He was the founding Rolling Stone who died less than a month after he was kicked out of the band, at the age of 27. Brian Jones, the guitarist, played with The Rolling Stones from their inception in 1962 until 1969. Of course, that puts him in the notorious “27 Club,” but that’s not what makes him a legend. Jones lived an incredibly interesting life, accomplishing more than most – all before his 27th birthday.
He was in one of the world’s biggest bands for seven years, and his importance to the group in those early years cannot be understated. He was an innovator, and his influence on music should be recognized. But it should also be noted that it was his self-deprecation that led to his leaving the band. Even for the biggest Stones’ fans, the story of Brian Jones’ life and death has been shrouded in so much misinformation and controversy that it has kept people wondering for decades what exactly happened to the young, talented, and troubled guitarist.
Brian Jones was one of the first in the UK to play slide guitar. His love of the blues was what he and the Rolling Stones were all about, especially in their early years. His talent helped propel the band into the pop charts, and his fashion sense and hairstyle, which appealed to both men and women, were copied by bands on both sides of the pond.
Initially a slide guitarist, he went on to play a variety of instruments on the Stones’ recordings and in concerts: in addition to rhythm and lead guitar, he played sitar, dulcimer, piano and mellotron, marimba, harmonica, recorder, saxophone, drums, and even sang vocals. He managed to get seven years in before his controversial departure from the band…
Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones was born on February 28, 1942, to middle-class parents. His father, who played the piano and organ and led the choir at their local church, had high hopes for his son. But Jones was too into the music to put it aside and attend university. His overriding passion for music hit him around the age of sixteen when he first heard a Charlie Parker record.
After that, he convinced his parents to buy him a saxophone. This turned out to be a passing phase – something that proved to be a common theme in Jones’ short life. For his 17th birthday, he was given an acoustic guitar. Having left high school and deciding not to go to university, Jones landed several odd jobs.
Jones went to see the Chris Barber Band play in concert at Cheltenham Town Hall in 1961 – their set included a blues segment by Alexis Korner. It was then that Jones became obsessed with the blues, practicing slide guitar as he listened to Elmore James and Robert Johnson records. Before long, Jones was hitchhiking to London.
In London, he became friends with fellow musicians Alexis Korner, Paul Jones, future Cream bassist Jack Bruce – those who made up the small rhythm, blues, and jazz scene in London. Jones became a blues musician playing slide guitar and called himself Elmo Lewis for a while. He started a group with Paul Jones called the Roosters. (After Jones and Paul left, Eric Clapton took over for Brian Jones as guitarist.)
Jones placed an ad in a Soho club information sheet called Jazz News on May 2, 1962, inviting musicians to audition for his new R&B group. Pianist Ian Stewart was the first to respond. Then, Mick Jagger joined the band. In fact, Jagger and his childhood friend Keith Richards met Jones when he and Paul Jones were playing Elmore James’ song Dust My Broom with Alexis Korner’s band at the Ealing Jazz Club.
Now with Stewart, Jagger, and Richards in the band, Jones came up with the name “Rollin’ Stones” (without the “g”) while on the phone with a venue owner. Jones was asked, “What are you called?” He then looked at The Best of Muddy Waters album lying on the floor. Track five, side one was called Rollin’ Stone Blues.
The Rollin’ Stones played their first gig on July 12, 1962, at the Marquee Club in London. The lineup consisted of Jagger, Richards, Jones, Stewart, Dick Taylor (bass) and Tony Chapman (drums). From 1962 to 1963, Jones, Jagger and Richards shared an apartment that Richards referred to as “a beautiful dump.” Jones and Richards spent every day playing guitar and listening to blues records (mostly Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf).
It was during this time that Jones taught Jagger how to play the harmonica. The four Stones looked for a permanent bassist, finally settling on Bill Wyman. Why? Because he had a spare VOX AC30 guitar amplifier, and he always had cigarettes. Oh, and he had a bass guitar that he built himself.
By January 1963, they persuaded jazz-influenced Charlie Watts to join the band. Back then, Watts was considered to be one of the better drummers in the area; he used to play with Alexis Korner’s group Blues Incorporated. According to Watts, “Brian was very instrumental in pushing the band at the beginning. Keith and I would look at him and say he was barmy [crazy].”
