Friday, August 28, 2009

I Am Waiting

From the bottom of the pool he could make out the light above. He thought he heard someone shout, “Brian! Brian!” but couldn’t be sure. At first, Brian thought Frank was being playful when he started to dunk his head under the water, but he realized quickly that it was turning violent and that there was real menace to this “play.” It scared Brian and he retreated to the bottom of the pool. Brian had fired Frank Thorogood as his builder after he found out that Frank was badmouthing him as a spoiled rock star and ripping him off to boot. Still, he let Frank live at the house at Cotchford Farm.

July had started hot and a dip in the pool was in order. Frank was there with his girl, Brian with his new bird Anna. He had been hitting the drugs less in the weeks since Mick, Keith and Charlie came to his Sussex estate to inform him he was out of the group. Out of the group! He, Brian Jones, had named The Rolling Stones. He, Brian Jones, had formed the group with his innate genius in bringing people together. And, at the beginning, he was the most forceful advocate for and defender of their music. He was a born leader and the most quoted. Now he was out.

Brian had a few glasses of Blue Nun and felt a little pissed, not too much. Frank thought he could take advantage of Brian in the pool, but he didn’t know that Jones was a damn good swimmer. Even the roughest waters were no match for his skill. His deep diving stunts always amazed his friends. When Brian had a tantrum at Keith’s house at Redlands last June, and pretended to be drowning in the shallow moat, Mick knew he was faking. Jagger pushed his head under water - “You want to drown, you bastard?” - knowing he wouldn’t. Mick’s violence was a put on, another false face, but Frank’s was real, so Brian went down to escape.

The quiet that surrounded him gave him time to think. Surely, he had suffered. Mick and Keith were easy stars, accepting their new found royalty in a way Brian could never adjust to. There was always a level where Brian didn’t make it with the other two. Somewhere inside he was alone. He was much cleverer than the rest. He knew Satanic Majesties would be a joke, a pale copy of Sgt. Pepper but Mick was insistent. Brian was right, and when the reviews came, savagely, Mick and Keith got angry at Brian. Just like Keith to side with Mick.

He was also was the best musician of the lot. Brian was the sound of the Rolling Stones, the soul. The sitar on “Paint It, Black”, that was Brian. The slide guitar on “Jigsaw Puzzle”, that was Brian. The flute on “Ruby Tuesday”, Brian too. Whatever needed playing, he played – mouth harp, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dulcimer. The Arabic sounds on “We Love You”, that was Brian on mellotron.

Drugs had taken their toll, to be sure. At 25, he was fat and tired, with deep, heavy bags under eyes. His face wore the pain of the cruel treatment administered by the police, who had busted him twice in the last two years, and by his “friends.” Mick and Keith were prone to ganging up on Brian and it had only gotten worse over the years. Mick, always jealous of Brian’s musical ability and his looks, had told him ‘You’re all washed up.” Keith had stolen the love of his life, Anita. “With friends like these,” he thought. Then, on top of it all, they give him the boot.

Mick, Keith and Charlie came to see Brian at Cotchford Farm, the former estate of A.A. Milne. That was June 9. Oh, they tried to say it wasn’t any good, that Brian wasn’t fit to tour the States with them, that it was temporary, just for the near future, but that was rubbish. He expected it, but it hit him hard. They were right, he wasn’t fit to do the road thing again, but it didn’t seem real. There was Mick, acting the ponce, explaining the reasons they couldn’t go on like this. Just like Mick to make it about money, too, offering 100,000 pounds up front and 20,000 pounds a year as long as the Stones lasted. How long could that be, really? When they left, Brian sat in the Christopher Robin garden, crying, alone.

But as he hung below the watery surface, he realized he didn’t want to be part of the group anymore. He had other musical interests beyond the sound of The Rolling Stones, now boring to his ears. They weren’t seeing eye to eye about the music, and he wanted to do so much more. His trip to Morocco to record the musicians at Jajouka opened a new world. He had hoped to add their exotic rhythms to the Stones sound. Now, maybe he could produce his own music, his own way. Over the years his travels had taken him all over the world - Ceylon, Marrakesh, Tangier. There were new sounds to be discovered, a world of music he could use.

In the weeks since the firing, he had turned a new leaf. He was happier than he had been in recent years, enjoying Creedence’s “Proud Mary,” and The Beatles’ “Ballad of John and Yoko.” He felt a bit crucified, if you can be only a little crucified, he laughed to himself. Charlie had visited a few times. He had been rehearsing with various musicians every day for two weeks, excitedly ringing Keith up to tell him how things were going.

There could be life after the Stones. He had that knack of getting people together. Not just his former band, but others, like hooking Nico up with The Velvet Underground. Recently he had spoken with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix and they had both left the door open to work together with Brian. Brian had started one group with his skill and push. He could start again; he could be that leader again. When the Stones started out, he felt he was doing exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He had just gotten off course. It was time to get back to his love, making music.

With that, Brian Jones kicked off the bottom of the pool and headed up to the light.

In the early morning hours of July 3, 1969, nearly one month from being fired from The Rolling Stones, founding member Brian Jones drowned in the swimming pool at his home, Cotchford Farm, Sussex. The verdict was death by “misadventure.” Jones was an excellent swimmer and drowning seemed unlikely. Mystery immediately surrounded his death, and hints of murder arose. Frank Thorogood was the prime suspect. When word reached the Stones at Olympic Studios at 3 AM, during the first sessions with Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor, they were recording Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lay Back and Groove

“Another white motherfucker?” Miles rasped.

