Charlie Watts: No Difference in Jazz and Rock Rhythm Sections


SKF NOTE: This excerpt is from my interview with Charlie Watts. It took place in Charlie’s New York City hotel room in 1982 or 1983. The Rolling Stones were on tour in America. Tina Turner was their opening act. [SKF NOTE March 5, 2017. The correct date for this interview is November 12, 1981. I found my audiocassettes that confirm the 1981 date.]

Two years before, as a freelance writer for Modern Drummer, I called Rolling Stones Records to set up an interview with Charlie Watts. The woman answering the phone told me, very matter of fact, “Charlie Watts does not do interviews.”

Fast forward. I am Managing Editor of Modern Drummer and I have established trust and friendship with drummers — including Jim Keltner. It was Keltner’s stamp of approval that prompted Charlie to agree to the interview.

I invited Max Weinberg to go with me, which he did, and Max and I were both listed as interviewers when MD published Charlie’s interview.

It was a tense interview at the start. My expectation — and I think it was Max Weinberg’s expectation — that we would interview Charlie as I had interviewed Max and every other drummer.

Max and I sat at a table in Charlie’s hotel room while Charlie wandered around the room. We were waiting for him to take a seat at the table. But, standing away from the table and not looking at us, Charlie announced, “Listen, I don’t do interviews. That’s what I told that girl whose name I’ve forgotten.”

Robyn [Flans]?” I asked. Reading the transcript just now I have no recollection of Robyn Flans trying to interview Charlie.

“Right,” said Charlie. I don’t do interviews. I mean, you can talk to me.” And then Charlie said something that remains unsettled. He was standing far enough from the tape recorder that it was hard to hear what Charlie was saying — even when listening back to the tape. I thought Charlie said, “I mean, you’ve got ten minutes and then I have to be out.” And I think Max thought the same.

I started this interview thinking, what are the top two questions I can ask Charlie in the ten minutes we have? But since the actual interview lasted hours, Charlie either said, “I mean, you haven’t got ten minutes and then I have to be out,” or he changed his mind once our interview got underway.


My intention for this interview, from when I first called Rolling Stones Records years before, was to interview Charlie as a drummer, a musician. I had zero interest in any Rolling Stones sensationalism. 

Scott K Fish: [Your] transition from wanting to play jazz to playing rock — was that a tough thing?

Charlie Watts: No. It’s really the same thing, isn’t it? Really. You need better techniuqe that I have to play jazz. But what you have to do is the same thing, isn’t it?

SKF: Pretty much. What do you think is the difference between a rock rhythm section and a jazz rhythm section?

CW: None! It’s either very precise, or it swings alot. There is no difference. What is jazz? Primarily dance music — originally — isn’t it? I mean, even good jazz, even though it’s an exercise for an instrumentalist — you can still dance to it in a way.

SKF: Even a band like the Coltrane Quartet?

CW: Yeah. Well, when it’s really going it swings. It’s as loud as a rock and roll band.

Well, you see, I don’t see any difference between John Coltrane and Chuck Berry, except one writes lyrics. But they do the same thing to me. I know the difference. I know that you need to be an innovator to play like Coltrane. But Chuck Berry was an innovator as well.

So there’s not alot of difference. Except they sound different. Rock and roll is dance music. And that’s really what jazz music is like.

Photo Credit: Charlie Watts


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3 Responses to Charlie Watts: No Difference in Jazz and Rock Rhythm Sections

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