Lewis Brian Jones (28 February 1942 – 3 July 1969) was an English musician, the founder and the original leader of the Rolling Stones. Jones was a multi-instrumentalist, knowing how to play 60, with his main instruments being the guitar, harmonica and keyboards. His innovative use of traditional of folk instruments, such as the sitar and marimba, was integral to the unique sound of the band.
Although he was originally the leader of the group, Jones’s fellow band members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards soon overshadowed him, especially after they became a successful songwriting team. He also was the one that the ladies fancied in those early years, making him an unwelcomed rival of Mick’s in that area.
It was the news that sent shock waves through the rock world. On July 3, 1969, former Rolling Stone guitar player Brian Jones was found dead at his home at Cotchford Farm.
At the time of his passing, Jones’ life was in the midst of a severe upheaval. The year before, he’d been arrested for the second time for possession of cannabis, which further exacerbated tensions he’d been having with his band mates. On top of that, it seemed to many that his heart just wasn’t in to being a Rolling Stone anymore.
While recording went on for the band’s next album, Let it Bleed, Jones’ contributions remained minimal, adding only percussion to “Midnight Rambler” and an autoharp section to “You Got the Silver.” Combined with his spiraling substance abuse problems as well as his overall erratic behavior, the group collectively decided it was time to show him the door.
“It had come to a head and Mick and I had been down to Winnie-the-Pooh’s house,” Keith Richards wrote in his autobiography, referring to Jones’ estate, which at one time belonged to Pooh author A.A. Milne. “Mick and I didn’t fancy the gig, but we drove down together and said, ‘Hey, Brian…It’s all over pal.’” Jones was replaced in the band by a former member of John Mayall‘s illustrious Bluesbreakers outfit, Mick Taylor
Btian Jones was clearly bipolar and , althought he was brutal to woman, was very sensitive. One night at Max’s Kansas City, Dylan and his road manager, Bob Neuwirth, insulted The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones until Jones broke down in tears.
Just a few weeks after his dismissal, Jones was found floating facedown in the pool by his Swedish lover, Anna Wohlin. She managed to pull him out, but it was too late to do anything. Brian Jones was gone.
Given the turmoil in his life leading up to the event of July 3, speculation has raged over the years about whether the guitarist’s passing was an innocent accident, a calculated act or the result of foul play. The coroner’s report officially ruled it a “death by misadventure,” but others aren’t convinced.
One of those who suspect foul play was at hand was Wohlin, who discussed the tragic episode in a 2013 interview. “Brian is still portrayed as a bitter, worn-out and depressed man who was fired because of his drug habit…and who died because he was drunk or high,” she said. “But my Brian was a wonderful, charismatic man who was happier than ever, had given up drugs and was looking forward to pursuing the musical career he wanted.”
Wohlin went on to point the finger at handyman Frank Thorogood who had been hired to finish up some odd jobs around the musician’s home. “I don’t know if Frank meant to kill Brian – maybe it was horseplay in the pool that went wrong. But I knew all along he did not die a natural death. I’m still sure of it.”
When word of the terrible news got out, it sent the London scene and the world beyond into a period of deep mourning. His old band mates were in the studio recording when they got the news, and as Richards wrote, “There exists one minute and 30 seconds of us recording “I Don’t Know Why,” a Stevie Wonder song, interrupted by the phone call telling us of Brian’s death.”
Just two days later, the Stones carried on with a planned concert held at Hyde Park in London that was remarketed as a tribute to their fallen comrade. Jagger read a piece of the Percy Shelley poem Adonais before hundreds of white butterflies were released into the summer air. (By the time of their release they all had died due to lack of oxygen.) Days later, on July 10, 1969, Jones was laid to rest at a ceremony at Cheltenham Cemetery. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were the only members of the Rolling Stones in attendance.
In defense of Mick & Keith’s no-show at the funeral, Brian had become increasingly unmanageable and would often disappear for days and not show up for scheduled concerts. When he did show up he was often too wasted to play or played the wrong song in the wrong key. He was also a chronic woman-beater and generally a pain in the ass.
Original Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman said of Jones, “He formed the band. He chose the members. He named the band. He chose the music we played. He got us gigs. … he was very influential, very important, and then slowly lost it – highly intelligent – and just kind of wasted it and blew it all away.”