Friday, August 27, 2021

I Hope Good Luck Lives In Odd Numbers

Despite becoming one of the greats of rock and/or roll, the dapper and deadpan Charlie Watts, who died this week aged eighty, spent more than sixty years doing his second-favourite job. Charlie applied himself diligently to the task of being the rock-steady heartbeat of The Rolling Stones, but what he always yearned to do was play jazz. Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis were his musical idols and his playing was inspired by jazz drummers such as Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes and Philly Joe Jones.
Charlie's career with The Stones ran from the cramped West London clubs of Britain's early-1960s rhythm and blues boom to the international stadium tours which became the norm by the 1970s. Through it all, he seemed determined to be as self-effacing as anybody could be as a member of perhaps the world's most high-profile rock band. Nonetheless, the group fully understood his value to them. Keith Richards, in particular, often acknowledged how fundamental Charlie was to The Stones' sound, perhaps not least because he was prepared to make space for the churning rhythmic drive of the guitars of Richards, Brian Jones and, later, Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood. The crisp economy of Charlie's drumming, both swinging and muscular, was remarkable for its absence of frills or fuss, freeing the rest of the band to express themselves around it. 'Charlie Watts gives me the freedom to fly on stage,' Richards once observed.
Charlie, who trained in graphic design, also contributed a lot to The Stones' marketing and presentation, which came to the fore as they evolved into a global brand and their performances grew increasingly spectacular. He was involved in the artwork for some early Stones releases - notably 1967's Between The Buttons - and collaborated with Mick Jagger on the design of their elaborate stage sets for such tours as Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle (1989-90), Bridges To Babylon (1997-98), Licks (2002-03) and A Bigger Bang (2005-07). Any conversation with Charlie was likely to rove amiably across topics such as his love of Savile Row suits, cricket - he often attended test matches at Lord's and The Oval - and the horses he reared with his wife, Shirley, at their Halsdon Arabians farm in Devon. But he would invariably come back to his first love, jazz. 'The first person whose playing I was aware of was [baritone saxophonist] Gerry Mulligan and the track was 'Walking Shoes', with Chico Hamilton playing drums,' Charlie recalled in 2012. 'That's what made me want to play the drums. Before that I wanted to play alto sax because I loved Earl Bostic.' 
'As much as Mick's voice and Keith's guitar, Charlie Watts's snare sound is The Rolling Stones,' Bruce Springsteen once wrote. 'When Mick sings, 'It's only rock 'n' roll but I like it,' Charlie's in back showing you why!' Charlie was never the most flashy drummer. He wasn't known for the frenzied solos of The Cream's Ginger Baker, or for placing explosives in his kick drum like The Who's Keith Moon. Instead, like his good friend Ringo Starr, he was the subtle, stoic, metronomic heartbeat of his band for almost sixty years. His jazz-inflected swing gave many Stones' songs their swagger, pushing and pulling at the groove, creating room for Jagger's lascivious drawl. He was at his best on the cowbell-driven 'Honky Tonk Women', the power-groove of 'Street Fighting Man' or the locked-down quasi-funk of 'Gimme Shelter' (where he even threw in some uncharacteristically showy fills). On and off the stage, he was quiet and reserved - sticking to the shadows and letting the rest of the band suck up the limelight, the controversy and the glory. 'I've actually never been interested in all that stuff and [I'm] still not,' he told the San Diego Tribune in 1991. 'I don't know what showbiz is and I've never watched MTV. There are people who just play instruments and I'm pleased to know that I'm one of them.' In 1989, during a Stones twenty fifth anniversary TV documentary (Twenty Five By Five) Charlie was deliciously self-deprecating about his time in the band, describing it as 'five years of work and twenty years of hanging around!'
Charlie was born at University College Hospital, London, to Charles Watts, a lorry driver and his wife Lillian. The family (including Charlie's sister, Linda) lived in Wembley in post-war prefabricated housing. He became lifelong friends with his neighbour, Dave Green, who would become a fine jazz bass player. The young Watts (dubbed 'Charlie Boy' by his parents) became fixated on hard bebop and cool jazz during the 1950s. He bought himself a banjo when he was fourteen, but rather than learn how to play it he converted it into a snare drum. He was given his first drum kit as a Christmas present in 1955 and whilst other teenagers were shaking a leg to Bill Haley or Elvis Presley, he dreamed of playing drums with Miles Davis, or stepping into Art Blakey's shoes with The Jazz Messengers. His first band was the jazz outfit The Jo Jones All Stars, which he and Green joined in 1958. After Tyler's Croft secondary modern school in Kingsbury, Charlie studied at Harrow School of Art, where he drew, as part of an assignment, a thirty six-page children's book called Ode To A High Flying Bird, depicting the life of the saxophonist Charlie Parker. The book was later picked up by a London publisher and printed in 1964. After art college Watts secured a job as a designer with a London advertising agency, Charlie Daniels Studios, in 1960. Whilst working at the agency he was lured away from jazz by Alexis Korner, who recruited him for his band, Blues Incorporated in 1962. In the small pool of the nascent British 'blues boom', the future Stones Jagger and Brian Jones (then calling himself Elmo Lewis) made appearances with Korner's band, before Jones branched off to start his own group that included The Stones' unsung but faithful pianist and roadie, Ian Stewart. 
