Last week, the world lost two cool cats to the ever after. Charlie Watts was the dapper, beautifully turned out drummer of The Rolling Stones. A couple years ago I was lucky to be invited by my friend Sheila to join her family at Giants Stadium to see the band. Mick Jagger had just gotten through heart surgery (more on that in another post), his cardiologist was in the wings, so the audience was feeling nostalgic and honestly nervous. But the emotional folderol was unnecessary. Mick crushed it, moving like a cat up and down a platform that reached out into the audience. If the audience were an ocean, the platform was a steel pier. It was a life lesson to see the band play together. They rely on one another, and like folks in a long, happy marriage, even with their infirmities, age, illness and the changes life brings, they still got a kick out of each other.
Far from the UK, in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, Joe Toney was the smooth, easy-going Vietnam vet who was husband, father, grandfather and community volunteer. He worked as an inspector for Thompson and Litton, the venerable local engineers. Joe loved sports, so he spent a great deal of time working with the local teams, particularly the Powell Valley Football and track teams. He was a Virginia High School League official, a race starter for the local high school track meets. No matter the weather, you saw him at practice or on the sidelines on game night- unflappable, focused and calm.
Charlie and Joe shared an affinity for strong women and long marriages. Nancy Cline Toney and Joe were married until her death last year. Charlie Watts leaves behind his beloved wife.
Nancy and Joe shared a love and commitment to volunteerism. Nancy created floral and party designs (her talent in part inherited from her mother, Betty, a floral design genius) that was truly original and forward thinking. I have been to a few fancy parties in New York City and Los Angeles, but none rivaled Nancy’s originality and vision back home. Nancy had to create a lot with a little often, but you never saw the seams- when you entered a party she had designed, you were transported. Nancy and Joe had two children. One, their beautiful daughter Kelly, died very young. If you knew them before and after, they were forever changed by the loss but kept pushing forward for their beloved son Adam, his wife Miranda and the apple of both their eyes: Addison. Joe had another daughter, Dawn Michele, from an earlier relationship.
The drummer is the heartbeat of a band, in rock and roll, the drummer is the pace car who drives the music to places it could not possibly go without his expertise. Charlie Watts was stylish, innovative and steady. In the world of music, that’s not an easy hat trick to pull off- Charlie wore the top hat, of course, to Great Britain’s fanciest events. I’m sure there was an Aston Martin involved. While Charlie toured the world with the world’s greatest band, Joe Toney served honorably in Vietnam. The music of The Rolling Stones and the war were inextricably tied- as the band and the troops were young.
Forgive me, because I’m not a car person, but I believe it was an older model Cadillac convertible that Joe Toney drove back in the day. When I was a girl in the 1970s, his baby sister-in-law Jane and I would spend time at the Clines home- lots of time, and it is a distinct memory when Joe pulled up in that convertible. He was a good looking man, with straight black hair and an Italian profile. (His father was in fact of Italian descent, and his beautiful mother was Appalachian Scots Irish). Joe was always nice to us and had a joke at the ready. Half the time I didn’t get the joke, but consider this- he took time to chat with us- when you’re 13, that goes a long way. He was smooth and cool and fun. He was the drummer, the Charlie Watts of Big Stone Gap. His kindness, humor and personality set the pace in a town where being cool wasn’t enough- you also had to be a good person.
I find it comforting that the gates opened and let these two good men into heaven together. I’m sure Joe's wife Nancy stood on the other side with their daughter Kelly, his parents and George Cline. Nancy probably took one look at them together and said, “How did you meet up with Charlie Watts?” Even though she was a Jon Bon Jovi fanatic. It doesn’t really matter in rock n roll, which band you’re from and which instrument you choose to play- it’s just the fact that you’re part of the team that makes the music that underscores the experience of our lives. And so it went for the good and great Joe Toney, and the dependable, skilled master craftsman Charlie Watts. They lived their own code and did so with grace. Rest in peace, or maybe not…maybe the only rest the cool cats will get are the ones that fall in the music.