Rolling Stones Co-Founder Brian Jones Died 39 Years Ago Today

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.

The Last 24 Hours of Keith Moon

Keith MoonI watched an episode of Final 24 on some entertainment channel or other (I think it was E!) which covered the last 24 hours in the life of Who drummer Keith Moon.

Moon had been living in an apartment in London by 1978, owned by Harry Nilsson, and the place where Mama Cass Elliot died in 1974 of heart failure. He was on medication to help him curb his craving for alcohol, a problem which had reached a point where his position in the Who, as well as his other relationships, was in jeopardy of going south. The pills were prescription.

The quandary that Moon found himself in the day before was the fact that he’d been invited by Paul McCartney to the before-party and premier of the new film the Buddy Holly Story. It was an ‘everyone is going to be there’ event. Yet Moon was worried about being able to stay off of the booze. He decided not to go.

Unfortunately, Moonie also had a problem with cocaine, a package of which arrived the afternoon before his death. Rock stars can order cocaine as if they’re ordering a pizza, as one interviewee stated. After indulging himself, he changed his mind about the party, and he and his girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax, went. Somewhere in there, he also ingested a few tablets of his anti-alcohol meds.

At the party, he was surrounded by friends (including Kenney Jones, the drummer who would replace him in the Who), who noticed that he wasn’t the Keith they knew. He was more withdrawn, and less than his “Moon the Loon” persona had once defined him. Eventually, he had a couple of glasses of champagne.

Part way through the film, Moon and Annette decided to go home for an early night, another uncommon thing in Keith’s life. He got home, watched a movie, took more anti-alcohol pills, ate a meal, and went to bed. In the night, he was restless. He took more medication, having lost count of the dosage by now. He went back to sleep. Because he began to snore, Annette left the room to sleep on the couch.

In the morning, Moon asked her to make breakfast, being uncommonly hungry as he had been the night previous. She did. He ate, and went back to sleep. And that was it. He died in his sleep. The coroner found 26 undissolved tablets in his stomach.

The thing that struck me about this chain of events was Moon’s own addictions to drugs was not the direct cause of his death. I think it was his addiction to maintaining his own sense of who he was supposed to be. People expected Moon the Loon, and he needed to live up to that, it seems. It’s possible that he would have fallen to a similar fate eventually. But the real catalyst was his need to live up to his own image, be at that party, be that guy.

It struck me too that he must have been very lonely too, not really allowing himself to give very many people a real picture of who he really was, and not really having the emotional maturity even to approach changing his outlook. The tragic thing was that Annette said that he was a very gentle, loving person at heart.

And that many told her afterwards that he was planning to ask her to marry him, that he had told many people at the party that he was going to do it the next day. Knowledge of that must be terrible. I know that the program may be aimed at those looking for salacious ‘rock star burns out for good’ type stories. But, I was left saddened.

Watch Keith Moon In Action

Moon is one of my favourite drummers – a totally chaotic approach to the drum kit, never settling on an obvious backbeat, yet keeping time and being musically interesting as well. His style is actually more like jazz drumming.

In the program, they showed side by side footage of Moon and Gene Krupa and the visual results are undeniable. Both drummers were reveling in their drumming, a visually dynamic display of prowess and showmanship. In terms of rock music and rock drumming, he was irreplaceable. Take a look at this clip of Keith Moon playing drums to see what I mean.

Keith Moon