Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

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9780670014743: Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

For the first time, the complete story of the enigmatic founder of the Rolling Stones and the early years of the band

Brian Jones was the golden boy of the Rolling Stones—the visionary who gave the band its name and its sound. Yet he was a haunted man, and much of his brief
time with the band, before his death in 1969 at the infamous age of twenty-seven, was volatile and tragic. Some of the details of how Jones was dethroned are well
known, but the full story of his downfall is still largely untold.

Brian Jones is a forensic, thrilling account of Jones’s life, which for the first time details his pioneering achievements and messy unraveling. With more than 120 new interviews, Trynka offers countless new revelations and sets straight the tall tales that have long marred Jones’s legacy. His story is a gripping battle between
creativity and ambition, between self-sabotage and betrayal. It’s all here: the girlfriends, the drugs, and some of the greatest music of all time.

Victors get to write history—but it’s rarely fully true. The complete, magnificent story of the Rolling Stones can never be told until we disentangle all the threads and put Brian Jones back in the foreground.

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About the Author:

Paul Trynka is a respected music writer known both for his groundbreaking role as editor of MOJO magazine and as author of Starman and Open Up and Bleed, biographies of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, respectively, which attracted laudatory reviews worldwide. Portrait of the Blues, his collection of oral histories with more than sixty blues musicians (in collaboration with photographer Val Wilmer), is regarded as a landmark work. Paul was also editor of the widely respected International Musician magazine and founding editor of the Guitar Magazine, for which he first interviewed Keith Richards more than twenty years ago. Paul lives with his wife, Lucy, and son, Curtis, in Greenwich, London, just down the road from Mick and Keith’s old stomping ground of Dartford.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

 

IT WAS ONLY a raggle-taggle bunch of musicians, kids really, and the way history normally unfolds, there should have been no way any witnesses would have spotted that something world-changing was happening. Yet, the leader of the band did have something special about him – the way he sneered at the audience, getting in their faces, coaxing out shimmering glissandos from his guitar in a style no one had ever seen before, or switching over to an amplified blues harp, still a radically new instrument for most of the teenagers who watched him and his companions intently. Elmo Lewis, as he called himself, introduced several of the numbers and ministered to the rest of his band lovingly, like a mother hen, checking that the singer Mick had got the beat, and keeping a close eye on his fellow guitarist’s fretboard. Occasionally, when the riffs cohered into something stirring and electrifying, he and the piano player – the other more obviously experienced musician – would look at each other and smile in satisfaction.

Truth is, though, that some people in that decent-sized crowd watching the Rolling Stones, crammed on to the Marquee stage, in July 1962 – and some among those at other little clubs around London over the next few weeks – did spot that something unique was happening. One girl felt the ground beneath her shifting as the band ripped through twenty songs, picked out and overseen by the blond guitarist. At her London grammar school, Cleo Sylvestre had been taught that the role of black people in culture was as ‘heathens and savages’. Now, as the band hot-wired this obscure music from deep within the black ghettos of the Chicago Southside and the Mississippi Delta, a new world opened up – a world in which black people like her would have a voice, a role.

Some musicians spotted it, too. Ginger Baker, an aggressive young drummer who had cut his teeth in the trad jazz clubs and was being persuaded into the blues scene by the silver-tongued club owner Alexis Korner, was dismissive of the Stones’ upstart singer. Yet still he reckoned that the band’s exuberant, snotty, teenage take on this deep, resonant music was something radical and new.

Businessmen got it. Harold Pendleton, manager of the Marquee and a mainstay of the jazz scene, was likewise unimpressed by the band’s music yet still noted something powerful about their attitude – a challenging of authority, a disregard for convention that emanated principally from Brian Jones, the twenty-one-year-old who styled himself Elmo Lewis. Jones was a visionary, Pendleton reckoned, although there was something he didn’t like about him. He used the term ‘evil genius’.

As for Brian himself, the momentary satisfaction he felt as the band he’d masterminded took to the stage was itself world-changing. The music was the one thing that gave meaning to a life that was fractured, restless and unhappy. Now, over fifty years on, that situation endures. Brian Jones got many things wrong in his life, but the most important thing he got right, for his music was world-changing.

History is written by the victors, and in recent years we’ve seen the proprietors of the modern Rolling Stones describe their genesis, their discovery of the blues, without even mentioning their founder. We’ve seen Brian Jones described as a ‘kind of rotting attachment’. This phrase in itself gives an idea of the magnitude of this story. The dark power of the Stones’ music derives from their internal battles, a sequence of betrayals, back-biting, sexual oneupmanship, violence, madness and mania.

The aim of this book is not to gloss over the many flaws of Brian Jones, for if ever a man was driven by his flaws, it was he. His contrariness, his vulnerability and his unhappiness prompted his estrangement from the establishment, and ultimately would underpin the values of the band, which challenged that establishment so provocatively. There was a darkness in his heart that inspired his exploration of the Devil’s music, of the story of Robert Johnson, the man who traded the secrets of guitar playing for his immortal soul. Brian sought out those secrets, and was the first man to communicate them to a new generation. It was he who opened the doors to that new world, unlocking its secrets both for his bandmates and for us.

