Satisfaction! The Rolling Stones’ first Number 1 single was inescapable in the summer of 1965. Since the death of Charlie Watts on August 24th, I’ve been immersed in memories of the Stones’ music and what an essential role it played in my life, especially through the 1960’s and 70’s. I painted the Stones many times, but I focused on Mick and Keith. Never on Charlie, who was less flamboyantly photogenic, but he was always there in the background, providing the rock-solid beat that propelled them.
In the summer of ’65, I had moved up to Washington Heights with my husband. I’d recently married and earned my MFA in painting from Columbia
University, where my final exhibition featured life-size paintings of the Beatles. Frank and I had been devotees of jazz, but the Beatles had changed that, and I was thoroughly hooked on AM radio and the pop music countdowns on WMCA and WABC.
Satisfaction started with an irresistible guitar hook, heavily distorted, and it hit me with the force that had grabbed me when I’d first heard the opening bars of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” the year before. Much later I read that the riff had come to Keith Richards in his sleep. He’d turned on a recorder and taped two minutes of acoustic guitar, then fallen back asleep and recorded two hours of snoring.
That fall, Frank and I went to hear the Stones at the Academy of Music on 14th Street, an old movie palace next door to Luchow’s, an upscale German restaurant. Our orchestra seats were near the back, and I can’t recall much about the music—it was drowned out by the screaming of the mostly female audience. But I vividly recall the young woman in the row behind us, who leaned over Frank with a death grip on his shoulders as she screeched Mick’s name.
I was single the next time I heard the Stones: Madison Square Garden, with Ike and Tina Turner as the opening act, Tina flaunting her muscular thighs as she belted out “Proud Mary.” The third and final time I heard them was at the Times Union Center in Albany, during their “Bigger Bang” tour. Alanis Morrisette was the opener. Both concerts were great, and I could actually hear the band, but there was something missing.
The Rolling Stones raked in untold millions touring enormous arenas, but I’d like to have heard them in a more intimate setting. Search the Internet, and you’ll find examples of them playing in small venues, sometimes with American blues legends they idolized, like Muddy Waters. From the beginning, they gave credit to the artists who had inspired them, helping to boost their careers in the process.
For Charlie Watts, though, jazz was the driving musical passion. Reading the many tributes and obituaries in recent days, I’m struck by how deep his passion went. When he was starting out, he loved the music of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, and especially Charlie Parker—artists I idolized as well. He taught himself to drum by playing along with Bird’s records, just as I taught myself jazz piano by playing along with bebop favorites like Bud Powell and Tadd Dameron. (In this photo, Curly Russell is on bass, and a very young Miles Davis on trumpet.)
Charlie Watts graduated from art school and worked as a graphic artist at a London ad agency. He wrote and illustrated a children’s book about Charlie Parker, Ode to a Highflying Bird. After work, he gigged with various bands in London clubs. It was there that the Stones heard him and persuaded him to join their fledgling band.
Reading the many tributes that followed his death, I learned a great deal about Charlie, including his penchant for bespoke Saville Row suits and his breeding of Arabian horses. But I was especially struck by this quote from the obituary in the New York Times:
“I’ve always wanted to be a drummer,” he told Rolling Stone in 1996, adding that during arena rock shows, he imagined a more intimate setting. “I’ve always had this illusion of being in the Blue Note or Birdland with Charlie Parker in front of me. It didn’t sound like that, but that was the illusion I had.”
Unlike Charlie, I spent many nights at Birdland in the 1950’s. I never heard Charlie Parker live, but I heard many great jazz musicians there. The most memorable was the Count Basie band, with the great blues singer Joe Williams. Birdland was a small, intimate club, and when my mother and I sat right in front of the stage, the overpowering wall of sound shook us body and soul. Charlie Watts would have loved it.
Below is my painting ALTALANCH, 1970, inspired by GIMME SHELTER, the great documentary by the Maysles brothers about the Rolling Stones’ disastrous concert at the Altamont Raceway in California late in 1969. Some of my paintings, including IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S SUPERPAUL, above, are available as giclee prints. Please leave a message in the comments if you’re interested.
© Julie Lomoe September 1, 2021