“It was a crusade to him to get us on the stage in a club and be paid half-a-crown and to be billed as an R&B band.” Jones also acted as the band’s business manager, receiving £5 more than the other members. It wasn’t much, but it still bothered the guys and created resentment.
If you asked Richards and Jagger, they would tell you that they were both surprised to learn that Jones thought of himself as the leader and gave himself extra cash. It was also eyebrow-raising considering how other people, like Giorgio Gomelsky, were making the bookings. But regardless of those initial cracks in the group, Jones was contributing a lot to their success.
Examples of his talent can be heard on many Stones’ recordings, such as his slide guitar on the songs I’m a King Bee, Little Red Rooster, and No Expectations. He played the sitar on the songs Street Fighting Man and Paint It, Black. He played organ on Let’s Spend the Night Together, marimba on Under My Thumb, recorder on Ruby Tuesday, dulcimer and harpsichord on Lady Jane, saxophone and oboe on Dandelion, mellotron on She’s A Rainbow; and harmonica on Not Fade Away.
As soon as Andrew Loog Oldham came on as the band’s manager, it marked the beginning of Jones’ slow estrangement. Oldham recognized the financial advantages of members writing their own songs (like Lennon and McCartney), and playing covers wouldn’t last for long. He also wanted to make Jagger’s charisma and flamboyance the focus of their live performances.
Jones started to notice that his influence over the Stones’ direction was slipping as their music comprised fewer blues covers than he preferred. More Jagger/Richards originals were being made, and Oldham was becoming more and more in control, displacing Jones from yet another one of his founding roles.
It would be unfair not to mention some of the biographical details that influenced the course of Jones’ brief life. In 1959, when he was 17, his girlfriend Valerie Corbett (also 17) became pregnant. Jones was said to have encouraged her not to have the baby, but she carried it to term anyway. She then placed their son, Barry David Corbett (later Simon), up for adoption.
That same year, Jones met a young, married woman at the Wooden Bridge Hotel in Guildford. The two had a one-night stand that resulted in her pregnancy. She and her husband raised the baby, a daughter, who was born in August 1960. As it turns out, Jones never knew about birth.
In July of 1964, Linda Lawrence (who later married Donovan Philips Leitch), gave birth to Jones’ fourth child, Julian Brian Lawrence. A year later, in October of 1964, his girlfriend Dawn Molloy announced that she was pregnant.
Molloy reportedly received a cheque for £700 from Oldham. In return for the money, she signed an agreement that her pregnancy matter was now closed – and that she would not make a statement about Jones or their child to the public or the press. The statement, undated, was signed by Molloy and witnessed by Mick Jagger. So, in Jones’ 27 years of life, he managed to father five children.
In October 1961, 19-year-old Jones’ girlfriend Pat Andrews gave birth to his third child, Julian Mark Andrews. The story has it that Jones sold his record collection to buy flowers for Pat and clothes for the baby. The drifter even lived with them for a while, but that relationship didn’t last. Jones wasn’t one to stick around for too long.
According to Oldham’s book, Stoned, Jones was an outsider from the beginning. When the Stones’ first tours were arranged in 1963, Jones would travel separately from the band, staying at different hotels, and demanding extra pay. Oldham noted that Jones was very emotional, feeling alienated since he wasn’t a prolific songwriter, and his management role had been taken away.
The way Oldham saw it, Jones was resisting the “symbiosis demanded by the group lifestyle, and so life was becoming more desperate for him day by day. None of us were looking forward to Brian, totally cracking up.” The road, the money, the fame, and the feeling of alienation from the group took a toll on Jones and resulted in his overindulgence in alcohol and drugs.
As his physical and mental health declined, he became more and more unfriendly and antisocial. In 1967, Jones’ girlfriend of two years, Anita Pallenberg, left him for Keith Richards when Jones was hospitalized during a trip the three of them made to Morocco. The pair not only abandoned Jones to run off together — they remained a couple for the next 20 years — they left him with the hotel bill.
His girlfriend abandoning him for his fellow bandmate only further damaged the already strained relations between Jones and Richards. As tensions and Jones’ substance abuse rose, his musical contributions were affected and became increasingly more sporadic. He was getting bored with the guitar, seeking exotic instruments to play, and growing increasingly absent from recording sessions.
