Blog Archives

Happy birthday, Mick Taylor!

Tomorrow is Mick Taylor’s 66th birthday! Mick Taylor played guitar with the Rolling Stones from 1969-1974. In honor of his birthday, here is an excerpt from Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost:



“Honky Tonk Women,” “Country Honk,” and “Live With Me” were recorded between May 12 and June 12, with the emphasis put on the completion of “Honky Tonk Women” as an immediate single release. During the May 31 session, both “Honky Tonk Women” and “Live With Me” were being worked on when ex-John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers’ guitarist Mick Taylor was brought in for a dry run on Mick Jagger’s invitation. By the end of the session, it had been decided that Taylor would be Brian’s [Jones] replacement. Asked why he was chosen, Taylor recalled: “I think probably because John Mayall recommended me. They’d known John Mayall since the early days, and they were both blues bands when they started out. But Ian Stewart recommended me as well, and that’s how it came about. It came about very quickly. I’d been in LA with John Mayall, and towards the end of the tour, he announced he was going to change his band and use a different lineup without a drummer. He was going to have an acoustic guitar player, a saxophone player, and it was all going to be a little bit experimental, so that particular band split up, and I got back to London, and, after a couple of days, I was thinking about forming my own band, but I got this phone call, from John Mayall actually at first, saying he thought the Stones were interested [in] me possibly doing some session work. So, I went down to Olympic Studios, played with them one night, and we hit it off almost instantly, and they asked me to join. And that was it.”

Michael Kevin Taylor, born on January 17, 1949 was a fourteen-year-old schoolboy in Hatfield, twenty miles north of London, when the Stones’ first single, “Come On,” was released in 1963. Taylor started listening to records and playing guitar steadily at an early age, and, with the exception of a few chords his uncle showed him, was self-taught. “I was about ten years old [when I started],” he recalled. “My uncle was in the army, stationed in Germany. There were lots of American bases there; Mick_Taylor2there still are. I think he got his interest in music from listening to American music there, R&B and blues, things like that. He brought back a guitar with him. That was where my interest in the guitar started.” He continued, “As my interest in the guitar developed, my interest in blues music in general developed. By the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I was into the blues, and I was buying blues records, as many as I could get ahold of.” In 1964, Taylor joined his first band the Juniors, who ultimately evolved into the Gods and included Greg Lake (later of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) and Ken Hensley (later of Uriah Heep). The Gods’ potential went unrealized, however, as Taylor explained: “Nothing happened. We didn’t make any records, didn’t have any management, and didn’t do any gigs.” When he was sixteen, Taylor happened to jam with John Mayall at a Bluesbreakers’ gig, sitting in for Eric Clapton, and, a little more than a year later, Mayall asked him to join his band, replacing Peter Green (Clapton’s replacement), who’d left with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie to form his own band, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Taylor commented, “One minute I was playing with local musicians in Hatfield, and the next minute touring America with Mayall” During his two years with the Bluesbreakers, Taylor appeared on Crusade, Bare Wires, Blues From Laurel Canyon, and both Diary of a Band albums.

After the Let It Bleed album was released, Keith explained the evolution of “Honky Tonk Women” this way: “Last Christmas, Mick and I flew out to Brazil and stayed on a ranch. It was just like Arizona, and, somehow, we got into cowboy songs. I wrote ‘Honky Tonk Women’ then, and it was a sort of Hank Williams tune. Back in London, we worked on it – trying to make it sound funkier with my guitar – and eventually we got the sound that was the single. It just knocked us out . . . we thought, ‘Wow, that has to be a single.’ But I never thought it would work the way it did. It was a bit like ‘Satisfaction’ in that it transcended all tastes. Some of our records are more for America, some are more suited for England, but ‘Honky Tonk Women’ was for everyone. Actually, you can hear the complete, Hank Williams-like version of the song [‘Country Honk’] on the Let It Bleed album.” He elaborated: “That was how it was originally written. All I had was a little guitar I bought off some guy in Rio. A beautiful little Dobro thing. And we were on the veranda and there were gauchos. We were in deep country. And that was the way it was written. The next day we polished it up.”

