From the very beginning in 1962, the Stones were Brian Jones’ band. He had placed an ad in the classifieds to find musicians to form a group. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger already knew Brian, and were aware of his talents on guitar and harmonica, and his interest, which they shared, in the blues. Ian Stewart was also recruited for the new band that first year, and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman joined up in 1963. But right from the start Brian Jones was the bossman of the Rolling Stones.
According to Wyman, and corroborated by others who know, Jones not only formed the band, he named them when he was talking on the phone to a club owner getting them one of their first gigs. The owner asked Brian for the name of the group. There was a copy of a Muddy waters album lying on the floor of their flat (one of Jones’ and Richards’ favorite pastimes was listening to classic blues records) with a listed song title of “Rollin’ Stone Blues.” Brian thought they could do no better than that for a name, and the greatest rock and roll band in the world was born.
When the Stones started gigging they played blues numbers and Chuck Berry songs, with occasional nods to R&B tunes. They were not purists, but their repertoire was limited. Jones was the one who made the song lists and got the gigs, played slide, lead, and rhythm guitar and harmonica, and contracted for jobs. He also taught Mick Jagger how to play blues harp. There would have been no group without him.
Brian was a natural musician, one who could pick up almost any instrument and not only play it, but make it sound like it was meant to be. The recorder on Ruby Tuesday, the sitar on Paint It, Black, the slide guitar on No Expectations, and many other contributions were Brian’s. But there was one thing he couldn’t do, and in the end it was his downfall – he was not a composer.
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger found that they had a natural talent for writing songs. By the time their 4th album – December’s Children – was released, half of the songs were their own creations. And the power base of the group had shifted too, because Brian was being relegated to an accompanist. While still a vital part of the band, he was essentially a sideman to the more flamboyant and extroverted songwriters.
At the same time, he started using drugs in earnest, and, unlike Richards, didn’t do well as a druggie. Using seemed to make his cruel and cold personality worse, and he became hard to deal with. In Richards’ biography, he says that he saw what was happening and tried to reach out to Jones, to no avail. By the time the band finished Beggar’s Banquet, an album many fans consider their best, Jones was in poor health and was apparently impossible to rely on, and the band fired him. Mick Taylor was brought on board as lead guitarist, and a new era started for the Stones, their golden age.
Jones went home to the English countryside and continued his decline. When he died at 27 by drowning in his swimming pool he was a legend in his own time, having been the founder of the Stones and an indispensable part of their recorded legacy. And while the songs of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger came to life with his contributions, many casual fans don’t realize the scope of his work. None of their recordings made before his death would have been the same without him – his stamp of individuality is all over them, and his music is his real epitaph.
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