He formed the band. He named the band. He chose the members. He chose the music. He got the gigs. Without him there would be no Rolling Stones, that group currently on tour in the USA, still hoovering up millions and millions of dollars 53 years later.
He tends to get written out of the story. Last month, Dartford Council agreed to remove a plaque on platform 2 of Dartford railway station which states that ‘Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first met here before they went on to form The Rolling Stones – one of the most successful rock bands of all time’. Former Stones bass player Bill Wyman complained, saying that Brian Jones formed the band, not Jagger and Richards. To their credit, the council will replace it with a re-worded tribute.
Brian Jones was an incredible musician. He was that guy who pick up any instrument, give him 20 minutes and he could get a tune out of it. That’s his sitar on ‘Paint It, Black’, his recorder on ‘Ruby Tuesday’, his Appalachian dulcimer on “Lady Jane”, and his marimba on Under My Thumb (it was just lying around in the studio so he had a go and voila!). Try and imagine any of those songs without those sounds. He also played oboe on The Beatles’ “Baby, You’re a Rich Man and sings backing vocals on ‘Yellow Submarine’.
And then he lost it, slowly at first, but then very quickly wasted away, from paranoia, drugs, heartbreak, alcohol and betrayal, but mainly drugs and alcohol. Aged only 27, he drowned in the swimming pool of his home in Sussex 46 years ago this month. Only a few weeks earlier, he had been asked to quit the band he had formed seven years earlier.
He was born into a very middle class family in Cheltenham on 28 February 1942 as Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones (some sources double barrel that). Despite that and his angelic looks he was a bad boy. At 17, he knocked up his 17-year-old girlfriend, a massive, massive scandal in that twee West Country town. Except it was his second child. A 16-year old girlfriend had already had his child and put it up for adoption. The next year a one night stand with a young married woman resulted baby number 3 and he was still not 18. Another year, another child: his steady girlfriend gave birth to his fourth child in October 1961. In 1964, came his fifth child and finally in March 1965, another girlfriend gave birth to his sixth child (she was paid £700 and signed an agreement that the matter was now closed and she would make no statement about Brian Jones or the child to the public or the press).
Back in Cheltenham, he had discovered the blues, when musician Alexis Korner had played at the Town Hall. They became friends and stayed in touch, so when Korner opened the Ealing Jazz Club at 42a Ealing Broadway, W5, Brian was first in the queue. There he met two Herberts from Dartford – Michael Philip Jagger and Keith Richard – who had driven all the way from Dartford to see what all the fuss was about. They liked what they saw and heard, and in particular the slide guitar of that Brian Jones bloke.
In May 1962, Brian placed an advertisement in Jazz News and Jagger showed up with his mate Keith. Initially Brian wanted only Mick and not Keith, but Mick said he wouldn’t do it unless Keith came too. Okay then but here’s what he plays. They needed a name so The Best of Muddy Waters album was lying on the floor—and track five, side one was ‘Rollin’ Stone'”. So the Rollin’ Stones it was.
Brian and Keith spent day after day playing guitar while listening to blues records in a squalid flat on the first floor of 102 Edith Grove, Chelsea, SW10 in the coldest winter since 1740. Jagger’s student grant was their only income after Brian was sacked from Whiteley’s for stealing. Gigging regularly, they added Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman and by January 1963 they were complete. Brian, to all intents and purposes the band’s manager, was a hard taskmaster, reviewing each gig in the van on the way home and constantly going over how they could improve.
Things began to go wrong when they got a proper manager, a young PR man called Andrew Loog Oldham. Brian lost influence, although he persuaded management to pay him £5 a week more than the other guys. When they finally found out, this created more than a little resentment. Fifty years – and a personal fortune of over £200 million – later, Keith mentions it in his autobiography. Jeez, get over it, Keith.
He also couldn’t write a song to save his life. But Mick and Keith sure could and the real money and power is not in playing versions of Willie Dixon or Muddy Waters songs, it’s in writing your own tunes and controlling the publishing. Not that he didn’t earn a few quid and he certainly enjoyed the lifestyle of a Sixties pop star: nice gaffs in Chester Street Belgravia SW1 and a mews flat in Elm Park Lane, Chelsea SW3, all fashionable Moroccan carpets and beautifully chosen art and antiques. He romanced a lot of women too, and met his match in Anita Pallenberg, a beautiful and mysterious European actress and model. They were a Swinging Sixties couple, like a really decadent and dangerous Posh & Becks.
Alas, the forces of the Establishment were ranging against the Stones. The ‘ Would You Let Your Daughter Marry A Rolling Stone’ line may have been PR spin but they were actually still quite naughty. Their famously al fresco wee in March 1965 at the Francis Service Station in Stratford was the least of it. On TV they smoked and grunted their way through ‘Juke Box Jury’ and in January 1967 they snubbed the traditional ending of Sunday Night At The London Palladium: standing on a revolving platform and cheesily waving goodbye. The nation was outraged.
And then there were the drugs.
They’d been indulging for years but Mick and Keith were properly nabbed at Keith’s country house, ‘Redlands’ in West Sussex and charged with possession of drugs. The very same day they appeared in court, 10 May, the police raided Brian’s flat at 1 Courtfield Road SW5 and found him along with 50 grams of cannabis resin. Brian was arrested as was his friend, the flamboyant Prince Jean Christien Stanislaus Klossowski de Rola, who – perhaps inappropriately given the context – had the nickname ‘Stash’. As if being busted wasn’t bad enough, in March after one violent row too many, Anita had dumped Brian for Keith, his best friend. Oh! The betrayal.
Brian’s was advised to plead guilty at trial, using his mental state as mitigation, you know brilliant man brought down by addiction. At sentencing, his counsel pleaded that he should not be sent to prison as that would have a detrimental effect on his mental health, but the jury was unmoved the jury and sent him down for a total of 12 months. Bail was denied and off he went for a night in Wormwood Scrubs. Only on appeal was the verdict set aside in favour of a huge fine and psychiatric counselling. Now visibly diminished, the Man got him again less than six months later. In May 1968, they busted him at his new home at 15 Royal Avenue House, Kings Road, SW3. A dozen coppers piled in and just happened to find a big lump of dope in a ball of wool. Asked if the wool was his, he replied ‘I don’t knit’. As he’d only lived at the flat for a few weeks, his defence was that either the previous tenant had left it or that it was planted, so he elected for trial by Jury. Alas, the jury weren’t Stones fans because they found him guilty. Incredibly the judge had sympathy for the broken Jones, seeing jail would serve no purpose. “For goodness sake, don’t get into trouble again or it really will be serious” he said.
The former musical polymath had hardly been participating in Stones’ recordings for months and with two drug convictions against him, he had no chance of getting a work visa to the US, which the Stones intended to plunder for much-needed cash later in the year. In June 1969, seven years on from that ad in Jazz News, he was fired from the band he founded. He got a nice pay off, a lump sum plus £20k a year as long as the Stones continued to exist, but he never got to spend it. Less than a month later, on 2 July 1969, he was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool. On a warm and humid night, he had gone for a swim to cool off with two much brandy and too many pills inside him. The coroner’s report stated “death by misadventure” and noted both his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse.
He was buried on 10 July back in Cheltenham, in a grave 12 feet deep to dissuade trophy hunters. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman were the only Stones to attend. Mick Jagger was on the way to Australia to film ‘Ned Kelly’ (he shouldn’t have bothered, it’s awful); Keith and Anita did not attend either, which considering their history, was probably not a bad idea, as it goes.