When Tosh Berman’s father, renowned Los Angeles artist Wallace Berman (who was among the figures featured on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s album), brought home friends, they weren’t the run of the mill kind. Among those who frequented the Berman household were Dennis Hopper, Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Robert Duncan, Michael McClure, Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, Toni Basil and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Thus, when he was a boy, Tosh got to know the mysterious co-founder of the Stones. 50 years after Brian Jones was found dead in the swimming pool at his UK estate, Tosh looks back on a man he remembers as having great warmth, charm, and a sense of magic.
I discovered Brian Jones when my dad purchased and brought home the first Rolling Stones LP. My memory of that album, compared with the music of The Beatles—who wrote most of their songs—was that it was nothing but cover versions of the blues and R&B tunes. At the time, my dad and mom had a lot of blues records in their possession, so what I heard on the Stones album was nothing new. Still, I noticed that the Rolling Stones’ hair was longer than The Beatles’ hair and their fashion sense was a tad messier than other British Invasion bands—which immediately made them objects of interest to a 10-year-old boy.
The blonde member of the band, in particular, stood out in the album cover’s picture. His hair color, of course, was different but he also projected the aura of someone who was the leader of the group. It would be a few years before Mick Jagger became the main focus on the Stones’ album covers—specifically, on Their Satanic Majesties Request, where he is dead center, with Charlie Watts on one end and Bill Wyman on the other. On that cover, Brian was between Mick and Charlie, with Keith Richards between the singer and Bill. At least visually they were now equal, but on the early albums, one’s eyes first went to Brian due to his looks, style, and his sense of ownership of the band.
Sometimes images are illusions, but it’s telling how strongly Brian Jones stood out in photos with his fellow Stones.
Brian and the Stones on the Dean Martin Show, performing “Not Fade Away” and dodging Martin’s attempts to mock them to his audience:
I first met Brian Jones at a dress rehearsal for the T.A.M.I. Show, which was probably the first filmed variety show of then-current rock & roll and soul artists. [Note: This event was held for two days, Oct. 28-29, 1964, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium; the acronym stood for “Teen Age Music International”]. Besides the Stones, the bill included Chuck Berry, James Brown and his Famous Flames, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes (Motown very well represented in this show), Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry and the Pacemakers (the Brian Epstein school), as well as Lesley Gore, The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and others. To me, this was ground zero for everything that was good in life.
That afternoon, at the Santa Monica Civic, my father and I had been invited to the dress rehearsal by Toni Basil, who co-choreographed the show. The only other people sitting in the hall at the time were the members of the Rolling Stones, waiting for their soundcheck. Toni introduced me to Mick Jagger, who ruffled up my hair and said “cute tyke,” and then to Brian Jones. I have no memory of a conversation between Brian and me, or my dad, but it was not that much later that Toni brought Brian to our home in Beverly Glen.
After that, Brian would come by himself to the house, to hang out with my parents and listen to records. Often I would already be asleep when Brian arrived. Still, I would know he had been there the night before when I woke up in the morning because I would find empty wine bottles and tea/coffee cups and record sleeves on the floor, mostly jazz recordings but also Glenn Gould was part of the soundtrack for these late night meetings between Brian and my parents. Brian never played a Stones work-in-progress.
The most striking memory of him coming to our house that first time was that he was dressed exactly like he did on the back cover of the Stones’ Aftermath album: black turtleneck, white slacks/jeans, and desert boots. Sometimes when I meet famous people, I notice little things like a blemish on their nose, or their facial hair growing out, but Brian looked like he stepped off the cover of the Rolling Stones’ albums and right into our living room. The iconic Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones was no different from the ‘real’ Brian Jones.
What was truly wonderful was how Brian, at least in the presence of my family, was very down-to-earth and incredibly sweet. Later, when we moved to our house in Topanga Canyon, Brian would call Wallace from London, just to chit-chat. If Wallace wasn’t home at the time, he chatted with me. One time, in 1967, he came to the Topanga Canyon house, accompanied by Keith Richards. I had never gotten over my nervousness around Brian, due mostly to his star status, and when I didn’t go downstairs to greet him, he came up to my room to say hi and to ask me to come downstairs to meet Keith. They stayed for hours and then went to the Corral, a bar close to our home. That was the last time I saw Brian.