After being arrested for drug possession in May 1967, he went to the Monterey Pop Festival in June. There, he met Frank Zappa and Dennis Hopper and climbed on to the stage to introduce the Jimi Hendrix Experience (then mainly unknown to Americans). Hostility was growing between band members, particularly between Jones, Jagger, and Richards. While many said Jones was friendly and outgoing, Wyman, Richards, and Watts said he could also be cruel and difficult.
Jones’ attitude changed often. One minute he was caring and generous; the next minute, he was bothering everyone. According to Wyman, “There were at least two sides to Brian’s personality. One Brian was introverted, shy, sensitive, deep-thinking. The other was a preening peacock, gregarious, artistic, desperately needing assurance from his peers.”
Jones’ last meaningful sessions with the Stones were in the spring and summer of 1968 when they produced Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the Beggars Banquet album. In contrast to his early days playing multiple instruments on many tracks, he was now playing only minor roles on a few pieces. His last formal appearance was in December of 1968 at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (a part-concert, part circus-act film).
The film’s commentary indicated that pretty much everyone at the concert felt that the end of Jones’ time with the band was near. According to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend (of The Who), they knew it was Jones’ last live musical performance. Jones was arrested again in May of 1968, for drug possession. Considering that he was already on probation, he was facing a long jail sentence.
He was found guilty, but the judge had sympathy for Jones, fining him instead. The judge’s words to the failing musician: “For goodness sake, don’t get into trouble again or it really will be serious.” Now with yet another reason for him to be estranged from the band, Jones was pushing himself out.
It was 1969, and The Rolling Stones wanted to tour the United States for the first time in three years. But Jones was in no condition to tour, not to mention his second arrest created problems with getting a US work Visa. Also, Jones was only randomly showing up at rehearsals and recording sessions. And, when he did appear, he rarely contributed musically.
Even when he did play with them, his bandmates would switch off his amplifier and Richards would play nearly all the guitars. Author Gary Herman wrote that Jones was “literally incapable of making music; when he tried to play harmonica, his mouth started bleeding.” Ironically, these problems only got worse as they recorded the album Let It Bleed.
To make matters worse, in March 1969, Jones borrowed the band’s Jaguar to go shopping. The parked car was towed, and so Jones hired a chauffeur-driven car to get home. Then, in May 1969, Jones crashed his motorcycle into a store window and was secretly taken to hospital under a fake name. From that point on, despite attending a few recording sessions, Jones was no longer a major contributor to the band.
Talk about making a complete 180! Jagger told Jones that he would be fired if he didn’t show up to a scheduled photoshoot. In the end, he showed up, but he was looking frail. His last photo as an official Rolling Stone, took place on May 21, 1969. The photos appeared on the album Through the Past Darkly (Big Hits vol.2).
The Stones were informed that Jones wouldn’t receive a work permit, allowing him to join their North American tour in 1969. As per Stewart’s suggestion, the group decided to find a new guitarist. On June 8, 1969, Jagger, Richards, and Watts told Jones that the group he had once formed would continue without him.
To the public, it looked as though Jones left voluntarily. The truth is that although the others told him to leave, it was ultimately his choice as to how he would frame it to the public. On June 9, 1969, Jones released a statement announcing his departure from The Rolling Stones. In his statement, he read: “I no longer see eye to eye with the others over the discs we are cutting.”
Jones was replaced by the 20-year-old Mick Taylor, who used to be in John Mayall’s band Bluesbreakers. At the time, Jones was living at Cotchford Farm in East Sussex, which happens to be the former residence of Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A. Milne. Jones purchased the place in 1968. Apparently, Jones contacted Alexis Korner, Ian Stewart, John Lennon, Mitch Mitchell, Alan Price, and Jimmy Miller about putting together another band.
He even demoed a few of his own songs, including Has Anybody Seen My Baby? and Chow Time, in the weeks before his death on the early morning of July 3, 1969. Jones, an asthmatic in addition to a drug addict, drowned in the pool of his home. He was 27.
His death was officially labeled “death by misadventure” by the coroner. Still, the details surrounding the circumstances are unclear, including who was there at the time, what their motives were, and where exactly Jones drowned. He was discovered motionless at the bottom of his pool. His 21-year-old Swedish girlfriend, Anna Wohlin, was convinced that he was alive when he was taken out of the water.
