Local fans, musicians remember drummer Charlie Watts

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published September 8, 2021

 Drummer and “huge” Rolling Stones fan Brian Pastoria, of Warren, got an autograph from Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts after they both appeared in the book “Sticks ‘N’ Skins.” Watts died Aug. 24.

Drummer and “huge” Rolling Stones fan Brian Pastoria, of Warren, got an autograph from Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts after they both appeared in the book “Sticks ‘N’ Skins.” Watts died Aug. 24.

Photo provided by Brian Pastoria

METRO DETROIT — Rock ‘n’ roll fans around the world were saddened when Charlie Watts — one of music’s best-known drummers who, for decades, provided the backbeat for the Rolling Stones — died Aug. 24.

Tributes have been nonstop since it was announced that Watts, 80, died in a London hospital surrounded by family. The cause of death was not confirmed, although media reports circulated a few weeks earlier that the Englishman had undergone a medical procedure.

Although Watts played in what has been deemed “the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band,” the musician started out as a jazz player. Many local Rolling Stones followers are feeling his loss.

“There wouldn’t be a Rolling Stones without him,” said musician Dave Edwards, of Dave Edwards and the Look, calling Watts “the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones. I liked him. He had a unique jazz style, solid and steady.”

Edwards, of New Haven, cites the Stones as his second-favorite band after the Beatles. He remembers watching both bands perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” as a kid and hearing their music on AM radio’s CKLW.

Edwards, whose band plays Sept. 18 at the Stray Cat Lounge in Clinton Township, saw the Stones at Olympia in Detroit a few times in the 1970s and at the Pontiac Silverdome in ’81 and ’89. Edwards knew “something was up” when it was announced several weeks ago that Watts would not join the band on its North American “No Filter” tour, which comes to Detroit’s Ford Field Nov. 15.

Drummer Steve Jordan, who played in Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ side project, the X-Pensive Winos, was chosen to fill in for Watts prior to his death. At press time, the tour was to go on as scheduled. “Miss You” and “Let It Bleed” are among Edwards’ favorite Stones songs to hear Watts.

“May he rest in peace. May he rest in paradise,” Edwards said. “He’ll be sorely missed.”

Warren resident Brian Pastoria, drummer for local ’80s rock band Adrenalin — which formed years earlier when its members attended St. Veronica Catholic Grade School in Eastpointe — is a “huge” Stones fan.

“I’ve been trying to see why he passed away,” the 1975 Grosse Pointe North High School graduate said. “Nobody is saying anything. There is no cause of why. It’s just sad.”

Pastoria encouraged young kids starting out on drums to study Watts, who released jazz CDs over the years.

“Charlie was unique. He was a groove master. He drove that band,” said Pastoria, who cited “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Honky Tonk Women” among his favorite Stones songs. “He was one of the all-time greats. It’s going to be hard to carry on without Charlie playing in the band.”

Although Pastoria never met Watts, a mutual friend connected the two drummers when they both appeared in the book “Sticks ‘N’ Skins.” When Watts heard about Pastoria, he autographed a drum skin for him as well as a photo, which Pastoria still keeps in his possession. The Adrenalin drummer pointed out that, when Watts got behind his kit, he did not hit the hi-hat at the same time as the snare, which “would have the whole sound to itself.” St. Clair Shores musician Vito Lafata, 62, always noticed that, as well.

“It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Lafata, a guitar player who was first introduced to the Rolling Stones while in grade school. On Saturday mornings in the 1960s, Lafata’s dad played vinyl records at home, including Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Louis Prima and the Stones. One day, Lafata’s dad came home with “Help!” by the Beatles and the Stones’ “Out Of Our Heads.” His sister got the Beatles LP, while the Stones record went to Lafata.

“As soon as I heard Charlie’s drumming on ‘Satisfaction,’ I was mesmerized,” Lafata remembered. “He played for the song. He wasn’t a showoff. He never got in the way of the singer. He just laid down such a strong backbeat.”

Lafata saw the band live during the “Bridges to Babylon” tour. At one point in the show, the band performed on a smaller stage on the main floor. Lafata was so close — “they were like a pub band” — he could touch guitarist Ronnie Woods’ foot. As for Watts, “he swung like a jazz drummer. He always had those $1,000 suits. He was the classiest in the Stones.”

Terry Burns, a former Royal Oak resident who now resides in Oxford, was “stunned” when Watts died. Burns, who fronts two bands, the Corktown Popes and TB and the Detroit Holiday Rockestra, didn’t start out as a Stones fan. That all changed when he saw the group live in ’89 at the Silverdome from the fifth row, center. Detroit Pistons basketball star Dennis Rodman was in the audience.

“They totally won me over,” Burns, 60, said. “It was the best rock ‘n’ roll show I’ve ever seen. They had a presence. It’s hard to describe.”

Right before showtime, Burns heard a synthesizer loop playing as the “whole place” fell completely dark, building up a sense of anticipation. At that moment, Burns saw on stage a flashlight and two gentlemen, who turned out to be one road crew member and drummer Watts.

“Charlie got up behind the drums. He had that silver hair and was dressed really nice,” Burns said. “The crowd was going nuts. Charlie was unbelievable. He kept time by moving his head side to side. He was counting with his right hand as a metronome. He was so solid and laid back. He wasn’t bash and crash. He served the song, which is what a good musician does.”