When Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones was found dead in the swimming pool of his UK home July 3, 1969, many believed he had been a victim of a life of excess and drugs. The conservative British press and police reveled in the news; for years they had portrayed the Stones as a dangerous influence on youth. Jones, who formed the Stones in 1962, had been a heavy drug user for years. His drug problems would lead to his firing from the band in June 1969, so it seemed logical that he would drown after a result of drug abuse.
“Brian Jones was the first British rock star,” says British journalist Chris Salewicz in Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones, a new documentary by director Danny Garcia. The documentary will be released on DVD and streaming services on June 12, 2020.
The film details, then debunks, many of the theories that surround Jones’ death at 27, clearing Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and music publisher Allen Klein of ABKCO of any responsibility. Although the band did not participate in the film, Garcia interviewed members of the Stones’ orbit that included original member Dick Taylor, tour manager Sam Cutler, rocker Chris Farlowe and lifelong friend Price Stash Klossowski de Rola, who was arrested with Jones on drug charges in 1967.
Garcia was unable to license the Stones’ music for the film, so he recruited musicians to record a soundtrack that sounds like the Stones. Garcia told Rock Cellar. “The fact that we couldn’t license any music whatsoever by the Stones was a bit of a downer to start with,” says Garcia.
“But then we were like, ‘This is not a documentary about the Rolling Stones per se, this is a documentary about Brian and what was going on with him in those years.’ So we could do it anyway without any Stones music and just focus on Brian. That’s what we did.”
Garcia supplements his own investigation with the work of British journalist Scott Jones (no relation to Brian) and books by Geoffrey Giuliano and Terry Rawlings. Garcia includes rarely seen home movies of Brian as a young man and a prescient note written by a school teacher that reads, “Suffers from a dominating father and has to show off to compensate.”
The heart of the film examines the relationship between Jones and contractor Frank Thorogood, hired by Jones to renovate his Cotchford Farm home. Thorogood and his workers took advantage of Jones’ drug-addled state, moving into the house and failing to perform much work. The film reveals that on the day Jones died, Thorogood was fired and engaged Jones in a day-long fight. Thorogood was questioned but never charged. He died in 1993 and the police investigation has been remained stalled for years.
Drugs may have played a part in Jones’ death but the film raises the issue that the coroner found freshwater in Jones’ lungs, rather than chlorinated pool water. A pond on the property may have been the source of the water. The film offers a compelling theory that Jones was drowned in the pond during the fight with Thorogood; the body was later moved to the pool to cover the crime.
Whatever truly happened to Brian Jones, it was a sad end for an multi-talented musician.
Rock Cellar: How did the drug busts affect Jones?
Danny Garcia: He was a bit paranoid already, so taking substances didn’t help. When he started being harassed by the police and the press, obviously, that was the worst combination for him. The drugs, the police, the press; it wasn’t good. He went down, started overindulging in those Mandrax pills, which left him useless and a vegetable.
Rock Cellar: The film recounts how in the early days of the Stones, Brian was a blues and jazz fan.
Danny Garcia: I think once Mick, Keith and Dick Taylor saw Brian Jones onstage playing slide guitar, I think they basically saw the future. Like wow, this kid is really something. He just brought this authenticity, this sound.
He was a pioneer of slide guitar, nobody played slide guitar in the UK. So it was quite something. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, all those guys used to go to the Ealing Club and saw Brian playing slide guitar in 1962, before any of those bands happened. It must have been really, really striking to see this young blond dude playing slide like Elmore James.
Rock Cellar: Why was Jones fired by the Stones?
Danny Garcia: He was a bit obnoxious, he was a rascal, he was a bit nuts but I’ve heard of artists before being a bit nuts. It doesn’t come as a surprise that artists are eccentric sometimes.
He didn’t show up at all. He showed up a few times for the recordings of Let It Bleed, when they started working with Mick Taylor and other people. He wasn’t interested. There’s an anecdote where he goes to Olympic Studios and they’re recording — there are pictures of him just hanging out, drinking beer, looking at the band while the band is jamming, trying to get something and he’s just there standing up drinking beer. He didn’t give a crap about it anymore, apparently.
Brian was an artist. Yeah, he was not the most straight, normal person you could find. He had eccentricities. If he had gotten to the ’70s, he would have been totally normal.
Rock Cellar: What was the biggest surprise you found when working on the film?
Danny Garcia: I think something very, very important was that little school note that said he suffers from a dominating father and he has to show off to compensate. When I saw that, I was like wow, everything made sense because I automatically imagined Brian dressed up liked he was dressed up at the Monterey Pop Festival. He has to show off to compensate. He was dressed like a peacock.
Obviously every trauma, everything, stems from childhood experiences. And Brian is no exception. He had problems. He had some trauma before joining the Stones. It was not just drugs.