- Entertainment and Media»
Who or What Killed Brian Jones
Brian Jones: Too Rolling Stoned?
Just months before his death, Brian Jones received the following warning from an astrologer: "Be careful swimming in the coming year. Don't go into the water without a friend." Unfortunately, Brian didn't heed this admonition.
Obviously Brian Jones died way too young at the age of 27. What may not be obvious is how Brian related to other members of the Rolling Stones, who kicked him out of the band shortly before his death. The circumstances regarding his death are probably not so obvious as well. Perhaps this article will help clear up some of these issues.
Lewis Brian Hopkin-Jones was born on February 28, 1942, the oldest of three children. From an early age Brian's mother noticed that her son didn't want to act like everyone else. Later, in 1967, Brian would confide to a psychiatrist that uniformity in males frightened him.
Beginning at age six, Brian showed an exceptional musical aptitude, learning to play the piano, recorder and clarinet. Brian went on to master all reed instruments, including the saxophone (he wanted to blow like Charlie "Bird" Parker.) Brian soon developed a melodic skill and musical intuition that surprised teachers and even himself. Moreover, by the age of 12, Brian was already an advanced guitarist.
By early adolescence, Brian was exceptional scholastically; his IQ was a very high 135, in the genius range. But his musical ability and intelligence didn't keep him out of trouble. He was suspended from school for one week for leading a revolt against the prefects.
The trouble didn't stop there. At the age of 16, Brian impregnated a 14-year-old-girl, who later had the child and quickly put it up for adoption. Now a scandalous outcast, Brian quit school and went looking for work.
In 1960, Brian embarked on an itinerant lifestyle, bouncing from place to place and from job to job. For his first position, he worked as a coalman, lugging heavy bags of coal to and fro. (Man, picture that!) Perhaps his best job was working as a junior assistant in the architects' department of Gloucestershire County Council. For fun, Brian began playing saxophone in a local jazz band called the Cheltone Six, and later alto sax in a band called the Ramrods.
About this time, Brian found new love interest, her name Pat Andrews. Andrews said that Brian was very insecure and frequently jealous when other men were around. She said Brian at such times would become violent. Be that as it may, they fought a lot, throwing things at each other.
Gradually, Brian grew to love rhythm and blues music. His heroes were Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James. In imitation of such blues greats, Brian began playing slide guitar with the broke-off neck of a bottle. Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman later said, "He was a brilliant slide guitar player and the first slide guitar player in England that ever was."
All quotes in this article are from Laura Jackson's book Golden Stone: The Untold Life and Tragic Death of Brian Jones.
In 1961 Brian went to hear blues musician Alexis Korner. After the gig, Brian and Korner met and became quick friends. Korner told Brian he should check out the music scene in London, which Brian promptly did, often accompanied by Korner.
Along the way, Brian's girlfriend Pat Andrews got pregnant and on October 23, 1961 she gave birth to Julian Mark, named after Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, another one of Brian's idols. Neither Brian nor Andrews gave marriage a serious consideration. Late in the year, Brian finally moved to London.
Now heavily into rhythm and blues, Brian started playing it in nightclubs. One night while playing slide guitar on Elmore James' "Dust My Blues," Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Dick Taylor (later to become the Stones first bass player) sauntered into the club. Keith was particularly impressed by Brian's musical ability. "It's Elmore James!" Richards exulted. "It is man!" After the set, Richards and the rest introduced themselves to Brian. All four of them were into playing rhythm and blues, although only Brian played the style professionally.
Stoked about finding fellow R&B enthusiasts, Brian put an ad in Jazz News, inviting prospective players to audition in a nearby studio that Brian rented by the hour. These auditions eventually led to the formation of the R&B band, the Rollin' Stones (minus the "g"), a name Brian lifted from the title of a tune by Muddy Waters.
Eventually the band began performing regularly at a nightclub called the Marquee. The band was popular, but the critical acclaim was mixed, since R&B was looked down upon by the current jazz-oriented establishment. This reaction provoked Brian. In letters to Jazz News, he wrote: "It must be apparent that rock ‘n' roll has a far greater affinity for R&B, than the latter has for jazz insofar that rock ‘n' roll is a direct corruption of rhythm and blues, whereas jazz is Negro music on a different plane, intellectually higher, but emotionally less intense."
