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Brian Jones

Born: February 28, 1942
Died: July 3, 1969
Age: 27
Cause of death: Drowning
Brian Jones

Good Reading:

"Stone Alone" Bill Wyman

"Golden Stone" Laura Jackson

Good Watching:

Photo Gallery:

"The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus"

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"One Plus One" Jean Luc Godard

 

Discography:

The Rolling Stones 1964 Got Live If You Want It 1967
The Rolling Stones Now 1965 Between The Buttons 1967
Out Of Our Heads 1965 Flowers 1967
December's Children 1965 Their Satanic Majesties Request 1967
Aftermath 1966 Beggars Banquet 1968
Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) 1966

Brian Jones was the first martyr of rock and roll. Before Jimi. Before Janis. Before Jim. His life was the first of many rock and roll mini sagas that would replay themselves over and over throughout the latter part of the sixties and well into the seventies; all different, yet all frighteningly and eerily similar in their downfalls.

Brian Jones entered the 60s young, ambitious, energetic and hungry about the future of his new band built around his newest obsession, the blues. He went about it with fervor, leading the band and in the beginning being responsible for much of the Rolling Stones' musical experimentation with different sounds and instruments. In the beginning, it was Brian who used his charm to push the band's name around London when many were unsure of what The Rolling Stones and R&B were all about. The Brian Jones that exited the late 60s however, was a frail, unhealthy and ultimately sad shell of what he used to be.

Brian Jones was born and raised in upper class Cheltenham, England. His father was an engineer and played piano at church while his mother taught piano. While in school, Brian learned to play piano and clarinet quickly and quite proficiently. This would remain a trait throughout Brian's life, as he had no trouble learning to play any instrument he fancied, usually within a day. Jones related in an early Stones interview, "I guess I knew that I was going to be interested only in music early on". Although Jones was a bright student throughout his school years with a reported IQ of 135, music remained his only real passion (music and girls to be exact). Brian would often skip school to practice clarinet, which inevitably led to frequent canings and eventually to two suspensions.

In 1957 Brian visited a local jazz club and was immediately smitten. Upon his return home he begged his parents to buy him an alto sax and then spent hours teaching himself to play. Brian's keen interest in jazz soon overflowed to blues as this was the chosen music genre of the skiffle band craze sweeping England at the time, Jones actually playing washboard in a skiffle band he put together at 15. It was at this time that Brian began listening to and collecting records by blues greats such as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf. His infatuation with the blues would burn for many years and would spark and serve as blueprint for the creation of his new band.

Brian Jones' relationship with women was callous from the onset and he developed a reputation as a ladies man when just a teen. This would continue until his death, as he always had a number of girlfriends, many of whom would bear his children. It was gossip and pressure from the parents of a pregnant 14-year-old girl that forced Brian to flee England in the summer of 1959. Along with his sax and newly acquired guitar, Brian left for Scandinavia where he enjoyed the summer months supporting himself by busking in the streets. Reflecting on these times many years later, Brian recalled, "Those few months were the most free and happy of my life". As for relationships with his future bandmates, perhaps Bill Wyman summed it up best in his book, "Stone Alone" where he observes,"There were two Brians…one was introverted, shy, sensitive, deep-thinking…the other was a preening peacock, gregarious, artistic, desperately needing assurance from his peers…he pushed every friendship to the limit and way beyond." It certainly seemed that rock and roll stardom and Jones' personality were on a collision course from day one. One that Brian couldn't possibly survive. He couldn't and he wouldn't.

Upon his return to England in late 1959 he joined a local group called The Ramrods. No sooner had he begun to ingratiate himself back into his small town when a one night dalliance with a  married 23 year old had him scurrying around town trying to avoid her father, another trend that would continue for Brian until he left Cheltenham for good in '62. Brian Jones was, at the tender age of 17, a father twice over, the official number of children he would father by the time of his death being five. Brian continued to maintain a very good grade level despite his nocturnal activities, mainly girls and live music clubs. He decided at 18 to quit school, much to the chagrin of his parents who felt he was surely university material. However, he did toy briefly with the idea of being a dentist! Jones supported himself via numerous menial jobs, some of which were terminated after the employer had realized Brian had been skimming the till.

During this time, Brian made frequent trips into London, usually by mode of hitchhiking, to check out the lively music scene. A favorite hangout for Brian became the Ealing Club. It wasn't long before Brian used his charm and enthusiastic personality to talk the club manager into offering him a spot at the club when the house band wasn't in. Christening himself Elmo Louis, he and a friend recorded a few of the blues numbers that he would use when playing live. Brian spent the better part of two years continuing his frequent discarding of girlfriends and jobs, all the while making weekly trips to London. It was during this period that Brian came into his own as a guitar player as he honed his skills playing along with his ever increasing collection of Blues records.

The Ealing Club normally featured jazz but would soon welcome its first blues act, Alexis Korner's Blues Inc., with nineteen-year-old drummer Charlie Watts. Brian hitchhiked his way to attend the show and with his usual exuberance befriended Alexis Korner, handing him the tape he had made as Elmo Louis. Korner was so impressed with Brian that not only did he give him his home number and address, he asked Brian to sit in with the band the following week. It was at the second show that Brian first spoke to Charlie Watts and thus began a weekly sit in with Blues Inc. In April 1962, after Brian's slide guitar talents where highlighted by Korner himself, a young man named Michael Phillip Jagger introduced himself to Brian along with other friends including Keith Richards.

Alexis Korner's Blues Inc. and The Ealing Club both served as a focal point for the bands' future members as they would all jam together on a weekly basis. By January 1963, The Rolling Stones lineup was established, mostly due to Jones' diligence. It was also around this time that the band started to call themselves The Rolling Stones. Time went on and eventually Jones, Jagger and Richards began practicing on their own. Brian's blues guitar playing and the fact that he could read music impressed both Jagger and Richards. The three soon found themselves sharing a tiny, cheap flat in London, often having to hock furniture to buy groceries.

It was an eight month stint at one of London's premier clubs, "The Crawdaddy", that the Rolling Stones really began to create a stir throughout London with their unique brand of R&B. Enter the bands first manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who promoted them as the "Nasty Opposites of the Beatles" and coined the promo phrase "would you let your daughter marry a rolling stone?". Their image was created and the seeds of the legend that would bloom to become the Rolling Stones saga were sowed.

The Stones signed to Decca and released a succession of cover records throughout 1963. Their cover in October of 1963 of the Lennon/McCartney "I Want to Be Your Man" showcased Brians' experimental tendencies as he played great bottleneck guitar, which up until that point had only been heard in England when playing old American Blues records. It would be the first of many highlights of Brians' penchant for experimenting in new sounds and instruments.

From 1963 - 66, The Stones road a wave of critical and commercial acclaim. This period of activity and success saw the band, under Brians' tutelage, establish itself with a string of successful singles, albums and tours. During this period, Jones was very much the leader of the band. His mark continued to be made and his adventurous musical tendencies and experimentations continued unabated and are prominently featured throughout this period on classics such as, "Lady Jane" and "I Am Waiting" (Brian playing dulcimer), "Under My Thumb" (playing marimba) and "Painted Black" (playing sitar). In many cases, Brian was the first musician to introduce and record a variety of unique instruments in Britain.

During the latter part of this successful period, Jones' drink intake and drug experimentation began to spiral upward and beyond that of other members of The Rolling Stones. In short order, it would begin to cause problems and riffs within the Stones camp.

Brian began what would become a long series of no-shows for recordings, rehearsals and performances. Late 1965 - 66 saw manager Andrew Loog Oldham push increasingly for a song writing partnership between Jagger and Richards a la Lennon and McCartney. He relieved Jones of backup singing duties and pushed forward a reluctant Keith to fill in the void. Oldham went so far as to turn off Brian's mic during recordings as well as fading out his guitar parts. Add this to a pharmaceutical cocktail diet and the paranoia, jealously, and mood swings that come with it, Brian's behavior became increasingly more erratic and his alienation from the rest of the band continued. Three things were happening at this time; Brian's creative output began to slip away, control of the band was firmly in the hands of Jagger and Richards, and the bands' patience was wearing thin. It became evident that they were carrying a passenger, something they could ill afford, at a time when things were really beginning to take off for the band. They needed Jones to show up and contribute. Jones would do one or the other, but more often than not, neither. Jones' downward spiral was not immediate and was indeed a long and painful process that lasted roughly from 1966 up until his official departure from the band in 1969.

Trouble with the law was the last thing Brian's fragile mental state needed. But between June 1967 and May 1968 Jones, along with Jagger and Richards, found themselves drowning in a series of separate drug busts, and at various points it seemed that jail time for the trio was imminent. Jones was always one of the most flamboyant of the Stones and made headlines within the headlines as he showed up for trial in fancy and loud apparel.

