From Guitarist Magazine - May 1998
Brian Jones led The Rolling Stones to the heights of rock'n'roll stardom, but fame destroyed him. Over forty years later the Stones machine continues to roll on - but without their founding member. Almost thirty five years after his body was found floating in his swimming pool, Pat Reid retells his story:-
The Rolling Stones are untouchable; they simply don't give a damn about anything. Even if their albums no longer sell in the quantity they once did, they remain, effortlessly, the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world – a state of affairs that's endured for over 40 years.
Although Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards are all that remains of the sixties line-up, the Stones are still the Stones. They've seen countless young upstarts attempt to steal their crown – Led Zeppelin, The Sex Pistols, Nirvana, but all these bands have long been spent forces, while the Stones roll on. Even Oasis, the band who've broken all UK sales records and put British bad-boy rock bands back on the global map, can muster barely a fraction of the controversy stirred up by the Stones in their heyday. In the last four decades, only The Beatles have exerted more influence on popular culture – and The Beatles are no longer with us. So the Stones don't give a damn. Musical trends come and go, but every three or four years when they announce another tour, the entire world appears to go mad for them yet again.
However, there's always been a dark side to the Stones – whispered tales of dirty dealings, death and betrayal, even witchcraft. Just like the early bluesmen who influenced them, no matter how wealthy and sophisticated they might have become, the Stones have always had a hellhound on their tale. Thirty five years ago, that hellhound caught up with the man who'd once been the archetypal Stone – founding member and guitarist, Brian Jones.
In the sixties, the name Brian Jones was synonymous with outrageous style and glamour, as well as decadence in all its sex and drug-crazed glory. Amoral charm to the fore, he defined sixties cool, immaculate in turtleneck sweater and hipster strides, his blonde tresses shaped into one of the best haircuts in history, a Vox Teardrop or Gibson Firebird in his arms and an adoring blonde by his side. Musically, he was at the cutting edge, hip to jazz and blues, giving the pop masses their first taste of bottleneck guitar.
He was also supremely talented, a multi-instrumentalist who made musical magic out of anything, winning the respect of John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend to name but three. That's Brian playing sitar on 'Paint It Black', while those weird noises on 'We Love You' and '2000 Light Years From Home' were the result of his flirtation with the Mellotron. But perhaps the most defining musical image of him is the immortal sixties footage of the Stones performing 'Little Red Rooster' on the UK sixties pop show, Ready Steady Go. With a casual, almost insolent air, he slides out the notes of the Willie Dixon blues number that gave the Stones their second UK Number One hit in November 1964. It's one of the most supremely sleazy slabs of rock history we'll ever witness.
Lewis Brian Hopkin-Jones came from a solid middle class background in Cheltenham. A good all-rounder in his boyhood, he enjoyed sport and was a precocious musical talent on recorder, clarinet and piano. As a teenager however, he became a compulsive rebel against everything that his respectable, hard-working parents stood for. Almost overnight Brian trashed his father's hopes that he might become a classical musician. He'd discovered jazz; saxman Charlie Parker was his idol, and straight-laced Cheltenham suddenly seemed the antithesis of all his hipster aspirations.
By the end of the 1950's, Brian had nine 'O' Levels and a couple of 'A' Levels under his belt. His other achievement during this period was getting a 14 year-old girl pregnant. She was the first of many.
Still a teenager himself, he headed for London where he befriended Alexis Korner, leader of Blues Incorporated. Having ditched his sax in favour of a Gibson electric guitar, he guested with Korner's mob in Ealing, blasting out the hysterical slide intro into Elmore James' blues belter 'Dust My Broom'. Soon after, he hooked up with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, two blues fanatics who initially held the worldly Brian in awe. The three got a band together and the young Brian, Mick and Keith moved into a legendarily squalid flat in Chelsea.
In those early days, when the band had no fixed rhythm section Brian also acted as manager, hustling for gigs, collecting the money and taking care to pay himself a bigger cut than the others. The Stones' sound was already evolving with Brian and Keith's dual guitar onslaught sounding like nothing else around at the time. In due course, they recruited bassist Bill Wyman, a semi-pro who owned two top-of-the-range e Watts, a well known jazz and blues drummer joined soon after.
The turning point came in 1963, when their Sunday residency at Georgio Gomelski's Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, a suburb in south west London, netted them a solid, hardcore following of everyone from R & B devotees to Mods, Rockers and teenyboppers. The band were refining their live act - perfecting a tough, aggressive sound that contrasted sharply with the weedy trad jazz that was popular at the time. Gomelski brought the Beatles down one Sunday and the Fab Four soon became early champions of the band.
With the Beatles acting as advocates on their behalf, the Stones went from being seen as scruffy outsiders, to being scruffy outsiders with commercial potential. Legend has it that George Harrison tipped Decca Records' Dick Rowe (notorious as 'the man who turned down The Beatles') that they were worth signing. Rowe drove 200 miles that very day, caught The Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy and signed them on the spot.
