He brought The Rolling Stones together, gave them their sound, gave them their mission, gave them their name and even gave Keith and Mick a place to live. It’s time to take another look at Brian Jones.
By Harvey Kubernik
Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones by Paul Trynka is the complete story of the enigmatic founder of the Rolling Stones and the 1962 – 1969 years of the band published by Viking this past October.
Brian Jones was the golden boy of the Rolling Stones — the visionary who gave the band its name, style and sound. He was a musical genius who made the British music scene and then the rest of the world take further notice of R&B and Blues.
Jones’ pioneering contributions subsequently turned the Mick Jagger-Keith Richards tunes into pop culture audio benchmarks and trailblazing hits.
Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones is a forensic, probing account of Jones’s life, which really details his musical and worldwide impact, fashion achievements and messy unraveling.
With more than 120 new interviews, author Paul Trynka offers new revelations and sets straight the tall tales that have long marred and largely defined Jones’s legacy.
The book reveals a gripping battle between creativity and ambition, between self-sabotage and betrayal while constantly parading his instrumental artistic gifts.
Over the last four decades, whenever appropriate, I’d occasionally ask associates and friends of Jones who met him as well as people I knew, about him.
The rarely investigated 1964–1967 omnipresent musical and geographical relationship Brian Jones had with Southern California is something that has interested me and touched so many others. Now, including, Paul Trynka, the London-based author of acclaimed biographies of David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
“Brian changed the game,” Trynka explained to me in a November 2014 email. “He wanted to play hardcore Blues, and believed he could become famous doing it. No one else, not his fellow Stones, nor mentors like Alexis Korner, believed it was possible. He had the same visionary quality in terms of his championing of world music, travelling to the tiny village of Joujouka to record a pioneering world music album — this was all unprecedented behavior for a rock star. He also defined how a rock star should look. Yet in some ways, he’s neglected these days, known simply as one of rock’s first drugs casualties. But make no mistake, he didn’t self-destruct — he had plenty of help, both from the authorities who persecuted him, and his band mates, his adopted brothers, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
“I devoted a lot of time to this book… because it was thrilling. The Stones are one of Britain’s most significant gifts to the world, so tracking down and speaking to some of their prospective early members, like Geoff Bradford, Ricky Brown and first bassist Dick Taylor, was fascinating. Then you have this amazing melting pot of cultures, when the Stones — with Brian at the forefront — meet up with the English aristocracy, the West Coast art world. Brian hung out with the coolest people. He was a genius, and a car-crash, a beguiling, endlessly fascinating character. Finally, there has been so much demonizing of him, that in the end I felt a missionary zeal. He’s not a victim — he’s a visionary.”
“I do say, and do honestly believe, that if there wasn’t a Brian Jones there wouldn’t have been a Rolling Stones,” insisted Bill Wyman about the transformative figure Jones at a 2002 Hotel Oceana interview in Santa Monica. “There would have been another band from Dartford which I wouldn’t have been in and Charlie probably wouldn’t have been in. But there wouldn’t have been the Rolling Stones, because that was Brian Jones. He named the band and he enlisted the members one by one. He decided what style of music we would play. He phoned and wrote to agents, bookers and NME, Jazz News, Disc, letters about R&B and blues and all of that. I mean it was his band. So I have to acknowledge that or it wouldn’t be there without him. And he’s been kind of glossed over and pushed aside by most people. And Stew was the second person to join the band. Stew was the first person who joined Brian. Before Mick and Keith.”
During my 2002 interview with Bill Wyman, he commented on the Chess Studios and then RCA facilities the Stones worked in from 1964-1966.
“We had recorded at Chess for a couple of dates, a few times. When we came into L.A. we went to RCA. We walked into the studio and it was too big. We were really worried. We were intimidated. We were used to recording in little places like Regent Sound. The studio was like this hotel room. And Chess wasn’t very big either. Suddenly we’re at RCA and it’s enormous. It was like Olympic (in England) later. But we solved that same problem. We thought ‘God, we can’t record in here. We’re gonna get the wrong sound.’
“But Andrew had this brain wave and he put us all in the corner of one room, turned all the lights down, and just tucked us all around in a little small circle. And we forgot about the rest of the room and the height of the ceiling. And we just did it in this little corner.
“And Dave Hassinger the engineer got all the sounds we wanted. Brian picked up all the instruments in the studio. The dulcimers, the glockenspiel, the marimbas. And I played some of that stuff as well. The organ where I laid on the floor and pumped the rhythm for ‘Paint It, Black.’
“We just experimented in there. Brian brought in electric dulcimers, autoharps. He just did so much to those songs from 1964-1966 in RCA. Brian created so many new sounds. Then he got the sitar together, just so he could play a riff. He wasn’t as good as George Harrison on it. George really learned the sitar and studied it. Brian didn’t, he just picked it up and worked out a little riff for one song. He did it with flutes. And he was brilliant at that.