In the summer of 1967 Brian, who was originally the most open to new music, ideas and scenes, traveled to San Francisco to attend the Monterey Pop Festival and take in the West Coast scene. En route to California he shared a first class seat from London to New York with Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience who relates in his book "Are You Experienced?", "Brian was flying on a tab of purple Owsley". Al Kooper in his book "Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards" describes Brian's state when he arrived in LA for a leer jet flight to Monterey, "Brian seemed to be conveying in the neighborhood of Jupiter". After the forty minute flight to Monterey, Kooper continues, "Brian spoke to me for the first time, 'Hi Al.' I don't think he was aware that our introduction had taken place some forty-five minutes before." Jones spent his time at the festival mingling with the hippies on the grounds and tripping on LSD, brilliantly splattered in costume jewelry wearing a gold lame coat with beads and scarves. Brian would be the one to introduce Hendrix for his historical performance, the two artists having immense mutual admiration and respect for each other.

Shortly thereafter and back in England, the drug trials, drink and drugs continued to batter Jones to the point of complete unproductivity. Jones' contributions to "Their Satanic Majesties Request" (1967) were sparse but splendid. By the time recording sessions for "Beggars Banquet" came around in late 1968, his contributions where almost nil as he was relegated to slight acoustic guitar bits, sitar or percussion. Al Kooper relates in his book how he was invited to attend and perform on the recording sessions for "Beggars Banquet" and sums up the beehive of activity that surrounded a Stones' creative and recording session. Kooper then goes on to observe, "Brian Jones lay on his stomach in the corner reading an article on botany through the entire proceedings". Another telling display of Brian's decaying state unfolds in the Jean- Luc Godard film "One Plus One". It is sadly and plainly evident that the Brian Jones of the early to mid 1960s was whittling away, the toll of his excesses on display as his distant blurry eyes and reclusive behavior are forever captured on film.

Just before his official departure from The Rolling Stones in 1969, Brian Jones had purchased AA Milne's country estate in Sussex and had begun extensive restorations, this in itself bolstering his mangled spirits. It seems to some who had contact with Jones around this time that he was beginning to get himself together, laying off the drugs and had even begun discussing future musical projects with the likes of Alexis Korner and Mitch Mitchell. On June 9, 1969, Brian's departure from The Stones became official, a statement released simply read, "I no longer see eye to eye with the others over the discs we are cutting".

His future plans were not to be as just three weeks later on July 3, 1969 Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool. The creator of the most enduring and beloved rock bands in history was dead at twenty-seven.

The official verdict handed down by the coroner shortly thereafter read, "Death by misadventure, cause of death drowning". It was thought at the time that Jones had suffered an asthma attack while swimming, as asthma was "a chronic ailment that troubled him since a bout with crupe as a child". However, the autopsy reports said that the condition of his lungs were not light and bulky, which is usually the case when death occurs as a result of an asthma attack. The conspiracy theories in this case are numerous and the possibility of Brian being murdered have spawned a truckload of books surrounding his last evening alive and the events that unfolded. Some theories put forward were disgruntled laborers and one that surfaced shortly after stated ridiculously that it was a Stones ordered hit. An apparent death bed confession in 1993, by Frank Thorogood, the builder who was drinking with Brian that evening, set off a flurry of books and television specials.

Brian Jones' legend has, as with all young R&R martyrs, grown and his excesses have been chronicled extensively over the years. In the end, the question remains not so much if he was murdered but what other incredible contributions could or would he have made to music had his life not ended so tragically.

He was eulogized in song by two of rocks most gifted and talented statesmen, Pete Townshend and Lou Reed, but Brian perhaps summed it up best in an interview in early 1965 when he said, "My ultimate aim in life was not to be a pop star . . . I'm not really satisfied artistically or personally".

Former band mate Bill Wyman states in his book about Brian,


"If ever a man genuinely lived the rock and roll life and naturally characterized the Stones in every way-long before the five of us assumed a style-it was Brian Jones. The band would not have existed without him…many attitudes and sounds of the sixties were developed from Brian's style and determination…he was the archetypal middle-class kid screaming to break away from his background, bumming around in dead end jobs before finally finding his niche. And when he found it, he hammered it across to the world, with idealism and commitment."


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