Born Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Brian was a versatile musician who in addition to guitar and the harmonica, played a wide variety of other instruments. His innovative use of traditional or folk instruments, such as the sitar and marimba, was integral to the changing sound of the Rolling Stones.
Both Jones's parents were interested in music: his mother Louisa was a piano teacher, and in addition to his job as an aeronautical engineer, Lewis Jones played piano and organ and led the choir at the local church.
In 1957 Jones first heard Cannonball Adderley's music, which inspired his interest in jazz. Jones persuaded his parents to buy him a saxophone, and two years later his parents gave him his first acoustic guitar as a 17th birthday present. (He also played first clarinet in the school orchestra.) Despite well above average academic ability, his hostility to authority figures he was suspended from school on twice.
After his 14-year old girlfriend became pregnant, Jones quit school and left home, travelling through northern Europe and Scandinavia for a summer. During this period, he busked with his guitar on the streets for money. Jones grew up listening to classical music, but he preferred blues. and began playing at local blues and jazz clubs. (Jones also fathered three other children before he turned 23.)
Jones moved to London where he became friends with musicians in the small London rhythm and blues and jazz scene. For a brief time, Jones called himself "Elmo Lewis," and playing slide guitar. Jones also 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; pianist Ian "Stu" Stewart was the first to respond. Later singer and his childhood friend Keith Richards and Mick Jagger joined the band.
Jones came up with the name "The Rollin' Stones" (later with the 'g') while on the phone with a venue owner. The Best of Muddy Waters album was lying on the floor—and track one was 'Rollin' Stone Blues'."
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The Rollin' Stones played their first gig on July 12, 1962 at the Marquee Club in London with Mick Jagger, Richards, Jones, Stewart, bass player Dick Taylor (later of The Pretty Things) and drummer Tony Chapman.
From September 1962 to September 1963 Jones, Jagger and Richards shared an apartment in Chelsea, London. Jones and Richards spent every day playing guitar while listening to blues records. During this time, Jones also taught Jagger how to play harmonica.
The four Rollin' Stones went searching for a bassist and drummer, finally settling on Bill Wyman on bass because he had a spare VOX AC30 guitar amplifier ( and always had cigarettes,) and a bass guitar that he had built himself. In January 1963 they persuaded jazz-influenced Charlie Watts to join them.
The group played at local blues and jazz clubs, garnering fans in spite of resistance from traditional jazz musicians who felt threatened by their popularity. While Jagger was lead singer, Jones, in the group's embryonic period, was the leader—promoting the band, landing gigs, and negotiating with venue owners.
From 1966 onwards Jones's contributions in the recording studio were more as a multi-instrumentalist than as a guitarist. His aptitude for playing a wide variety of instruments is particularly evident on the albums Aftermath, Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Examples of Jones's contributions on slide guitar include "I Wanna Be Your Man," "I'm a King Bee," "Little Red Rooster," "I Can't Be Satisfied," "I'm Movin' On," "Doncha Bother Me," and "No Expectations."
Jones played Bo Diddley-style rhythm guitar on "I Need You Baby (Mona)," the guitar riff in "The Last Time"; sitar on "Street Fighting Man" and "Paint It, Black"; organ on "Let's Spend the Night Together," "Complicated," and "2000 Man"; marimba on "Under My Thumb," "Out Of Time" and "Yesterday's Papers"; recorder on "Ruby Tuesday" and "All Sold Out"; trumpet on "Child of the Moon"; Appalachian dulcimer on "I Am Waiting" and "Lady Jane" and harpsichord on "Lady Jane"; accordion on "Backstreet Girl"; saxophone and oboe on "Dandelion"; mellotron on "She's a Rainbow," "We Love You," "Stray Cat Blues" and "2000 Light Years from Home"; and - on his final recording as a Rolling Stone - the autoharp on "You Got the Silver."
Jones also played harmonica on many of the Rolling Stones' early songs including "Stoned," "Not Fade Away," "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "Now I've Got A Witness," "Good Times, Bad Times," and "Dear Doctor" and "Prodigal Son" among many other songs.
Jones's and Richards's guitars became a signature of the sound of the Rolling Stones, with both guitarists playing rhythm and lead without clear boundaries between the two roles.
Beginning of the End
The arrival of Andrew Loog Oldham's as the Stones' manager marked the beginning of Jones's slow estrangement, his prominent role gradually diminishing as the Stones' centre shifted from Jones to Jagger and Richards. Oldham recognized the financial advantages of bandmembers writing their own songs, and wanted to make Jagger's charisma and flamboyance a focus of live performances.
Jones saw his influence over the Stones' direction slide as their repertoire comprised fewer of the blues covers that he preferred and more Jagger/Richards original songs.
According to Andrew Loog Oldham in his book Stoned, Jones was an outsider from the beginning. When the first tours were arranged in 1963, Jones travelled separately from the band, stayed at different hotels, and demanded extra pay. According to Oldham, Jones was very emotional, and felt alienated because he was not a prolific song writer and his management role had been taken away.
The toll from the feeling of alienation from the group resulted in Jones's abuse of alcohol and other drugs. As tensions and Jones's substance use increased, his musical contributions became sporadic. He became bored with the guitar and sought exotic instruments to play, and he was increasingly absent from recording sessions.
|Brian with Anita Pallenberg|
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. He can be seen in the Jean-Luc Godard film One Plus One - which chronicles the making of "Sympathy for the Devil - playing acoustic guitar, chatting and sharing cigarettes with Richards, although Jones is snubbed during the performances. Jones's acoustic guitar can be heard occasionally in the raw film footage but was not included in the released version.
Jones's last formal appearance was in the December 1968 The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, a part concert, part circus-act film organised by the band. It went unreleased for 25 years because Jagger was unhappy with the band's performance. The DVD release of the film Jones's playing is inaudible except during "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Sympathy For The Devil," and "No Expectations."
Jones was arrested a second time in May 1968, for possession of cannabis. He was facing a long jail sentence if found guilty, owing to his probation. Jones's attendance of rehearsals and recording sessions had become erratic; and when he did appear, he rarely contributed anything musically, or his bandmates would switch off his guitar, leaving Richards playing nearly all the guitars.
Following the release of the Let it Bleed album in the summer of 1969, they would start a North American tour. Because of his drug convictions, Jones would not receive a work permit. At the suggestion of pianist and road manager Ian Stewart, the Stones decided to add a new guitarist.
On June 8, 1969, Jones was visited by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts, and was told that the group he had formed would continue without him. He was replaced by 20-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor formerly of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.
During the period of his decreasing involvement in the band, Jones was living at Cotchford Farm in East Sussex, the residence formerly owned by Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A. Milne. He had talked to others about starting a new band.
However, at around midnight on the night of July 2-3, 1969, Jones was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool. By the time the doctors arrived, he was pronounced dead. The coroner's report stated "death by misadventure," and noted his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse.