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On Tuesday of last week we lost a gentleman, a legend and a remarkable musician. The inscrutable and laconic Charlie Watts left us, not leaving a void, but more a vast legacy of percussive joy and memories.
I learned of his death as the news broke on the radio late Tuesday afternoon. The immediate reaction was simply to play some music. Where do you start? For me it was an instinctive choice – Black And Blue from late 74′ early 75′ (one which is quite obvious to me but would have others thinking, why?). We all have a jumping off point for a band like the Stones, either a particular track or a period of time. Black and Blue arrived in and around a few other albums, which I also love, which defines ‘My Stones’. Mick Taylor had departed and the recording of Black and Blue became the test bed for his successor, Ronnie Wood. (He got the gig after impressing and getting along with the guys. Keith had played the majority of guitar parts in lieu of the vacancy.)
But this was an album, for me, which saw Charlie shine. Most drummers are either in your face show-offs or so far back they are forgotten. Charlie was the exception to the rule, happily anonymous in his surroundings but so far forward in the mix that you just had to take notice. Simplicity was the key but keeping it simple is so very hard to do and Charlie was the master.
Black and Blue is a mix of funk, reggae and blues which is why it may be overlooked by some. I say ‘overlook it and it’s your loss’. Recorded partly on the legendary ‘Rolling Stones Mobile’ of Smoke on the Water lyric fame and produced by The Glimmer Twins’ (Mick and Keith), it’s a cracking album of longer, jam style tracks with the usual virtuoso performances.
Black and Blue shows quite succinctly how Charlie provides the drive and the framework for the others to hang their performances on. Opening with ‘Hot Stuff’ Keith starts proceedings with a simple reggae riff which quickly introduces Charlie on the second repeat. He plays a simple part which sets the timing and feel perfectly. It’s hypnotic to the max. Track two, ‘Hand of Fate’ exhibits Charlie driving the pace and allowing Mick to dance through the lyrics. The cover of ‘Cherry Oh! Baby’ sees Charlie coming to the front and effectively taking the lead part in the song. ‘Melody’ shows what he could do with a simple shuffle, but it’s the cymbal work here that’s truly sublime. Every track is a revelation and encompasses all the styles they were interested in exploring in the mid 70s. If you know the album, revisit it with a fresh ear. If not, please explore it for the first time.
For now we’ll collectively get off your cloud Charlie and leave you in peace whilst marvelling at your almost 60 year legacy.