Tim Van Schmidt
Recently, I was meeting with friends for lunch and the first thing we did after we had all arrived was to raise our glasses in a toast to Charlie Watts.
The news had just come in that Watts, the longtime drummer for The Rolling Stones, had died at age 80.
We all know the score — everybody has to go some time. But when it is a member of a band that has been so much a part of the fabric of popular music for so long, it stuns all the more to hear of a good one’s passing.
The Rolling Stones go back to 1962. Watts joined the band in 1963 and at that point, they were a part of the “British Invasion”, hitmaking groups from England making good in America.
I listened to Rolling Stones 45s long before I heard a Stones album — songs like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Get Off My Cloud” were records that just begged to be played over and over again, just like singles by The Beatles, The Kinks, The Dave Clark Five, and The Who.
The album era came soon after and The Rolling Stones released a solid core of great LPs including “Beggar’s Banquet”, “Let It Bleed”, and “Sticky Fingers”.
By the start of the 1970s, The Rolling Stones were also the kings of arena rock — so much so, they claimed the title of “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World”. Always on the cutting edge of large-scale entertainment, The Stones have been the hottest concert ticket in the world — not just for a little while, but for decades.
Watts was there through all of that — certainly a heady enough position. But he also carved out his own space with his own band, not playing rock and roll, but jazz.
Watts isn’t the only good one we have lost in 2021. So let’s not just raise a glass to Charlie, but let’s go ahead and have a full-blown wake for all of the musicians we have lost so far this year.
Here are some random memories of fallen music makers along with a playlist for the party:
Tim Bogert — I saw him at my very first concert in 1970, playing with Cactus. Let’s play their great tune for a musician’s wake: “Bro. Bill”, in itself a song about attending a funeral. Bogert was also in Vanilla Fudge and Beck, Bogert and Appice.
Rusty Young — Another musician I saw at my first concert, this guy was in the original Poco line-up and remained. I last saw them at Bohemian Nights in 2019. Let’s play Young’s famous Poco hit: “Crazy Love”. Young’s longtime band mate Paul Cotton also died in 2021.
Ron Bushy — No recording defined jam drumming more than this man’s epic solo on Iron Butterfly’s psychedelic classic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. Naturally, we should play that tune — the whole thing — loud.
Chick Corea — Oh, I remember blistering jazz fusion evenings with Corea and the classic Return to Forever line-up, but now let’s remember Corea’s 2018 concert at Griffin Concert Hall in Fort Collins, appearing in a trio format. We should play his signature tune, “Spain”, which he turned into a satisfying crowd participation number at Griffin.
Dusty Hill — How bad is this — losing an iconic rock figure like the longtime bass player of dynamic trio ZZ Top. I saw ZZ the first time in Hollywood in 1973 and the last time at the Thunder Mountain Amphitheatre in Loveland in 2015. We’ve got to play “La Grange”.
Rick Laird — When I saw The Mahavishnu Orcherstra in Seattle in 1973, the music they made kind of scared me — it was so dark, deep, and electric. Bassist Rick Laird was fully a part of that. Let’s play the first track on the “Inner Mounting Flame” album — “Meeting of the Spirits”.
Bunny Wailer — I photographed this reggae king at the Boulder Reservoir one cloudy afternoon in 2000. As an originator, calling Bob Marley and Peter Tosh as his bandmates in the seminal version of The Wailers, this was a rare area appearance. On the playlist: the title song from Wailer’s first solo record, “Blackheart Man”.
Nanci Griffith — She played The Lincoln Center on her “Flyer” tour in 1995. Griffith won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1994 for “Other Voices, Other Rooms”. Let’s play “Across the Great Divide” from that record, the Kate Wolf song featuring vocals by Emmylou Harris.
George Wein — The founder of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals brought jazz to LA one year and I got to see guitarists such as Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell and Roy Buchanan, jazz greats such as Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Mann, as well as hitmakers like Gladys Knight and the Pips and BB King. For Wein, let’s play Mingus’ “Goodbye Park Pie Hat”.
Let’s mention a few more:
Tom T. Hall — Member of the Country Music Hall of Fame; “Harper Valley PTA”.
Lloyd Price — Rock & Roll Hall of Famer; “Stagger Lee”.
Phil Spector — Legendary songwriter and producer of The Beatles and others; “To Know Him, is to Love Him”, early hit as a member of The Teddy Bears. Let’s add: convicted murderer.
Robby Steinhardt — Kansas violinist/vocalist; “Dust in the Wind”.
B.J. Thomas — Won five Grammys; “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”.
Don Everly — Of the influential Everly Brothers; “Bye Bye Love”.
Also: avant-garde composer Jon Hassell; reggae performer and producer Lee “Scratch” Perry; Kool & the Gang saxman Dennis Thomas; UB40 saxman Brian Travers; Mary Wilson of The Supremes; Jimmie Rogers, DMX, and Johnny Pacheco.
For them and for Charlie Watts — I would play The Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By”. It’s a melancholy song. The very first words are “It is the evening of the day” and that couldn’t be more poignant for what’s going on here.
For people of each generation, time is on your side for a while but then you have to end up appreciating just how precious it all is — including joys like beloved musicians, now gone. The moments they inspired are worth toasting.
Tim Van Schmidt is a photographer and writer based in Fort Collins. See his channel on YouTube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”