Taylor picked up the story: “Well, I definitely added something to ‘Honky Tonk Women,’ but it was more or less complete by lot0108-1-980x400the time I arrived and did my overdubs. They had already laid down the backing track, but it was very rough and incomplete. I added some guitars to it. But I didn’t play the riffs that start ‘Honky Tonk Women’; that’s Keith playing. I played the country kind of influence and the rock licks between the verses. My part on ‘Country Honk’ wasn’t on a regular guitar; it was one of those cheap little Selmer Hawaiian guitars, which I played on my lap.” Taylor owned and used the Selmer lap-steel during his stay with John Mayall, explaining, “I found that guitar in London for about $40. I wish I still had it; I used that guitar in regular tuning.”

Win Charlie Watts’ Gretsch Drum Kit

Contest Slide 770x420

Guitar Player and Rolling Stones Gear have teamed up to give you a chance to Win the Brands of the Rolling Stones! Now you can own some of the major brands of equipment the Rolling Stones played including Fender, Martin, Framus, Zemaitis, Gretsch, and Vox in this exciting new sweepstakes! They are also giving away the new book Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost. If nothing else, enter to win a set of gorgeous Gretsch drums just like Charlie used to love! Read below for an excerpt about the kit from Rolling Stones Gear. 


Charlie used his 1950s maple Gretsch kit and included an Italian UFIP 18-inch Chinese cymbal. Later, when UFIP was Gretsch RollingStonesDrumsGerman-owned, Richard King (who supplied Charlie with a lot of his gear) remarked: “[Charlie] did accept an endorsement from an Italian cymbal company UFIP. He likes their 18-inch China crash cymbal, and when the new German owner sent Charlie sixty to try out, only two were up to his standards.” Charlie later revealed: “I play a UFIP cymbal. I play it the Chinese way, with the edges up. I like them because they’re very trashy. They do tend to crack, and I can only drill them so much before they lose the sound and go dead. I’ve kept them all though, for thirty years.” Charlie, not a man of many changes, shed further light on his cymbals, a setup that has remained steady throughout the years: “John DeChristopher at 
Zildjian is always sending me cymbals. He’s a
lovely guy, but I never use them right away! I 
choose the ones I like, put them away, and let
 them marinate. For me, finding a cymbal is about
going into a second-hand shop and digging. I 
prefer one of Shelly Manne’s old cymbals to ten 
new ones. Even a guy in a dance band or a club;
 HIS cymbals get a sound and a look about them.
I don’t like new drums either, and I HATE new
shoes.” He continued: “I like things that are 
well made, like Zildjians, but that are fifty years
old. I use an old 18-inch flat ride, and I’m scared
 stiff it’s going to go. They’ve sent me new ones, but they’re never as good. I found it in Paris in ’70- something with Chuch Magee. We were bombed out of our ’eads at the time, but I’ve never stopped using it. I’ve used it in a piano trio, and I’ve used it behind Keith, and it’s fabulous. It’s a beautiful cymbal to record with.” Concerning Charlie’s stage sound, Benji Lefevre, the front-of-the-house soundman/sound engineer for the tour, commented: “Charlie tunes it his way, and it just produces the Charlie Watts sound, so I don’t mess with it. He does, however, have a very light jazzy bass drum technique, which enables me to use delicate high quality microphones on it.”

Win Keith Richards’ Fender Telecaster

Contest Slide 770x420

Guitar Player and Rolling Stones Gear have teamed up to give you a chance to Win the Brands of the Rolling Stones! Now you can own some of the major brands of equipment the Rolling Stones played including Fender, Martin, Framus, Zemaitis, Gretsch, and Vox in this exciting new sweepstakes! They are also giving away the new book Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost. Check out this vintage ’52 Fender Telecaster that YOU could own!


