The Rolling Stones have been around forever, and many long-time fans know that Brian Jones was a founding member of the band. But how important was Brian Jones to the Rolling Stones?
The Rolling Stones would have never existed if it wasn’t for Brian Jones. He not only founded the band but was the main driver behind their distinctive sound blending blues, jazz, and R&B. The musical flourishes that defined the Rolling Stones’ early recordings are thanks to his undeniable talent.
Despite his character flaws, he was an incredible instrumentalist. But who was Brian Jones, exactly?
What was his role in the band, and why in the world would he have left just as their incredible career was getting started? And what was going on between him and the band at the time of his death?
I wanted to learn the answers to these questions and more, so I set out to investigate. This is what I found.
Was Brian Jones the Leader of the Rolling Stones?
Brian Jones was the leader of the Rolling Stones, and in fact, founded the band. Initially, he was the face of the band and was more popular than Mick Jagger or Keith Richards.
The founding of the Rolling Stones has become the stuff of legend. But with a little digging, the layers of myth can be pulled away, and the truth is there to be found.
Back in the early 60s London based blues enthusiasts and musicians had organized themselves into a group called Blues Incorporated. The group had a bit of a revolving door, but in the mix were Brian Jones, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger.
Eventually, Brian Jones and keyboardist Ian Stewart split off from Blues Incorporated to form their own band. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards eventually followed.
The Rolling Stones took the stage for the first time on July 12, 1962.
Brian Jones was the one who organized the group. He hastily came up with the band’s name. It was him that booked the first concerts.
In fact, he worked so hard to organize the band and get it off the ground that he went so far as to pay himself an extra five pounds a week.
Bill Wyman acknowledged this himself in his 1990 memoir. He wrote, “He formed the band. He chose the members. He named the band. He chose the music we played. He got us gigs,”
A certain photographer, Terry O’Neill, who worked with the band when they were just getting started, said:
“I didn’t realize when I first met them: it was Brian’s group, and everything revolved around him. He was a top-class musician, Brian, really a great player. The whole group was good, but you just knew he was the leader, somehow or another.”
Brian Jones #TheRollingStones pic.twitter.com/iNHQbbBeKH
— IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE, PLAY ON (@steveratcliff14) July 22, 2021
How Good Was Brian Jones?
Brian Jones was an amazing musician. He was the only slide guitarist in England at the time the Rolling Stones started, and he could also play harmonica, clarinet, saxophone, piano, sitar, and marimbas.
His unique style of musicianship and multi-faceted talent was the definitive factor of the unique style of the Rolling Stones.
Brian Jones was an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist. But there was one thing he wasn’t: a songwriter.
Brian Jones with a teardrop guitar ❤️ pic.twitter.com/X01pMiKzj4
— Blues n Stones Girl 🎸 (@RockHippies) July 20, 2021
Did Brian Jones Write Any Stones’ Songs?
Brian Jones did not write any of the songs the Rolling Stones released. He did, however, write or co-write 4 obscure songs the Stones never released. So while very talented, he was not a songwriter.
When The Rolling Stones came under the management of Andrew Loog Oldham, one of his main demands was that they start coming up with some original material. If they were going to go anywhere, it wasn’t going to be as a glorified cover band.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were pleasantly surprised to find that they had a natural talent for songwriting together.
Brian Jones, on the other hand, floundered without much success and, unfortunately, with great frustration.
Keith Richards reportedly said,
“Brian as far as I know never wrote a single finished song in ‘is life; he wrote bits and pieces, but he never presented them to us. No doubt he spent hours, weeks, working on things – but his paranoia was so great that he could never bring himself to present them to us.”
Brian did write songs, though. According to his one-time girlfriend Linda Lawrence,
“They were romantic, sort of spiritual. His songs were like Donovan’s – about his feelings. But Brian never said, ‘I’ll show the boys this one,’ because he was insecure. He thought his things were too sentimental. I would encourage him to do his own things, but Brian would say, ‘They’re not finished,’ That was his excuse all the time. And so he just kept to himself.”
Despite what Keith Richards said, there are actually four very obscure and unreleased recordings by the Rolling Stones that are credited to Brian Jones.
- A jingle the band was commissioned for by Kellogg’s for a Rice Crispies commercial. He wrote the music but not the lyrics.
- An instrumental piece called ‘Dust my Pyramids’ was used as an intro to a BBC broadcast.
- ‘I Want You to Know,’ a song where Jones plays the harmonica, but he actually wrote the lyrics to.
- ‘Sure I Do’ – co-written with Gene Pitney, it’s the only song that Jones has been recorded singing the lead vocals on.
50 years ago today, Brian Jones is found dead in the swimming pool at his home in Sussex, England, almost a month after leaving The Rolling Stones. The 27-year-old multi-instrumentalist, whose death sparked theories that he was murdered, gave the band its name in 1962. pic.twitter.com/pQKe9p8QUr
— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) July 3, 2019
Was Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones when he died?