A meeting with Jagger and Keith Richards prompted the formation of The Rolling Stones, although it was a few months before the cautious Watts was induced to leave Korner's band and join them full-time, which he eventually did in January 1963. Charlie would observe The Stones' remarkable trajectory from his vantage point at the back of the stage, occasionally permitting himself a quizzical smile - particularly on the odd occasions where he got to introduce a number - but always remaining detached from the cavalcade of The Sex, The Drugs and the spectacular headlines which followed the band around the world. Renowned as the quiet, sensible one, he never strayed into the limelight if he could avoid it, though the title of Peter Whitehead's documentary film Charlie Is My Darling, shot when The Stones visited Ireland in 1965, acknowledged that Watts projected his own, quiet, mystique. While Jagger, Jones, Richards and Bill Wyman would be out on the town in the Soho clubs, havin' it large with every fashion model within touching distance, Charlie quietly married his girlfriend Shirley Shepherd in 1964 without even telling his bandmates. The couple's relationship remained solid until his death.
Only for a brief period during the mid-1980s did his natural self-reliance fail him. During recording of The Stones' worst LP, Dirty Work in 1985, Jagger and Richards were at loggerheads, the future of the band looked shaky and Charlie's daughter Seraphina (born in 1968) had been expelled from the prestigious Millfield public school after being caught smoking dope. Watts began hitting the bottle, and - shockingly for anyone who knew him - developed a brief, but heavy, heroin habit, though never quite on a scale to match that of Richards. 'Towards the end of 1986, I hit an all-time low in my personal life and in my relationship with Mick,' he admitted later. 'I was mad on drink and drugs. I became a completely different person, not a nice one. I nearly lost my wife and family and everything.' Charlie's relations with Jagger had reached a nadir. On one infamous occasion, in an Amsterdam hotel in 1984, a drunken Jagger reportedly woke Watts up by bellowing down the phone 'Where's my drummer?' Charlie responded by getting dressed, having a shave, going round to the singer's room, giving Mick a damned good fisting with a left hook and bellowing: 'Don't ever call me "your drummer" again, you're my fucking singer.' However, the ever-practical Watts quietly weaned himself off drugs even before his problem had become public knowledge and concentrated on building a family life focused around horses and breeding sheepdogs at a country estate he had purchased in Devon.
He also distracted himself from the squabbles and struggles of The Stones by putting together The Charlie Watts Big Band, which featured many top British jazz players. They toured the US and recorded an LP, Live At Fulham Town Hall, released in 1986. In 1991 he formed The Charlie Watts Quintet, which recorded a string of CDs including From One Charlie, a tribute to Charlie Parker and, in 2000, he teamed up with fellow drum legend Jim Keltner for The Charlie Watts/Jim Keltner Project, a tribute to the pair's favourite jazz drummers. In 2004 came Watts At Scott's, a live recording of The Charlie Watts Tentet at Ronnie Scott's club The disc appeared as news emerged that Watts had been undergoing radiotherapy for throat cancer. The treatment proved successful and the cancer went into remission. 
While touring and studio work with The Stones continued as ever, in 2009 he began playing with The ABC&D Of Boogie Woogie - the name came from the first-name initials of its members, the pianists Axel Zwingenberger and Ben Waters and Charlie's old mate Dave Green. They recorded The Magic Of Boogie Woogie (2010) and Live In Paris (2012). 
Charlie was, of course, extremely inducted into the Rock and/or Roll Hall of Fame with The Stones in 1989 and was voted into Modern Drummer magazine's Hall of Fame in 2006. Also in 2006, Vanity Fair voted the impeccably tailored Charlie into an International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame. Shortly before his death it was reported that he had undergone surgery and that Steve Jordan would be taking his place on the Stones' No Filter tour of the US. He is survived by Shirley, Seraphina and a granddaughter, Charlotte.
