It was 50 years ago Saturday (June 8th, 1969) that Brian Jones, a founding member of the Rolling Stones, officially quit the band. Jones, a blues enthusiast, both named and led the original group, which included Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and keyboardist Ian Stewart. Shortly after turning professional, Stewart, whose looks didn't fit with the band, signed on as their road manager.
Jones played a pivotal role in the Stones' success, with his blond hair and good looks, as well as his ability to play any instrument seemingly within minutes of picking it up. Jones, although uncredited, co-wrote and played the recorders on “Ruby Tuesday,” sitar and tamboura on “Paint It, Black,” dulcimer on “I Am Waiting” and “Lady Jane,” the lead guitar riff on “Get Off My Cloud,” harpsichord on “Yesterday's Papers,” the trumpet and trombone on “Something Happened To Me Yesterday,” the marimba on “Under My Thumb,” and the autoharp on “You Got The Silver.”
Jones began losing control of the group when Jagger and Richards began their songwriting partnership in 1965, which slowly moved the band away from Jones' blues-based direction. By 1966, Jones' mental instability and drug abuse had become a liability to the Stones. Due to his substance abuse problems, Jones frequently missed tour dates and recording sessions, and was unable to function within the band when he did attend.
Bassist Bill Wyman wrote about Jones in his 1991 autobiography Stone Alone, saying, “For two years not only had he become physically vulnerable and battered by his drug busts, but within the Stones he was sad, isolated and obviously unhappy.”
Early fan Jimmy Page shed some light on the talents of the pure blues, pre-Rolling Stones Brian Jones: “Well, I first saw Brian Jones play in, I think it was the Railway Arms in Ealing, or Ealing Jazz Club. But I remember taking a sort of pilgrimage over there to see Alexis Korner's blues band, and (Brian) got up and played bottleneck (guitar) and he played some Elmore James, and I thought, 'Wow.' 'Cause I was listening to all of that stuff — as were, y'know, what were a real serious minority of guitarists that were listening to this sort of stuff. And then I found out that he could play harp afterwards, as well, and he was playing pretty good harmonica. And bit by bit it unfolded into what a wonderful musician he was. I mean, he was a really fine musician.”
We asked Lindsey Buckingham what that classic early-era means to him as a Stones fan: “The peak for Brian Jones, before he kind of started to slide downhill. . . Y'know those albums, I mean, the singles — everything — have a kind of European influence. But, y'know, the fact that Brian Jones as a bandmember could articulate that it in a different way and was more of a multi-musician and could bring in colors and influence the band in what I thought was a very positive way. Those albums are some of my favorite Stones albums.”
On June 8th, 1969, Jagger, Richards, and drummer Charlie Watts fired Jones. They claimed that due to legal problems, Jones wouldn't be able to attain a work visa for their upcoming U.S. tour.
Two decades later, in the Stones' 1989 documentary 25×5: The Continuing Adventures Of The Rolling Stones, Richards recalled edging Jones out of the band permanently: “It was very important to us the fact that if we were going to go back out on the road behind a new record that we resolve this thing with Brian. So Mick and I had to go down and sort of tell Brian, virtually like, 'Hey, you're fired.' The fact that he was expecting it made it kind of easier, I guess. Y'know, he wasn't surprised. I don't even think he took it all in. He was already up in the stratosphere. But there was no serious way that we could consider going on the road with Brian. But at the same time, nobody expected it to happen just like that. ”
Charlie Watts admitted he still felt guilt over firing Jones: “He got much nicer just before he died, y'know the last few years of his life. I felt even sorrier for him for what we did to him then. We took his one thing away which was being in a band.”
Jones agreed to a settlement, which gave him a lump sum of nearly $200,000, as well as a yearly salary of $40,000 for as long as the band stayed together. He was also allowed to issue a statement saying that he had quit the band. He then reportedly tried to form a supergroup with John Lennon, who had stayed friendly with Jones after his firing.
Jones died July 3rd, 1969, at the age of 27. He was found dead at the bottom of the swimming pool at his Cotchford Farm home, in Hartford, England.
For years there have been conspiracy theories about what went on the night Jones died, including several suggesting foul play. In 2006 a film focusing on Jones' last days, titled Stoned, opened in theaters.