In 1989, when Your Survival Guy was a senior in high school, my friend Dave and I went to see The Stones live at Sullivan Stadium. It was the Steel Wheels tour and to say it was a production is an understatement.
I remember walking along the train tracks at Sullivan and seeing the army of 18-wheelers parked behind the massive stage that, as I learned yesterday, was designed by Watts along with all of the band’s album sleeves. He was quite the force.
And what a force he created in that stage. Imagine the explosion of lights for “Start Me Up,” the roar of the crowd during the intro to “Sympathy for the Devil” and how cool Watts looked with his small four piece set up in the middle of it all behind superstars Mick and Keith.
And that’s what made Watts so special. It must have been hard to keep it simple on that stage. But that’s what he did year, after year, after year. He was a pro.
Watts was so good at keeping time. Once when the group was in studio, Mick Jagger recalls, the band left the room, turned down the sound, and Watts kept playing. When they came back in and turned the sound back up, he was still playing in time as if it never stopped, still hearing the song with the volume off.
As any musician will tell you, the best drummers are great listeners. Watts had an incredible ear. With a jazz background, he was careful to play for the song. You can hear it, for example, when he lays off the hi-hat on two and four creating a stop feel. It was his sound. And it will be missed. RIP Mr. Watts, the rock beneath The Stones.