Peter Jones and Johnnie Ray

Peter Jones and Johnnie Ray

Courtesy Photo

Peter Jones, a widely-respected British music and show business journalist whose distinguished resumé included a 25-year association in senior roles with Billboard, died on July 10. He was 85.

Jones was a much-loved figure on the U.K. scene for decades, especially noted for his early support of The Beatles, Dusty Springfield and the Motown sound, and for introducing The Rolling Stones to Andrew Loog Oldham, who went on to become their co-manager.  

Jones wrote for, and later edited, pop weekly Record Mirror, then for Music Week before starting his working relationship with Billboard. In the publication’s London offices, he was successively news editor for U.K., European and international coverage and, finally, special issues editor.

Peter Langley Jones was born on January 6, 1930 in Carshalton Beeches in Surrey. From school years, he had keen interests in English language and literature and in sports, playing cricket and football to a good standard, and passionate for both the Chelsea Football Club and Essex County Cricket Club.  

His first job in journalism was as a junior reporter on the Portsmouth Evening News, in Hampshire, in 1948. When he moved to the newspaper’s head office, he became a general news reporter focusing on crime, sport and show business. The weekly page he introduced, Backstage, saw him interviewing stars as they visited the city’s three theaters.

Leaving the newspaper in 1954, he spent a year as a trainee scriptwriter and talent booker at Associated London Scripts, whose roster included comedian Frankie Howerd and comic writers Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes. He then became feature and then show business writer on Associated Newspapers’ Weekend magazine, which had a circulation in the mid-1950s of 1.5 million.

Here, Jones was able both to develop his contacts and write about them, in a regular spread titled My Friends The Stars. He ventured into television in the early '60s with Southern TV’s Sports Club. Various ensuing work included freelance sports writing and contributions to Record Mirror, which had launched as a pop music weekly in 1954, two years after the New Musical Express.

By the mid-'60s, Jones was not only editor of Record Mirror, but wrote the highly popular Beatles Monthly, under the pen name Billy Shepherd; The Rolling Stones’ publication, as Pete Goodman; and then The Monkees Monthly. He wrote the first full-length books on both the Beatles (The True Story of the Beatles, for Beat Publications) and the Stones (Our Own Story as told to Pete Goodman), both in 1964.

“Brian Epstein couldn’t believe his eyes when he first glimpsed ‘that scruffy lot,’” wrote Jones, or “Shepherd.” “Now millions cannot feast their eyes enough on the fringed four.”

As for the Stones, as Andrew Loog Oldham remembered to Q magazine in 1995: “One day, I went to see Peter Jones of Record Mirror, trying to sell him something, probably an Epstein act, but he wasn't interested. He kept talking about this other group, they were still called the Rollin' Stones then, playing around London.”

Jones was also an early champion of the Tamla Motown sound long before it took off in the U.K. John Schroeder, who secured the British rights to early Motown releases before the label launched in its own right, later remembered: “I had one ally, Peter Jones at Record Mirror. [He was] he only one who supported the Motown material.”

He became a trusted confidant for local and visiting stars alike, writing hundreds of interview features for Record Mirror. Subjects included Chubby Checker (headlined “Dance Crazes? They’re Out!”), The Who in their formative High Numbers days (“How High Will These Numbers Go?”), The Kinks (“looks like the Kinks are on their way to the charts at last”) and Jimi Hendrix (“we want to bring your attention to a new artist, a new star-in-the-making, who we predict is going to whirl round the business like a tornado”).

Jones’ unrivalled contacts book and respect in the industry also had him “ghosting” columns for huge stars in music (Sandie Shaw, Dave Dee), soccer (George Best, Denis Law, Alan Ball), and writing books on Tom Jones and Elvis Presley.

When Record Mirror was sold to Billboard in 1969, Jones went with it as editor, but after another sale three years later, he stayed on at Billboard, becoming U.K. news editor and, simultaneously, associate editor of Music Week. A vast inventory of freelance work included writing for the major partwork magazine series The Story of Rock, for Record Collector, and a 12-year stint broadcasting music news for Radio Sudwestfunk in Baden-Baden, Germany.

Peter is remembered by those of us that worked with him at Billboard as an unfailingly cheery and kind man, with no sense of the self-importance that his remarkable career might have engendered. His funeral will take place Aug. 3 in Manor Park, east London.

With thanks to rocksbackpages.com and Peter Jones’ son, Martin.