It’s a waste of words to even mention the importance of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to the Rolling Stones. All due respect to Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and all the other great musicians who have been in the lineup, Richards’ riffs and Jagger’s distinct voice and presence have defined the band’s sound for decades.
But founding member Brian Jones, who left the band on this day in 1969, was an essential component of the band in getting their start in the music business and becoming the band as we know them today.
Though Jones died less than a month after leaving the band in 1969 due to a tragic drowning accident and battled serious drug addictions prior to quitting, both his musical ability and leadership helped launch the band before Jagger and Richards took over as the driving forces.
As Bill Wyman said in an in-depth interview with the Los Angeles Daily News in 2002, Jones was the real leader of the group for his time in the Stones. Here’s three crucial reasons why they wouldn’t exist as we know them without his work.
1. He literally created the band
Jones was “hugely important at the beginning because he formed the band. He chose the members. He named the band. He chose the music we played,” Wyman said in the interview.
Jones placed an ad in London’s Jazz News, which Jagger answered. He also brought Richards along to the auditions.
He originally named the band “The Rollin’ Stones” with no ‘g’, after legendary bluesman Muddy Waters’ song “Rollin’ Stone”. They would streamline the name with the ‘g’ after signing with Decca Records in 1963.
Even though Richards later said in the book According to the Rolling Stones that Jones came up with the name right on the spot when a venue owner asked him the band’s name and he glanced at a Muddy Waters record on the floor, Jones still deserves credit for choosing arguably the most famous band name in rock & roll.
2. He handled the business side
Before the band hired an actual manager to handle all their business, it was Jones making everything happen behind-the-scenes.
Jones got all of the Stones’ early gigs in the ’60s before they hit it big. He closed deals with promoters and venue owners and often promoted the band himself.
“Brian was very instrumental in pushing the band at the beginning…It was a crusade to him to get us on the stage in a club,” Charlie Watts said in According to the Rolling Stones.
Though he did receive a bit more money for gigs than the rest of the band at the time and that may have created some internal resentment, that was simply his price of doing business – and being the leader.
3. He was an accomplished musician
Today, most of the credit for the Stones’ best songs go to Jagger’s vocals and Richards’ guitar work. But Jones provided many unusual but oddly fitting musical contributions to the band’s early work that made them stand out as more than just a standard pop group.
The sitar on “Paint it Black” and “Street Fighting Man”. The marimba on “Under My Thumb”. The recorder on “Ruby Tuesday”. These added layers gave the Stones more character than many other bands of their time and made them stand out alongside the Beatles and other great acts of the ’60s.
The mid-to-late-60s (and hiring of manager Andrew Loog Oldham) would begin the band’s shift in focus from Jones to Jagger and Richards, and Jones’ alienation from the group as he lost his business role.
But his diverse musical ability combined with his work ethic and business acumen launched the band and played a major role in their early popularity, despite his estrangement – and ultimately, departure – in the late ’60s.
So what do you think? Could Jagger and Richards have formed the Rolling Stones on their own or did they need the early contributions of Jones to kick-start their careers? Share your thoughts in the comments.