Ted Dexter, who has also died this week at the age of eighty six, was the beau ideal, the supreme all-rounder of English cricket for a decade. Dexter could turn his hand to anything sporting and he did so with panache, style, vigour and a hint of the arrogance, whilst ticking every establishment box. Dexter was born in Milan where his father, Ralph, was a prosperous underwriter. Ted along with his family moved to England when he was aged three just before the start of World War II. Dexter was educated at Norfolk House, Beaconsfield and Radley College, where he played in the first XI from 1950 to 1953, initially as a wicket-keeper and as captain in 1953 and was nicknamed 'Lord Ted' by his coach Ivor Gilliat for his aloof self-confidence. While Dexter was head boy at Radley, Peter Cook, the satirist, was - he claimed - among those younger boys upon whom 'a big and strong' Dexter inflicted corporal punishment. (Dexter also made an enemy of Geoffrey Boycott who used two pages of his 1979 autobiography Put To The Test to criticise Dexter for using comments Boycott made off-air during an appearance on Parkinson in public. 'That article was a disgrace,' wrote Boycott, angrily. 'If that's what a public school a university education does for Ted Dexter, I'm glad I went to Hemsworth Grammer School.') Dexter did his national service as a second lieutenant in the Eleventh Hussars during the Malayan Emergency (1953-55) and was awarded the Malaya Campaign Medal. On his discharge, Dexter entered Jesus College, Cambridge in October 1955, where he played golf and rugby in addition to winning his cricket Blue. Dexter was all the more exciting against the contemporary background of English cricket. It was, frankly, a boring period. The late 1950s was the epoch of Trevor Bailey blocking all day, of Peter May captaining cautiously, of Colin Cowdrey reining in his prodigious talents. Dexter went out and stroked the ball all around the ground, like almost everyone these days but few others then. His signature shot was the front-foot drive, through the covers or over long-off and as dashing as Wally Hammond's had been.
Dexter had flexed his wrists by playing golf from an early age - and he continued to play it, occasionally with professional friends like Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, such was the company he kept. While his team-mates pushed and poked, Dexter strode out at number three for Sussex or England, lowered his cap and charged the bowling. One of the most celebrated of all test innings for England was the seventy he scored against the West Indies at Lord's in 1963, when Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith were dishing out some of the fastest bowling England had seen to that point, backed by Gary Sobers, the one adversary Dexter found more gifted than himself. Dexter could bowl pretty fast too, well enough to be England's regular third seamer. It is unimaginable now but in those amateur days England's number three would peel off his sweater and bowl as quickly as the opening bowlers. Having been selected too soon for England on their 1958-9 tour of Australia and New Zealand, Dexter had come to the fore the following winter on their tour of the Caribbean. Never let it be assumed that Dexter was just a dashing amateur: he had a cricket brain that was ingenious and he worked out that playing the bouncers which Hall and Griffith fired down, as never before, were best dealt with by playing back and chest-on - not in the orthodox style of side-on. Although junior to Cowdrey, Dexter became England's captain when May retired, as the MCC, who then made such appointments, hoped he would lead his team to play less defensive cricket: around the world test cricket was congealing into a morass of blocking and draws. Dexter tried to lead by example when scoring four hundred and eighty one runs in the 1962-3 series in Australia, the most in a series there by any England captain to this day, but even then the series was another draw. It was in one-day cricket that Dexter found the scope for his ingenuity. As captain of Sussex, he won the first two Gillette Cups, in 1963 and 1964. In this knockout tournament English cricket roused itself from the post-war stupor of the late 1950s. Dexter bowled Sussex's pace bowlers, no spinners and spread the field, then cashed in with the bat when his opponents played conventionally. Dexter needed the tactics of one-day cricket as something to think about on the field (he came out of retirement to play for Sussex when the Sunday League was launched in 1971). Dexter declared himself unavailable for the 1964–65 tour of South Africa as he contested Jim Callaghan's Cardiff South East seat for the Conservative Party in the 1964 General Election. Finding himself free to tour after his parliamentary defeat he was made vice-captain to Mike Smith, who won the series and continued as captain. Dexter's cricket career was virtually ended by a serious motor accident in 1965. His Jaguar ran out of petrol in West London and he was pushing it to safety when it pinned him to a warehouse door, breaking his leg. He left Sussex and played occasional Sunday games with the International Cavaliers whilst beginning a long career in journalism. He returned tocricket, briefly, in 1968, making two hundred and three not out in his comeback match against Kent and appearing twice for England in the 1968 Ashes series under Colin Cowdrey. Like many talented and versatile people, Dexter easily became bored. On a slow test or championship day he could be seen practising his golf swing while he was supposed to be concentrating in the field - not something he would have approved of when he became England's chairman of selectors in 1989. If Dexter had any direct successor as an England test captain, it was David Gower who took an afternoon off to fly a Tiger Moth on a tour of Australia. In 1970 Dexter had piloted his own plane from England to Australia to cover that winter's Ashes tour. He was accompanied by his wife, the glamorous model Susan Longfield, with whom he had had fallen in love at Cambridge, but the living conditions for almost a month with a baby were arduous. Planes, fast cars, motorbikes, cricket journalism, a co-written novel (Testkill - with Clifford Makins, a particular favourite of this blogger) in which an Australian bowler is murdered during a test match at Lord's: all these exploits kept Dexter amused for a while. In another piece of ingenuity he helped to devise the Deloittes Ratings, which were to become the official ICC player rankings. He was much quoted for the odd gaffe when England chairman of selectors, notably when he mistakenly referred to Devon Malcolm as 'Malcolm Devon' but he became bored by saying and doing conventional things because they came so easily, and it is not what he should be remembered for. Dexter illuminated English cricket when darkness was threatening to overcome. Dexter was appointed CBE in 2001. In 2007 his long Sussex attachment came full circle when he was elected club president. In 1959 Dexter married Susan, the daughter of the former county cricketer Tom Longfield. She and their son, Tom and daughter, Genevieve, survive him.
