Thursday, June 2, 2011

Daily Dose #6 (06/03/11)

Happy Birthday Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts was born on June 2nd,1941 in London... probably as the buzz bombs were raining down on foggy London Town.

I am in no way an expert on drummers, or drumming in general. But if you play drums in "The Greatest Rock and Roll Band In The World", then Charlie does bear a bit of scrutiny, and ultimately, a whole lot of kudos... if not for his musicianship, than at least for putting up with Mick and Keith's shit for almost half a century.

But having played in bands for various extended lengths of time for almost 35 years, this I do know: The drummer is the heart and soul of every band... and ultimately the voice that differentiates the inspired from the pack of mediocrity.

Watts is a musician of this caliber. He set the bar, and really, no matter how hard anybody tries, Charlie's "voice" can never be replicated. There would be no Rolling Stones if not, as Keith Richard's referred to Charlie in his autobiography "Life", Watts was always there to function as "The bed that I lie on".

When I was learning how to play, I played along to Stones recordings. I used to fantasize what it would be like to play with them for real (Damn that Chuck Leavell! He stole my dream gig!) But everything I ever learned about groove, feel, and most importantly committing to the music with your heart, I learned from countless hours of practice with Charlie Watts.

So here's my Charlie story:

Back in 1985, my roommate Scott administered a sound company, and was a free lance sound engineer as well. He ran front of house for a local dub/reggae band that was invited to play the first slot in a Jazz Festival at the Canandaiqua Performing Arts Center.

An "All Day" concert, the bill was impressive: The Majestics, Branford Marsalis (With Kenny Kirkland), Phyllis Hyman, Stan Getz, The Charlie Watts Orchestra (a 32 piece big band)and Stevie Ray Vaughn was headlining.

My roommate, knowing what a closet jazzer I was, asked if I'd like to tag along, the added perk of having an all access pass. So westward ho, away we went on the day of show.

I didn't really have anything to do except hustle The Majestics on and off the stage for their opening slot. The rest of the time was spent in a common hospitality area under the amphitheater, with several hallways sprouting from it that had all the private dressing rooms.

Its fun to be a fly on the wall during these types of shows. Watching how these guys all interacted with one another. Some were warm. Some were cold. Some were down to earth, and some were kinda classless divas.

But you star watch a bit, get bored, and then get to see all of them play from side stage. That's the best part.

All the artists arrived in a synchronized yet staggered schedule, according to their slot in the show. When the Watts Orchestra arrived, they poured out of a couple of buses and down into the common area, all dressed to kill. These guys, if anything, were sharp.

My friend Edddie used to joke that after seeing The Stones in the Carrier Dome, that "I was in the same room as Keith Richards.... just me, him, and about 50,000 other people"

But at this time? My roomie and me were in the same room as Charlie Friggin' Watts...and the room was a lot smaller, and a lot less populated.

Obviously, being two long haired rocker Stones fans, this in and of itself was kinda cool... being ten feet away from the drummer in "the Greatest Rock and Roll Band In The World".

The problem was that we were two long haired rockers in a room full of people dressed in $4,000 dollar custom tailored Saville Row suits. Charlie's daughter was acting as his personal assistant, and the minute she walked in the room, she made us. Charlie was to be shielded from us at all costs, and we were to be avoided at all costs.

The exchange between my roomie and me went something like this:

Roomie: "We in the same room as CHARLIE FRIGGIN' WATTS!"

Me: "Yeah....pretty fuckin' cool."

Roomie: "Lets go talk to him"

Me (Noticing Charlie's daughter giving us the hairy eyeball): "Uh... that may not be such a hot idea..."

Roomie: "When are we ever gonna get another chance to meet CHARLIE FRIGGIN WATTS?"

Me: "Probably never, but I still don't think its a good idea. The last thing he wants is two long haired rockers drooling over him"

Roomie: "C'mon...Lets go talk to him!"