FenderKeith mainly used his collection of five-string Teles, but also had on hand his 999 blond ’59 Tele (strung as a six-string), the single-cutaway ’57 sunburst Les Paul Junior, a single-cutaway Les Paul TV Junior, a single-cutaway Les Paul TV Special, the ’58 Mary Kaye Strat, a custom-made all-black Tele- style guitar with black P-90 pickups, a transparent black Tele-style Cobra by Tom Anderson, a reissue ’59 sunburst Gibson Les Paul, his acoustic Gibson L-1, an Ovation Adamas acoustic six-string, and a number of Martins. As on previous tours, Keith’s tunings and capo positions remained the same on all the constant numbers in the set. Another Fender Tele that was added to Keith’s five-string Tele collection was a 1952 butterscotch example with a black pickguard, which Keith nicknamed “George.” Unlike Micawber, Malcolm, and Sonny, whose neck pickups were replaced with humbuckers, George’s traditional Tele neck pickup was left alone. The guitar’s original bridge was replaced with an aftermarket bridge, and it was set up as a five string. The George Tele has become one of Keith’s go-to guitars for both stage and studio. Keith’s legendary guitars and their names hold a mystique of their own. Pierre explained: “I laugh when people tell me they spell Sonny with a ‘u’. It’s ‘Sonny’ because it’s named after Sonny Rollins, and Sonny Rollins is not spelled with a ‘u’, but I don’t sit there and tell everyone that. When I met Keith, he literally called all his Teles by their first names—Malcolm, Micawber, Sonny.” Pierre continued, revealing yet another new addition to Keith’s collection, “Gloria is a five-string 1954 Esquire that is totally beat up. It was a ‘parts’ guitar, a total beater with an Anderson pickup in the neck, and the reason for that is the low magnetic pull.”

Bill Wyman’s Vox Amplifier

Contest Slide 770x420

Guitar Player and Rolling Stones Gear have teamed up to give you a chance to Win the Brands of the Rolling Stones! Now you can own some of the major brands of equipment the Rolling Stones played including Fender, Martin, Framus, Zemaitis, Gretsch, and Vox in this exciting new sweepstakes! They are also giving away the new book Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost. Now you have a chance to win this top-notch Vox amp! Read this excerpt from the book about how the band used to worship these amps!

Solid Senders

Bill Wyman officially joined the group on January 5. Apparently, Mick, Keith, and Brian had finally decided that Bill was in after what could best be described as a trial period. Bill explained: “They didn’t like me, but I had a good amplifier, and they were badly in need of amplifiers at that time! So, they kept me on. Later, when they were going to get rid of me, I think I clicked or something and I stayed. I must have just fitted in.” Ian Stewart later commented, “There is a certain amount of truth that Bill was taken on for his equipment, but Bill was very good.”

VoxAmpThe group immediately incorporated Bill’s amplifiers into the backline. While the Watkins Westminster, a 10-watt amp
that came with an 8-inch speaker,
two inputs, a volume control, and a
tone control that also acted as an on-
off switch, was a nice addition, the 
real prize was Bill’s Vox AC-30.

Keith, more impressed by this 
particular amp than he was with 
Bill, later commented: “Bill had
 amplifiers! Bill came fully equipped.
 A Vox AC-30 amplifier, which was 
beyond our means to possess. Built by Jennings in Dartford. We used to worship it. We used to look at it and get on our knees. To have an amplifier was crucial. First off, I just wanted to separate Bill from his amplifier. But that was before he started playing with Charlie.” Watkins, later WEM (Watkins Electric Music), was a London-based company started by Charlie Watkins that specialized in amplification.

