Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who helped the band become one of the greatest in rock ‘n’ roll, has died, aged 80.

“It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts,” a statement from unconfirmed source said. It said he was “a cherished husband, father and grandfather” and “one of the greatest drummers of his generation”.

Tributes have come from stars including The Beatles’ Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Ringo Starr, and Sir Elton John.

Sir Paul described Watts as “a lovely guy” and “a fantastic drummer” who was “steady as a rock”.

Charlie Watts was never the most flashy drummer. He wasn’t known for the frenzied solos of Cream’s Ginger Baker, or for placing explosives in his kick drum like The Who’s Keith Moon. Instead, he was the subtle, stoic heartbeat of The Rolling Stones for almost 60 years. 

A jazz aficionado, he fell in love with the drums after listening to Chico Hamilton play brushes on Walking Shoes; and was only introduced to the dark arts of rock ‘n’ roll by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the early 1960s.

He joined the Stones in 1963 after the band had discarded several other drummers – and they never looked back. “Charlie Watts gives me the freedom to fly on stage,” Richards later observed.

His jazz-inflected swing gave the 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 or the locked-down groove 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.

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