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(Credit: Bent Rej)


What was the final song Brian Jones played with The Rolling Stones?


All told, The Rolling Stones only played live three times in 1968. There were a few reasons why: most of the members had drug offences that kept their travel visas in limbo, the group had been burned out by constant touring over their first few years, and their more recent material on Their Satanic Majesties Request wasn’t conducive to live shows. But there was another issue that was getting difficult to look past – guitarist Brian Jones was in bad shape.

After having lost his influence over the Stones’ musical direction to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, not to mention Richards becoming the new boyfriend to Jones’ old flame Anita Pallenberg, Jones began to drift into a haze of drugs and indifference. His musical contributions, which helped push the Stones in a more eclectic direction, were diminishing as he failed to meaningfully add much of anything to the band’s arrangements.

Throughout the mid-1960s, Jones largely stopped playing guitar with the Stones, opting instead to contribute keyboards, sitar, and other assorted instruments. The ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ single in 1968 was one of the final times that Jones would add audible guitar to a track, with the melancholy slide guitar lines on ‘No Expectations’ and the basic acoustic guitar strums of ‘Parachute Woman’ truly representing two of his final contributions. Although he’s credited with playing guitar on ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, Jones’ parts are mostly buried in the mix or removed altogether.

As Beggars Banquet was nearing its completion, the Stones decided that it was time to dust off the cobwebs and get back to playing live. Jagger conceived of the idea of gathering a number of contemporary artists under the big top of a circus for a quasi-festival of performances with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Entitled The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, it was to be the Stones’ first extended live show in over a year.

Jones appeared at the taping groggy and seemingly confused as to what he was doing there. “Brian Jones was well past his sell-by date by then,” Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson told Mojo Magazine. “We spoke to Brian and he didn’t really know what was going on. He was rather cut off from the others – there was a lot of embarrassed silence. But a delightful chap, and we felt rather sorry for him.”

Deciding on what truly constituted Jones’ final live song with the Stones is tricky: for one thing, what was captured on film and what was actually played might be slightly different. Bill Wyman recalls that the band played two blues covers, ‘Confessing the Blues’ and ‘Route 66’, along with a second take of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ with Jones on guitar in his autobiography. Jones played the maracas on the taped version of ‘Sympathy’, but that also brings up the issue of which songs Jones actually played on.

Just like on Beggars Banquet, Jones’ slide guitar on ‘No Expectations’ comes through clearly, as does his rhythm guitar on ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and his maracas on ‘Sympathy’. Otherwise, Jones can’t be heard through the mix on any of the other tracks, whether he’s playing or not. The finale for the theatrical cut of the performance is a version of ‘Salt of the Earth’ played from a backing tape, and since Jones didn’t contribute to that session, that would make his playing on ‘Sympathy’ Jones’ final live contributions to The Rolling Stones.

Seven months after the Rock and Roll Circus, Jones drowned in his pool. He and the Stones had parted ways just a few days before, and his contributions to the Let It Bleed sessions were even sparser than his contributions to Beggars Banquet. The next time that the Stones would play an extended live performance, it would be in Jones’ memory, at their 1969 free concert in Hyde Park.

Check out The Rolling Stones playing ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ during the Rock and Roll Circus down below.