The Vox AC-30 was considered the best and loudest guitar amplifier on the market in England at the time. Bill’s AC-30 was tan or beige, commonly referred to as “fawn-colored.” The official model name for the amp was the Vox AC-30/6 Twin Normal; “6” meaning six inputs, “Twin” meaning two speakers, and “Normal” meaning the guitar rather than bass version. The AC-30 was equipped with four EL84 power tubes, five pre-amp tubes, and a single GZ34 rectifier tube. Jim Elyea’s definitive book Vox Amplifiers The JMI Years states that: “Bill’s original ‘fawn’ AC-30 was built in approximately February 1962 and was purchased from the Art Nash Music Shop. Bill’s is a Normal model with a brownish copper panel with no Top Boost circuit. The two original leather handles have been replaced with newer Vox SBU handles. The amp is equipped with a pair of Celestion Blue T.530 12-inch speakers and has a sticker inside the amp indicating that the amp was serviced by Alan Pyne.”

The Vox factory was located in Dartford, where Mick and Keith
grew up, and the primary Vox amplifier showroom was the Jennings
 music shop on Charing Cross Road in central London. Jennings Musical
 Industries was established by Tom Jennings in 1958. In 1962, the
 operation further expanded its horizons with the introduction of Vox 
guitars The company’s Vox amplifiers were devised by JMI’s chief design
engineer, Dick Denney.. Denney, who was also the creator of the AC-30,
started the Vox amplifier line with a 15-watt unit. He then reasoned that
what musicians really needed was a twin-speaker amp with six inputs.
Denney remembered Tom Jennings’s reaction to the concept: “He said to
me, ‘Well, you do what you like Dick, but if it doesn’t work, your head’s
on the chopping block.’ As it turned out, the AC-30 became the jewel in
 Vox’s crown; it’s what put Vox on the map. I made the amp so that it
sounded good to me. It was old technology, and I think old technology
still prevails.” One of the design oddities of the AC-30 was the situation of its control panel at the back of the top of the cabinet. Denney explained that his fellow guitarists at the time often sat behind their amplifiers, which projected a reverb-type effect into the hall from the front and a “dry” sound from the open back. Wyman’s Vox AC-30 amplifier cost £105, about $300 then, the equivalent of about £1,340 ($1,870) today.

On January 14, 1963, Tony Chapman was fired at the end of a gig at the Flamingo Jazz Club in Soho, London. The January 14, 1963, entry in Keith’s diary reads simply, “Tony Sacked!” Bill Wyman remembered: “Tony was told that his services were no longer required. He was furious and said, ‘Come on, Bill, let’s go and start a new band.’ I told him I was staying with the Stones, and Tony just upped and left.”

Win Bill Wyman’s Framus Star Bass

Contest Slide 770x420Guitar Player and Rolling Stones Gear have teamed up to give you a chance to Win the Brands of the Rolling Stones! Now you can own some of the major brands of equipment the Rolling Stones played including Fender, Martin, Framus, Zemaitis, Gretsch, and Vox in this exciting new sweepstakes! They are also giving away the new book Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost. Now you have a chance to win this stunning Framus bass! Andy and Greg wrote about Bill’s decision to play a Framus in Rolling Stones Gear.



During August and September, the group began doing more shows on the ballroom circuit. Crowd hysteria and chaos grew with their popularity. Bill was no longer comfortable using his customized fretless Dallas Tuxedo bass onstage, fearing that it might be damaged or, worse yet, stolen. So, he went to the Art Nash music shop in Penge on September 2 and purchased a Framus Star F5/150 bass. He 152147-FR05150 STARB SH V11remembered: “I decided to buy a new bass guitar. I helped finance my purchase by selling my old bass cabinet and amp to Tony Chapman for £25. He had put together a new band with Steve Carroll and some friends. They called themselves the Preachers.”

