Throwing Stones XIII: The Devil And Mr. Jones
(This is Part XIII. To read Part XII, click Throwing Stones XII: Joltin’ News Flash.)
In Part XII, world events spiraled out of control and the Stones made a remarkable comeback.
By 1969, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were eager to get the Rolling Stones back on the road. The music boom that had begun with Beatlemania showed no signs of stopping, and rock concerts were becoming very big business. A savvy new breed of promoters, epitomized by San Francisco’s Bill Graham, realized just how much money there was to be made, and began offering unprecedented paydays to popular acts.
With Beggars Banquet topping the charts and Allen Klein demanding a premium price, the Stones were getting the biggest offers of all. Only one man stood in their way. Oddly enough, his name was Brian Jones.
A chill had settled over swingin’ London, and few had felt its effects more deeply than Jones. For years, Scotland Yard had shown little interest in celebrity drug busts. But following the appointment of Norman “Knobby” Pilcher to the force’s drug squad, the police appeared to have become obsessed with them. Donovan, Eric Clapton, John Lennon and George Harrison were among Pilcher’s pinches.
Soon, Detective Sgt. Pilcher was a celebrity in his own right. Hardly surprising, since the tabloid press just happened to be in the vicinity whenever Knobby carried out his “undercover” operations. Pilcher always got his star, and the papers always got their stories. But many of those arrested by Sgt. Pilcher’s front-page press club band claimed that the drugs had actually arrived with the publicity-hungry detective. It wasn’t long before the old schoolers who ran Scotland Yard began to suspect the stars were telling the truth.
Clearly, Norman Pilcher was a man who enjoyed shooting fish in a barrel. In that spirit, the fast-rising detective had made sure that Brian Jones topped his squad’s hit parade. Near-constant police surveillance took Jones’ paranoia to new, out-of-control levels. Jones was arrested twice for drug possession, but managed to avoid jail time. However, his convictions made his chances of getting the work visas required for international tours dismally low.
Six years earlier, Brian Jones had been the talented, driven, controlling leader of the Rolling Stones. His transformation into a harried, hapless addict teetering on the edge of complete physical and psychological collapse was a truly grotesque turn of events. Visa issues aside, the idea of Jones surviving a rigorous rock tour was absurd.
Given the fallout of their own drug bust, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been supportive of Brian Jones. But as tour offers mounted and Jones declined, their attitude grew cold. Jagger even referred to Jones as “a wooden leg” during a newspaper interview. Unbeknownst to Jones, the band began recording with Mick Taylor, a masterful young guitarist who had cut his teeth with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
As the Stones worked on the follow-up to Banquet, manager Allen Klein confirmed an American tour, and the U.S. government refused to issue a work visa for Brian Jones. On June 8, 1969, Jagger, Richards and Charlie Watts arrived at Jones’ recently purchased home, a country manor once owned by Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne (!). Their meeting with Brian was brief and tense. When it was over, Brian Jones was no longer a Rolling Stone.
Though Jones was fired, the public was told his parting was an amicable one. Brian was leaving to pursue his own musical projects. Mick Taylor would make his public debut as a Rolling Stone at a free concert in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969.
Less than a month after being booted out of the band he started, Brian Jones was found floating at the bottom of his swimming pool. His girlfriend believed that Jones was still alive when he was pulled from the water, but an ambulance crew pronounced him dead at the scene. He was twenty-seven.
Only Watts and Wyman attended Jones’ funeral, but the Stones turned the concert in Hyde Park into a memorial for their former leader. Hyde Park was the band’s first public performance in over two years. The massive audience, estimated in excess of 250,000 people, was enthusiastic and well behaved. While the band and the critics felt the show was not one of the Stones’ best, the event was enshrined in boomer lore as a historic success.
Darker tales were becoming generational staples as well. Rumors that Brian Jones was murdered spread rapidly. Most claimed that the construction crew working on Jones’ house killed the guitarist during an argument over money. Some said that the crew’s foreman accidently drowned Jones when a bit of drunken horseplay got too rough. A particularly juicy story claimed that Brian Jones was the victim of a satanic sacrifice.