It seemed that Brian Jones was one smart cat!
Smart or not, Brian had a penchant for at least occasional "assholery." While living life on the edge, he skipped out on the rent rather than pay £12.00. About two years later Brian was sued and had to pay up. Another time, Brian borrowed £30.00 - practically a fortune in those days - from a friend to buy a fancy coat. Well, Brian never repaid the debt, even after he became rich and famous!
The Rollin' Stones began drawing large crowds throughout London, and from the start Brian was the star of the group. Boys were intrigued by his powerful presence and girls were fascinated by his seductive eyes and thick blond hair. Ray Davies, later lead singer with the Kinks, said: "Brian was probably the most conceited-looking person I have ever met. But he was also one of the most compelling musicians ever on stage."
Now in early 1963, the Rollin' Stones were playing at a club called the Crawdaddy, named after the Bo Diddley song "Do the Crawdaddy." One night the Beatles - not yet world famous - came in to the see the band. John Lennon was very impressed with Brian's prowess on the harmonica. John cried, "You really play that harmonica, don't you? I can't really play. I just blow and suck!"
A couple weeks later, Brian met Andrew Loog Oldham and Eric Epstein, two businessmen who were interested in promoting the Rollin' Stones. However, from the beginning, they didn't like Mick Jagger's singing but, since Keith Richards wouldn't stay without him, Jagger had to remain. They got Brian to sign an exclusive management contract on behalf of all the Stones. But one aspect of the contract remained a secret to other band members - the part where Brian got £5.00 more per week than the others. Also, Keith Richards had to drop the "s" from the end of his name and keyboard player Ian Stewart was out because he seemed too normal and ordinary. From here on in, the Stones were a quintet. Then in May Eric Easton signed the band to a two-year recording contract with Decca.
Soon the Stones hit the ballroom circuit, doing one-nighters on the same bill as Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers, while trying to promote their first single "Come On," which had climbed no higher than 26 on the charts. Brian was thrilled to be touring with Diddley, one of his blues idols. But all didn't go well. One night in the dressing room Brian and Keith Richards came to blows over a piece of chicken, with Brian getting a black eye.
The Stones next single was "I Wanna Be Your Man," written by the new hit songwriting duo of Lennon and McCartney. Of course, the Stones gave the tune their patented harder edge.
At the end of 1963, the others discovered that Brian was making more money than they were. They called him a cheat. Brian insisted that he was entitled to the money because he considered himself the founder and leader of the group. Eventually, it seemed, a set of rules surfaced that put Brian in a place by himself, especially later when it came to songwriting.
Shortly after New Year's Day in 1964, Brian learned that he would become a father again this summer. Brian was not yet 22. This was also time for the Rollin' Stones to hit the road in the United States, touring with the all-girl group the Ronettes.
Around this time, Andrew Oldham suggested to Jagger and Richards they should begin writing songs. Reluctant at first, they nevertheless began writing tunes. For some reason, they didn't include Brian, even though he was writing lots of material at the time.
Later that year, The Rollin' Stones released their first LP. Brian's tour de force on the 12-track album was his slide guitar work on Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee." By its release date the record had sold 10,000 copies, somewhat better than the Beatles début album Please Please Me. The Band was excited about the album yet still had reservations because they had no hit single to their credit.
That soon changed in July when the Stones rendition of Bobby Womack "It's All Over Now" hit the number one slot in the UK, eventually displacing the Animal's "House of the Rising Sun." Then, appropriately enough, it seemed, Brian's third son, Julian Brian, came into the world. At that point, Brian wanted to propose marriage to Linda, but Linda's mother advised Brian not to rush into anything.
The relative tranquility in Brian's life stopped there, for everywhere the Stones played riotous fans followed. Many times, especially while in transit, the Stones feared for their safety. Bassist Billy Wyman said, "The kids would just tear you to bits, rip your hair out, tear your clothes, go mad, just jump on you, screaming. As we ran out of TV stations and then to the car, there'd be kids, and the door would just be wrenched off and we'd go up the road with the car door missing and mayhem left behind."