My parents would accompany Brian on outings to Sunset Strip to see bands or to go to bars. I never went with them because I was, of course, too young for the clubs, and I suspect that Brian kept moving due to people recognizing him, which was often an unpleasant experience for him. My parents told me about one time when Brian kicked Rodney Bingenheimer in the ass because he was bothering him in a public space. Fame is often admired from afar, and even the one getting the attention and adulation from the public may love it at first. After a while, it gets old, and Brian did not have the temperament to deal with the issues of being touched, pulled, or screamed at when off stage.
Brian looked like he stepped off the cover of the Rolling Stones’ albums and right into our living room. The iconic Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones was no different from the ‘real’ Brian Jones.
Around the time of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, Allen Ginsberg called my father to ask a favor of him. Dylan was in Los Angeles and needed a ride somewhere. He was staying at hotel on the Strip and wanted to get a reel-to-reel tape machine to listen to his music. He’d arranged to pick up the device from the Byrds, who were recording at a studio down Sunset Boulevard. Wallace, who had never met Dylan, picked up the now famous star at his hotel and drove him to the studio. My dad told me that when some kids on the Strip noticed Dylan in the passenger seat of the car, they tried to open the door from the outside to get in the vehicle during a traffic light stop. This creepy side effect of fame terrified Dylan and my father. Once they arrived at the studio, Dylan begged my father not to leave him alone there—Dylan, it seemed to Wallace—didn’t like the Byrds. So, my father stuck around for a while but finally left Dylan there. He felt that he needed to remove himself from the landscape.
Those two occasions are the only times my father had experienced fame as an impersonal phenomenon—seen through the eyes of Bob Dylan and Brian Jones.
In hindsight, I now see a resemblance between Brian Jones and Dylan. Both were very much into roots music as a foundation. After building that core base, though, they used that knowledge of music and its culture to branch off to other forms or interests. Brian had an interest in bringing non-rock & roll instruments into the Stones’ world, and Dylan brought a great deal of literature and poetry on top of his foundation of roots music. Both expanded their fields of interest by allowing outside influences to enter their worlds. Brian struck me as a fellow who liked to travel to other landscapes, and with the knowledge he picked up on the journey, he brought it back to the Stones’ world.
Brian Jones, to me, was a man of great warmth, charm, and a sense of magic.
As far as I know, my dad never talked to Brian about the Stones. Once, and I think only once, Wallace brought up the subject of the guitar sound that the band achieved on “Satisfaction.” Brian mentioned that Keith had a fuzz tone pedal on the floor, which produced that sound. That was the first and last conversation between Brian and my dad about the Rolling Stones. It wasn’t because there was anything negative about being in the Stones, either to my dad or Brian, but more that they had other interests to discuss besides the inner life of a band member and pop star.
Brian struck me as an individual who was much more interested in others than himself. Not in the sense that he was an unusually generous person, but more of an interest in how other artists worked and lived. Part of being an artist is to have a curiosity about the world around them. Alternatively, at times, in their inner world and how that works out in a productive manner. Brian’s role in the Stones was not as a songwriter, although I suspect that he had come up with some melodies (such as “Ruby Tuesday”) for which he never got credit. More critically, he pulled the Stones into a place of exploration.
An interesting dynamic was at work in the band in those early years. The manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was obsessed with visual side / cinematic images; Brian was a blues musician and purist; Charlie Watts was a sophisticated jazz drummer and Bill Wyman was a rock-solid bassist. Beyond that, there were the talents of Nicky Hopkins, Jack Nitzsche, Phil Spector, Gene Pitney, the visual abilities of Michael Lindsay-Hogg and, of course, their hardcore boogie-woogie original member Ian Stewart. Those all contributed significantly to the magic that was the Rolling Stones in the 1960s. Oddly, or ironically, Mick and Keith were the least interesting aspects of the Rolling Stones in those early years.
I was fortunate to know Brian as a child and teenager but struck by his iconic presence in real life and how he was portrayed in the media of the day. Now, he symbolizes the nature of the drug culture as well as the brief time in history when everything seemed possible. Still, I’m also struck by a man who went out of his way to come to my bedroom to say hello. It was rare for an adult in my world at the time to give notice or attention to a child. Brian Jones, to me, was a man of great warmth, charm, and a sense of magic.
When he left the Stones, and was replaced, not only once, but twice with a musician with darker hair, it seemed like the band wanted to destroy the nature of even Brian Jones being in the band. Understandably so, with Brian usually standing out in the group photographs, either by his clothing, his beauty, or his blonde hair. Brian had the visual sense to be the dandy of the band, and even in black and white images, he appeared to be the only member bathed in color. I continued to like the Stones after Brian left, or was kicked out, but they were an entirely different band.
An interview with Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones in Montreal, during a North American tour, 1965: