- Written by Terri Schlichenmeyer Terri Schlichenmeyer
The music really starts you up.
The first few notes pull you onto the dance floor. Guitar strings speak to your feet, a drum seems attached to your hips and demands that you move to the song. It makes you feel so alive.
You can dance, and though you can’t always get what you want, you can get Charlie's Good Tonight by Paul Sexton.
Born in the middle of World War II and raised partly by his grandparents, Charlie Watts was always a musician at heart. He grew up loving jazz on records and radio, but his “first faltering steps as a musician” were with a banjo. Later, when he was a young teenager, his father and grandmother bought him a secondhand drum kit.
That changed everything.
He practiced and found places to watch his favorite local groups’ drummers; by 1958, he was performing in jazz bands occasionally, mostly in and around North London. He went to art school, worked as a designer for an advertising agency, and he played the drums, almost always just for fun.
In 1959, he met Brian Jones, who soon introduced him to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and “Seeds were … sown.” Watts really didn’t have a passion for the stage, but he “liked their spirit,” so he took the Rolling Stones up on their offer to join the band.
The secret, says Sexton, was that Watts hated traveling, performing, and being in front of crowds. He was “the studious one,” the collector who loved fine clothes, books, sketching, vinyl records, his wife and daughter, and the Arabian horses on his farm.
Onstage and off, he was unflappable, dependable, and constant, but Sexton says that Watts had his struggles. He might have been on the road performing, but his heart was at home, in front of a warm fire. Briefly, he fought addiction. And yet, he stayed and played, faithful despite those personal troubles.
And when he died, it “prompted overpowering, long-lasting lamentation among millions of people who never even met him.”
In a very big way, Charlie’s Good Tonight is an outlier: It’s not filled with discography, too many little-known people, or gratuitous name-dropping.
That’s a nice lack, if you want to read a rock-solid — and rather curious — biography about another outlier: Watts, who was with the Stones for some three-quarters of his life and is said to have disliked it intensely. The surprise is that in author Paul Sexton’s account, Watts becomes somewhat of a sympathetic character.
Granted, he was wealthy and able to indulge in a number of peccadilloes, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for Watts. Still, insider tidbits and insights here paint a tale of reluctant fame that will make readers want to dust off their LPs and think twice about the realities of being in the limelight.
This book could be a nice cautionary tale for someone who’s pondering a life onstage. It’s a no-brainer for a Stones fan and will appeal to readers of musical bios. Get Charlie’s Good Tonight and get some satisfaction.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 14,000 books.