he stretches out the beat and what we do on top of that is a secret of the Stones sound. Charlie’s quintessentially a jazz drummer, which means the rest of the band is a jazz band in a way.

Life
Keith Richards