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Brian Jones: Sympathy for the Devil

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By 1960, he had made his first investment in music – three pounds ($7.20) for a Spanish guitar, and had discovered rhythm and blues. But England was being washed over by a tide of what was called "trad jazz" –the music of Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, and Acker Bilk. Brian Jones played trad jazz with various bands in small clubs and halls around the west country until the music – and a confining daytime office job — drove him off to distant Scandinavia.

Whatever funds he had didn't last long, and Jones was soon back in England, storing up money again from numbers of odd jobs. As a coal-lorry driver, he listlessly steered a black-coated wagon around Cheltenham; as a clerk in a record shop, he argued with patrons over their preferences for trad jazz, praising, in vain, his discoveries of early American blues artists and R&B. Finally, in 1962, he made the 100-mile trip to London, where he gravitated to the Bricklayers' Arms, a popular pub now turned into a wholesale house for millinery goods. It was there that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been meeting to plot out their plans for an R&B group; it was there that Mick and Keith, joined by Brian, began the Rolling Stones.

Just as Jones suffered with Jagger and Richard through jobless, moneyless, foodless days and nights in and out of a dingy Chelsea flat, he was in the forefront when it came time to work — trad jazz was beginning to fade – and to fight against the older musicians so determined to maintain their club jobs.

At the Ealing Jazz Club, where the three upstarts sat in with R&B guitarist Alexis Korner's band, the Stones were able to test their music before receptive crowds. But the full group — with a college student Dick Taylor on bass and a succession of fill-in men on drums — really began when Jones found a club in Richmond-Surrey willing to hire them. First press clippings (which Brian saved in his wallet), the addition of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman; help from Paul McCartney and John Lennon in the recording studios, growing audience enthusiasm — and the band rolled.

Life as a Rolling Stone, of course, was life as a blotter for massive smear jobs by the press and by straight entertainers bewildered by the ragtag, long-locked young rebels. The Stones didn't care. But someone had to answer the scurrilous, widespread attacks. Brian did:

"These ruddy reporters don't seem to want to take us seriously," he said in his soft, determined way. "Well, that's okay. We'll make them eat their lousy words one day. We'll make them take our music seriously."

For their increasingly regal clothes and their increasingly long hair, they were called "a bunch of perishing cissies." Brian, who himself fancied coats with velvet collars, again spoke out. "Intolerant bunch. We're getting it all the time, but we'll never change. It's that lot across there who're the trouble makers. They're the ones who lack politeness and they've got no excuse. They're old enough to know better."

The Stones, he said over and over again, would never change. But while the group tumbled through their natural progressions – through the Satanic LP and the Beggar's Banquet LP-cover hassle, through busts of Jagger and Richards, through abortive film and television projects and talk about their own production company — Jones was, in addition, going through his own bringdowns and breakdowns. He was busted in May, 1967 on charges of possession of cannabis and sentenced, that October, to nine months in jail (he was later given a suspended sentence and placed on a year's probation). Between the arrest and the trial, he slipped into a rest home in London – "to get myself together," he said later. He spoke of work pressures forcing him to go under a doctor's care and to go to the nursing home, but he hardly let his drug case settle before he took off to foreign lands and to foreign musics.

Jones had always been the most enthusiastic traveler among the Stones. After the group's first exhilarating tour, in 1964, he said that he might live in America one day. But now he was in Ceylon, doing a "home movie." Then he was in Marrakesh, in Tangier for a holiday when a Moroccan band playing in a market square caught his sensitive ears. He corralled long-time Stones engineer Glyn Johns to go back to Morocco with him, and they spent a week recording them. Jones' idea was to overdub the largely-percussion-and chant sounds with Western R&B for an album. Allan Klein, Stones business manager, still has the unreleased masters for that record.

And Jones continued to play music. "He was extremely versatile," Johns said. After the guitar and harmonica, he learned clarinet, and eventually mastered all the reed instruments. In addition, Johns said, "he played recorder, soprano sax — he played that one 'Baby, You're a Rich Man' — keyboard, and all string instruments, including the harp." Jones also played sitar in 1967, and for Beggar's Banquet, in fall of 1968, he played a countrified steel guitar and piano.

Banquet was pretty much Jones' final effort with the group. He was busted a second time for possession of grass, received a light fine and began to drift. The pressures had swelled again, and Jones found it necessary to be alone.

His next appearance in the news was on June 8th for an announcement: that he was leaving the Rolling Stones permanently, due to a difference in music policy. He revealed nothing about his own future further than: "I want to play my own kind of music."

This story is from the August 9th, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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