The comedian Sean Lock has died from cancer at the age of fifty eight. A comedy panel show favourite, Lock was a team captain on the series Eight Out Of Ten Cats, hosted by Jimmy Carr. He also appeared regularly on Qi, The Last Leg, Have I Got News For You and The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year (where he had to suffer co-hosting with That Odious Corden Individual). Paying tribute, Bill Bailey said: 'It's heartbreaking to lose my dearest friend Sean Lock, he was a true original, a wonderful comic.' Lee Mack, fellow comedian and another close friend of Lock's, described the news of his death as 'heartbreaking', adding: 'A true original both in comedy and life. I will miss him so much.' Born in Chertsey, Surrey, Sean left school in the early 1980s and began working on building sites but developed skin cancer, which he blamed on over-exposure to the sun. He recovered and decided to focus on a career in comedy. Early in his TV career, Lock appeared on the 1993 series Newman & Baddiel In Pieces. Lock co-wrote the screenplay for the 2001 feature film This Filthy Earth alongside director Andrew Kötting, which was adapted from the novel La Terre by Émile Zola. Lock was named best live comic at the British Comedy Award in 2000 and had also previously been nominated for the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award at Edinburgh. In 2006, he presented and produced the Channel Four series TV Heaven, Telly Hell, in which guests would discuss their likes and dislikes in television. Lock also appeared at Channel Four's Comedy Gala. He wrote and starred in the BBC sitcom Fifteen Storeys High. But Lock was probably best known as a team captain on Eight Out Of Ten Cats. The show saw panellists answer questions based on statistics and opinion polls. He appeared on the first eighteen series, opposite team captains including Jason Manford and Jon Richardson. Lock left the show in 2016. He and Richardson also appeared on the spin-off series Eight Out Of Ten Cats does Countdown which included one of his finest ever routines, The Tiger Who Came For A Pint. 'I wish I had the words to describe the exceptional man that was Sean Lock. But today I don't, and I think he might have liked it that way,' tweeted his co-star Susie Dent.
Don Everly, the surviving member of the rock and/or roll duo The Everly Brothers, has died in Nashville at the age of eighty four. A family spokesperson confirmed Everly's death to the Los Angeles Times. Everly and his brother, Phil, had hits worldwide in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including 'Bye Bye Love' and 'All I Have To Do Is Dream'. They were known for their close harmonies and influenced the likes of The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. The pair had an onstage break-up in 1973 which led to a decade-long estrangement, but Phil later told Time magazine that the brothers' relationship had survived this. 'Don lived by what he felt in his heart. Don expressed his appreciation for the ability to live his dreams with his soulmate and wife, Adela, and sharing the music that made him an Everly Brother,' a statement said. The Everly brothers were the children of country and western singers and performed on the family radio show while growing up. In their heyday, between 1957 and 1962, they had fifteen US top ten hits, including 'Bye Bye Love' and 'Cathy's Clown'. The duo called it quits during a performance in California in 1973, in which Phil smashed his guitar and walked off stage. During their time apart, both pursued solo careers with limited success. They reunited a decade later with a concert in London, followed by a comeback LP. In a 1986 interview with the Associated Press news agency, Don Everly said the two were successful because 'we never followed trends. We did what we liked and followed our instincts. Rock 'n' roll did survive and we were right about that. Country did survive and we were right about that. You can mix the two but people said we couldn't,' he said. The Everly Brothers were elected to the Rock and/or Roll Hall of Fame in its first year, 1986 and they were given a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in 1997. Rolling Stain magazine has described them as 'the most important vocal duo in rock.' Phil Everly died of pulmonary disease in 2014, aged seventy four.