Members of The Rolling Stones recently caught up with Rolling Stone writer David Fricke for an interview discussing the next chapter for the band without drummer Charlie Watts. The Stones are set to begin their long-awaited No Filter tour on September 26th at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis.
“The thing about Charlie was that he was always there, always played beautifully and was always willing to discuss what to do about it—how he could make it better,” Mick Jagger said. “He held the band together for so long, musically, because he was the rock the rest of it was built around … The thing he brought was this beautiful sense of swing and swerve that most bands wish they could have. We had some really nice conversations in the last couple of years about how all this happened with the band. It’s a huge loss to us all. It’s very, very hard.”
Keith Richards echoed this sentiment, saying, “A most vital part of being in this band was that Charlie Watts was my bed. I could lay on there, and I know that not only would I have a good sleep, but I’d wake up and it’d still be rocking. It was something I’ve had since I was 19. I never doubted it. I never even thought about it.”
Prior to Watts’ death on August 24th at the age of 80, the band had already been rehearsing with Steve Jordan, who was due to fill in for the original Rolling Stones drummer as he recovered from an unspecified surgery. In the wake of Watts’ passing, Jordan’s position on the tour was cemented as the drummer—whose history with The Stones stretches back to the ’80s and who also played in Richards’ band X-Pensive Winos—ingrains himself into the legendary rock band.
“He’s very respectful of Charlie,” Jagger said. “He played with Keith before we started the rehearsals, and then he did homework, listening to the tunes. When we talk about what Charlie did on this one, we listen to the original record, and then we listen to the live versions. There’s certain licks that we want to do, that Charlie did. There’s certain drum licks that one doesn’t think about, but they’re part of the tune in a way that a bass part or a guitar part is part of the tune.”
According to Richards, the rehearsals began back in July when Watts’ absence was meant to be temporary.
“Steve brings with him a lot of knowledge about the Stones,” he said. “He’ll say, ‘No, Charlie plays like this.’ Steve is so meticulous, so aware of the seat he’s sitting in. Steve said this to me: ‘Charlie played the drums. He didn’t hit them.’”
“This is our first tour in 59 years that we’ve done without our lovely Charlie Watts,” Jagger said during the show. “We all miss Charlie so much. We miss him as a band. We miss him as friends, on and off the stage. We’ve got so many memories of Charlie. I’m sure some of you that have seen us before have got memories of Charlie as well. I hope you’ll remember him like we do. We’d like to dedicate this show to Charlie.”
The private Gillette show also allowed The Stones to test out their revamped songbook. Jagger is quoted in Rolling Stone saying that the band has rehearsed 80 or 90 tracks for the coming tour, with the group usually managing to squeeze 19 into a given concert.
“I’m not saying we just touched on them, jammed on them,” he said. “We can actually play them. That’s a huge amount. Keith and I were saying, the reality is that we have to do at least twelve, thirteen numbers that most everyone knows…We have a couple of numbers from the extras in the Tattoo You reissue. We do ‘Living in a Ghost Town,’ which sounds pretty good. We’ve got tons of numbers from most eras. So we have a big set list. We can certainly change up the set list. But we still have to do ‘Paint It, Black.’”
Though Jordan has joined the group (in whatever capacity) with the utmost reverence, he has nonetheless brought his own style to the kit. While keeping The Stones’ celebrated songbook sacred, he has imbued many classic tracks with fresh energy.
“‘Street Fighting Man’ has a new energy,” Ronnie Wood said. “‘Midnight Rambler’ has a new approach. We thought, ‘Oh dear, how are we going to do ‘Midnight Rambler’? Because there’s another language of its own in that song. It takes its own course now, and Steve, if anything, is leading the charge: ‘I’ll tell ya when it’s gonna speed up, I’ll tell ya when its gonna be dynamic.; To see Keith say, ‘Okay, then, you tell me’ —it was a really different thing. And Mick’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take that.’”
“Charlie would have loved it,” Wood continued. “There’s an energy that Charlie projected through his sticks, but Steve projects it physically as well. Whereas Charlie sat dead still, Steve is moving, and so is the whole drum podium. You can see the satisfaction on Keith’s face, on Mick’s face.”
The tour is slated to wrap on November 20th at the Circuit of the America race track in Austin, TX. As for whether or not the band will tour again in 2022—which would mark their 60th anniversary—no official decisions have been made. For The Stones though, the question of “will they hang it up?” is nothing new.
“I’ve been asked that question since I was 31,” Jagger said. “And your answer is the same. I don’t know. I mean, anything could happen. You know, if things are good next year and everyone’s feeling good about touring, I’m sure we’ll do shows. I’m just trying to concentrate on this tour now.”
To read the full interview, head over to Rolling Stone.