“Hassinger was one of the pro-voters for ‘Satisfaction’ being a single. RCA was our first studio that had four tracks. We were on two and three tracks before that. Jack Nitzsche was a sweet man.”
Photographer Guy Webster snapped the iconic front cover for the Stones’ Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) album. A monumental photo session conducted in the Hollywood Hills. Webster’s photos of the band also grace the cover jacket of the U.K. Aftermath pressing and Flowers album. In November 2014, my brother Kenneth and I wrote the text to Big Shots: Rock Legends & Hollywood Icons: Through the Lens of Guy Webster with an introduction by Brian Wilson.
“That first session wasn’t easy,” Guy confessed to me in a 2011 magazine interview.” But Lou Adler introduced me to Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ manager, record producer and publicist in 1965. And we got along quite well. Andrew said, “My boys are coming. Do you want to shoot them?” I said it would be an honor. Because it’s not that I didn’t love the Beatles, but the Stones spoke to me viscerally. And I’m a blues guy. I grew up with the blues. I had Big Joe Turner in my house when I was a child. So I knew the blues.
“The Stones were originally a blues band and that’s what I loved about them. I was invited to the Stones’ RCA recording sessions. It’s not lost on me that Sam Cooke and blues and jazz musicians cut in that room. I grew up there. I watched the Stones record.
“And in meeting the Stones I realized Brian was the musicologist and the blues guy. Of course, when I first met the group they were ready to get away from the blues and go into a more modern hipper area for them.
“As for the session, I took the Stones up to a girlfriend’s house. I knew the land and the property. I didn’t even ask. I didn’t have to. And I took the band out there with a limousine up a dirt road and we shot those pictures in town. Using photos was how you spread the word back then. I posed the band. I collaborated with them. I bonded with Brian Jones. He was a blues man. We both had that background and we had an immediate friendship because of that. The other guys were blues guys, but they weren’t committed like Brian to the blues scene. You know the story. Brian wanted it to stay a blues band forever. I have a memory of that shoot. Everybody was stoned but me. And I had to kind of push them around physically to get them into place. Because they were laid back and stoned a little bit.
“Brian was a very cooperative photo subject. More than the others. Well, look, physically, during 1965, ’66, those years, Brian was beautiful during those years. And it’s so important when you put someone on the front cover of an album they can see a great face, clean, shaven, and no beards and mustaches.
“Each Stone dressed individually. And a lot of the bands, even unattractive bands, like Canned Heat, I loved them. Because they were all blues guys. And I didn’t care what Al Wilson or Bob Hite looked like.”
In November of 2014, Tony Valentino of the Standells called me and provided a words-eye-view of the summer 1966 U.S. tour his group did with the Rolling Stones. Valentino had many plane rides with the lads and plenty of face time with Jones.
“The Rolling Stones came into a club in West Hollywood sometime in 1965 or ’66 where we were playing called P.J.’s. We had a set to do and we didn’t really get a chance to meet them. They stayed and then left. A little later we were invited to do their summer 1966 35-city U.S. tour. We supported the Stones at the Hollywood Bowl with the Buffalo Springfield and the McCoy’s. We had a private plane and I met them all the first time at the airport. The Standells were sponsored by Vox. Brian was incredible. In a way he was always on his own. Keith and Mick hung out together. But Brian was kind of on his own. Bill and Charlie hung out together. But Brian was in his own way. He played a Vox Tear Drop guitar and so did I.E. were flying all the time on the airplane. We ended up playing cards in the plane at night after a concert.
“One incident I will never forget where we almost got killed. In Massachusetts or New York. It was so hot and humid. I came out for our set. I was backstage and Brian ran by me furious. ‘Did you see somebody take my dulcimer? The instrument he played a dulcimer on ‘Sweet Lady Jane.’ All of a sudden it disappeared from backstage and he was going crazy. It was the beginning of the tour. Cops all around and he didn’t want to go on. That was incredible. Then they went on and Brian was devastated by the instrument not being there. It was so hot and humid. Six or seven songs into their show, Brian wiped his face in an American flag hanging on stage. There were a lot of marines in the audience. There was almost a revolution. There was a commotion and we had to be escorted out by the police. We had to hide downstairs in the dressing room and they took us out from the back. Like a secret leaving place. They were ready to kill us. This is something you don’t do over there. This was not the incident on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The manufacturer of the dulcimer airmailed him a replacement.
“Every night we finished our set I would watch the Stones. Incredible. They used to open their set with ‘Under My Thumb.’ It was so good. I can still see Brian moving his neck back and forth and his face smiling.