She even insisted that he still had a pulse. When Jones was found, respiration attempts, first by Wohlin (also a nurse), and later by ambulance attendants, failed. Jones was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The coroner’s report stated that his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse.
To this day, circumstances surrounding the tragedy remain vague despite testimony by three of his friends who were near the scene of the accident/crime. Jones and Wohlin had been hosting Frank Thorogood, a builder who was doing repairs on Jones’ country home, as well as another friend, Jenny Lawson, a 22-year-old nurse.
Wohlin reportedly told a coroner that an asthma inhaler was found by the pool. “Brian used it automatically and particularly when he was in the pool and having difficulties in breathing,” she stated. But, according to coroner Angus Sommerville, Jones died as a result of “drowning by immersion in freshwater associated with severe liver dysfunction caused by fatty degeneration and ingestion of alcohol and drugs.” Traces of sleeping tablets and alcohol were in his bloodstream.
Aside from the three who were present the night of his death, other sources close to Jones told Rolling Stone magazine that events directly leading to the “misadventure” were left untold. A documentary called Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones made without the cooperation of the Rolling Stones. While it did repeat some well-documented information, it breaks ground toward clarifying the incident.
The film provides evidence that Brian Jones was, if not murdered, then perhaps killed in an incident of manslaughter. None of the Stones appear in the documentary. Still, the filmmakers presented accounts of many other people close to Jones and the group during the 1960s, including tour manager Sam Cutler, journalist Keith Altham, Jones’ ex-girlfriend ZouZou, photographer Gered Mankowitz, his friend Stanislaus “Stash” Klossowski De Rola, and Dick Taylor and Phil May.
The film argues that Jones was killed by Frank Thorogood, the builder (or “freeloader”) who was there the night of his death. According to one third-hand account, Thorogood confessed, on his deathbed, to killing Jones. Journalist Scott Jones attempted to have the investigation reopened in 2010 unsuccessfully.
Along with Thorogood, the documentary centers around the Rolling Stones’ driver, Tom Keylock. Several theories suggest that he and Thorogood’s construction associates were “leeching” off of the troubled musician – that is until he fired them. The next day he was dead. The film also presents a theory that nearly a dozen people were at Jones’ home on the night of his death.
Some of the people there were Thorogood and his associates (still hanging around even though they had been fired). The story goes that Jones and Thorogood got into a heated argument. Witnesses claim that Thorogood held Jones’ head underwater in a trough until he drowned. Jones’ body was then moved to the pool.
Many of Jones’ possessions mysteriously vanished from the house after his death. Tom Keylock, who died in 2009, was suggested as the culprit. Those mentioned above are not the only ones who allege foul play. Just ask his daughter, Barbara Marion, who claims that her father was indeed murdered. According to Marion, her father’s death was never properly investigated.
In an interview with Sky News on the 50th anniversary of Jones’ death, Marion described his death as a “bit of a mystery.” Marion, a clinical hypnotist from Chicago, only discovered her father’s identity in 2002. She became so convinced that her father was murdered that the need for answers consumed her, despite never knowing him.
She’s unsure that Jones ever knew of her existence. Remember the fling Jones had at a hotel that resulted in a pregnancy – the one the mother and her husband raised? Well, that was Barbara’s mother. Her mother, a model she only identifies as Elizabeth, was visiting from America in 1968. Despite being a married woman, she had a fling with the rock star.
Barbara was born in 1969, five months before Jones’ death. She wasn’t told the truth about her biological father until she was 33 years old. Despite that, she says she feels a “connection” to the father she so closely resembles, and deeply “cares” about what happened. In her own words: “I have been cheated of a father. I want police to re-open this.”
Marion claims that her conviction originated from her “own research.” She also believes that her father was never credited for his formative role in the band. “He formed The Rolling Stones,” she stated. “He chose every member, he got them their gigs. If it weren’t for my father, Mick Jagger would be an accountant somewhere.”
According to rock biographer Philip Norman, “the murder theory would bubble back to the surface every five years or so.” It was in 1993 that reports began circulating about Frank Thorogood being the murderer. Some theories held that Thorogood, who was pretending to be a construction worker, was actually a secret operative for President Nixon.
