WHEN I woke to the news on Wednesday that Charlie Watts had died, I had a welling in my chest and a tear in my eye before I realised what was happening.
Whatever the future holds now for the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood can still call themselves the remains of the Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World.
But it won't be the same without laid-back Charlie at the back of "the cage", deadpan expression broken only by an occasional wry smile as Jagger's arse wiggles away in front of him, still channelling James Brown, Little Richard and Tina Turner after half a century.
Charlie had already withdrawn from a tour - which in turn was knocked over by COVID - because of health concerns.
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His place was to be taken by Steve Jordan, who entered the Stones orbit as a session muso in 1985 before playing on Keith's solo albums and joining his X-Pensive Winos.
COVID willing, I reckon they'll hit the stage again, even if it's only to give Charlie his version of the free Hyde Park concert the Stones arranged in July 1969 to introduce their new guitarist Mick Taylor.
It became a memorial to the founder they had fired, Brian Jones, when he died two days before the show, kicking off the "27 Club".
Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died aged 27, in a two-year stretch.
If they do carry on, no-one will question Steve Jordan as drummer.
But even the Winos don't have the same loping, push-and-pull back-beat at the heart of the simple but elusive "Stones sound".
Often copied, never beaten, rarely matched.
I grew up in a family where music of any sort - except maybe church hymns - was considered noise.
But I was hooked from the first pop music I heard and the Stones have been in my consciousness since I was six. Paint It Black on an infants school gramophone.
A dark grainy clip on black and white TV of a live Little Queenie.
Thanks to YouTube, I know now that it was Madison Square Garden in 1969.
And the schoolyard debates. The Stones versus The Beatles, with the Fab Four's familiarity helped by their own show on the morning cartoons.
But even in primary school, I could sense that the Stones spelt danger - they were notorious in a way the Beatles never were - at a time when society was so much more straitlaced than now.
Fast forward to 1975. A friend had the Rolled Gold double-album compilation.
Something started to click. I'd been a Rod Stewart and the Faces obsessive since Maggie May in 1971.
Stones singles were Top 40 radio fare.
Satisfaction, Honky Tonk Women (especially), Brown Sugar.
But Bowie was the news and the Stones were just out of my gaze until Woody started hanging out with Keith when the sublime Taylor unfathomably walked out after the hottest run of albums the band would ever make.
It's Only Rock 'N' Roll is credited to Jagger/Richards but Ronnie wrote the riff.
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By the time Black and Blue came out in '76, Ronnie had left The Faces for good to become a Stone.
Purists say the Taylor era of Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street, Goats Head Soup was the peak, and they're right.
But there's been more diamonds than dross in the years since then, and their stage shows have grown bigger and brighter and louder with each successive tour.
About the only thing that didn't change was Charlie's drum kit.
Plenty of drummers get bigger sets as their band's stature grows, until they're a tiny head amongst a sea of skins and cymbals.
But Watts filled the biggest arenas on earth with a simple - if extremely high quality - four-drum kit, always by master drum makers Gretsch.
I've been lucky enough to see them live three times.
Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield, England, 1999. Light rain, packed in like Pommy sardines.
Highlights were Route 66, Like A Rolling Stone and Midnight Rambler from a tiny-pop stage mid-crowd.
Telstra Stadium, Homebush, 2006, was insanely good sound.
The roar from the crowd was out of this world when the darkened stadium erupted with shooting columns of fireworks either side of the stage and Keith walked on stage crunching the opening chords to Jumpin' Jack Flash.
I yelled to the stranger next to me: "We don't have to get old!"
And in that moment I believed it.
Hope Estate in 2014 was great too, if a bit too rug-on-the-ground civilised.
History will show the 60s and the 70s to be the musical pinnacles we ancients claim they were.
Luckily, YouTube means just about every rock clip, every obscure song, you can dream of are there for free.
So find a Stones classic, crank up the volume, and raise a glass to Charlie Watts.
Asked his favourite Stones song once, he said: "God, I don't really have one to be honest, I don't really listen to them that much."
I realise now I'd been wondering for a while which Stone would go first.
Everyone was waiting for Keith to die in the smacked-out 70s, but the world's most elegantly wasted man survived to become the greying icon he is today.
He turns 78 in December.
Mick got there in July. Ronnie's the spring chicken at 74. And original bassist Bill Wyman, who left in 1993, turns 85 in October.
White boys, inspired by the black man's blues, they changed our world.
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