The Stones second number one hit was "Little Red Rooster," on which Brian played slide guitar. This sensual, bluesy tune, filled with sexual innuendo, became one of Brian's favorites. The band promoted the song on shows such as America's Shindig and the UK's Ready Steady Go!
As 1965 began, the so-called British Invasion was going full tilt, and the world of rock ‘n' roll would never be the same. Not coincidentally, young people were partying a lot too, and morals and inhibitions were shifting into an open-minded, free-loving ethos. This was perhaps the beginning the most glamorous and inventive period in the history of rock, the classic period, if you will, which would last until the disco onslaught in the middle 1970s.
The first landmark of the year came with the release of the mega hit "The Last Time," the first Stones number written by the songwriting team of Jagger/Richard. Brian was proud, of course, but wanted some of his material recorded as well. To journalist Don short, Brian said, "It's not that I dislike their music. It's great. But their must be a fair crack of the whip. As a group we've got to consider all channels of music. Mine included."
Brian's frustration peaked when another Jagger/Richard tune, "Satisfaction," became the Stones first dual UK/USA number one hit. Brian began to feel like the second-class Stone, a sort of redundant appendage. Rumors circulated that Brian had thought up the riff to the Song, though Keith Richards has claimed for many years that he came up with it. Brian might have wondered if he suddenly left the band, would anybody miss him?
The Stones album, Out of Our Heads, became the number one album in the United States in September 1965. About the same time, a Record Mirror poll voted Brian the Most Handsome Man in Pop. This title embarrassed Brian; he thought Keith Relf, lead singer of the Yardbirds, deserved the accolade, if anybody did.
Later in the year, Brian met fashion model Anita Pallenberg. This gorgeous, well-educated, articulate blonde-haired woman impressed Brian and she was equally taken with him. But on the same night, only hours later, Brian grew upset. Relating the experience, Pallenberg said, "There had been some kind of disagreement within the Stones. Brian against the others and he was crying. He said, ‘Come and spend the night with me. I don't want to be alone.' So I went with him. Almost the whole night he spent crying. Whatever had happened with the Stones, it had absolutely devastated him."
Regardless of the crisis, Anita Pallenberg developed a strong relationship with Brian. She fascinated Brian and came to dominate him as no woman had done before. Apparently Pallenberg was also an equal match for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. In fact, she terrified Richards.
Brian ended 1965 by doing something he'd never done before: At a party given by writer Ken Kesey in Los Angeles, Brian took the famous Acid Test. Of course Brian passed the test; all he had to do was take the hallucinogenic drug LSD (without blowing his mind?). This episode more or less marked the beginning of Brian's indulgence with drugs other than alcohol and nicotine.
The Stones fourth album, Aftermath, released in April 1966, had Brian's stamp all over it. Brian introduced all manner of instruments in its production, including flutes, harpsichord, marimbas, bells, piano, and dulcimer. He also sang on the tune "It's Not Easy." The lead singer of the Pretty Things, Phil May, said of Brian, "He really was a true musicologist, much earlier than anybody else."
Brian's playing of exotic instruments didn't stop there. He played the Hindu sitar on the Stones next single "Paint It Black." Brian's sitar was different than George Harrison's on "Norwegian Wood," which came out about the same time. Brian attacked the instrument with driving force, violating it. It seemed the sitar had never known the likes of rocker Brian Jones.
Brian's roller-coaster relationship with Anita Pallenberg turned ugly at one point. During an argument with Pallenberg, Brian somehow fractured his hand. The official version was that Brian had broken his hand during a climbing accident. Be that as it may, the other members of the Stones were not happy. Could Brian play on their upcoming tour? Somehow Brian managed. His hand was bandaged, as seen during a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
By the autumn of 1966 Brian experienced regular bouts of depression. Rivalry and petty squabbles within the band certainly had something to do with it, as well as the stress of being a rock superstar. But there was almost certainly another cause. For years a heavy drinker, Brian was now dropping large quantities of LSD. When he had a good trip, everything was groovy, but when he had a bad trip, he might end up cowering in a corner, whimpering with fear. He was also ingesting lots of methamphetamine and regularly smoking grass (marijuana). Brian was also beginning to think there was a fire burning between his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards.