In the course of writing this book I’ve travelled far, and plumbed deep. It’s a sad story – of messy lives, unwanted children, ruthlessness and misogyny, of feuds both petty and profound. But great art can come from messy situations. As we shall see, right from the start there was something of the Devil in Brian Jones. And as we know, the Devil has the best tunes.

NEW WORLDS ARE often dreamed up in the most mundane locations. Few people would have imagined the genteel, manicured spa town of Cheltenham as a cradle for a radical new musical manifesto. But the place turns out to be funny that way, countless secrets having been harboured behind those deceptively staid facades. Brian Jones was in fact a typical Cheltonian. By the time he left the place he’d discovered more musical secrets than were ever supposed to exist, as well as amassing more secret children, and heartbreak, than can ever have been imagined.

The word ‘genteel’ seems to get applied to Cheltenham with monotonous regularity. And yes, perhaps it is an appropriate adjective, as long as you bundle in alongside it the following words: secretive, exotic, futuristic, sordid, elegant, decadent and artistic. Nearly all of those terms capture the early life of Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones, a boy whose destiny seemed more than any other dictated by his surroundings and upbringing. He was the son of an ambitious man who worked at the cutting edge of a world-changing technology. Lewis Blount Jones was, like the son who carried his name, a genius; yet his life was defined by secrets, repression and the traditional British stiff upper lip. This legacy would also define the life of Lewis Jones Jr, for better and for worse.

Any visitor who’s new to the town would be instantly struck by the serene beauty of its gleaming white Regency buildings. A long, wide promenade runs south from the high street (location of Brian’s grammar school) down to a group of buildings around Lansdown Crescent and Montpellier Walk, all airy shops and coffee bars, framed by caryatids – pillars in the shape of serene women, like those of the Acropolis. Over the road lie the fine green lawns of Imperial Gardens, with the Queens Hotel just in front; a little further down is the Pump Room, another jewel of Georgian architecture, based on the Pantheon; Regency terraces stretch in every direction, the very model of taste and discretion. But as Barry Miles, founder of counter-culture journal International Times and the Indica Gallery, who fled Cheltenham in 1962, points out, ‘it’s all a facade’. The elegant stone frontages of many buildings are in fact cheap painted stucco; the interiors are rickety and damp, thrown up quickly by speculative builders. With its exclusive Ladies’ College, arts and music festivals, and well-heeled populace, many of them ex-colonials, post-war Cheltenham was indeed a centre of decorum and conservatism. But behind that lay a hotbed of intrigue and vice.

This secretive character became more formal, more acknowledged, from the early fifties, when Cheltenham became the capital for the nation’s spooks after GCHQ, the centre of the British eavesdropping and intelligence community, moved from Bletchley to two government-owned sites in the town. Modern apartment buildings started to spring up and then to fill with mysterious people, many of them European and multilingual; sometimes, if you spotted them drinking at the town’s exclusive wine bars, you’d glimpse a security pass.

The James Bond vibe was intensified by the Gloster Aircraft Company, builders of Britain’s first operational jet fighter, the Meteor: its top-secret prototypes were assembled at a building on Cheltenham High Street. By the mid fifties Gloster were producing the Javelin, a glossily futuristic delta-wing interceptor. Gloster and Rotol, a part-owned subsidiary of Rolls-Royce launched as a joint venture with the Bristol Aeroplane Company, were the town’s leading employers, drawing scientists and engineers like Brian Jones’s father from around the country.

Alongside the world’s modern secretive industries, Cheltenham was a centre of the world’s oldest secretive industry. The town hosted several US Air Force bases, and the presence of US and British military personnel encouraged a bounteous supply of prostitutes: according to one count, those elegant Regency facades hid a total of forty-seven brothels. Right up to the 1960s, Bayshill Road, two blocks down from the Promenade, was a haunt for streetwalkers, who’d cheekily ask any passing men if they were ‘looking for business’. The Queens Hotel dominated the town’s main drag and became a regular haunt for the teenage Brian Jones, all shirt and tie, formal and correct. Yet during the Cheltenham Festival horse-racing week the old colonial types were cleared out to make way for hard-core gamblers and intimidating Irish gangster types who’d play cards until dawn surrounded by high-class call girls who regarded the festival as a cornerstone of the year’s working calendar. Even the political establishment had its louche side: the town’s most popular mayor, Charles Irving, who became a favourite of Tory icon Margaret Thatcher, drove around town in a white Ford Thunderbird alongside a chauffeur who was dressed in mauve – a spectacle ‘so gay it was unbelievable’, say witnesses.