Thorogood allegedly confessed to the murder to Tom Keylock, who later denied it. The Thorogood theory was also dramatized in the 2005 film Stoned. Thorogood allegedly received £18,000 for work on Jones’ farm, but he wanted another £6,000 from the musician. The murder was allegedly covered up by senior police officers once they discovered how badly the investigation had been botched by the local police. A far fetch, but a theory nonetheless.
In 2009, Sussex Police decided to conduct a review of Jones’ case for the first time since 1969, after new evidence was handed to them by Scott Jones, the investigative journalist involved in the documentary. He had traced many of the people who were present at Brian Jones’ home the night he died.
Journalist Jones also uncovered unseen police files held at the National Archives. In 2010, following the new investigative review, Sussex Police stated they wouldn’t be reopening the case: “This has been thoroughly reviewed by Sussex Police’s Crime Policy and Review Branch, but there is no new evidence to suggest that the coroner’s original verdict of ‘death by misadventure’ was incorrect.”
The cause of Jones’ death, despite the convincing evidence to the contrary, remains “misadventure.” As frustrating as that may be for those involved, it is what it is. But those in the music world who appreciated Brian Jones for who he was made their own tributes to the late musician. Two days after his death, the Rolling Stones paid tribute to their late founding member at a free concert in Hyde Park.
In front of a crowd of 250,000 people, a solemn Mick Jagger recited a poem in memory of Brian Jones. He read the poem Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Peace! peace! He is not dead, he does not sleep— He has awakened from the dream of life — ‘Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep with phantoms an unprofitable strife, and in mad trance strike with our spirit’s knife. Invulnerable nothings. We decay like corpses in a charnel; Fear and grief convulse us and consume us day by day, and cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.”
As the crowd sat silently on the grass, the band released 3,500 butterflies to flutter above the audience. However, the sweet words and dazzling colors of the butterflies were soon overwhelmed by the daily press, as they jumped on the coroner’s findings. The Daily Mirror’s headline read: “Drinks and Drugs Killed Brian Jones.”
Upon his death, The Who’s Pete Townshend wrote a poem of his own called A Normal Day for Brian, A Man Who Died Every Day, which was printed in The Times. Jimi Hendrix dedicated a song to the late musician on television, and Jim Morrison published a poem called Ode to LA While Thinking of Brian Jones, Deceased. Coincidentally, both died within the next two years at the same age of 27.
Jones was buried 10 feet under in Cheltenham Cemetery, apparently to prevent exhumation by trophy hunters. Watts and Wyman were the only Stones to attend the funeral. At the time, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were traveling to Australia to film Ned Kelly. They stated that their contracts didn’t permit them to delay the trip (even for a funeral).
In 1995, when Rolling Stone magazine asked Jagger if he felt guilty about Jones’ death, he said: “No, I don’t really. I do feel that I behaved in a very childish way, but we were very young, and in some ways, we picked on him. But, unfortunately, he made himself a target for it.” He added that he “wasn’t understanding enough about his drug addiction. No one seemed to know much about drug addiction. Things like LSD were all new. No one knew the harm. People thought cocaine was good for you.”
Jones’ death was the first of the ‘60s’ rock movement, which was sadly followed by the drug-related deaths of Hendrix, Morrison, and Joplin at the same age. In fact, Morrison died two years to the day after Jones. A man named Alastair Johns, who owned Cotchford Farm for over 40 years after Jones, refurbished the swimming pool.
Johns sold the pool’s original tiles to Brian Jones’ fans for £100 each, which ended up paying for half of the renovation work. Johns said that Cotchford Farm remained an attraction for Jones’ fans for decades.
There are songs – some you may know – that are attributed to or written about Jones’ death. For example…
Psychic TV’s song Godstar is about his death. So is Robyn Hitchcock’s Trash, The Drovers’ She’s as Pretty as Brian Jones Was, and Jeff Dahl’s Mick and Keith killed Brian. Then there was Ted Nugent’s Death by Misadventure, and Salmonblaster’s song titled simply Brian Jones. Toy Love had a song called Swimming Pool, which lists several dead rock icons.
The Master Musicians of Joujouka wrote a song called Brian Jones Joujouka Very Stoned in 1974. The band Tigers Jaw references Jones and his death in their song I Saw Water. Pop-punk band Groovie Ghoulies has a song called Planet Brian Jones. And Alvin Youngblood Hart has a song called Watchin’ Brian Jones.