By this time, the band had found a manager in the precocious Andrew Loog Oldham, who had cut his teeth doing PR work for the Beatles and Phil Spector. Oldham, a genius for devising publicity scams and arresting headlines found a respectable partner in agent Eric Easton, who initially thought that the Stones should ditch Jagger, and said as much to Brian, who had no objections. Indeed, it was Brian alone who signed the deal with The Rolling Stones' new management, ensuring with typical self-interest, that he got paid £5 a week more than the others.
Ironically, the Stones rose to fame as the perceived antithesis to those nice Beatles. In reality, they were never quite as nasty as the 1960's press like to make out. But their notoriety took on a life of its own. Their gigs often turned into riots. While TV appearances led to switchboards being jammed with complaints about their supposedly loutish appearance and behaviour. In 1964, Brian, Mick and Bill were arrested for relieving themselves against a garage wall and were subsequently convicted of insulting behaviour'. "Long Haired Monsters" screamed The Sunday Express.
The first Rolling Stones hits were all cover versions – Chuck Berry's 'Come On', Lennon and McCartney's 'I Wanna Be Your Man' and Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away', but the sound they were evolving was darker and harder than anything the charts were used to. By the end of 1964 the Stones had joined the Beatles among Britain's pop aristocracy. The following year America and the rest of the world would also be conquered. During this time, Brian Jones still demanded more pay and better hotel rooms than his fellow Stones. The difference was that now the others resented him for his superior ways.
Inevitably, Brian's reign as king of the swinging sixties lasted for only a few brief years. The Rolling Stones, which he'd led from their inception, turned against him. When the band finally began to write their own material, it was Jagger and Richards who'd formed the unshakeable song writing alliance producing all-time classics like 'Satisfaction', 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and 'Sympathy For The Devil'. Brian's attempts at composition meanwhile, never saw the light of day. He'd always been seen as the superstud of the band but, while on a trip to Morocco to record the master musicians of Jajouka, Keith Richards stole away Brian's trophy girlfriend, the model Anita Pallenberg, probably the only woman he ever truly loved.
There was worse to come. After a series of mid-sixties drug busts in which the Establishment almost broke the band, Brian narrowly escaped a jail sentence - but was left a nervous wreck and retreated to his Sussex country house. It was there that Mick, Keith and Charlie visited him in the summer of 1969 with the news that he was no longer a Rolling Stone. Not long after, on the evening of the 2nd July he was found dead in his swimming pool. The coroner recorded a verdict of death by misadventure. Two days after Brian's death the Stones introduced his replacement, Mick Taylor from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers at a free open air concert in Hyde Park before an audience of a quarter of a million. As a tribute, thousands of white butterflies were released above the crowd. It was just about the end of the 1960's.
The saddest thing about Brian's death was the fact that – as many believed – he'd cleaned up his act and was ready to deliver his best music yet. The man they called the Golden Stone died with his creative potential unfulfilled but, unlike so many other casualties from his generation, he's not forgotten. Even today, what passes for rock'n'roll 'attitude' is, in part, derived from Brian Jones. But the real thing is irreplaceable. One thing's for sure though - we won't see the like of Brian Jones again…..
Footnote: Death of a Stone - Was Brian Jones Murdered
We live in an age where woolly-minded conspiracy theories are allowed much credence. Almost every 1960's star who died before their time has attracted frenzied speculation – witness Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. Brian Jones is no exception. Immediately after his body was found in July 1969, rumours began to circulate that he'd either committed suicide, or was murdered.
Philip Norman provides a clear-headed account of Jones' death in his 1984 biography 'The Stones', while acknowledging that various elements didn't quite make sense in the events surrounding the drowning. "This wasn't a simple death" he comments, pointing out that after his death, many of Brian's valuable possessions mysteriously vanished from the farm.
Colourful Stones associate 'Spanish' Tony Sanchez also airs his misgivings in his trashy-yet-readable 1991 tome 'Up And Down With The Rolling Stones'. The 'official' story was that, on the fateful night, Brian's only companions were a builder called Frank Thorogood, his friend Janet Lawson and a Swedish girl named Anna Wohlin. Sanchez, however, comments: "A feeling of certainty that at least a dozen other people were present".
But the most explosive investigation into Brian's death came in 1994 with the publication of Geoffrey Giuliano's 'Paint It Black: The Murder Of Brian Jones'. Giuliano paints a convincing picture of life at Cotchford Farm that summer, quoting extensively from insiders like Brian's housekeeper. It seems that Frank Thorogood's team of builders were taking advantage of Brian, doing little work and acting as though they owned the place. The book goes on to allege that Brian's death occurred during a party, when two of the builders held Brian under the water in his swimming pool. The book even cites a 'confession' from one of the alleged murderers who, naturally, refused to be named.
Giuliano's story contains at least a glimmer of plausibility even to a sceptical reader. It's not so hard to believe that there were a lot of people at the farm that night, most of whom rapidly left the scene after Brian was drowned in a drunken, probably accidental confrontation in the pool. We'll probably never know the truth, but Giuliano's theories are somehow believable, perhaps because the conclusions are so very mundane. If Brian Jones was murdered, it certainly wasn't the CIA, the Mafia or aliens who did the deed. Neither was it a case for the fabled Mulder and Scully – however perhaps a more thorough East Sussex CID investigation would have sufficed.