On why he decided to go with a Framus Star bass, he explained: “I never really settled on
anything. About the only thing around at that 
time that was suitable was a Framus Star—you know, with the big cherry body. I played it
 upright because it was still quite a long guitar and 
my arms are short as well. I found it physically 
easier to stretch up and down than sideways. I
 played one of those up through 1968. I tried a 
few Vox guitars, some Gibsons, and various
 Fenders, because of the sound. The boys always 
used to say, ‘Why don’t you try a Fender—you
 get a really good sound and it’s easy to record 
and all that. I would agree, but I could not play
 the bloody things. I tried the Mustang, the
 smaller version, and there were a couple more I
 can’t remember. I actually did an album with the
 Mustang, though I can’t remember which one.
 After that I tried a Gibson for onstage, but the 
bottom strings were really dull sounding.” He
added that, “It was better for what we were doing then. My bass [the Dallas] was wonderful for the blues—you know the real down-home, earthy blues—, because I got a fantastic sound with that. When I went on to the Star Bass, it became more R&B, when the Stones became more R&B as well. I got that in the when we started to do ballrooms. The endorsement came after we started to become popular.”

Bill’s Framus Star F5/150 bass was a single-cutaway, 18-inch wide, thin hollow body with two white-bound ƒ-holes. The bass was finished in a red-to-black sunburst and had white binding, two pickups, and a black pickguard, on which the Framus logo was embossed in white. The white volume and tone controls were mounted directly on the pickguard instead of the body of the bass. The adjustable bridge was made of rosewood, with a Framus trapezes tailpiece engraved with “Star Bass.” The bass was fitted with a very thin, multi-laminated, long-scale, bolt-on neck with a bound rosewood fingerboard and a two-per-side headstock with white plastic-shaft tuning pegs.

Fred Wilfer founded Framus in Germany in 1946, at first concentrating on acoustic instruments. By 1954, Framus had started adding pickups to their guitars and was making thin body, semi-acoustic guitars and basses by 1958. Framus was known for their multi-laminated necks and their unique pickups and electronic designs. With the help of the escalating beat boom, the instruments became very popular and were distributed in Great Britain through the London-based Dallas company.

Bill first used his Framus Star bass on stage the same
day he bought it, at Studio 51, the group’s Monday 
evening residency. He remembered, “That night I used it
at Studio 51 and had to admit it was much better than my
homemade bass.” He used it for the first time on television when the Stones mimed “Come On” on ABC-TVs “Lucky Stars Summer Spin,” which was filmed on September 8, 1963, and aired on September 14.

Win a Zemaitis Custom Shop Metal Front Guitar

Contest Slide 770x420       Guitar Player and Rolling Stones Gear have teamed up to give you a chance to Win the Brands of the Rolling Stones! Now you can own some of the major brands of equipment the Rolling Stones played including Fender, Martin, Framus, Zemaitis, Gretsch, and Vox in this exciting new sweepstakes! They are also giving away the new book Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost. Check out this beautiful Zemaitis custom shop metal front guitar – you can win this! Andy and Greg of Rolling Stones Gear speak about the Stones’ love for Zemaitis in their book.


During his early days with the Faces, Ronnie played a Gibson SG, followed by a red Fender Stratocaster, and then a Danelectro, all of which were subsequently stolen. In the end, he resorted to personalized guitars made by the legendary British luthier Tony Zemaitis. “No one would dare steal his guitars because he makes them so individual,” Ronnie explained. “He plasters your name all over it.” Antanas Kazimeras Zemaitis (1935-2002), born in London England became an apprentice cabinetmaker when he was sixteen and went on to make high-quality furniture. After taking up guitar in the 1950s, he began building his own instruments. By the early 1960s, he had become an accomplished twelve-sting guitarist who shared stages with the likes of Long John Baldry and acoustic guitar wizard Davy Graham. Twelve-string guitars were a rare commodity in England, and Zemaitis made a name for himself building twelve-strings for Spencer Davis, Ralph McTell, and others.