Perhaps the best evidence of Cheltenham’s Jekyll and Hyde character can be found in the pages of the refined, stately daily newspaper the Gloucestershire Echo. The Echo majored on issues military and religious, its attitude proudly High Church of England. Its readers were often subject to shocked homilies berating the town’s lax morality. In 1956, the Reverend Ward bemoaned ‘some innate tendency, a particular evil, that is more marked in Cheltenham than in most places in this country’, namely the town’s rate of illegitimate births – the highest in the country outside London’s inner city. Concerned burghers commissioned further research to establish whether Americans or Irish were responsible for this appalling statistic; the figures revealed it was the English. In later years, Brian’s fellow Stones wondered how someone so sexually voracious could have come from a town like Cheltenham. Little did they realize that he was Cheltonian through and through.

Lewis Blount Jones, a talented graduate in engineering from Leeds University, scored a prestigious job at Rotol in 1939, and soon after that married Louisa Simmonds. The couple set up home on Eldorado Road, in a somewhat gloomy red-brick house near the town centre. This was where the young Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones, born in Cheltenham’s Park Nursing Home on 28 February 1942, grew up. Brian was soon joined by a sister, Pamela, who was born on 3 October 1943. Just over two years later, on 14 October 1945, the family was touched by tragedy when Pamela died of leukaemia. Lewis and Louisa never spoke about their child’s death – it became another of Cheltenham’s secrets. The following summer, on 22 August, another sister for Brian was born – Barbara, who would always resemble him.

Around 1950, the family moved to Hatherley Road, in what we’d describe today as quintessential suburbia. In the austerity of the immediate post-war years a new home in a leafy location, complete with garage and modern kitchen, was a badge of high status. ‘It was a prestigious place,’ remembers next-door neighbour Roger Jessop. ‘Those houses were built as special one-offs, much sought after, and the people in our area were eminently middle class. And of all of them, Lewis Jones was about as middle class as you could get.’

Lewis Jones would become a symbol of the Generation Gap – the fault line that opened up when boys like Brian Jones reached adolescence. Brian’s life was lived in flagrant opposition to the values of his father, who was repressed and domineering, and who never, ever used the word ‘love’. Yet Lewis was anything but an old fogey. Just as Brian became the embodiment of a cultural revolution, Lewis was the embodiment of a technological revolution: his duties at Rotol included work on the most advanced propellors and turbines of the day. Not only did he own a desirable suburban residence, Lewis also owned a car and a phone, both of them rare possessions in the early fifties, and was typical of the new wave of modern British engineers who’d led the world in the development of radar, the jet engine and military electronics. ‘He was far-sighted, concerned about the future of British engineering, and would write well-argued letters to the newspapers suggesting it should be given higher priority,’ says Roger Jessop.

The young Keith Richards witnessed Hurricanes and Spitfires chasing lone Dorniers out of Kent – there’s a good chance their propellors were made by Rotol, as were vital engine parts for Britain’s pioneering jets. Like GCHQ and the Dowty company (with which Rotol later merged), Rotol was a prestigious Cheltonian workplace. Lewis commanded huge respect and eventually became head of the crucial airworthiness department. ‘He was a learned gentleman,’ says colleague Robert Almond, ‘formal, as people were in those days.’ Linda Partridge, another Dowty Rotol worker, calls him ‘delightful; a very nice, gentle sort of man’. Linda’s brothers knew Brian well, and thought Lewis and his son were pretty similar, in looks and size – small feet, delicate musician’s hands, modest height – and a certain shyness.

Louisa Simmonds had met Lewis in South Wales and shared with her husband a Welsh ‘chapel’ background: both were brought up in the traditions of the Welsh Methodist Church. Most surviving accounts of her come from Brian’s teenage girlfriends, like Pat Andrews, who remember Louisa’s household as ‘a morgue’, gloomy and oppressive – but by this time, of course, Brian’s wilful behaviour was already causing crippling tension in the Jones family.

Back in the 1950s, though, Louisa – a slim, neatly dressed woman with practical mid-length hair – was well known in Cheltenham middle-class circles. She and her husband were social in that earnest, self-improving, almost Victorian way. The couple were proud of their Welsh roots and were key members of the local Cymmrodorion group, which organized talks on Welsh literature and history. The Welsh Church, says family friend Graham Keen, had a strong presence in Cheltenham: ‘there was a lot of Welsh economic migration from 1917, after the coal bust’. Graham’s parents, Marian and Arthur, knew the Joneses well from Welsh and musical circles, and shared the same ethos of self-improvement, with one crucial difference. ‘The chapel beliefs were that you didn’t drink, you didn’t smoke,’ Graham explains. ‘But there was a certain flexibility – it was mixed with common sense.’ Graham’s dad Arthur enjoyed a drink without believing it would condemn him to Hell, but the Keens reckoned the Joneses’ attitude was ‘fairly fundamental’.

Louisa boasted one undeniably positive character trait: her enthusiasm for music. Although a busy housewife, she gave piano lessons and got involved with the local arts scene. By the late 1940s she was a member of the Cheltenham Townswomen’s Guild, an urban, artier version of the Women’s Institute. She was also a mainstay of the Guild Choir, conducted by Marian Keen. They’d work on Elgar, Vaughan Williams and choral pieces by other modern composers at the Keens’ house on Old Bath Road, or at the Congregational Church on Priory Terrace. The little group became a regular attraction at Guild ev...

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