Brian Jones' best contributions to the Rolling Stones

By Sergio Ariza

Brian Jones died 51 years ago, on 3 July 1969, inaugurating the gloomy '27 club' which would soon be joined by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. Here at Guitars Exchange we don't want to leave aside this ephemeris to remember someone who, with the permission of Charlie Watts, is the third Stone in importance after the duo formed by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. His time in the band may have been short, but we're talking about its founder, first leader and the man who named the band. Not to mention his tremendous contribution as a musician, not only as a guitarist but as a multi-instrumentalist capable of coloring a song with almost any instrument, giving the group some of its most distinctive sounds, from Little Red Rooster's slide to Paint It Black's sitar. These are our ten favorite Jones moments with the Stones. 

I Wanna Be Your Man
(October 1963)

Few people remember that the Rolling Stones' first success came with a song given to them by the
Beatles. After meeting, the Stones, who had only released one single (Come On, a version by Chuck Berry), asked the Beatles if they had any songs, Paul McCartney had half a song composed for Ringo to sing on the next album called I Wanna Be Your Man. John Lennon and he showed the Stones the chorus and they said, "We'll take it. At that moment Lennon and McCartney went into a corner and in less than 10 minutes they finished the song. It wasn't especially great, Lennon himself would comment years later "The only two versions of the song were Ringo and the Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it: We weren't going to give them anything great, right?”. But the Stones had a secret weapon, Brian Jones. The song was easy to learn and they got to work, so Jones put the slide in his hand and started to work magic from his Gretsch 6118 Anniversary plugged into a Vox AC30. Suddenly the little song came to life with a touch of one of Jones' idols, Elmore James. The single, the band’s second, fulfilled its goal and climbed to the 12th slot in the British charts, being the first success in the history of British rock in which a slide appears.


I Just Want To Make Love To You
(February 1964)

In early 1964 the Rolling Stones recorded their first full-length album, simply called The Rolling Stones. In that album Jones already begins to demonstrate his versatility as a musician, by not only playing the guitar, but also the harmonica and percussion in several songs. In particular, Brian demonstrates unusual mastery on the harmonica for a white English lad, something that over the years, will also apply to Mick Jagger. But in these early days Brian Jones is the main man on the harmonica, as in I Just Want To Make Love To You, a song that Willie Dixon
wrote for Muddy Waters, in which the blonde Stone recreates the magic of the original version with Little Walter as a model. Other outstanding examples of his work with the instrument can be heard in Not Fade Away, Goin' Home, High And Dry and Who's Been Sleeping Here?.


Little Red Rooster
(September 1964)

Little Red Rooster
could be considered Brian Jones' great song in the Rolling Stones. Jones was the blues purist of them all in the band, he had named them as a song by Muddy Waters and he called himself Elmo Lewis before forming the group because of his love of Elmore James. So when the band's got their first number one in June of '64, with It's All Over Now, he got this version from another Willie Dixon track, this time by Howlin' Wolf, chosen as a sequel, and he took it as a personal triumph. Not in vain was his work with the slide the fundamental piece of the song. He recorded it with a new Fender Telecaster that Keith Richards had just bought, with normal tuning, while Keith himself uses an acoustic Framus Jumbo. But when he played the song on the Ed Sullivan Show he did it with an Epiphone Casino, while on other occasions he used his mythical Vox Teardrop. To top it all off, he is also responsible for the harmonica bit. After becoming the band's second #1 in a row, there wasn't a single guitarist in the UK who didn't start fooling around with the slide. Other examples of Jones with the slide are: I'm a King Bee, Can't Be Satisfied, Doncha Bother Me and the incredible song that closes this list.


The Last Time
(January 1965)

The Last Time
was the band's first single penned by Jagger and Richards, so, in a way, it's something like the end of Brian Jones' reign in the Rolling Stones. Although he was never at ease with the compositions of his bandmates (the anecdote of how he used to play part of Popeye the Sailorman while the rest of the band played Satisfaction live is well known), he continued to do great things. On this occasion he is in charge of playing, possibly composing, the main riff with his Vox Teardrop and his Vox AC30, while Keith takes charge of the solo with his Les Paul from 59.


Under My Thumb
(March 1966)

Despite being the first album of the band composed entirely by the tandem Jagger-Richards, Aftermath has another protagonist, a Brian Jones who acts as a multi-instrumentalist magician, besides being happy as the center of attention in the U.S., where the band has reaped tremendous success. In Under My Thumb
he stands out again with the main riff, played with the marimba, giving a totally special tone to this great song. 


Paint It Black
(March 1966)

Although the band had strayed from their beloved blues and their leadership had been left behind, Jones' contributions to the Stones' mid-stage may be the most important. By this time he had lost quite a bit of interest in playing the guitar, but with his extraordinary ease of playing and learning other instruments he gave the band a diversity they would never have again. As Keith Richards himself pointed out, "Brian was still fantastic at recording records because he was a very versatile musician (...) He was an incredibly inventive musician. He may have made his greatest contribution in Paint It Black, one of the band's most iconic songs, whose distinctive element is the sitar played by Brian Jones. An instrument that, as with the slide, he mastered soon after starting to play it.


Lady Jane
(March 1966)

Another example of his incredible contribution to
Aftermath is this Lady Jane, a British folk ballad to which Jones added the Dulcimer, a stringed instrument of the zither family, which gives it its most special sound. Jones had discovered the instrument through folk musician Richard Fariña shortly before the recording of the album, again demonstrating his incredible ability to learn to play new instruments. He can also be heard playing on the delicate I Am Waiting.


Ruby Tuesday
(November 1966)

With a taste for all sorts of psychedelic instrumentation, Jones saw his field of action broadened, as his work on
Ruby Tuesday displays, a wonderful Richards song which, in the words of Marianne Faithfull, emerged from an original Jones melody. In the lyrics Keith speaks of a free-spirited girl, specifically about his girlfriend at the time, Linda Keith. Musically Jones is the one who stands out playing the recorder and part of the piano (although the main one was recorded by Jack Nitzsche), which are the most distinctive elements of it.


2000 Light Years From Home
(Between July and September 1967)

The Stones were also trapped by
Sgt. Pepper's spell and made their particular replica, Their Satanic Majesties Request. But the bad boys of rock leaving the stage and diving into the studio didn't feel as good as the Liverpool boys. The resulting album is not among the best of their career but has several more than interesting songs like She's A Rainbow, Citadel or this 2000 Light Years From Home, the only one they have regularly played live, where Brian Jones returns to being the protagonist by playing the mellotron in the bit that seems like a string section, in addition to the theremin and other sound effects. 


No Expectations
(Between March and June 1968)

The beginning of the end for Jones came in late 1967, when after an illness that kept him in Morocco,
Anita Pallenberg, his girlfriend, left with Keith Richards who was in love with her and could not stand Brian’s abuse of the model. His deterioration due to drugs was also noticeable and his face was swollen. Detached from his mates, his involvement in recent times left much to be desired. During the recording of Beggar´s Banquet he didn’t show up for many of the recording sessions and when he did, he didn’t seem to be even slightly interested, despite it being a return to the roots and his beloved blues. It was on that album that he made his last major contribution to the band by playing No Expectationsincredible acoustic slide over Keith's chords on his Gibson Hummingbird, possibly his best six-string work, a reminder of where he might have come as a guitarist if he had continued to pay more attention to the instrument.