Ron Wood was introduced to Zemaitis’s guitars in 1970 through Faces’ roadie Peter Buckland and commissioned Zemaitis to build two guitars for him. Zemaitis was known for his unique-looking electric guitars built with a metal plate on the top face of the guitar, which was intended to shield the guitar and reduce the hum produced by the pickups. The first Zemaitis Metal Front electric guitar was built for Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs; the second was built for Ronnie Wood. It had a single-cutaway mahogany body similar to a Les Paul and a mahogany neck with a bound ebony fingerboard. The 25-inch scale guitar was fitted with two humbucking pickups and a three-way toggle switch with two volume and two tone metal control knobs. To insure that each of his electrics was unique, Zemaitis teamed with his friend Danny O’Brien, a master gun engraver. Zemaitis handcrafted his own metal bridges, tailpieces, truss rod covers, pickup mounting rings, jack plates, rear electronics plates, and metal front facerplates, while O’Brien skillfully hand engraved each part, personalizing the guitar for the client. Ronnie Wood’s first Zemaitis Metal Front guitar also had two metal control knobs on the lower bout of the guitar.

The second electric guitar Zemaitis built to Wood’s specifications was an all-black, single-cutaway “Disc Front” model, named for a round metal plate on the face of the guitar that O’Brien engraved with a treasure map. The 25-inch scale guitar had a mahogany body and neck and an unbound ebony fingerboard with dot inlays that started at the first fret and became smaller as they went up. The guitar was fitted with three humbucking pickups and a combination of six volume and tone control knobs, a five-way selector switch, and a built-in preamp powered by a nine-volt battery. The handcrafted Zemaitis metal bridge, tailpiece, truss rod cover, jack plate, and rear electronics plate also were hand engraved by O’Brien.

Wood’s 1971 appearance with the Faces on Top of The Pops playing his Metal Front guitar sparked a huge interest in Zemaitis’s eye-catching work. It also inspired Zemaitis’s next creation, a Pearl Front guitar that he considered perfect for the stage because it would catch the light and change color. The guitar was similar to the Metal Front guitar, but, instead of the engraved metal plate, the top face of the guitar was inlaid with a mosaic of pearl and abalone. Wood received one of the first Zemaitis Pearl Front guitars, which was fitted with three single-coil pickups instead of humbuckers. In the latter stages of the Faces and during his early involvement with the Stones, Wood also owned a hardtail 1955 sunburst Fender Stratocaster, and a Dan Armstrong Plexi guitar which he made the mistake of giving to David Bowie. “I thought I could get another one,” Wood said with regret, “and I couldn’t.” His amplification at the time was strictly Ampeg SVTs, which were painted white while he was in the Faces.

Win the Brands of the Rolling Stones

Contest Slide 770x420Guitar Player and Rolling Stones Gear have teamed up to give you a chance to Win the Brands of the Rolling Stones! Now you can own some of the major brands of equipment the Rolling Stones played including Fender, Martin, Framus, Zemaitis, Gretsch, and Vox in this exciting new sweepstakes! They are also giving away the new book Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost.

This giveaway is open to residents of the United States or the District of Columbia and you must be at least eighteen (18) years of age or older at the time of entry (see the official sweepstakes rules below). One lucky winner will be randomly selected after October 31, 2014.

Enter HERE

Listen: Andy Babiuk on BBC Radio Ulster

Andy Babiuk, one of the authors of Rolling Stones Gear, met up with Ralph McLean of BBC Ulster! Listen to them discuss all there is to know about Babiuk’s 9 year venture in writing this volume. He definitely is the ultimate expert on the Stones and their tools.


Project1>>LISTEN HERE<<


Rolling Stones Gear is the first book to historically document all of the Rolling Stones’ musical equipment. It’s also the story of the Rolling Stones, but with a new twist: their history as told through the instruments they used. This book covers not only the group’s personal background, but also every tour and studio session from their inception in 1962 to date, with detailed documentation illustrating what instruments and equipment were used during these periods. Every song recorded by the band, including demos and out-takes are also documented, with input from within the Stones’ ranks as well as from people who were involved with the band. This lavishly illustrated book contains hundreds of photographs and rare images, many of which have never been published, including the Rolling Stones’ actual guitars and equipment, which were specially photographed for this book and are seen here for the first time. Whether you are a musician, a Stones fan or just the casual reader, you will learn many new facts about the band from their monumental fifty-year existence.