Brian Jones quit the Rolling Stones on June 8th, 1969, so when he died on July 3rd, 1969, he had been out of the band for approximately 1 month.
The split had been a long time coming.
In his last interview with a journalist named Thomas Beyl, Brian said, “Two years ago I wanted to leave, but Mick talked me out of it.”
LONDON – circa 1963: English rock and roll group The Rolling Stones posed outside a London pub circa 1963. From left to right; Brian Jones (1942-1969), Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Mick Jagger pic.twitter.com/7AGnuc6EbW
— onepercenter13 (@onepercenter13) May 27, 2021
Why did Brian Jones leave the Stones?
Brian Jones left the Rolling Stones as his significant drug use had alienated him from the other band members to such a degree that his role was diminishing. But Jones also claimed to not like the direction the band was going.
But there also likely was some ego at play too.
After all, Jones was originally the face of the band. All the girls chased him first, and then Mick, and then Keith and the rest of the guys.
In that same interview I mentioned above, Brian explained the situation. He said,
“… the old Stones’ sound is not my taste. I think it’s out of date. I want to write my own music and play. After a friendly discussion, we came to the conclusion that separation is the only solution.”
He is quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine as saying, “The music Mick and Keith have been writing has progressed at a tangent, as far as my own taste is concerned.”
That being said some do claim Jones was fired but that they allowed him to say he quit for his own ego.
After all, Jones was increasingly absent in recording sessions and rehearsals. Keith said in the movie Crossfire Hurricane:
“We didn’t even expect him to be there . . . If he turned up we’d find him something to do. … By then he was already in Bye-Bye Land.”
Former manager Oldham said Jones “resisted 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.”
And Mick Jagger said in 2012:
“Keith and I took drugs, but Brian took too many drugs of the wrong kind, and he wasn’t functioning as a musician,”
What about the rumors that Mick and Keith were involved in Brian Jones’ death?
There are rumors that Tom Keylock, a “fixer” of problems for the members of the Rolling Stones killed Brian Jones as a favor to Mick and Keith. However, Keylock himself claimed in 1994 that Frank Thorogood who was Brian’s paid handyman had killed Jones.
Specifically, Keylock said:
“In 1993 I went to see Frank in hospital and he said: ‘It was me that done Brian.’ He was very tired. I said: ‘I’ll come back tomorrow, and [you can] tell me more.’ But he died during the night. I never found out the specifics.”
Of course, nothing has ever been proved and his death was long ago considered “death by misadventure” due to the number of drugs and alcohol in Jones’ system when he was pulled from the bottom of his pool.
Conspiracy theories abound in the world of rock ‘n roll. From “Paul is Dead” to the idea that somehow some of the other members of the Stones had Brian Jones killed.
Some of the reasons conspiracy nuts point to the Stones being involved are:
- Brian Jones owned the name The Rolling Stones and wanted it for himself (partially true)
- Jones beat his former girlfriend Anita Pallenberg who had left him for Keith (true)
- That he and Keith had a fight earlier that day that involved a knife (seemingly untrue)
- That the Stones were involved in Satanic practices and killed him for ritual purposes (unknown but unlikely true)
But the reality is that Jones had already quit the Stones; he wasn’t fired.
And he had wanted to quit 2 years earlier and Mick talked him out of it. At the time of Jones’ death, he was going nowhere except maybe eventually rehab and the Stones were becoming the biggest rock band in the world.
And as for owning the name The Rolling Stones, which in my mind is the most compelling reason due to the amount of money the name has and did bring, he supposedly had already signed over the rights to the name to the other band members.
It hardly seems like Mick and Keith would have been motivated to risk everything to take out someone who was already out of their lives.
It is worth pointing out though, that it is highly possible Jones was murdered. I just think it’s unlikely other members of The Stones were involved.
Jones’ own daughter Barbara Marion claims that:
“I think he was murdered and I think the police did not investigate it the way they should have. I would love to have them reopen [the case] and to get some answers.”
Brian Jones was at the helm of the Rolling Stones for a relatively short time before the project took on a life of its own and, to put it bluntly, rolled right over him.
Even before he officially split, the band had moved far beyond his original vision. Through effective management, it grew and prospered beyond anyone’s wildest dreams – especially Jones’.
Though his time with the Stones was brief, it was his spark of genius that defined their sound and set the group on the trajectory to become living legends. And eventually lead the Stones to be very, very rich.
Photos that require attribution:
Brian Jones, Statesboro, Georgia, May 4, 1965 by Steve Denenberg (reprinted from the original photo by Christopher Kevin Delaney) and Brian Jones Rolling Stones Guitar by Nick Ares are licensed under CC2.0 and were cropped, edited, merged, and had a text overlay added.