It was on July 3rd 1969 that Brian Jones, the founder and one-time leader of The Rolling Stones passed away in circumstances that are still shrouded in mystery, conjecture and conspiracy four decades on.
Found face down in the swimming pool of his Sussex cottage, once owned by Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne, in the small hours of July 3rd, the official verdict was death by misadventure. And that is probably what it was. Despite several people having been at the house that night, there were no eye witnesses, none of their testimonies dovetailed and the police investigation can be politely described as a mess.
But that is for elsewhere, as is analysis of, it would appear, a not particularly pleasant character. Today, I’d like to gloss over his shortcomings as a person, and instead remember his great contribution to popular music in the 27 years he was with us.
What doesn’t seem to be in doubt is that he had a knack of being first on the scene. He would always be there way before anyone else, anticipating musical and fashion trends, a style leader, an ace face. (He can also be considered a world music pioneer, having recorded Morocco’s Master Musicians of Joujouka in 1968).
A great fan of jazz (particularly Cannonball Adderley and Sidney Bechet) as was his soon-to-be drummer Charlie Watts, Jones was one of the first in the country to discover the blues. He moved to London from Cheltenham as a young man, having impressed the great Alexis Korner, father of British blues, and began putting a band together to emulate the likes of Elmore James and Muddy Waters. People came and went, but the two boys from Dartford stayed and taking their names from a Muddy waters song… Maybe you know this already…
As we know, pop isn’t all about the music, even fifty years ago how you looked counted for much and Jones had the look. A mop of golden hair, white drainpipe jeans, cuban heels, Breton jersey and teardrop guitar. Later, we can assume that he had more than an influence as the Stones morphed into their Regency dandy period c. Between the Buttons of velvets, feathers and silks, floppy hats and capes.
A word about that Vox teardrop guitar. It would appear to have been his trademark, I certainly associate him with it, having spent my early years examining as many pics of the Stones as I could get my hands on. Yet there are few pictures of him playing it. Having scanner several books this morning, he is pictured with all manner of guitars, the common denominator being that I covet them all and I haven’t a clue how to play one! He does seem to have had an eye for the beautiful and the unusual (a green Gretsch semi-acoustic being my favourite).
Just as Jones’ slide guitar or blues harp gave the early numbers a distinctive edge, so his sitar, mandolin, marimba, mellotron and dulcimer brought psychedelic colour to tracks as diverse as Paint it Black, Lady Jane, Ruby Tuesday, Mother’s Little Helper, Yesterday’s Papers, In Another Land and 2000 Light Years from Home as they broke away from their r’n’b roots.
However, just as The Stones gravitated back towards the blues with Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed, albeit their own in-cahoots-with-Satan blues, so Brian’s world fell apart. As level-headed Charlie explains; “He wasn’t turning up, and you know what happens when people don’t show up – you do without them. And then when you do without them, suddenly they’re not needed. And then it was a decision. Shall we get somebody else?”
Brian Jones was a non-Stone for three weeks, before his replacement Mick Taylor had strapped on a guitar in public. He was to do so on July 5th, at what became Brian Jones’ memorial free concert in Hyde Park (a free concert in Hyde Park, now there’s a thing!).
Will it suffice today to simply spare a thought for a young man who had a vision, executed it in spectacular fashion, then crumbled as it grew into something bigger than anyone could ever have forseen?
He is well-served by a Fan Club website that will lose you a few hours if you’ve any interest in Jones or the Stones, though it doesn’t seem to have been updated for a while.
Young, intelligent, shy, vulnerable, talented, bored, narcissistic, intransigent, egotistical and cool with a weakness for women, booze and drugs leading to a tragic, early grave equals a bluesman. An epitaph that, given a choice, Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones might well have settled for. RIP.