Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

A biography about Brian Jones who founded the Rolling Stones written by Paul Trynka. This is more of a sympathetic look on Brian than other books I’ve read. Trynka digs deep with meticulous research. He tries to be fair and Brian isn’t always shown as the nicest guy in the world but he also isn’t always the person that Mick and Keith seem to remember when they actually remember him at all.

This book is not just a rehash of the best-known things about Jones and the Stones. Some instances that Stones fans know like the period where Keith ran off with Brian’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, we get more information on what happened. He researched Brian’s childhood and adult life thoroughly and you feel like you know the man before the book is over.

This is not only a good book on Brian but also the birth of the Stones. After reading what I’ve read about Brian in past books, I had to wonder to myself, is this author trying to make Brian look better than he was? After reading more I didn’t think so. He interviewed over 100 people for this biography and many of them were either close friends or knew Brian. He was fair about the good and bad.

When you think of Brian Jones you can’t help but think of the way his life ended. Paul Trynka doesn’t miraculously find the definite answer to Brian’s death but he gives you the most recent events that have been uncovered and basic common sense answers to a mystery that probably will never be solved.

The Rolling Stones had three different lead/rhythm guitarists. Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, and Ronnie Wood. I make no secret of loving the Taylor period of the Stones. Saying that I will admit during the Brian Jones era they were more creative and tried different things. He was very important to their sound. Under My Thumb, Paint It Black, No Expectations, The Last Time, and Ruby Tuesday would not have been the same without Brian.

The book deals with the complicated relationship between Brian, Mick, and Keith. George Harrison and Brian Jones became friends and they had a lot in common. They were in a similar situation in their respective bands. The big difference was George had more of a support system than Brian did in his band. John and Paul had a monopoly on the songwriting but they would help George and he was given a chance to grow as a songwriter within the group. The Stones didn’t work that way.

Brian could be his own worst enemy and had a hard time handling fame but he was a very talented musician. Maybe the best musician in the band. Keith and Mick learned a lot from Brian. His musicianship, image, and outlook on life rubbed off on the more inexperienced Mick and Keith.

I would recommend this book to any Stones fan. You get a better picture of the earlier days. It is a reminder that it took more than Keith and Mick to get the Stones rolling.

 

A very good professional review of the book by Larry Rohter of the New York Times

Brian Jones is to the Rolling Stones what Leon Trotsky was to the Russian Revolution: organizer, ideologist and victim of a power struggle. Jones founded the group, gave it its name and recruited the schoolboys Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who then marginalized him, eventually expelling him from the band. Since his death in 1969, a month after he was forced out, Jones has largely been airbrushed from the group’s history.

Paul Trynka’s biography “Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones” challenges the standard version of events, focused on Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards, in favor of something far more nuanced. Though Mr. Trynka sometimes overstates Jones’s long-term cultural impact, his is revisionist history of the best kind — scrupulously researched and cogently argued — and should be unfailingly interesting to any Stones fan.

Specifically, “Brian Jones” seems designed as a corrective to “Life,” Keith Richards’s 2010 memoir. Mr. Trynka, the author of biographies of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and a former editor of the British music magazines Mojo and Guitar, has interviewed Mr. Richards several times over the years and obviously likes him, but also considers his memory of events highly unreliable.

“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,” Mr. Trynka remarks in the introduction. Without naming Mr. Richards, he also expresses his distaste for an assessment that appears in “Life,” that Brian Jones was “a kind of rotting attachment.”

The portrait of Jones that Mr. Trynka offers here is bifurcated. Though he is impressed with Jones’s “disciplined, honed sense of musical direction” and his dexterity on guitar and many other instruments, he does not hesitate to point out his subject’s more unpleasant personality traits: He was narcissistic, manipulative, misogynistic, conniving and dishonest about money. It’s not accidental that this book is called “Sympathy for the Devil” in Britain.

Mr. Trynka attributes Jones’s downfall to a conjunction of factors, some related to those character flaws but others external to him. Much has been written about the drug busts that swept up Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards in the mid-1960s and their court battles, though Jones seems to have been even more of a target, because he was such a dandy and so successful with women.