Enter the Stones first drug bust. Just as Brian and Anita arrived for a party, cops swarmed Keith Richards' house, finding a small quantity of cannabis, four pep pills in the pocket of Mick Jagger's jacket and a few heroin tablets in another man's possession. (Brian wasn't charged with anything.) Eventually Jagger and Richards were convicted of the offenses and each spent a few days in jail.
Shortly after this event, Anita Pallenberg left Brian, choosing Keith Richards (apparently Richards was no longer terrified of her). Brian was devastated, and the rift between he and Richards was never bridged again. Reeling emotionally, Brian checked himself into the Priory Clinic in Roehampton. He stayed a few days, left, and then months later, returned for more treatment.
Then the cops showed up again, this time at Brian's place. A search warrant in hand, detectives found cannabis and cannabis resin - that's all. Brian posted bail and chose trial by jury. Brian actually faced jail time if convicted. The prospect of spending time in jail terrified Brian.
In June 1967 Brian went to the Monterey International Pop Festival, where he wandered freely without bodyguards. Friend Noel Redding, bass player for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, said that Brian was completely undrugged for the whole festival. Perhaps his up-coming trial weighed heavily on his mind. Other than simply watching the acts, Brian's only contribution to the festival was when he introduced the Jimi Hendrix Experience, calling Hendrix "the most exciting guitarist I've ever heard."
When Brian's trial for possession of cannabis came, Brian pleaded guilty but otherwise not guilty. While on the stand, he told the judge he had never sold the stuff and had every intention of giving up illegal drugs. Nevertheless, Brian was convicted and sentenced to nine months in jail. Brian's lawyers appealed and Brian was set free on bail. Months later, Brian's sentence was suspended; instead they fined him £1,000 and gave him probation.
Then, in May 1968, the cops stormed Brian's pad again, finding a small lump of hashish stuffed in a sock in a closet, the whole affair looking like a set-up. Brian posted £2,000 bail, and walked. When the trial came, Brian was once again convicted of drug possession but only received a small fine and his probation upheld. It seems that Brian Jones had dodged another bullet.
In November 1968 Brian bought Cotchford Farm, a mansion in the country formerly owned by A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh books. The residence included a large outdoor swimming pool. While vacationing in Ceylon, just before the end of the year, Brian visited an astrologer who had worked with Adolph Hitler. The astrologer said, "Be careful swimming in the coming year. Don't go into the water without a friend."
This warning proved prophetic.
Brian settled into his new home, enjoying the seclusion the country provided. He also got along well with the staff, and they seemed to like him. He was getting his rest too, after years of rigorous touring. And, perhaps of greater importance, he had given up illegal drugs, though he continued drinking heavily.
While rusticating, Brian considered the option of starting his own band. He considered working with bluesman Alexis Korner, perhaps his oldest friend. There’s also some reason to believe that Brian wrote and recorded a single, though it has never been revealed to the public.
Seemingly Brian had read the proverbial handwriting on the wall, because the Stones soon broached the subject of him leaving the band. The main reason given was that Brian, with his two drug convictions, would not be given a visa to work in America, where the Stones wanted to tour in the near future. Management offered Brian £100,000 plus his share of the royalties. In June 1969 the headline of the Daily Sketch read: BRIAN JONES QUITS THE STONES AS GROUP CLASH OVER SONGS.
Written on Brian’s behalf, an official statement read: “Because I no longer see eye to eye with the other Stones over the discs we were cutting, I have a desire to play my own brand of music. We have agreed that an amicable termination of our relationship is the only answer.”
On the 13th of June Brian’s replacement 20-year-old Mick Taylor, formerly of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, was paraded before the press. And that was pretty much the end of Brian Jones involvement with an R&B group he had formed some seven years before.
As July came around, the summer was hot, great swimming weather, it seemed. On the night of July 2nd Brian had three guests at the house, Janet Ann Lawson (a State Registered Nurse, though not Brian’s nurse), Frank Thorogood, who was renovating the house, and Brian’s girlfriend Anna Wohlin. Early that evening everybody swam in the pool and drank brandy. Janet described Brian as “a good swimmer and acrobatic in the water.”
