Brian Jones’ love of the blues was at the heart of what he and the rest of the Rolling Stones were about from the very beginning.
His musicianship added so much to the singles that propelled the Rolling Stones into the pop charts, and he was one of the first people in Britain to play slide guitar. But he was also one of the ultimate 60’s pop stars, with a creative and cutting edge fashion sense and an iconic hairdo to match, Brian remains a style icon to this day.
Born Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones at the Park Nursing Home, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on Saturday 28th February 1942, Brian’s parents were well-to-do middle class. He attended a fee paying junior school and then the local grammar school where he excelled. Although Brian’s father obviously gave him the musical gene (he played piano and the organ and lead the local church choir) he hoped his son was that he would follow in his academic footsteps and go to university.
Brian’s overriding passion was music. After first hearing a Charlie Parker record at the age of 15, Brian persuaded his parents to buy him a saxophone. Having mastered the instrument he received an acoustic guitar for his seventeenth birthday. After leaving school Brian decided against university, and he took a succession of jobs before going to see the Chris Barber Band play a concert at Cheltenham Town Hall in 1961. Their set included a blues segment featuring Alexis Korner. Brian became obsessed with the blues and practiced slide guitar while listening to Elmore James and Robert Johnson records.
Brian was soon hitch-hiking to London where he would go to the Ealing Blues Club, sometimes sitting in with the Alexis Korner’s band. One night, Mick and Keith, on a visit to the club, saw Brian play slide guitar and were impressed with his rendition of Elmore James’s “Dust My Broom”. Soon after Brian, Ian Stewart, Mick and Keith formed a band, and began rehearsing at Soho’s Bricklayers Arms pub. On the 12th July 1962 they played their first gig at the Marquee Club, billed as The Rollin’ Stones.
While Brian’s musical prowess didn’t extend to composing, his extraordinary and versatile talent as a musician is found on all his recordings with the Stones, among them, his slide guitar on “I’m a King Bee”, “Little Red Rooster” and “No Expectations” from Beggars Banquet. He plays the sitar on “Street Fighting Man” and “Paint It Black”, organ on “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, marimba on “Under My Thumb” and “Out Of Time” recorder on “Ruby Tuesday”, dulcimer and harpsichord on “Lady Jane”, saxophone and oboe on “Dandelion”, mellotron on “She’s a Rainbow”, and harmonica on “Not Fade Away”, “2120 South Michigan Avenue” and “Prodigal Son”.
Brian’s increasing estrangement from the band from around 1967 onwards led to him feeling isolated and unhappy with the musical direction of the Rolling Stones. In early 1969 he decided to leave the band that he had helped to form to try and find a new musical direction for his undoubted talents. Tragically in the early hours of the 3rd July 1969, aged twenty-seven years old, Brian drowned in the swimming pool of his new home in Ashdown Forest, Sussex.