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Charlie Watts about dressing styles (2012):
“I have a very old-fashioned and traditional mode of dress. I get embarrassed, and I don’t really like going to photo shoots. I don’t like stylists.“
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Charlie interview from GQ magazine (2012):
The thing about Charlie Watts is that he makes everyone else look like they’re trying too hard. Rolling Stones band mate Keith Richards generally wins the title of Coolest Man Alive, but for my money Watts, who just turned 71, has always been the coolest Stone. It probably has something to do with his first love, jazz music, which he’s never stopped playing in various side projects, including his latest, ABC&D, a boogie-woogie band comprised of pianists Al Zwingenberger and Ben Waters, Watts on drums, and jazz bassist Dave Green. The band’s debut album, ABC&D of Boogie Woogie: Live from Paris (Eagle Records) was released this week, and the band was in New York for some gigs at Lincoln Center and the Iridium.
Compared to his signature bemused stoicism when he plays, Watts almost never stops smiling when talking about music and clothes, which he is admittedly obsessed with. Wearing a single-breasted grey suit and shirt of deep purple—both linen and precisely tailored to fit his featherweight frame—plus purple socks and brown tassel loafers, Watts was, as always, every inch the British gentleman. Dave Green sat in as we discussed Watts’s twin passions.
(Ref. dressing styles)
GQ: The album is fantastic. If joy were a sound, it would be boogie-woogie music.
Dave Green: We hear that a lot, wherever we play.
GQ: Charlie, you were in a boogie-woogie band before—Rocket 88 in the late seventies.
Charlie Watts: Yeah, that was Stu’s [Ian Stewart’s] band. But that was a jump swing band. We have two pianos, which is very rare nowadays, but was the traditional boogie-woogie set-up.
GQ: How did you and Charlie meet, Dave?
Dave Green: We were neighbors when we were five years old. We discovered jazz together.
Charlie Watts: We discovered instruments together! We played in our first jazz bands together—in ’58 and ’59—and then I got asked to play with some other people, R&B bands.
Dave Green: I stuck with jazz, so we went our separate ways musically.
Charlie Watts: If you’re good in the jazz scene, you don’t usually leave it because you’re always busy. And that’s what Dave is. He’s played with some of the greatest American jazz artists in the biggest clubs in the world.
David Green: American musicians would come over to play in the sixties at Ronnie Scotts in London. Ronnie’s was like having a piece of New York in London. Zoot Simms was the first to come over in ’61, and then Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans. I wasn’t a house player, but I got called to play a lot. Charlie was away doing some other stuff…
GQ: A small project called the Rolling Stones?
Charlie Watts: I was in the office, making a career [laughs].
GQ: You’ve been wearing serious suits for a long time. Did that have something to do you with your jazz heroes?
Charlie Watts: The jazz thing was a big influence, of course, but I really got a love of clothes from my father. Not because he had a huge wardrobe or anything, but he used to take me to his tailor. In those days you’d have a little Jewish guy in the East End in London, who made you things. And then I fell in love with a lot of Hollywood—well, pop singers at the time, like Billy Eckstein, who favored really distinctive collars on his shirts. Wonderful-looking man as well. The lovely thing about jazz guys in that period—the fifties and sixties—was that they were very handsome men—Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis—but they were also very stylish… (Ref. dressing styles)
…When Miles wore a green shirt on the cover of Milestones, then everyone had to have a green shirt. Another big iconic guy, Dexter Gordon, made a record called Our Man in Paris, and he had one of these pins through his collar, which I now have hundreds of. The lovely thing about all of them, though, was that their clothes were worn. They weren’t just put on, to the office and back. They sat all night in the things. They played in those suits. How they played in those suits I don’t know.
GQ: Haven’t I seen photos of you playing in a suit?
Charlie Watts: Not very often. I mostly wear short-sleeved shirts or T-shirts. I used to play in jackets when I was very young.
GQ: So he was always dressed up, Dave?
Dave Green: Oh, yeah. I have a photo of him when he was a teenager at a place called the Mason’s Arms. He’s wearing a prep school jacket.
GQ: Charlie, who designed the suit and shirt you’re wearing?
Charlie Watts: Me!
GQ: You designed it?
Charlie Watts: The thing with men’s tailoring is that you don’t really design it. If I went to my tailors—I have two in London—and I said I wanted a notched lapel on a double breasted suit, they wouldn’t make it. It’s always a peaked lapel on a double-breasted suit. There are things no good men’s tailor will do. And you think, why not? But then when you see someone try those things, they look wrong. It’s a hundred years of making a suit a certain way, and I love the tradition of that.
GQ: What I love about you, Charlie, is that you make wearing a suit look so easy. You make everyone else look like they’re trying too hard.
