Final resting place, Cheltenham. Dressed to kill..... Brian and Anita, the perfect couple....
After the Beatles came the Stones and of the Stones one could never have ignored Brian Jones with his puffed up Pisces, all-knowing, all suffering fish eyes, his incredible clothes, those magnificent scarves, Brian always ahead of style, perfect Brian. How could Brian have asthma, a psychological disease (we're told) and certainly something strange for a member of a rock and roll group. We read in interviews that Brian saw himself as the original lead Stone, a position he held until their American tour singled out Mick for the honor in the hearts of the American female.Can you remember 1964 when the Stones were called homosexual for long hair? (Were you?) Brian with two fourteen year old girls draped on each arm, must have laughed. And yet, the center of attention was drifting. In a group the attention may be evenly distributed (we all knew and loved John, Paul, George and Ringo) but in the Stones it was to be Mick. Now normally in a group an instrumentalist can never overshadow a lead singer (Exception: The Yardbirds where Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page did just that to poor Keith Relf). In the Stones there was Mick, the pivotal center. Charlie and Bill were for gourmets. That left Keith and Brian. Lead guitar always beats rhythm guitar for popularity, so that left Brian, who one assumes therefore turned to more and more exotic instruments to establish his presence to both himself and others. This is what I'm worth. Let me see you play the damn thing....but the great mass looked to Mick not Brian to be their leader through this Fall From Grace. And how can you take that? "But I started the thing," you might say. "It was my records in the first place, I turned them on, must I be a damn singer to turn on the world?" Yes, Or the champion of the guitar.Then, of course, there are more problems, the drug arrests, the constant mental turmoil. What if they tour without me? Financial. Could I starve? (He died well in debt). If they play without me I shall be disgraced and have nothing where as if I leave and strike out on my own I'm out before they get me (how sad! how inevitable!), and I create my own myth, style, voice, the eyes will be on me, I have a future, there's so much I know, music, music, music, who would know it from THAT, I can do it, I have to do it, I will do it.And of course the disorientation, am I backwards, forwards, the asthma attack (I am going to choke), the fall (where is the pool?!) and everything settles like a quiet bubble coming in spurts and then thin streams until finally the last one has popped itself right out of earthly existence.-- Lou Reed excerpt from Fallen Knights and Fallen Ladies from the book Nobody Waved Goodbye (a casualty report on rock and roll) edited by Robert Somma, Fusion Books, 1971.
Not a mention in the press, upstaged by Jacko mania, does any one care anymore? July 3 was forty years since Brian Jones died, pulled out his swimming pool, "death by misadventure" it said on the paperwork. Asthma attack? Murdered by a thug laborer? Just got too damn loaded? Does it matter? Brian Jones was not built to last, he was never meant to be an old man. Had he lived, what would he have been?
As a non-singer, non-writer, his options were limited. If Brian handled fame badly, he certainly would have handled the lack of it worse. He could never have lived the life of Mick Taylor, whom most of us wouldn't recognize if he was sitting on the next bar stool. An old Brian? A fat Brian? A bald Brian? It could never have been. Mick may look like Don Knotts these days and Keith could adorn an iodine bottle, but Brian is etched in our memory, forever young, forever perfect. Of course he was an asshole, what rock star isn't? A monster even, what kind of cretin would hit a woman? Blacken beautiful Anita's mysterious eyes. Unthinkable.
But we forgive him even that, he left us a lot, he left us the Stones. It's hard to fathom that in the five short years Brian was in the Rolling Stones just how much great music they made. Depending on if you count the UK or US version (I'm still astounded the UK versions of most Stones LP's have never been re-issued, since they're much better)
they recorded either eight or ten albums, non counting the 45's and b-sides that never made it to LP. Brian's last performance with the Stones-- No Expectations was in '68, they no longer needed him once they got through their extremely under rated psychedelic phase. Everyone wanted to play with the Stones from Gene Pitney to Phil Spector to Al Kooper, it was easy to find players to fill out the recordings, not so easy for Brian to find something to replace the Stones in his life. We've all seen Godard's One Plus One with an out of it Brian attempting to make himself useful. "What can I play?", "What can you play?" Mick retorts, even his musicianship has failed him. He stopped showing up for sessions about that time. By Let It Bleed Keith had mastered the slide, with a few tuning tips from Ry Cooder (I find it hilarious when Cooder claims the Stones ripped off his riffs, he stole 'em from Blind Willie Johnson). Brian was no longer needed, and more trouble than he was worth. It was the era of the superstar lead guitarist and "Clapton Is God", a role Keith could have filled if he wanted to, but he chose to move into Brian's role-- rhythm and slide, and they brought in a hotshot young lead player, with the prerequisite John Mayall resume. Mick Taylor couldn't play rhythm guitar to shave his wife, listen to Get Your Ya-Ya's Out, when Keith takes a solo (Sympathy For The Devil, Little Queenie) the rhythm falls out. But rhythm guitar was the perfect place for Keith to drive from. Ron Asheton told me when the Stones were rehearsing in the next studio down from the Stooges only Charlie, Keith and Mick Jagger rehearsed, as long as Charlie followed Keith, the rest would fall in place. Poor Brian.
One thing that is rarely discussed is how good the Stones were at making records, they took to the studio like a preacher to a Cadillac and while the Keith was basically in charge in the studio, Brian's contributions are undeniable, whether it was as the world's greatest rhythm guitarist (The Last Time, Not Fade Away, Mona), or harmonica player (Spider & the Fly) or slide player (I Wanna Be Your Man) the early Stones records couldn't have been without him. As they moved into pop and psychedelia, Brian became the ultimate utility man-- Aftermath, Flowers, Between The Buttons (was Miss Amanda Jones about him?), Satanic Majesties Request are full of his flourishes-- the synth playing on Please Go Home, the sitar on Paint It Black and Mother's Little Helper, marimbas on Out Of Time, recorder on Ruby Tuesday and Citadel, mellotron on 2000 Light Years From Home, clarinet on She's A Rainbow. He knew just what to play, and what not to play. Listen to this alternate take of the basic track to Satisfaction. It was said Brian hated the song, and often would play the riff to "I'm Popeye The Sailor-Man" (no one could hear 'em over the screams at that point anyway), but listen to how he and Keith lock together-- perfect. Or Empty Heart, the greatest tune they never played live. Sloppy, out of tune and wonderful. Some rarities: Down In The Bottom (Chess version)-- Brian on slide!, Key To The Highway (another Chess outtake), Crackin' Up, Fanny Mae (BBC), Diddley Daddy, I Wanna Be Loved, Road Runner (these three from their 1963 demo), I Know (this is actually a Metamorphosis era Mick and Keith outtake, but I really like it and it's hard to find, Brian's probably not even on it). I was ten when Brian died, I'll always remember where I was when I heard the news (at the beach). He was the first person I would ever miss. I still miss him. Brian Jones, forty years gone, and we're still wondering about him. As John Ford said-- He was expendable.