“On our last date of the tour, Brian gave me his Army jacket on the plane. We would be in the airplanes, and before every concert we did we used to do amyl nitrate. And everybody was so fucked up. Not on stage but when we came out of the plane. We had them everywhere. You break ‘em and inhale. There really wasn’t any pot around then. No cocaine. A little too early for that. Most of what we were doing were these amyl nitrate things.
“One time on a plane, after a concert, we’d fly back to New York or Los Angeles. And during the flight one night we were all playing cards, and there was a big pot on the table. And Brian lost a big hand on the table. And for spite he took and grabbed all the cards, balled them up and put them on fire. A match lighting them on fire. That was really insane and incredible. And then the captain smelled smoke. Brian could be a sweet guy and kind of distant. I would say he was very kind of loner and stoner.”
“Brian Jones was a friend of mine and the one I knew the best in the band,” recounted Kim Fowley to me in a 2007 telephone interview.
“Brian Jones was a lot like George Martin. He was a strategist musically. He was the best musician of the Stones, granted the rawness of the pulse came from Keith, and Mick did the vocal extension. Brian provided the taste, with Watts and Wyman. Brian was like Charlie Chaplin before him. Brian could pick up any instrument and play it immediately. He was a musicologist. He was a pretty boy with George Martin’s brain with stringed instruments. He probably was too smart and too gifted and it exploded. He couldn’t contain the greatness in a daily life level.”
In 2007, Andrew Loog Oldham and I had an email exchange where ALO sent over some first-hand memories about his studio moments with Jones and the Stones.
“I remember the sessions for Aftermath where ‘I Am Waiting’ sprang from. There’s incredible clarity to what they were doing. It was like a linear thing. Filmic. They were vivid, and the key to that vividness was Brian Jones. The organ on “She Smiled Sweetly” by Brian is just amazing. I like ‘She Smiled Sweetly’ more than ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Ruby Tuesday.’ ‘Sweetly’ was boy/girl, living on the same floor. Whereas, both those other songs have a ‘To The Manner Born’ quality to them. Trying to write and evoke. And Mick’s vocals…Remember: He’s an actor. He can’t sing. He acts the words. There you go. Between The Buttons and Aftermath, without a doubt quite a few harried moments. And we did it in Hollywood at RCA.
“The session for ‘Paint It, Black’ was not nearly done! Bill (Wyman) started futzing around with the pedals of the Hammond B-3 organ, basically imitating Eric Easton, (The Stones co-manager) who used to play organ on the pier at Black pool. And Brian’s sitar on the song. It was a visual instrument. The fun times were the work. We’re in Hollywood. Some of Hollywood came through the door and I’m one of the conduits dragging it in.”
“I’ve always been a Brian Jones fan, if you know anything about the Chesterfield Kings, and I always liked Brian as a musician and the things he did in the Stones,” enthused Andy Babiuk in 2013, co-author of Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio. (BackBeat Books).
“Obviously, he’s the coolest Beau Brummel of the band, and he was always trend-setting, but, in doing the book and really studying the physical thing he really did on the recordings, and what he chose to do, and the things Bill Wyman told me about him in the studio, when no one else was there. Bill and the guys could see first-hand what Brian was doing.
“Here’s the deal. I think it was because Brian thought out of the box. He wasn’t trying to emulate anything. He wasn’t trying to beat the establishment. He was doing whatever the fuck Brian Jones wanted to do. Be it playing a dulcimer. Who in their right mind would take an electric dulcimer and play it in front of screaming girls? How could you even amplify such a thing? He figured out how to do it. Because he wasn’t trying to be the traditional guitar player guy. The Stones evolved, like the Beatles, and I really pointed to Brian Jones, because he as the guy, Bill told me, he would go out and just get lost and then show up in the studio an hour or two later with some crazy new instrument. And everybody would be looking at ‘what the fuck is he doing now?’ He’d listen to the song and quickly figure out how to play the instrument, even if he didn’t know how to play it, and figure out some counter melody to it. That’s how Bill described it to me.
“And I think that was the thing. What made him unique, he looked different. He didn’t have dark hair. So all of a sudden he stands out. But then he was very fashion-oriented. He was really on top of it. He was a hipster before it was hip to be a hipster. He did it. But he actually had the goods to do it. He wasn’t just a visual guy. He was actually doing musical things that, you know, playing a marimba? Come on! Everything from sitar to recorder. Think about ‘Ruby Tuesday’ without that recorder. It wouldn’t be the same song. Right?”
“I guess if any single individual should ever be given credit for putting together The Rollin(g) Stones, that credit should go to Brian Jones,” reminded writer and music chronicler, Gary Pig Gold.
“Certainly it was Brian who not only first assembled them all within the same rehearsal space, but gave them their sound, gave them their mission, gave them their name and even gave Keith and Mick a place to live in London for a while there. Not to mention hustled for gigs, schmoozed the press, and generally kept things, yes, rolling back in those bleak cold months before Andrew Loog Oldham, Decca Records, and the Top Forty rose to turn the story into full living Technicolor.
