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Music

The Rolling Stones: Charlie Watts’ biggest regret about Brian Jones

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 like Muddy Waters, Bo Didley and Chuck Berry. The group was initially helmed 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 blues to the top of the charts and, in countless ways, the success exceeded his own expectations. 

Their first stable line-up consisted of frontman Mick Jagger, multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones, guitarist Keith Richards, bassist Bill Wyman, and drummer Charlie Watts. In the early days, the songwriting capabilities of Jagger and Richards hadn’t yet been fully established, so the band mainly opted for blues covers directed by Jones. Gradually, the band rose to fame as a pop group alongside The Beatles and other prominent acts of the British invasion. 

By the mid-1960s, Jagger and Richards had fine-tuned their songwriting capabilities and unshackled the group from Jones’ much-adored blues covers. 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. This was a pit from which Jones would sadly never emerge.

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After a number of arrests and ongoing disputes with the rest of the band, Jones was fired in 1968. As Richards later recalled: “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.” 

Richards was, of course, referring to Jones’ worsening relationship with drugs. He would frequently miss rehearsals or recording meetings with the band, and if he did turn up, he wouldn’t engage. 

Watts once recalled of Jones: “I think he liked drinking, I think he liked drugs. But they weren’t very good for him. I don’t think they’re good for anyone, but he wasn’t strong enough mentally or physically to take any of it. Brian was one of those people who did everything to excess.”

In a 2003 interview, while on tour for BBC’s Top of the Pops, Watts recalled that Jones “was two things, he was not very nice, and he upset people very easily. He wasn’t very pleasant.”

But incidentally, Jones became more amiable in the closing years of his life when he had become less engaged in his musical career. Watts recalled: “He got much nicer just before he died, the last few years of his life. I felt even more sorry for him for what we did to him then. We took his one thing away, which was being in a band … that’s my opinion.” It seems Watts felt a level of regret for the way they had left Jones in the cold. Perhaps the Stones could have done more to support their wayward friend.

In 1969, Jones was found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool in the garden of his country estate in East Sussex. It is still uncertain what happened, but it is generally believed that he drowned because he had been under the influence and failed to tread water after falling into the pool. Although, some accounts allege that Jones had been pushed in after a dispute with his builder, who had attended the party. 

Listen to ‘Little Red Rooster’ below. The song was a cover of Willie Dixon’s original and was one of Brian Jones’ proudest achievements during his time with The Rolling Stones.