The Life of Brian

Those of us of a certain age simply grew up with the sounds of the Rolling Stones in our ears. Even blokes like my dad, who was more of a student of the likes of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra had a few Stones singles in his record collection. Much like the Beatles, I guess the majority of households back then owned something by them.

Later, as I began to enter my late teens and felt the need to satisfy a thirst for more knowledge on these groups who had burnt so brightly in the 1960s, a decade I was beginning to grow ever more fascinated by, I watched any piece of footage I could find.

Watching the Stones, I found I was more drawn to the sight of Brian Jones than anyone other in the group. Sure, Jagger also caught the eye with his ‘if James Brown was from Dartford’ dancing moves and Charlie Watts by the cut of his modernist clobber, but it was the blonde haired Jones who stood out the most, certainly in the mid-60s archive.  Back then, I had no idea as to the origins of the band and who had played what part in it, so gradually by reading and studying I discovered it was Jones’ group at the start. The same text I was reading also spelt out it would all end in a mess for him personally as the decade rolled along.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here, which simply won’t do. So, to begin at the beginning as the man once said…

He was born Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones on Feb 28th 1942 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and grew up in a comfortable middle class, musical family, with both mum and dad more than useful keyboard players. An early love of jazz, led Brian, as he became known, to learn the saxophone before switching to the guitar from the age of 17.

He was a very bright child and passed any exam put in front of him, but he disliked the stuffy atmosphere of school and soon began to rebel. 

He became a father aged 17. In fact, he had fathered at least five by the time he was 23. To escape the scandal of the first born however, he left the UK soon after, busking his way around Europe before returning home when money became very scarce.

He was soon on his way to London, and dived into the burgeoning Blues scene in the capital, playing under the name of Elmo Lewis with the likes of Jack Bruce, later of Cream, singer Paul Jones, soon to be frontman of Manfred Mann and the ‘Blues Daddy’ of them all, Alexis Korner.

He then advertised an audition for a new R&B band he was putting together. This first attracted Ian ‘Stu’ Stewart, and he was soon in on piano, later to be joined by Mick Jagger on vocals along with his school friend Keith Richards on guitar. Jones came up with the name of the band, taking inspiration from a Muddy Waters ‘Best Of’ album, which contained the track ‘Rollin Stone Blues.’

Though not performing with the final line up that we all grew to know and love, the band played their first gig in the July of 1962.  By then Jones, Richard and Jagger all shared a flat in Edith Grove, Chelsea where they spent their days listening to blues records by the likes of Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, and Jimmy Reed. Guitar techniques were honed and harmonica lessons given by Jones to Jagger.

Bill Wyman was brought in on bass and later joined by one time Blues Incorporate member, the very highly regarded Charlie Watts on drums.  

They also picked up a manager and gig booker in Giorgio Gomelsky.

Within a few years, the band simply became a phenomenon, with Brian’s multi-instrumental skills very much to the fore. 

For example, he can be heard on slide guitar on ‘Little Red Rooster’, sitar on ‘Street Fighting Man and ‘Paint it Black’, organ on ‘Lets Spend the Night Together’, recorder on ‘Ruby Tuesday, harmonica on ‘Not Fade Away’ and mellotron on ‘She’s a Rainbow’.

However, the burgeoning songwriting partnership of Jagger and Richard, encouraged by the then new man at the ‘Stones’ helm, Andrew Loog Oldham, meant that his initial influence on the group and his own perceived leader status began to wear thin.

He began to drink heavily and used drugs on a daily basis and slowly became distant from the rest of the group. 

His girlfriend Anita Pallenberg left him for Richards, which, understandably, strained relationships within the line up even further.

Toward what was the end of his time with the Stones, he can be seen in the film ‘One Plus One’ by Jean Luc Godard. He is seen taking part in the studio sessions for the ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ in a minor way and looking very groggy and unstable in a few scenes as he did so. 

His last appearance with the band was a part of the ‘Rock and Roll Circus’ film from the December of 1968.

His erratic lifestyle had led to him being told in the June of 1969, that he was no longer part of the band. Brian, however, released a statement that he had chosen to leave the band. Guitarist Mick Taylor replaced him.

Brian withdrew and lived at Cotchford Farm in East Sussex, the one time home of A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh books.

Then, in the early hours of the 3rd of July that year, things took a tragic turn, when he was found dead at the bottom of the swimming pool attached to the property.  

He was 27, and so another member of that most unfortunate club. 

Two days later the new look Stones dedicated their free concert in Hyde Park to Brian. Charlie and Bill attended his funeral with Jagger absent travelling to Australia for the filming of ‘Ned Kelly.’

Rumours about Brian’s death began to circulate not long after. It was claimed he was murdered with builder Frank Thorogood allegedly confessing to Tom Keylock, a driver for the Rolling Stones. Author Terry Rawlings documented this claim in his 1994 book ‘Who Killed Christopher Robin?’

Sussex police re-investigated the death again in 2009, but then stated ‘that there was no new evidence to suggest that the coroners’ original verdict of ‘death by misadventure’ was incorrect.’

He is still a figure that fascinates many, but ultimately it all ended, well a bit sad. 

Far wiser men than me say be careful what you wish for and I kept thinking that as I wrote this particular blog.

The Mumper of SE5