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Brian Jones: Sympathy for the Devil

Founding Rolling Stone Brian Jones died in the early morning hours of July 3rd, 1969, less than a month following his exit from the band. 'Rolling Stone' dedicated its 39th cover story to remembering the guitarist and his legacy.

August 9, 1969
Brian Jones Rolling Stones
Brian Jones on the cover of Rolling Stone
Photo by Jim Marshall

Brian Jones, rhythm guitarist with the Rolling Stones from their inception in 1962 until his departure early last month, is dead. He was 25.

Jones died shortly after being pulled, unconscious, out of the floodlight swimming pool at his home in Hartfield.

Circumstances surrounding the latenight tragedy remain vague, despite testimony by three friends who were near the scene, despite a coroner's inquest, and despite blatantly sensational coverage by the London press.

Jones and his girl friend, 21-year-old Anna Wohlin, were hosting Frank Thorogood, a builder who had been doing repairs on Jones' country home, and another friend, Jenny Lawson, a 22-year-old nurse. Shortly after midnight that night (June 2nd) he was found at the bottom of the pool. Artificial respiration attempts, first by Miss Wohlin, who is also a nurse, and later by ambulance attendants, failed, and Brian Jones was dead by the time a doctor arrived.

First reports on the drowning of the musician left the cause of death unsaid. Later, Miss Wohlin was reported to have told a coroner from nearby East Grinstead that an asthma inhaler was found at the edge of the pool. "Brian used it automatically and particularly when he was in the pool and having difficulties in breathing," she said.

But after more talk with Miss Lawson and Thorogood and a pathologist's report, coroner Angus Sommerville ruled that Jones died as a result of "drowning by immersion in fresh water associated with severe liver disfunction' caused by fatty degeneration and ingestion of alcohol and drugs."

There were traces of pep pills, sleeping tablets and alcohol in his bloodstream, according to the pathologist.

At the inquest, a verdict was recorded that death was caused by "misadventure."

Two days after the death, the Rolling Stones paid tribute to their long-time companion at their free concert in Hyde Park. Before a big crowd of some 250,000, a somber Mick Jagger quoted a piece of poetry in memory of Brian. He read, from Adonais by Shelley:

Peace, peace!
He is not dead, he does not sleep—
He has awakened from the dream of
life —
'Tis we who, lost in stormy visions,
Keep with phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance strike with our spirit's knife
Invulnerable nothings.

We decay like corpses in a charnel;
Fear and grief convulse us and
consume us day by day
And cold hopes swarm like worms
within our living clay.

And as the crowd sat silently on Hyde's grassy slopes, the group released 3500 butterflies to flutter over the audience — another gesture and greeting to Brian.

The Rolling Stones, 1963-1969: Behind-the-Scenes Snapshots

The poetic words and subtle, flying colors were soon overwhelmed, however, by the daily press, as they jumped on the coroner's findings and blew them up into National Tattler proportions. Sleeping tablets and pep pills became a "DRUGS SHOCK," in the mind of the Daily Sketch, while the Daily Mirror headlined: Drinks and Drugs Killed Brian Jones.

While Jones' three friends were quoted telling of Brian's "somewhat garbled speech" (after he had taken the sleeping pills) and the amount of spirits consumed that evening, other sources close to Brian told Rolling Stone that other events directly leading up to the "misadventure" were being left untold.

Jones, of course, was the Rolling Stone most often connected to drugs, having been convicted twice on cannabis possession charges — in 1967 and 1968. Both times he received fines and warnings.

If Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were the mind and body of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, standing most of the time in the shadows, was clearly the soul.

Brian, in with Keith and Mick from the earliest — when the Stones were still largely an R&B discussion group meeting in a Soho pub — was labeled the quietest, the moodiest of the group. But he was in fact the most vocal to the press, angrily and sharply defending the Stones' then-radical style of music, their appearance, their politics, and their whole style of life.

Jagger was out front on stage, and Richards, the lead guitar, was the man with the music. Jones put himself down as "nothing special." But with his fair, pouting face topped by a full bowl of flaxen blond hair, he was invariably placed in front of the others for group photos [Look at the covers for Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), Aftermath, Out of Our Heads, and December's Children]. He was the most hairy, the most dapper, and the most versatile with musical instruments. He was the first to leave the group – months, actually, before the news announcements. He was a Rolling Stone before he joined in 1962, and he led the life of a true Rolling Stone from 1963 to 1969.

Brian Jones was born February 28, 1944 in Cheltenham in Gloucestershire county, 98 miles to the west of London. He had musical, well-to-do parents in this health-spa-dominated, well-to-do-town. But although his mother taught piano and his father dabbled with keyboard instruments, he picked up guitar and harmonica and taught himself And although his parents sent him "to the finest schools," he was a non-conformist from the first grade on, and he was suspended from Cheltenham Grammar School for starting a rebellion against the prefects.

Jones was a fine scholar, excelling in English and music, but he hated sports – "I couldn't stand all that organization," he recalled – and put homework aside so that he could listen to records and the radio. He liked early jazz numbers like "Muskrat Ramble" and "When the Saints Go Marchin' In."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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