The following day was even hotter, well into the 80s (considered hot for Britain). The pollen count was high as well, causing Brian’s asthma to act up. (Brian kept inhalers in various places.) Early in the evening Brian asked Thorogood to go into town and get some liquor and wine, and Thorogood obliged. Perhaps Brian wanted plenty of alcohol because more guests were supposed to arrive later that evening.
Regarding Brian’s consumption of alcohol that evening, two of his guests said he was drinking and one (his girlfriend Anna) said he wasn’t. In fact, the three guests give many conflicting accounts of what happened that fateful night.
About 11 p.m. Brian went swimming with Thorogood and Wohlin. Some minutes later, the others left Brian alone in the pool. Then somebody called on the telephone, though the identity of the caller was never given.
At about this time - the time sequence uncertain because of varying witness accounts - Janet Lawson found Brian lying on the bottom of the swimming pool. But instead of helping Brian, Lawson ran to the house for help. But Thorogood said that Anna Wohlin told him that Brian was lying at the bottom of the pool. Be that as it may, nobody could say who had fished Brian out of the pool! Eventually somebody did, of course, and the women tried to revive him. (Remember Janet Lawson was a nurse.) Fifteen minutes later the ambulance crew arrived, but by then Brian Jones had perished.
There were some reports that the police didn’t arrive for another two hours and that over that period of time a taxi came and drove away with some people – perhaps the mystery guests mentioned earlier - though these reports were never substantiated.
For some time, the police wanted to bring a charge of manslaughter (or death without malice aforethought), but this never happened.
It was widely reported after Brian’s death that his death had been caused by an asthma attack, which subsequently led to his drowning, but police investigators ruled this out because such an attack would have blocked his breathing passage, thereby preventing Brian from drowning.
The autopsy revealed that Brian had alcohol in his blood, the equivalent of 3 ½ pints of beer. If Brian had been driving, he would have been legally drunk. Brian’s urine revealed an “amphetamine-like” substance, not amphetamine, nearly nine times the normal level. But other than that, nothing – no heroin, cocaine, barbiturates or methamphetamine, as many people might have thought, since Brian had the reputation of an inveterate druggie.
Moreover, a post-mortem examination revealed that Brian had sustained no trauma to any part of his body. His body bore no internal injuries and there was no evidence of violence. Even if Brian had needed to defend himself, he could have put up a formidable struggle, inebriated or not. So he almost certainly wasn’t murdered, though suicide was a remote possibility. However, no suicide note has ever come to light. What his body did show was evidence that he had died of accidental drowning or death by misadventure, if you will.
But what had caused the drowning? We may never know for certain, but it seems obvious that this amphetamine-like substance in his blood must have given him some trouble while he was in the pool. Perhaps he had a seizure or lost consciousness, which led to the drowning.
Two days after Brian’s death, the Stones performed before a quarter million people at London’s Hyde Park. When Mick Jagger led the other Stones on stage, he took the microphone and said, “Cool it and listen. I want to say something for Brian.” He then read two verses from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy “Adonais,” after which thousands of butterflies were released.
Reportedly, the Stones’ 75-minute set was an out-of-tune, somber affair and their resulting video, Stones in the Park, painful to watch.
The funeral was held a week after Brian’s demise. Of the Rolling Stones, only Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman attended Brian’s funeral. Mick Jagger had a prior commitment to go to Australia, where he was beginning production on the movie Ned Kelly and Keith Richards, according to Bill Wyman, was in the studio.
Many rock purists think the Rolling Stones were never the same after the death of Brian Jones, and because of this their last great album may have been Exile on Main Street in 1972 or perhaps it was Sticky Fingers from the year before. Ever since then the Stones have become a sort of living museum for themselves (a parody of themselves?). In a fashion, they may have died more than a little when Brian Jones passed on.
Ultimately, Brian may have died of a broken heart when the Stones cast him adrift. After all, he was a very sensitive fellow and plagued by depression. In a way, he was still a kid. Maybe he had simply imploded at the bottom of this swimming pool, a very lonely place to be. (Just imagine being there…)
Brian Jones, let’s hope you’re jammin’ with Jimi and Janis in Paradise!
Please note: An audio recording of a deathbed confession by builder Frank Thorogood is shown below. This confession has never been taken seriously by authorities. See what you think of it.