Today in 1969, The Rolling Stones gave a free concert in London’s Hyde Park before an audience of 250,000, as a tribute to Brian Jones who had died two days earlier.
Jones was originally the leader of The Stones, but Mick Jagger and Keith Richards soon overshadowed him, especially after they became a successful songwriting team. Jones developed a serious substance abuse problem over the years and his role in the band steadily diminished.
As a teenager Jones became a fan of the blues – particularly Elmore James and Robert Johnson. Through this Jones became involved in the small London rhythm and blues and jazz scene making friends with musicians Alexis Korner, future Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones and future Cream bassist Jack Bruce. During this period he called himself “Elmo Lewis”, and started a band with Paul Jones called The Roosters.
Jones placed an advertisement in Jazz News in May 1962 inviting musicians to audition for a new R&B group at the Bricklayers Arms pub; singer Mick Jagger applied and brought along his childhood friend Keith Richards.
Jones came up with the name “The Rollin’ Stones” (later with the ‘g’) while on the phone with a venue owner. “The voice on the other end of the line obviously said, ‘What are you called?’ Panic. The Best of Muddy Waters album was lying on the floor—and track one was ‘Rollin’ Stone Blues'”
This was essentially Brian’s band at first, it was Brian’s determination that brought the Stones to success so quickly. However, Jagger was a talented writer and savvy businessman himself whose songwriting skills and stage presence with Keith Richards became a prized commodity.
Fast forward to 1967 and The Rolling Stones had become one of the biggest bands on the planet. By now The Stones had become Jagger and Richards’ band. Hostility had grown between Jones, Jagger and Richards, alienating Jones further from the group. Jones had became bored with the guitar and sought exotic instruments to play, and he was increasingly absent from Rolling Stones recording sessions.
The final nail in the coffin was in early 1967 – Anita Pallenberg, Jones’s girlfriend of two years, left him for Richards further damaging the already strained relations between Jones and Richards.
Jones’s last substantial sessions with the Stones occurred in spring and summer of 1968, when the Stones produced “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the Beggars Banquet album. His last formal appearance with the Stones was in December 1968 with the filming of The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (with Lennon, Clapton and Jethro Tull).
For some time Brian and the Stones were being targeted by Scotland Yard in an effort to deter the public from taking drugs. Brian in particular had been arrested several times and was facing a jail sentence.
During this period of his decreasing involvement with the band, Jones was living at Cotchford Farm in East Sussex, the residence formerly owned by Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A. Milne, which Jones had purchased in November 1968.
At around midnight on the night of 2–3 July 1969, Jones was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool at the Farm. His Swedish girlfriend, Anna Wohlin, was convinced he was alive when they took him out, insisting he still had a pulse. However, by the time the doctors arrived, it was too late, and he was pronounced dead.
Allegations of murder have surfaced since that fateful day. Wohlin claimed in 1999 that Jones had been murdered by a builder who had been renovating the house. The builder, Frank Thorogood, allegedly confessed to the murder on his deathbed to the Rolling Stones’ driver, Tom Keylock, who later denied this. In the book The Murder of Brian Jones, Wohlin alleges that Thorogood behaved suspiciously and showed little sympathy when Jones was discovered in the pool (he was the last to see Jones alive), but she has stated that he was not present at Jones’s death.
His death at 27 was the first of the Sixties rock movement; Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison found their own drug-related deaths at the same age within two years (Morrison dying two years to the day after Jones). He is one of the well known members of the 27 Club.
The Rolling Stones performed the free concert in Hyde Park on 5 July 1969, two days after Jones’s death. The Stones opened with a Johnny Winter song that was one of Jones’s favourites, “I’m Yours and I’m Hers”.
The concert, which had been scheduled weeks earlier as an opportunity to present new guitarist, Mick Taylor, was dedicated to Jones.
Jones was not only the founder of The Rolling Stones – but one of the coolest ‘rock stars’ who ever lived. His influence on music and fashion is still with us – as time rolls on – 40 odd years later.
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