The acclaimed, bestselling rock-and-roll biographer delivers the first complete, unexpurgated history of the world's greatest band. The saga of the Rolling Stones is the central epic in rock mythology. From their debut as the intermission band at London's Marquee Club in 1962 through their latest record-setting Bridges to Babylon world tour, the Rolling Stones have defined a musical genre and experienced godlike adulation, quarrels, addiction, legal traumas, and descents into madness and death while steadfastly refusing to fade away. Now Stephen Davis, the New York Times bestselling author of Hammer of the Gods and Walk This Way, who has followed the Stones for three decades, presents their whole story, replete with vivid details of the Stones' musical successes and personal excesses. Born into the wartime England of air-raid sirens, bombing raids, and strict rationing, the Rolling Stones came of age in the 1950s, as American blues and pop arrived in Europe. Among London's most ardent blues fans in the early 1960s was a short blond teenage guitar player named Brian Jones, who hooked up with a lorry driver's only son, Charlie Watts, a jazz drummer.
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September 02, 2002
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Excerpt from Old Gods Almost Dead by Stephen Davis
The Rollin' Stones
Yes, I will be famous. No, I won't make thirty. Brian Jones
I Will Be Famous
It would later seem ironic to many that Brian Jones, Wild Man of the Sixties, came from Cheltenham, the old Regency-era spa town in the Cotswolds whose springs had dried up long ago. Cheltenham was known for its bourgeois conformity and legions of the retired. It was a hotbed of rest. Cheltenham Ladies College was the most proper girls' school in Britain. But there was another side to Cheltenham that owed a lot to the American air bases nearby. The town had five movie theaters, ballrooms where bands played, coffee bars for hanging out. A clever boy like Brian could easily get an idea of the world waiting beyond the provincial beauty of the West Country.
Lewis Brian Hopkins-Jones was born on a winter Saturday night in 1942, during the dark days of the war. Father worked in the aircraft industry, mother played and taught the piano. Pure Welsh stock on both sides--a race of singers, musicians, poets despised by the English for being the descendants of the true Britons they displaced in Arthurian times. Brian Jones was a short, strong, charismatic blond kid who pulled one in with his soft, well-spoken voice, intelligent eyes, and blond hair, his famous tool for seduction. He could get a girl pregnant with the toss of his head.
There was something else about Brian, something dark and alluring. "Brian possessed a hidden cruelty," Mick Jagger would later say, "which in a way was very sensual."
Did well in school. High I.Q., top grades in literature, math, physics. Strong at sports: the "little Welsh bull" that Keith would later describe. Nine O-level passes by sixteen in 1958--quite respectable--but skipped school, laughed at the teachers, and was often caned. An aggressive little guy: one didn't mess with his girlfriends. Brought up in a musical family, he showed uncommonly early promise as a piano student (he was the only Stone with a proper music education), could read music, played clarinet and sax. Got a Spanish acoustic guitar for his seventeenth birthday, which he mastered within weeks. Hobbies were trainspotting and jazz records, which led to New Orleans blues singer Champion Jack Dupree's trenchant, down-home Blues from the Gutter album, which opened the door to the future.
Some who knew Brian Jones thought of him as two people: soft, charming, intelligent one day; a nasty little bugger the next. Sometimes both in the same day, the same hour. The Stones saw it all as they grew up with him in his twenties: the tantrums, mysterious illnesses, "absences," general bloody-mindedness.
Bill Wyman thinks Brian suffered from undiagnosed epilepsy.
Brian started playing sax in local groups when he was fourteen. The Bill Nile Jazz Band. The Cheltone Six. The Ramrods. He was the cool kid in the proper collar and tie, blowing alto saxophone and making eye contact with the girls. All he had to do was look at one hard enough, and soon she had something in the oven. Brian Jones as Bran, the Welsh fertility god, a stocky little sprite with a long green penis. The first girl to have one of his many illegitimate children was Valerie, aged fourteen. Good morning, little schoolgirl. Brian wanted an abortion, she wanted the child, which she put up for adoption at birth. Word got out, huge scandal in Cheltenham. The girl refused to see him again, and Brian's parents, socially destroyed and unable to cope, asked the seventeen-year-old father to move out of the house.