Hey, man, the Stones put out an album called Their Satanic Majesties Request,didn’t they? And their next album opened with a song called “Sympathy for the Devil,” didn’t it? And Mick Jagger sang the role of Satan with, like, fiendish delight, didn’t he? C’mon, man, those dudes made a deal with the dark one, became huge stars, and paid off Beelzebub with Brian’s soul!
Riiiiight. Did I mention that Janis Joplin is the groovy grandma owner of a tie-dye store in Arkansas? That Elvis, Jim Morrison and Mama Cass meet for breakfast every Sunday at a donut shop in Walla Walla? And that Jimi Hendrix stays busy giving guitar lessons on Mars? (Having listened to Electric Ladyland recently, I think that last one might actually be true.)
One thing is certain. In 1973, an English court convicted Detective Norman Pilcher of perjury and perversion of justice. Having suspected “Knobby” of illegal shenanigans for years, his superiors couldn’t ignore obvious proof that Pilcher had planted evidence during an investigation and lied under oath. He received a four-year prison sentence.
The exact nature of Brian Jones’ final moments will never be known. Despite some intriguing loose ends, two investigations failed to turn up solid evidence of criminality. An autopsy revealed that Jones’ heart and liver were grossly enlarged due to years of drug and alcohol abuse. It also established that Jones was full of wine and downers—a lethal combination on dry land, let alone in a heated pool.
The fact that Brian Jones met his fate on a property previously owned by the man who created Winnie the Pooh seems incongruous. But it’s sadly fitting. Like Milne’s silly old bear, Brian Jones got his head stuck in the honey jar. But unlike Pooh, Jones proved incapable of escaping his self-inflicted predicament, and it cost him everything.
(This concludes Part XIII. Click now to read Throwing Stones XIV: Bad Apples!)Posted by Bill | 9 comments
Brian Jones was actually a very underrated writer. Work tapes show that he and Keith wrote “Ruby Tuesday” without any input from Jagger. But they stiffed him on the credits. Maybe you could write a blog about one of the best (and unluckiest) bands of this era: The Small Faces. Steve Marriott was much admired by Keith and Mick.
I know I sound like someone’s dad here, but with one sad example after another in front of them, why exactly do musicians continue to take drugs? In which story does it end well? Anyhow, another strong piece. I knew very little about the Stones when I started reading these, but I’ve learned a lot.
Nice work as usual, Bill! The Stones’ story is fascinating even if you’re not a fan, which I certainly am. Your version is succinct yet expansive. “Sgt. Pilcher’s front-page press club band” indeed–glad he got what was coming to him!
Thanks Bill! Great read!
Keep ‘em coming–cool stories I love sharing and everyone thinks I’m “in the know” on the Stones. How about some late breaking stuff too?
27 years old and dead, how does one do that? When it comes to that era, the years seem too short for all the events that took place in them. A question: who was the cleanest, moderately drug-free band going back then? Herman’s Hermits? It’s all kind of sick in a way, but you still don’t hugely successful rockers doing anti-drink, anti-drug or safe driving (or diving) public service spots. Love the music, not the lifestyle… yesterday and today.
The Stones continue to be a group worth listening to. I reclaimed their music during my runs and have found their energy kicks me up those hills and leaves happy trails behind me. Thanks for all the effort you have put into giving boomers the fun of reading what we all lived through. The stuff on Ed Sullivan was especially “saucy.” (Throwing Stones VIII: Band Vs. Brand)
At this point in the series we never know who will come back for the next episode. Success lulls you into a false sense of security, and you can no longer tell who your real friends are. Remember King Duncan in Shakespeare’s cursed “Macbeth”?
A pretty good article with a few errors…
Brian was not “full of wine an downers” when he died. The autopsy report said he had the equivalent of one pint of beer and NO barbiturates whatsoever in his blood.
Since Brian had been a heavy drinker, one pint of beer would not have impaired his ability to swim, which he had been doing for nearly two hours before he was found at the bottom of the pool.
The U.S. government never refused Brian a work visa because it was never applied for. Mick Jagger was the head SOB in was in charge by then and he really wanted Brian out of the Stones… the band Brian founded in 1962.