Happy Birthday, Charlie Watts!

Happy birthday, Charlie Watts! The Rolling Stones’ drummer is turning seventy-three today. Read below for a special excerpt from Rolling Stones Gear that tells the story of Charlie’s first make-shift drum set, his affinity for jazz, and his Stones debut.


A couple of days before Tony Chapman was fired, Mick, Keith, and Brian asked Charlie Watts to join the band. They had always been hesitant about asking him for economic reasons, but knew he was not playing with anyone on a permanent basis. He was sort of drifting between Blues Incorporated and Blues By Six, and the Stones figured this would be a good time to ask. Charlie remembered: “The scene was growing bigger week by week for Alexis [of Blues Incorporated]. I loved the work, but it got to be too much of a strain after a while. So, I sort of backed out and worked with one or two other groups, meeting up with Brian and Mick and Keith from time to time. So, they asked me about kicking in with them. Honestly, I thought they were mad. I mean they were working a lot of dates without getting paid or even worrying about it. And there was me, earning a pretty comfortable living, which obviously was going to nosedive if I got involved with the Stones. It made me laugh to think of them trying to get me in with them too, but I got to thinking about it. I liked their spirit, and I was getting very involved with rhythm ’n’ blues. I figured it would be a bit of an experiment for me and a bit of a challenge, too. So I said OK, yes I’d join. Lots of my friends thought I’d gone stark raving mad.” He added, “Just a few months earlier, I wouldn’t have given their offer a second thought, because I was all for modern jazz. But I suppose I had a theory that R&B was going to be a big part of the scene, and I wanted to be in on it.”

Having already played with most of the members of the Stones via Blues Incorporated gigs, even doing a version of Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around” earlier the year before with Mick, Keith, and Dick Taylor, Charlie already knew what to expect musically and officially joined the group on the evening of January 9, 1963. His first official gig with the Stones took place a few days later, at the Ealing Jazz Club on January 15, 1963. He commented on his situation at the time: “When I left Alexis, Ginger (Baker) took over, and I went around with a few different bands. I was sort of between jobs. I used to play with three bands at once. You’d play with people you knew because they knew that you knew what song they were talking about. But Keith and Mick were looking for a drummer and asked me if I’d do it. So, I said yeah. I had nothing better to do. Getting with them was just luck, really. I didn’t expect it to go on.”  Ultimately, Ian Stewart had the final word: “I knew that Charlie liked the stuff we were trying to do and was quite prepared to come in with us.”  He continued, “We said to Charlie, ‘Look, you’re in this band, that’s it, end of story,’ and Charlie said, ‘Yeah, alright then, but I don’t know what my dad’s gonna say.'”

Charles Robert Watts was born on June 2, 1941, in Neasden, London to Charles and Lillian Watts and had one sister, Linda. He attended Tylers Croft Secondary Modern and spent three years at the Harrow School of Art. An accomplished artist, Charlie wrote and illustrated a small book on the life and times of his idol, saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, titled Ode To A High Flying Bird, which was published in December 1964. He got turned on to music in his early teens, jazz in particular, but said: “I certainly can’t claim that I came from a musical family. My dad was a lorry driver for British Railways, and I reckon the only instrument any of them could play at home was a gramophone!” He first discovered jazz through his aunt and uncle’s record collection . He recalled: “When I was twelve, I remember listening to records my uncle and auntie used to buy. I especially liked Earl Bostic’s ‘Flamingo.’ It was an R&B/swing thing. I loved instrumental improvisation from that record onward.”