“On vinyl however, particularly in and around those absolutely landmark Aftermath sessions, it was Brian who made the movie wondrously widescreen and vividly 3D. Marimba, dulcimer, recorder, sitar, tamboura, autoharp… hand the man an instrument and within minutes he could, and would fully Jones it seamlessly into the arrangement. Most pointedly to my ears, his high lonesome trumpet on ‘Child Of The Moon’ and Mellotroning all over Satanic Majesties brought a sense of adventure, not to mention sonic sophistication to the Rolling Stones which has been absolutely missing on the band’s, well, last twenty or thirty albums truth be told.
“Meanwhile, the man still somehow found the time and notes to plaster a sleazeball sax onto the Beatles’ ‘You Know My Name’ while, completely at the far end of the aural scale, forever capture the master music of Joujouka decades before Paul Simon, for example, went globetrotting in search of worldly inspiration.
“And don’t you dare believe all the stories you’ve read since, or maybe even seen on screen in Godard’s One Plus One: Brian Jones was still willing and more than able to coax pure magic from the nearest guitar right up to his final months on earth and in the Stones. Yes, that’s his trademark slide indeed on ‘No Expectations,’ perhaps his greatest — certainly his benedictory gift to not only his band, but to all of us who continue to treasure England’s Oldest Hit Makers.”
“Long before he was formally ostracized, it seems to me that there was always something ‘outside’ about Brian Jones on the Rolling Stones stage,” suggested writer Daniel Weizmann. “His very blondness — the super-straight helmet — was a departure from their sea of stringy darkness, but it was more than just a difference of fashion. Brian exuded boyish sensitivity in a group of willful cads — he was the lad who couldn’t have a ‘heart of stone’ no matter how hard he tried. In one poignant photo in the gatefold of HOT ROCKS, a cross-legged, wistful Brian blows up a balloon for a child. Just try to picture any other Stone doing that back then. No way. That’s why, I think, the Rolling Stones seemed so different once he was gone, and that’s why fans often divide into two hard camps. It’s not just a musical change.
“There’s really two distinct moods. The first, which you could call ‘With Brian,’ contained an observer of the pandemonium, a Marlowe inside the heart of darkness, or maybe a Pinocchio — a vulnerable soul running with the bad boys. Brian was us, the audience, the mortals, and when he disappeared, a new vibe emerged, far more malevolent: Call it ‘Without Brian’ — elitist, impenetrable, Satanic but this time maybe for real. The soft heart had been removed; the band said, ‘let it bleed.’”
Perhaps the last word on Brian Jones, speaking in terms of his melodic expedition, should be given to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.
At his November 12, 2014 appearance in Los Angeles at the Ace Hotel to promote his photographic Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page book (Genesis), Page sat down with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and commented on a picture in his book taken at a late 1966 recording date with Jones.
“I did some sessions with Brian Jones who was working on a [never officially released] soundtrack for a film A Degree of Murder that that starred his girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg. It was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in April 1967. Ian ‘Stu’ Stewart, the pianist who was with the Stones, and with us, ‘Boogie With Stu,’ took these photos when I was working with Brian at IBC studio.
“You can see I’m using a violin bow on the guitar, something I would do with Led Zeppelin on ‘Dazed and Confused.’ It was a great privilege and an honor to play with a really gifted and innovative musician.”
To further see and own some classic and iconic images of the Rolling Stones during the “Brian Jones” years, art book publisher Taschen has launched their “SUMO” Collector’s authorized Rolling Stones book limited edition signed by Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood. Also available in a large format version. Information: taschen.com
Produced in collaboration with the band, the collection is 500 pages of illustrated visual and text history featuring a foreword by President Bill Clinton, and three essays from David Dalton, Waldemar Januszczak, and Luc Sante. The volume is edited by Reuel Golden.
During December, Taschen opened, It’s Just a Shot Away, a photographic exhibition of The Rolling Stones and the inaugural show of Taschen’s new Hollywood Gallery at 8070 Beverly Blvd. The exhibition runs until January 31st and features images of Brian, Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie by the legendary photographers who were allowed into their sacred world, including Gered Mankowitz, Ethan Russell, Guy Webster, Jean-Marie Perier, and David Bailey, who was present at the show’s December 13th opening night.
Joining publisher Benedikt Taschen and Bailey at the party to introduce the title and exhibit were Jack Nicholson, Steven Tyler, David Hockney, Kenneth Kubernik, Michael Chow, Pamela Anderson, photographers Guy Webster, David LaChapelle, Brad Elterman, Jimmy Steinfeldt, Heather Harris, Harold Sherrick. S. Ti Muntarbhorn and Kurt Ingham.
Harvey Kubernik has been an active music journalist for over 42 years and is the author of eight books.