“Miles, Miles,” Jimi shook his head slowly, a wry grin on his face. “He’s a great cat. Why can’t you just be groovy, man?”

Miles glared as he leaned back on the control panel. “You want to play jazz, you want to play black music? You can’t do that with some ofay rock star on bass.” Jimi leaned forward to catch Miles’s whispery voice.

Through the wood-framed window, Hendrix could see into the studio. Tony Williams, Miles’ drummer, looked with disdain at Paul McCartney. When Jimi and Miles had talked about doing a session at Electric Lady Studios, Jimi thought of one bass player only, McCartney. Paul had always been a big supporter of Jimi’s and had gotten him the gig at the Monterey Pop Festival two years before. Jimi’s popularity exploded after that performance, loud, feedback drenched pyrotechnics that included dousing his axe with lighter fluid and setting it ablaze. He owed Paul something in exchange for his faith. More than that, McCartney could play anything. Looking out at the two, Jimi could see Paul, friendly as ever, waving his hands in the air as he talked animatedly to Tony. McCartney never noticed the disgust in Williams’ eyes.

“Miles, Paul is the best bass player in the world, and…”

“Don’t you tell me that. Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus, Ron Carter. Don’t you tell me Paul McCartney is the best. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Plus, he can’t read music.”

Hendrix laughed and crossed his arms, the ultra-wide sleeves of his floral print blouse hanging loosely down. “Well, you know I can’t either. Every time you mention diminished chords you know I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Jimi respected Miles Davis, loved playing with him, but he was hard to take sometimes, a lot of bad vibes. Jimi’s mind drifted to the time Davis dropped by his apartment and they jammed. Miles’ muted trumpet and Jimi’s unplugged guitar were magic together. Jimi just wanted to play and not deal with this racist bullshit. He fiddled with the red and black knobs on the control panel as he thought about the music that could be, if Miles would just be cool and relax.

“Can’t we just play?” pleaded Jimi, as he quietly strummed his Fender.

For all his strident independence, Miles Davis had become something of a follower when it came to Jimi Hendrix. After seeing Jimi’s blowout hairstyle, he left his Afro behind and began to wear his hair the same way. No more dark suits, either. It was pure psychedelics in the Davis wardrobe now, bought from the same shop in Greenwich Village that Jimi frequented.

It wasn’t only Hendrix’s fashion sense that knocked Davis out. There was no doubt this motherfucker was a natural. When Miles showed him something on the horn, or played him a record, Jimi would pick it up faster than anyone Miles had ever played with. And Miles had played with everybody. Miles genuinely liked Hendrix and was amazed at his musicianship, but, man, he did not go for Jimi’s taste in music. He fiddled with the buttons of his multi-colored vest as he considered Jimi’s request.

“You know I hate that hillbilly shit you play, always having these white folks playing with you. What about my music, Trane’s music? That’s where your head should be at, not with these rich honkies playing teeny bopper shit. You come from the blues, man, stay with that. You want to play Carnegie Hall with me, like we talked about, you listen to me.”

“It’s just music man. I dig you, you know that. I dig Trane. But I also dig Sgt. Pepper. I don’t go for that radical rap. There ain’t no black music. There ain’t no white music. It’s just music.”

“You’ll never win them up in Harlem. You think the cats at Small’s Paradise gonna love you now, playing Bob Dylan shit with a white band?” Miles knew Jimi had a thing about not making it uptown with his own people. Jimi had told Miles how he went to Small’s thinking he’d be cheered, the new black hope in rock music. Strutting into the room wearing bell bottoms, a ruffled purple shirt and a wide-brimmed black hat adorned with a chain of silver rings and a lilac scarf, he was met with insults and put-downs.

“Hey man, take those fag clothes back downtown.”

“Where’s your purse, Miss Thang?’

He did not go over well with the short-brimmed, straight-legged patrons at Small’s.

Miles knew how to shove in the knife. Jimi was hurt by the recollection and wondered why Miles was so angry. Did he know that Jimi was getting it on with Miles’ wife Betty? Nah, he couldn’t; it was too new a thing.

Jimi looked back into the studio. There, Tony and Paul were jamming, Paul following Tony’s subtle swinging, an indisputable groove forming. Paul was laughing and Tony couldn’t help but smile.

“Look out there. You see I’m right.” Jimi said happily.

“Turn it up,” ordered Miles. Jimi pushed the controls northward. It was a slow tune, but it swung.

“I don’t know that tune,” Miles said curtly.

“It’s a Beatles song called “The Fool on the Hill.” Paul wrote it,” Jimi smiled. “You should be more hip to the scene, man, everyone knows that song.”

Miles turned to watch the rhythm section playing like they’d been together for years. He had no reaction at all. He turned to face Jimi.

"Fuck you, man.”

Jimi grabbed his white Fender guitar and headed out to play. Miles picked up his horn, right behind him now.

Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix met in 1968 at the hairdressers. They had talked about jamming together and met once at Jimi’s apartment. When it came time to plan a session, Miles and drummer Tony Williams each demanded rock star money - $50,000 each. That scuttled the deal, but not before Hendrix had sent a telegram to Paul McCartney inviting him to play with the group. Tony Williams recorded “The Fool on the Hill” on his last album in 1998.