Thanks to the good folks at MOJO magazine, I was reminded that 39 years ago on July 3, founding member of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool.

Here’s a clip of the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” which otherwise features on their superlative 1968 Beggar’s Banquet album. The song features Jones’ exquisite slide playing. Despite his troubled and checkered character, he was a stunningly gifted musician.

Brian Jones
Brian Jones

Jones had traveled down to London from his home is Cheltenham, as a solo act working under the name Elmo Lewis. When Jagger and Richards caught his act while looking to form a band, they had to have Jones, who impressed them with his slide playing. One of their early hits, a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” (AKA “The Red Rooster”), showcases this skill of his very well indeed.

Jones’ skill at being able to pick up nearly any instrument and find a way to get a good sound out of it was his primary contribution to the early Stones singles. And to go along with this, his ear for texture, and his ability to introduce new instrumental additions to singles which were considered off the beaten track for pop records was an undeniable strength. His marimba on “Under My Thumb”, recorder and cello on “Ruby Tuesday”, sitar on “Paint it Black”, hammered dulcimer on “Lady Jane”, and others made great pop records into timeless classics.

But, Jones had a number of personal problems which contributed to a swift decline. First, Jones was a heavy drinker and hard drug-user before the time when this was an accepted fact among rock nobility. All of the Stones dabbled during their early career. But Jones was a dedicated substance abuser, often missing recording sessions, and being generally unreliable while on the road. A growing resentment which caused a power shift in the group would eventually edge him out, and his paranoia was exacerbated to the point where his intoxicated state would make him turn mean. And it was during one of these episodes that Keith Richards and Jones’ girlfriend Anita Pallenberg began their romance, in an effort to get her away from Brian’ erratic and allegedly abusive behaviour. Richards and Pallenberg would have a long-term, drug-addled relationship well into the 1970s.

Although Brian Jones was a member of the band when they recorded the first of their arguably career-plateau albums in Beggars Banquet in 1968, his involvement was minimal. By June of 1969, he was out of the band – fired, in fact, from the group he’d helped to form. And less than a month later, he was dead – drowned in his pool at Cotchford Farm. The Stones honoured him at their outdoor concert in Hyde Park that year, and recruited former Bluesbreaker Mick Taylor to replace Jones on second guitar.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Brian Jones remain to be controversial, and a great many books have been written about the subject along with a not-very-widely released film. Was it murder? Was it the result of an overdose? The questions remain to be unanswered for many. The official death certificate reads “death by misadventure”, which given his predilections for excess is in a strange way a pretty logical conclusion.

RIP, Brian.

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