Charlie’s first instrument was a banjo, but his real interest was playing the drums. He explained: “Well, I had a banjo first. I tried to learn that, but I couldn’t quite get the dots on the frets right. It drove me up a wall. So, I took the thing apart. Luckily, it wasn’t a really good banjo. I made a stand for it out of wood and played on the round skin part. It was like a drum anyway. I played it with brushes.” When asked what made him take an interest in playing the drums in the first place, he explained: “Blame it on Chico Hamilton, I suppose. When I was twelve, I heard Chico Hamilton with Gerry Mulligan playing ‘Walking Shoes,’ and I played it on a skin of a banjo. I used to play brushed like Chico Hamilton. Well, not LIKE him, but that was the inspiration anyway. After that, I heard Charlie Parker and that was it. It was all over. It was the music really, that got me going, because I’m not a drummer. I’m not a drummer because I never learned to play the drums. I’m not like people I admire. They learned and I never did. I just sat and played drums like they played them.”

Charlie’s mother explained his passion for the drums: “Charlie always wanted a drum set, and he used to rap out tunes on the table with pieces of wood or a knife and fork. We bought him his first drum set for Christmas when he was fourteen. He took to it straight away, and often he used to play jazz records and join in on his drums.” Charlie remembered: “My first kit was made up of bits and pieces. Dad bought it for me, and I suppose it cost about twelve pounds. Can’t remember anything that gave me greater pleasure, and I must say that the neighbors were great about the noise I kicked up. I don’t think I ever wanted to play any other instrument instead of the drums. I marvel sometimes even now at the way guitarists can get such tricky little phrases by just quietly using their fingers, but drums are for me. Someone like Max Roach . . . well, he’s a real idol of mine. Maybe only another drummer can understand exactly what he is doing and how well he does it. But I can listen to a brilliant drummer for hours on end.” In a photo of Charlie with his then-new kit, the set can be identified as a John Grey and Sons Broadway model by the cast lugs on the snare drum and the center support single tension lugs on the bass drum. John Grey and Sons of London was a brand name that first appeared on imported banjos and drums in England in 1905; the company was run by Barnet Samuels. In 1932, Rose-Morris bought out Barnet Samuels and continued manufacturing drums under the John Grey brand name. The John Grey Broadway drums were a very popular budget-line kit available in England from the mid to late 1950s. Charlie’s white Broadway set had a 20-inch bass drum and a 14-inch snare, with both drums only having six tension lugs. The kit had a bass drum–mounted cymbal and a set of hi-hats with a stand. Charlie remembered the cymbals being Zyn or some such cheap cymbal. Many of the big band and jazz drummers that Charlie admired put their initials on their bass drumhead, so he emulated his heroes by inscribing “C R W” on the front of his. After finishing school, Charlie began working for Charles Hobson and Grey advertising and started playing his first gigs with a jazz combo called Blues By Five. While playing in an East London pub known as the Troubadour, he met Alexis Korner, who was forming Blues Incorporated and suggested that Charlie join up. Charlie had made a commitment to go to Denmark to do design work for Charles Hobson and Grey, so, although bent on joining up with Korner, he went to Denmark where he played with American saxophonist Don Byas. He later explained the situation: “A friend of mine, Andy Webb, said I should join the band [Blues Incorporated], but I had to go to Denmark to work in design, so I sort of lost touch with things. While I was away, Alexis formed his band, and I came back to England with Andy. I joined the band [in February 1962] with Cyril Davies, and Andy used to sing with us.”


Andy Babiuk on Guitar World

Rolling Stones Gear author Andy Babiuk recently sat down with Jeff Slate of Guitar World to discuss his comprehensive guide to the Stones, chronicling the band’s members and their iconic instruments both in the studio and on tour. Read the rest of the article HERE!



“People ask me all the time — because I’ve done books about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — which band I like better, but it really wasn’t about that,” Andy Babiuk, author of the fantastic new Rolling Stones Gear told me recently. “I did Beatles Gear first because they really did pave the way for everyone and everything that came after. But as soon as I finished that book, I knew I wanted to write the definitive Stones book.”

“With Stones Gear, I wanted it to be even more over the top. So if you’re a Stones fan, you can read the story of the band, learn about the equipment they used and actually see pictures of the band using the equipment from sources that people just don’t have access to.”