Pete Townshend has been reminiscing about the song of his from the 1970s on which the late and globally-lamented Charlie Watts played drums. His words are another superstar tribute to the Rolling Stones’ drummer, who died on August 24 at the age of 80.
The track in question was the splendid “My Baby Gives It Away,” from Rough Mix, the ever-underrated album that Townshend released with another old friend, Ronnie Lane, in 1977. The Who songwriter and guitarist has shared a poignant and amusing anecdote about the recording session for the song on the band’s website.
“I only played with Charlie once, when he drummed for Ronnie Lane and me on our Rough Mix album,” writes Townshend.”We did two faultless live takes (no overdubs at all) of my song ‘My Baby Gives It Away.’ His technique was obvious immediately, the hi-hat always slightly late, and the snare drumstick held in the flat of the left hand, underpowered to some extent, lazy-loose, super-cool. The swing on the track is explosive.
“I’ve never enjoyed playing with a drummer quite so much. Of course that brings up Keith Moon, who was so different to Charlie. At Keith’s funeral Charlie surprised me by openly weeping, and I remember wishing I could wear my heart on my sleeve like that. I was tightened up like a snare drum myself.
“Charlie lived a quiet life in the English countryside,” Townshend continues. “He had a London bolthole in St James’s for many years which I think he used mainly to visit his tailor and buy paintings. He is the exemplar of the perfect marriage, still married to his art-school girlfriend [Shirley] who he married secretly in 1964. I understand he lived a quiet and respectable life on the road as well.
‘A mischievous side that few of us saw’
“I know that like me he wasn’t mad on touring, but that wry smile of his – that hid a mischievous side to him that few [of] us saw – could turn into the most beautiful wide-mouthed laugh at very little urging. I could make him smile simply by talking about growing up following my father Cliff’s post-war dance band. Charlie loved the ‘real’ music of that era.”
Townshend concludes: “I’ve said here that his playing on ‘My Baby Gives It Away’ was flawless. I have suddenly remembered that he had trouble with the clipped ending. On the second take he nailed it, but was so shocked he had managed it that he burst into laughter and fell off his stool. That was a Keith Moon stunt, ask any drummer what they most dread doing and they will probably reply that they never want to fall off their stool.”