A World Without Charlie Watts, Part 3: Author/Historian/Friend Harvey Kubernik on Charlie’s Impact

Harvey Kubernik (right) with Keith Richards

HARVEY KUBERNIK: One of the great things about recording in Hollywood at RCA was after a session you’d walk into the car port and literally on the other side of the building was [jazz club] Shelly’s Manne-Hole,” Charlie revealed to me at a 2016 Stones’ Coachella Desert Trip tour rehearsal at Third Encore studios in Burbank, California.

In my 2014 book Turn Up The Radio! Pop, Rock, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972, I asked Charlie about a Stones’ 1964 or ’65 recording session at RCA.

“While we were recording in Hollywood,” he said, “I went to Shelly’s Manne-Hole twice—once to see Charles Lloyd, Albert Stinson [with Gabor Szabo and Pete LaRoca], and the Bill Evans Trio with Paul Motian on drums [and Chuck Israels]. I saw Shelly at his club.”

Charlie was always thankful I introduced him to drummer Stan Levey, who he saw in 1960 with Stan Kenton at Wembley. Earlier this century we had lunch at the Levey house in Sherman Oaks and Charlie arrived in a cab from The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, wearing perfectly pressed blue jeans, to join Jim Keltner and I.

He relished the Chico Hamilton autograph I personally got for him, and was delighted by the gift I gave him of a Shelley Manne coffee table limited edition book. I fondly recall how Charlie described the thin drum sticks that Shelley used on the bandstand and in the studio. I was a Ludwig 7a wood tip guy.

Charlie supplied a testimonial quote for the back cover of a Buddy Collette album I produced, and he invited Buddy, my brother Kenneth and me to his big band concert at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood.

kubernik docs that rock
Docs That Rock, Music That Matters,
by Harvey Kubernik

Jim Keltner and I later connected Charlie with met drummer Freddie Gruber. Lots of marvelous Buddy Rich and Max Roach tales.

On one Stones’ tour this century, we had a pre-show chat with the legendary drummer Earl Palmer. He had finally met Earl years earlier at The Palace in Hollywood. In the sixties Charlie visited a Phil Spector recording session at Gold Star studio in Hollywood invited by arranger/keyboardist Jack Nitzsche. He loved the Crystals’ record “Da Doo Ron Ron.” Earl or Hal Blaine played drums on the track.

On occasion he referenced his drum set up at Olympic studio in Barnes London, and Sunset Sound and Ocean Way in Hollywood.  During 1997 he invited me to a slew of recording sessions at Ocean Way by the Stones during their Bridges to Babylon studio bookings.

There is one memorable Charlie Watts sighting at The Jazz Bakery venue in Culver City when he went to see Elvin Jones. Charlie, in a dashing custom-made suit was greeted and embraced after the show by the drummer drenched in stage sweat. Witnesses knew Charlie wasn’t concerned at all about going to the dry cleaner the next morning.


In 2016 Charlie and Jim Keltner invited me to a Rolling Stones’ rehearsal in North Hollywood. I carried some cymbals into the room with Jim’s lead tech and cartage man that were put on Charlie’s kit. He handed me a tambourine from one cymbal stand that I briefly shook for twenty seconds as the band jammed.

Ronnie Wood saw it and said, “Hey. You’re big time. At our rehearsal. It’s your dream gig? Right?” And I replied, “Yes. But it is not lost on me and just as important is that you were the bass player on Jeff Beck’s Truth LP.”

That blew him away. Keith Richard heard our exchange and laughed out loud. Ronnie hugged me. Then they both handed me their guitar picks.

Charlie smiled…

A couple of years ago I saw Charlie at Don Randi’s Baked Potato club in Studio City. It was an event honoring Hal Blaine on his 90th birthday party. Charlie contributed some autographed drum sticks to a charity auction being held in the room.

Over the last few decades my brother and I would send and give Charlie rare jazz videos. He really dug them. In my last conversation with him, after he visited the Motown Museum in Detroit, Charlie indicated he was building a collection of rare drum items.

May his beat go on and on…

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