Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Do musicians really ever retire?

There's an unconfirmed report that Charlie Watts is quitting the Rolling Stones. The veteran drummer apparently isn't interested in touring or recording with the group anymore.

So, in effect, would Charlie be retiring? I mean, he's not forfeiting his license to play Stones songs. But if he's not playing them with Mick and Keith anymore, then who's he gonna play 'em with?

Is Charlie going to go the Ringo Starr route and start up his own cavalcade of stars, rock musicians who go around and play yawn-inducing versions of their songs to aging folks in lawn chairs?

Drummers aren't afforded the same luxuries given to singers. If Robert Plant doesn't want to tour with Led Zeppelin, he can still record an album with Alison Krauss and sing "Black Dog" in concert -- and he does, and then people vilify him for doing the same thing others praise him for doing.

Or is Charlie just going to sit at home and relax now that he is in advanced age and enjoy the fortunes he has earned playing his limited role in the creation of songs like "Street Fighting Man" and "Start Me Up"? And if that's what he's doing, doesn't the word "retirement" come to mind? How many times do you hear that word in this discussion?

Jimmy Page hasn't been on a major tour since 2000, and he didn't even finish it for reasons that were explained at the time as medical. There was probably a time last year that he genuinely thought he would be on the road this very day, playing Led Zeppelin songs with John Paul Jones, Jason Bonham and the singer of their choosing. It fell through for reasons not exactly explained, and Jimmy must be disappointed about that, if not absolutely heartbroken.

He says he wants to be seen again, and thank goodness for that -- because if things continue to carry on the way they have for the past decade, Jimmy will soon find himself in declining health and moping that he missed out on being seen, and enjoyed, when he certainly was capable. People want to see Jimmy and enjoy him.

Les Paul never retired. To the very end, he made himself available to his fans. Those who met him found a man who was very proud of his accomplishments and who was very friendly with those who admired him. Les was a great role model for any artist, not just guitarists but singers, drummers, everybody.

There's still a market for Jimmy Page, no doubt. There's still a market for Charlie Watts too. But is it the Rolling Stones crowd? Is that the only vehicle for his career today?

Does Charlie still have any unrealized aspirations? His technical abilities aside, could Charlie be the mastermind drummer in a spontaneously arranged supergroup not unlike the one John Paul Jones is in, and go out and write new music that has nothing to do with "Street Fighting Man" and more to do with, say, "The Day that Never Comes"? Might Charlie have some skills he's been shielding from the spotlight, like a decent singing voice?

As I watched "It Might Get Loud," it struck me when Jimmy Page declined to sing along with The Edge and Jack White when the three attempted "The Weight," the classic by The Band. Jimmy used the word "can't" when asked to sing. Aren't we taught as children to aspire higher than that? "Can't" was a naughty word in my household. Jimmy does end up singing a third harmony on the "and" at the end of each chorus, so kudos to him for overcoming one of his anxieties.

Jimmy also sang backup a few times during Led Zeppelin's career, and don't forget his pre-Yardbirds solo single "She Just Satisfies"; he was all over that one vocally. But why a man at his age would be debating whether or not to sing in the company of The Edge and Jack White is beyond me. Just go out there and do it, Jimmy. I encourage you!

Don't retire, Jimmy, and don't make us think you retired either. There's a market for you. There's a band for you. You're not washed up, and you never will be. Go out there and be seen. We promise your fans will be there.


  1. Sometimes I wonder how much he really wants to play. Besides old Zeppelin stuff.

    I'm sure it's not about ability, it's more about what he wants. You don't see Jimmy Page go out and play small clubs like Jeff Beck, you don't see Jimmy Page having a spontaneous jam with some local musicians when he has holidays in Thailand. Why not just go out and play and have fun?

    Seriouly, all the fans want to see him, no matter with whom or what he would play. I'm deadly sure if he plays "Gone Gone Gone" with Alison Krauss' fiddle there will be huge amount of people praising his genius. But it's all up to him.

  2. Totally agree with elendirlight.Not sure why but Jimmy clearly won't depart from old Zep material ,perhaps it's like a woman that you can't get over or simply fear to not meet people's expectations or to go unnoticed.That guy is clearly a perfectionnist, a procrastinator and now being 65, I'd say the chances that we'll hear new material (apart from posthumous) are ever so slim, not to say non-existent. It's a shame.

  3. Page put an end to the possibility that Jones, Bonham and himself along with a new singer could form a new band saying, "We need four members", hinting at Plant's absence. But why wasn't it an issue 15 years ago when Plant and Page released No Quarter Unledded and subsequently toured playing 98% Led Zep songs? What would happen if Plant asked Page to go on a tour performing mostly Led Zeppelin songs without Jonesy and Jason? Would that really be a problem? You can pretty much leave anything out of the equation but Plant, IMHO.

  4. Though I really want to hear JPJ Jason Bonham and Jimmy Page I think that it would take away from everything that Led Zeppelin ever worked for. They spent their career making music to make music. They discouraged release of singles and commercial products. I'm glad there isn't a Zeppelin rock band. I would enjoy playing it but I would not enjoy all those poser kids who just 'discovered' Led Zeppelin through a video game. Plus, you don't want to take away from the amazing musician that John Bonham was. Also, you can't replace any of the four members. Without Plant and Bonham it wouldn't be the same.


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