Charlie Watts: Compared to who? Other guys in the band? To be honest, I have a very old-fashioned and traditional mode of dress. I get embarrassed, and I don’t really like going to photo shoots. I don’t like stylists. If you were Fred Astaire, you wore something and you had it on all day. It wasn’t just put on you, which is what a stylist does. So I always felt totally out of place with the Rolling Stones. Not as a person—they never made me feel like that. I just mean the way I looked. Photos of the band would come back—I’ll have a pair of shoes on and they’ve got trainers [sneakers]. I hate trainers, even if they’re fashionable…
…I mean, I like fashion, because it pushes it and bends it around, but it takes a long while to get to this point—if you’re that interested in being at this point _[laughs]_where you understand what works for you. And so while I love fashion—I go to all the shops regularly, wherever I am—I have to adapt it to myself, but nothing fits me cause I’m too small, so I’ll look at the clothes, then go back and try to adapt them. And as I’ve gotten older, there are particular things I like and don’t like—little things. (Ref. dressing styles)
GQ: Like what?
Charlie Watts: I ain’t tellin’ ya, because everyone would have them and I won’t have anything I like [laughs].
GQ: Are there any designers who do clothes you would buy off the rack?
Charlie Watts: I have a few Prada raincoats, but sometimes they are too fashion—jackets with two lapels. Ol’ Ralph Lauren does some lovely things. His stuff is the sort I love—old English and Waspish Boston. That look suits me—especially now that I’m a gray-haired white man of a certain age. The trouble with Ralph is that his clothes are huge. For a little man, he makes big sizes.
GQ: You say the old English style suits you now, and yet you were wearing double-breasted suits in your twenties, and they looked great.
Charlie Watts: Yeah, well that’s cause I always thought I was Lester Young or something. I’ve always lived in that dream world. I still do. I still imagine that I’m playing in a club in New York—the Apollo or somewhere in Chicago. It’s what I love. I collect jazz things. I just got a 1930 flyer of Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom. I have piles of daft things like that.
Dave Green: I have smaller piles [laughs].
Charlie Watts: We both have a love of jazz that goes beyond playing it—the look and life of it. I used to go and watch drummers play, and what I first fell in love with were the drums glittering in the lights. You must remember that the era we come from, jazz was very hip and fashionable for young people.
Dave Green: It was so stylish—the pinstripe suits.
GQ: Fashion seems to be going back in that direction—a lot of younger designers are featuring double-breasted and three-piece suits, pinstripes, and there’s a big British influence this fall. It’s nice to see men trying again. You get so tired of jeans and flip flops.
Charlie Watts: There’s a place for all of it. And, to be honest, it takes twice as much time to get ready if you’re going to dress well—though my wife will say, “What else you got to do? [laughs] People don’t give it the time or thought anymore. It’s just something I love. To me, it’s a bit of a lost world. Having said that, you’ll see an old man walking down the street in an overcoat that is fantastic, or a young boy who just happens to look great. The trick when you get to my age is realizing that what works on a young boy won’t quite work on me. (Ref. dressing styles)
GQ: How many suits do you own?
Charlie Watts: [Looks sheepishly at Dave, who laughs] I have about two hundred in London. [He pauses as Dave laughs some more] And another few in Devon. But some of them are quite old. In the sixties, I used to go to a place on Madison Avenue; I’d get loads of things made there and slowly they go out of date. But most of my stuff I still wear, some from thirty years ago.
Dave Green: Your physique really hasn’t changed since you were a teenager.
Charlie Watts: I never weigh myself. But if I put my trousers on and they don’t do up, then I don’t eat until I can. [Laughs] Which is not very good for you. (Ref. dressing styles)
GQ: I ran across a great photo of Keith Richards cutting your hair. It looked to be in the late sixties. Did he do that often?
Charlie Watts: Yes, he did. We both hate new shoes and we both hate hairdressers. He’s always cut his own hair. He takes it deadly seriously, that.
GQ: I don’t think I’d want Keith Richards coming near me with scissors. What about shoes? Do you have those made for you, and how many pairs do you own?
Charlie Watts: [Looks sheepishly at Dave again] I don’t know the number, but I have one of every style. I don’t ever get two pairs of the same shoe, unless they come in different colors. I have my shoes made at George Cleverley at Royal Arcade in London. He was a very famous shoemaker who lived to the age of ninety. I’ll tell you who has really beautiful, proper film star style—Terence Stamp. Terence has great clothes. Me and him meet up at Cleverley [laughs] it’s a bit of a camp world, isn’t it? But he has loads more shoes; he’s a bit before me. He got a head start.
GQ: Are there any younger musicians or actors whose style you admire?
Charlie Watts: I can’t think at the moment, but sure. Yeah, you meet guys all the time. Or you’ll see someone in a shirt and say, God that’s lovely. But it’s how you wear it, isn’t it? They have to be worn, not brand-new. I love old clothes.
GQ: Have you ever bought vintage clothes?
Charlie Watts: No. You have to break them in yourself. (Ref. dressing styles)
GQ: You should hire someone to break them in for you.
Charlie Watts: Don’t laugh. That used to be a normal thing with shoes. Most of the aristocracy, who could afford to have shoes made, would have the gardener or butler wear the shoes first, to break them in.
GQ: So the poor gardener had the horrible blisters!
Charlie Watts: Yeah, and when the shoes got comfortable they were taken away [laughs]. (Ref. dressing styles)