But as Mr. Trynka tells it, Jones did not receive strong legal advice or fight charges as hard or as successfully as the Jagger-Richards team. After his first arrest, he pleaded guilty, which drove a wedge between him and other band members, who feared it would mean they could no longer tour abroad, all of which left him feeling crushed, isolated and vulnerable. That, in turn, increased his consumption of drugs and alcohol and made him less productive as a musician.

Nevertheless, Mr. Trynka demonstrates convincingly that the original Rolling Stones were Jones’s band and reflected his look, tastes and interests, not just the blues but also renaissance music and what today would be called world music. (He recorded the master musicians of Joujouka in the mountains of Morocco.) In “Life,” Mr. Richards describes his discovery of the blues-tinged open G guitar tuning, familiar from hits like “Honky Tonk Women” and “Start Me Up,” as life changing, and says it came to him via Ry Cooder in the late 1960s. But Mr. Trynka notes that Jones often played in that tuning from the band’s earliest days and quotes Dick Taylor, an original member of the Stones, as saying, “Keith watched Brian play that tuning, and certainly knew all about it.”

Some of Mr. Trynka’s account is not new, having appeared in “Stone Alone,” the often overlooked 1990 memoir of the Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, or other books written by band outsiders. What makes Mr. Trynka’s book fresh and interesting, and gives it credibility, is the length he has gone to find witnesses to corroborate and elaborate on those stories.

It’s not just that Mr. Trynka has sought out those who worked with the band on the creative side, such as the singer Marianne Faithfull, the arranger Jack Nitzsche and the recording engineers Eddie Kramer, Glyn Johns and George Chkiantz. He has also interviewed those with more of a worm’s-eye view: drivers, roadies, office staff, old girlfriends and former roommates like James Phelge, whose surname the band would appropriate to designate songs that were group compositions rather than Jagger-Richard numbers.

“Brian Jones was the main man in the Stones; Jagger got everything from him,” the drummer Ginger Baker, who played in the band at some of its earliest shows and went on to become famous as a member of Cream, says in the book. “Brian was much more of a musician than Jagger will ever be — although Jagger’s a great economist.”

Citing those present at the creation, Mr. Trynka contends that Jones had a hand in composing some well-known Stones tracks, including “Paint It, Black” and “Under My Thumb.” He also claims that “Ruby Tuesday,” a No. 1 hit early in 1967, is actually a Jones-Richards collaboration — written not by Mr. Richards in a burst of inspiration and heartbreak in a Los Angeles hotel room, which is how the story is told in “Life” and elsewhere, but, according to Ms. Faithfull and Mr. Kramer, “labored over” by the pair in London for weeks.

“I used to say to Brain, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ ” Stan Blackbourne, the accountant for the Rolling Stones at their mid-1960s peak, recalls in the book. “ ‘You write some of these songs, and you give the name over as if Mick Jagger has done it. Do you understand, you’re giving ’em thousands of pounds!’ All the time I used to tell him, ‘You’re writing a blank check.’ ”

Mr. Trynka also looks into the circumstances of Jones’s death, on July 3, 1969, in the swimming pool at his home in East Sussex, once owned by A. A. Milne, but after all the Sturm und Drang that has come before, the subject is somewhat anticlimactic. In numerous books and in films like “Stoned,” it has been suggested that Jones was murdered, but Mr. Trynka painstakingly examines the flaws in each of the theories, and ends up close to the official verdict, “death by misadventure,” because of drug and alcohol consumption.

“The official coroner’s verdict on Brian’s death was perfunctory and lazy,” Mr. Trynka concludes. Nonetheless, “I’ve come to share their belief that Brian’s death was most likely a tragic accident” and to believe that “many of the existing theories that his death was in fact murder rely on unreliable witnesses.”

In the end, with the advantage of 45 years’ perspective, Mr. Trynka maintains, it is Jones’s music that matters. “It’s understandable why the survivors resent Brian Jones beyond the grave,” given his founder’s role, he argues, and also writes: “Brian Jones got many things wrong in his life, but the most important thing he got right.”