And so on: Like some naive Alphonse and Gaston routine, we went 'round and round on the issue, until I finally just advised him, if he wanted to get all up in Charlie's grill, that would be his call. I was going upstairs to listen to Stan Getz.

Truth be told, I'm not really good around groups of people, and I still struggle with being around "celebrity". There is an art to that, and do not possess that skill. I'm actually pretty shy. (cue the laughter).

That gets mis-interpreted as aloofness, or arrogance in a public place. But really it's just plain old fear. And at age 25, I had much more of that fear than I do now. There was no way I was going to embarrass myself in front of Charlie Watts.

So I went upstairs, stood at the side of the stage, and watched Stan Getz's set.

At first, I was kicking myself for being so sinelessly shy. My friend was downstairs probably yukking it up with one of my idols, and here I was, feeling very unconfident... and full of self-loathing for having no self-confidence.

But soon, I was lost in the music. Stan Getz was one of a kind. His tone, and his phrasing, was like a lover whispering in the dark. It's easy to get lost with Stan.

The music flipped the switches of ancient little kid memories to the "on" position, and floodlit the forgotten corner of consciousness: My parents, dancing by themselves to "The Lady From Ipanema" in the living room, in full embrace, thinking they were un-observed... They were so much in love with each other (After 56 years of marraige, they still are). You always felt that pure love above all else whenever you caught them alone in a private moment. Stan Getz, was the soundtrack of love as I knew it, and the love and acceptance that I would always seek for myself, and never seemed to find.

I got swept up in that feeling as I listened to him play, and closed my eyes to prevent them from tearing... music does that to you, especially when you are feeling particularly self-critical and sorry for yourself. It takes you over the emotional goaline. It takes what you're feeling, amplifies it and then brings it home.

And just as I was immersed in that feeling, there was I whisper in my ear, from behind my head.

Whisperer: "Stan sounds lovely today, doesn't he?"

Me: "Yes"

Whisperer: "Do you know his music well?"

I then, barely keeping myself from openly weeping, told this stranger about my parents, those Stan Getz records, their pure love for one another and just how important that memory was to me. I told him about my fear that what I knew was real would never be real for me, and how music this pure can possess the power to trigger me. All to a total stranger, standing behind me, me facing forward: I was afraid to face somebody as I was about to cry.

We stood together quietly as Stan ended his set, the stranger behind me, his hand on my shoulder.

I turned around. Standing behind me with his gentle hand on my shoulder was CHARLIE FRIGGIN WATTS. In a $5,000 dollar custom tailored Saville Row suit.

He extended his right hand. I grasped it with mine.

Charlie: "My name is Charlie"

Me (gracelessly); "I know"

Charlie flashed a smile and laughed, and just at that moment, my roomate spotted us from across backstage, and then sprinted towards us arms akimbo waving an instamatic camera.

End of moment.

I took a picture of my roomate and Charlie Watts. He even graciously asked if I would like to have a photo taken as well, but I declined. He politely excused himself and walked back down to his dressing room.

My roomate ended up with a picture... I ended up with this memory.

I guess it was fated in someway. If I was going to have a brush with one of the great Stones, I'm very grateful it was him.

He had style, comportment, and grace. And human empathy.

So Happy Birthday Charlie Watts. As your heart beats, so does mine.

Lessons learned.


Anonymous said...

beautiful story

Lori Williams said...

Nice!! I didn't know much about him before.

Scott C said...

Now that's a brush with greatness! A great story and memory, George. Thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

great story, goerge...hit a nerve, in a very good way. thanks for sharing.

Jane said...

I read Charlie Watts' biography....and you summed up everything about him. GRACIOUS. He is a stunning example of what a musician should be.

This story was extremely well thought out and gave the reader the feeling that she/he was THERE when Charlie spoke with you, gave me the chills.

illverce said...

goose bumps baby like duck skin

Rick Short said...

Beautiful story ... such a special moment captured. Excellently written. Thank you.