The Rolling Stones established themselves in the London R&B scene with a passion for the blues-inspired rock and roll popularised in the 1950s by American acts such as Muddy Waters, Bo Didley and Chuck Berry. In their early years, the band was creatively directed by multi-instrumentalist and blues fanatic Brian Jones, who named the group after Muddy Waters’ 1950 song ‘Rollin’ Stone’. His vision for the band was to take his beloved American blues music to the top of the UK charts, and in countless ways, their success exceeded his own expectations.
The Stones’ first stable line-up consisted of frontman Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, guitarist Keith Richards, bassist Bill Wyman, and drummer Charlie Watts. In the early days, the songwriting capability of the Jagger/Richards partnership was still very much in its infancy, and so the band mainly opted for blues covers, much to Jones’ satisfaction.
By the mid-1960s, Jagger and Richards had fine-tuned their songwriting capabilities and unbound the group from Jones’ much-adored traditional blues covers. With this, they rose steadily into the mainstream as a hitmaking pop sensation alongside The Beatles and other prominent acts of the British invasion. Meanwhile, Jones had fallen into a pit of despair with his ongoing drug addictions and growing disillusionment with the band and the direction they were heading.
Jones had a conflicted personality, and with his spiralling addictions, he became increasingly difficult to work with. As Wyman detailed in his book Stone Alone, “There were at least two sides to Brian’s personality,” he admitted. “One Brian was introverted, shy, sensitive, deep-thinking. The other was a preening peacock, gregarious, artistic, desperately needing assurance from his peers. He pushed every friendship to the limit and way beyond.”
After being sidelined by Jagger and Richards for around three years, Jones became withdrawn and contributed very little to the band’s endeavours. He was eventually fired from the group in 1968. As Richards recalled of the juncture: “The fact that he was expecting it made it easier, you know, he wasn’t even surprised, and I didn’t really think he took it all in. He was already … up in the stratosphere.”
While drugs had a large involvement in Jones’ detachment from the band, it was also noted that he wasn’t happy with the band’s image as a pop group. Additionally, there was an overbearing sense that Jones had achieved what he set out to do very early on; December 5th, 1964, to be exact.
This date seems very specific, but this was the day the Rolling Stones’ rendition of Willie Dixon’s blues standard, ‘Little Red Rooster’, hit number one on the UK Singles Chart. The occasion marked the first time a traditional blues track had reached the top spot in the UK, and it remains the only one to this day. With this, Jones had accomplished something beyond his wildest dreams.
Jones was the most invested during the recording of ‘Little Red Rooster’. He composed and recorded the iconic slide guitar runs that characterise the song throughout and played the harmonica at the close of the track.
‘Little Red Rooster’ is widely understood to have been Jones’ favourite Rolling Stones single. In Stone Alone, Wyman noted that the song “realised a cherished ambition [of Jones’] to put blues music at the top of the charts, and meant his guilt of having ‘sold out’ completely to pop fame was diminished.” He added, “I believe ‘Rooster’ provided Brian Jones with one of his finest hours.”
Listen to Brian Jones’ proudest moment with The Rolling Stones below.