Brian Jones was only 27 years old when he was found dead in his pool: basing on the police report, the life of The Rolling Stones’ first leader ended because of an unfortunate accident.
Back in the days, the guitarist was the one determined to team up with the others, providing the name and a well-defined musical physiognomy: ultimately the Rolling Stones would never exist without Brian Jones, who was part of the group for seven years, as a leader and a guide, before he was substituted by the couple Mick Jagger-Keith Richards.
The blues soul of The Rolling Stones
The guitarist, fan of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, shared the house with the future Glimmer Twins in the months preceding the birth of the Stones, dreaming with them to recreate the musical exploits of the great blues legends.
At that time, the first embryo of the Stones struggled to find engagements in London and Brian worked in every way to raise a few evenings. He was also the one who named the band, call it The Rolling Stones in homage to a Muddy Waters’ song.
Andrew Loog Oldham was already hanging around and the intuition of the future producer made him realize that it was necessary to interpret a well-defined role, in order to emerge in the English scene.
When Billy Wyman and Charlie Watts joined them, Oldham decided to focus on the exasperation of the image that Jones already created, creating the image of the “Naughty Boys”, in open contrast to the reassuring clean faces of The Beatles.
Brian Jones, although he was twenty, already had three children from as many women and the reputation of a nonconformist, having long lived on the streets: who, better than him, fitted the role of the perfect “bad boy”?
“Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?”
The slogan built by Oldham immediately brought the band to the global success and the Rolling Stones became in short time the designated rivals of Lennon and companions. The band relied heavily on Brian Jones’ multi-instrumentalist skills, which made him the musical center of the first albums: his contributions with the harmonica (he helped Jagger to master the instrument) and the slide guitar gave form to the sound of the group.
Since the beginning Jones was the main reference of the press, being actually the most well-dressed, the coolest Rolling Stone, anticipating the eccentric dresscode of the rockstar: neither Jagger nor Richards, at least initially, were able to compete with him in charisma.
Things began to change when Oldham decided to abandon the blues standards and forced the Stones to write their own songs, with the pair Jagger-Richards (more talented in songwriting) that gained more importance. Jones was disappointed: the original philosophy of the band had changed, and also his role as leader was questioned. Despite the birth of the first inner issues, his contribution was always crucial and his innate talent for the arrangements confirmed his position as musical director of the band, introducing the team to percussions and new instruments such as the dulcimer, the recorder and the xylophone.
The point of no return
Unfortunately, Jones’ equilibrium didn’t last: the life on the road and the new “experiences” made him fall into the dangerous hug of drugs. At some point, his interest in the Rolling Stones faded out, and in parallel Mick Jagger and Keith Richards started to become the real leaders.
In his private life, after a number of relationships and other children, in 1965 a new presence came into the game: the beautiful and uninhibited Anita Pallenberg.
Between quarrels, reconciliations and drugs, the two would have lived one of the most stormy and famous sentimental relationships of the 60s, and this impacted also the musical dimension. Brian was getting far and far from the Stones, unable to fight the dominant personalities of the group he founded: Keith Richards (much more than Jagger) took the band in his hands and the relationship between the two cracked further because of Anita.
Anita left him in 1967 and became Keith Richards’s girl, with all the predictable consequences: Keef and Pallenberg will give birth to an even more tormented relationship, which would last years and leave clear marks on both.
Brian Jones was increasingly isolated and he was addicted with LSD, alcohol and cocaine: the excesses prevented him from carrying on his career as a musician, forcing him to skip many appointments with the band. In the end the stones began to ignore him, working on their own, until Jones simply decided not to show up again: his last contribute was in a couple of songs in Let It Bleed.
In June 1969 Jagger and Richards informed him that he was out of the group: physically and psychologically he was no longer able to guarantee an acceptable contribute and he probably expected what was going to happen: Mick Taylor had already been contacted and would make his debut at the concert in Hyde Park, on July 5th.
Brian Jones had acquired a huge credit in the international music community and the idea of abandoning the Stones and trying solo wasn’t that bad: he declared himself open to new musical projects and closed the most important part of his life.
The end of Brian Jones has many obscure points: on the evening of July 3rd, 1969, he was found dead on the bottom of the pool in his villa, apparently drowned. The doctors said that death occurred by “accident” and his organism was stressed by the drugs abuse: in the end, given Jones’ fame, what happened was was something that many kind of expected.
Brian suffered from asthma and they thought that perhaps an attack caught him precisely while he was in the water, so there were no particular investigations. In 2000 the shocking revelation of Frank Thorogood was disclosed: he was a worker inside the house and, before dying, he confessed that he was the one who provoked Jones’s death: while they were joking at the poolside, Thorogood pushed Jones into the water and the guitarist, under the pressure of drugs and unable to react, passed out, drowning.
According to Thorogood’s confession, when he realized what happened it was too late: panicked, he didn’t call for help and walked away from the pool, carrying for years the burden of his death and the doubt that, perhaps, he could have saved him.
The Hyde Park Concert: The Stones’ farewell to Brian Jones
The concert that was supposed to present the new Rolling Stones, organized just two days after the death of Brian Jones, became an opportunity to celebrate the memory of the former guitarist.
The Stones wanted to pay homage to him, releasing hundreds of white butterflies, which were supposed to fly free in the sky: unfortunately the heat and the constriction in cages killed most of them, and the few survivors flew for a few yards and ended up dead on the stage, creating a macabre choreography.
Brian Jones inaugurated the infamous “27 Club”, becoming the first popular musician to die at that age: full of talent and with a self-destructive disposition, he fully represented the spirit of the Rockstar and, decades later, his name belongs to the history of rock.
What really happened on that pool is still unclear today. The butterflies of Hyde Park would become the tragic epitaph of the blond guitarist, who, like them, was unable to fly free after the Stones let him out of their golden cage.