The drummer, who died aged 80 last year, retained a soft spot for the kind of low-key barroom shows he’d played as a young jazz musician. But in an excerpt from the official biography Charlie’s Good Tonight – by Paul Sexton and revealed by Billboard – he said he understood the path his band had followed.
“You’d be playing a month in a town to play to 30,000 people,” Watts said. “Where would you play, in a 3,000-seater hall?” The move up to stadium shows was “to accommodate that,” he added. “And that’s what we’ve become. It’s our own fault, or pleasure, or whatever you call it. That’s how we’ve directed what we do. That’s how the world of doing what we do has gone.”
He admitted there were sometimes concerns about filling the stadiums, or in situations where a visit hadn’t sold as many tickets as the previous one. Turning to the performances themselves, Watts said: “I blame Led Zeppelin for the two-hour-long show… we jumped in a few years from doing 20 minutes, all the hits and off – the Apollo Revue, we’ll call it – we went from doing club dates, which are two sets a night, which was great fun… to doing, thanks to Led Zeppelin, this two-hour long show.”
He continued: “‘If you’re Jimmy Page, you can do that, and [John] Bonham’s 20-minute drum solo. It wasn’t about that with us; it was a different thing. I don’t like doing drum solos, period. I don’t hear things like that. When Zep… used to do that – what are we, early ‘70s, I suppose – that was hard work physically, because the monitors weren’t so good.
“But now the sound equipment is so sophisticated. The hardest thing with a drummer on those big stages is to be heard. Now, it’s done for you, virtually. The amplification is there, so I just play naturally, at the volume I feel like playing, in this little cage I live in, and they adjust the volume of it.”
Sexton noted that Watts had “immense pride in the Stones’ dedication to their work” despite frequent headlines about their offstage antics. “‘Unbeknown to a lot of people, the Rolling Stones are theatrical and terribly professional,” the drummer said. “Even as young tearaways, which we never really were … a lot of that was bullshit. I know people who were much more … whatever the word is. Newspapers are dreadful things, bless ’em. I can’t read them. I flick through the cricket page, and that’s it.”
Charlie’s Good Tonight is published by HarperCollins on Oct. 11.
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