Brian was true rock royalty and in the early days, the only bad Rolling Stone. He basked with blonde babes and fathered enough offspring to fill a soccer team. But his thirst for the limelight quickly overshadowed his art, which led to his demise.
Brian Jones was born into a respectable family in Cheltenham, England, during a time when such families reprimanded their offspring using corporal punishment, even in public. His parents, Lewis and Louise, were more concerned about their family’s image than instilling happiness in Brian and his four-years-younger sister Barbara. Louise told her son that Pamela, another sister who had died of leukemia at the age of two, had been sent away for being naughty. They weren’t unusually cruel compared to other families, but years of verbal and physical abuse scarred Brian’s psyche for life.
Brian Jones’ boyhood was filled with altar service, depression, school pranks, chronic asthma and various nervous disorders. Despite of his nervousness he was capable of coaxing other boys in the schoolyard to do or believe things they’d regret later. The few who came back with clenched fists were met with meekness in Brian’s green eyes.
His mother taught him piano and he could practice clarinet at home, but listening to jazz and swing or practicing other instruments was done covertly and away from the house. Jones picked up an acoustic guitar and became infatuated with rural bluesmen such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightning Hopkins, Ledbelly Leadbetter—and the mysterious Robert Johnson. In his teens, Brian became one of a handful young, amateur blues musicians playing on a scene dominated by scholarly trad. jazzers. He often sat in with various outfits and was capable of laying down decent jazz strums, but he was known to wander off stage if the band started playing numbers he felt were a bit too trad. The behavior garnered him off-stage attention, which he seemed to enjoy. Band members would often try to make him come back because his musical abilities helped the overall cohesiveness. Around this time, Brian became a father for the second time. His first, when he was 16, had been put up for adoption. This time was different. He took odd jobs to pay for his son and the mother, who eventually followed him to London after he moved there.
Brian Jones founded the Rolling Stones as a skiffle group in 1962. The band’s repertoire in the early days consisted of Chuck Berry numbers, Bo Diddley covers and a selection of other blues songs. Brian assumed leadership and his initial fortitude facilitated the band’s sudden success. He chose cover songs, hustled gigs, signed contracts and distributed proceeds (always skimming a little extra before disbursing the others). Women found the broad-shouldered sparkplug adorable. Brian was often nasty on stage and was known to egg on patches of the crowd for the sheer hell of it, but in between he’d turn those green beams in the direction of a special girl watching from the side of the stage and she’d melt. His charm lingered latently and he could be funny, jovial and cordial, his husked voice softly lisping underneath a blond mop top.
The Rolling Stones’s Cavern was a London club called Craw Daddy. Within months, Rolling Stones’ reputation made people stand in line for hours for an opportunity to sweat and shake in immobility. Girls with bouncing tops up front, gawking guys in the back. When the Beatles, who had already garnered reputation beyond Liverpool’s Cavern, listened in they were impressed enough to invite the band to one of their concerts as well as talking them up to potential producers and the press.
Brian Jones was never a songwriter, but what and how he played refined the overall sound. He doesn’t have a song to his name because he was constantly paranoid about letting others hear what he was working on. He wanted to stick with variations of the blues, while Keith and Mick were rockers. Ultimately, his failure to produce material made him irrelevant, so Mick and Keith moved into position as principal architects of the Stones’ direction. But that was in the studio and backstage. In public, Brian clung to the role as co-leader and bad-boy partier. His choices indicated that being a star was more important than playing music—he adored the spotlight. Skipping out on duties with the Stones, he flew to Monterey with Nico on his arm, so he could introduce Jimi’s Experience to the American audience.
In 1968, Brian spent time in Morocco recording tribal music, posthumously released as The Pipes of Pan at Joujouka. Brian’s leadership had already slipped, but his frequent escapades and propensity to avoid recording dates (he failed to show up during the recording of “Satisfaction”) rendered him persona non grata by his band mates. He would typically show up after Keith had recorded all the guitar tracks, leaving him to add other instruments. The trajectory of figuring out an arsenal of instruments led to a marked disinterest in the guitar, but Brian’s colorations added zest. “Paint it Black,” Rolling Stones’ third British number one single, sounded strangely haunted thanks to his sitar. Jones reached the apex of multi-instrumentation in 1966 on Aftermath and Between the Buttons. He played marimba on “Under My Thumb,” “Yesterday’s Papers” and “Out of Time;” dulcimer on “Lady Jane;” sitar on “Cool, Calm and Collected” and “Mother’s Little Helper;” trombone on “Something Happened To Me Yesterday” and flute on “All Sold Out.”
For fifteen months, Anita Pallenberg was his girlfriend, and she made him laugh and forget about his deficiencies. His persona became increasingly mysterious and some have talked about the couple’s kinkiness: sado-masochism and even coprophagy. But the bliss ended after he had to fly back to London from a road trip on the continent due to a bad case of asthma. With Anita alone in the backseat, it didn’t take long for Keith to win her over.
The Stones’ founder turned into an emotional train wreck and two drug busts from the police with subsequent court appearances furthered his condition. A psychoanalysis ordered by the court found him to have an IQ of 133, but “losing his grip on reality. He vacillates between a passive, dependent child with a confused image of an adult on one hand and an idol of pop culture on the other.” He was put on a diet of tranquillizers and moved out of London to Cotchford Farm, an estate previously owned by Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne. Brian looked pale, grew tubbier and was generally zonked from a combination of medicine, booze, depression, asthma and frail nerves. In early June, Mick, Keith and Charlie drove out to sever the ties between Brian and the band. It was a sense of relief for both parties and Brian was promised a golden handshake equivalent of $1.7 million.
July 3, 1969, was a hot day at Cotchford, the air filled with pollen, but news about the check from the Stones organization lifted Brian’s spirits. He drank heavily, sucked on his inhalator and popped tranquilizers. Although he was hardly fit for stable movement on land, he decided to take a dip in the deep blue swimming pool that night. Anna, the latest of his string of nursing girlfriends, and Frank, a brute of a foreman that was living in an annex while supervising a posse of cowboy builders employed by Mr. Jones, eventually got out to fetch cigarettes, leaving Brian alone. He must’ve felt a drowsy calmness while splashing alone in his pool, eventually sinking to the tile-covered bottom. Brian Jones was 27 years old.