Publicly, the move would be cast as an amicable split, with Brian Jones stating of his fellow Rolling Stones, “I no longer see eye-to-eye with the others over the discs we are cutting.” Behind the scenes, however, Jones’ prodigious appetite for drugs and alcohol had long rendered him almost a non-functioning member of the band. A prodigious musical talent who was said to be able to master a new instrument in a single day, Jones had helped pioneer the use of exotic instruments in rock and roll on such classic Stones tracks as “Lady Jane” (featuring Jones on dulcimer), “Under My Thumb” (marimba) and “Paint It Black” (sitar). On this day in 1969, however, Jones’ band mates declared his decadence more than they could bear, firing the once-brilliant instrumentalist who had given so many early Rolling Stones songs their distinctive sound.
It was Brian Jones who had brought the Rolling Stones together in the first place and given the group its name back in 1962. Though he was barely out his teens, Jones had already established himself as one of the most talented guitarists on the burgeoning blues revival scene in Britain. He had also earned a reputation as a committed nonconformist, having shocked his upper middle class family by leaving school and fathering two children out of wedlock by the time he was 16. “Many attitudes and sounds of the 60s were developed from Brian’s style and determination,” wrote fellow-Stone Bill Wyman in his 1990 book Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. “He was the archetypal middle-class kid screaming to break away from his background, bumming around in dead end jobs before finally finding his niche. And when he found it, he hammered it across to the world, with idealism and commitment.”
It was Mick Jagger and Keith Richards who went to Jones with the news that he was out of the group on this day in 1969. “Nowadays, you could say, ‘Brian, you have to go to this centre in Arizona for a couple of months to clean up,’” Mick Jagger has said, “but in those days that wasn’t as obvious an option.”
Less than one month after his departure from the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool at his Sussex, England, home. He was 27 years old.