A short list of influential musicians who died at 27 years old and joined the 27 club.
Robert Johnson August 16, 1938
Robert Leroy Johnson was born May 8, 1911 in Hazlehurst Mississippi. Johnson had a recording session, held November 23, 1936 in room 414 at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio which Brunswick Records had set up as a temporary studio. Johnson reportedly performed facing the wall. In 1937, Johnson traveled to Dallas, Texas, for another recording session in a makeshift studio at the Brunswick Record Building, 508 Park Avenue. Johnson died on August 16, 1938, at the age of 27, near Greenwood, Mississippi. According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was “instructed” to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man, the devil, who took the guitar and tuned it. The “Devil” played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous. A compilation of Johnson’s recordings released in 1961, introduced his work to a much wider audience—fame and recognition he only received long after his death. Robert Johnson influenced many important musicians, including Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. The 1986 film, “Crossroads”, starring Ralph Macchio was inspired by Robert Johnson. In the movie, Steve Vai plays some incredible guitar in the final showdown.
Brian Jones July 3, 1969
Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones was born on February 28, 1942 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Jones was a founding member of The Rolling Stones. Brian was fond of the blues, particularly Elmore James and Robert Johnson (see above). Brian Jones came up with the name “The Rollin’ Stones” while on the phone with a venue owner. “The voice on the other end of the line obviously said, ‘What are you called?’ Panic. The Best of Muddy Waters album was lying on the floor—and track one was ‘Rollin’ Stone Blues'”. For a while, in the beginning, Brian was the acting manager for The Rolling Stones. In June 1967, Jones attended the Monterey Pop Festival, and went on stage to introduce the Jimi Hendrix Experience, not well-known yet in the US. In March 1967, Anita Pallenberg, Jones’s girlfriend of two years, left him for Richards, which increased tensions between Jones and the rest of the Stones. On June 8, 1969, Jones was told that the Rolling Stones would continue on without him. On July 3, 1969, Jones was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool at Cotchford Farm.
Jimi Hendrix September 18, 1970
Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942 in Seattle Washington. After his father received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army on September 1, 1945, he retrieved his eldest son and legally changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix in memory of his late brother, Leon Marshall Hendrix. Jimi’s mother developed cirrhosis of the liver and died on February 2, 1958. Hendrix’s early exposure to blues music came from listening to records by Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Jimi enlisted in the Army on May 31, 1961. After completing basic training, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Hendrix toured with the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and Curtis Knight and the Squires among others. Early in 1966 at the Cheetah Club on Broadway at 53rd Street, Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, referred Hendrix to Chas Chandler, ex bassist for The Animals. Chas flew Hendrix to England and put him together with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, both English musicians. The trio became The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their coming out party in the US was the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where they were introduced by Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones (see above). Their achievements are too much to mention here, but Jimi becomes a huge star. In August of 1969 he performs at Woodstock and the world hears his version of The Star Spangled Banner. In 1968, Hendrix and manager Jeffery had invested jointly in the purchase of the Generation Club in Greenwich Village, which eventually became the recording studio, Electric Ladyland. Early on September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in London. He had spent the latter part of the previous evening at a party and was picked up at close to 03:00 by girlfriend Monika Dannemann and driven to her flat at the Samarkand Hotel, 22 Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill.
Janis Joplin October 4, 1970
Janis Lyn Joplin was born on January 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas. As a teenager, she was influenced by blues artists Bessie Smith and Leadbelly and later expanded her listening to blues singers such as Odetta and Big Mama Thornton. In high school, she was teased and called names and had really bad acne. She graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas, during the summer and later the University of Texas at Austin. She left Texas for San Francisco in January 1963, living in North Beach and later Haight-Ashbury. In 1964, Joplin and future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen recorded a number of blues standards. On June 4, 1966, Joplin joined Big Brother and the Holding Company, and they played The Monterey International Pop Music Festival which was a three-day concert event held June 16 to June 18, 1967 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. Jimi Hendrix also performed at this show. On September 14, 1968, culminating a three-night final gig together at Fillmore West, was the last official night of Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Joplin then embarked on a solo career. Her last album was Pearl was released in 1971. It became the biggest selling album of her career and featured her biggest hit single, a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee. The last recordings Joplin completed were on October 1, 1970, Mercedes Benz and a birthday greeting for John Lennon. On October 4, 1970, at the Landmark Motor Hotel, Joplin was found dead on the floor beside her bed. The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
Jim Morrison July 3, 1971
Jim Morrison was born Jame Douglas Morrison December 8, 1943 in Melbourne, Florida. For a short biography on Morrison, please see Jim Morrison Biography. Morrison formed The Doors with Manzarek in the summer of 1965. After Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died, Morrison was reported to have said to his friends, “You are drinking with number 3”, and it came to pass. Morrison died on July 3, 1971 in Paris. Many theories exist because of the mysterious circumstances regarding his death, but most likely, he died in the bathtub after a long night of partying with his “cosmic mate” Pamela Courson. Remarkably, Courson also passed away at the age of 27, on April 25, 1974 of a heroin overdose.
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan March 8, 1973
Ronald C. “Pigpen” McKernan was born on September 8, 1945 in San Bruno California. McKernan taught himself blues piano and developed a biker image. In his early teens. A girlfriend of McKernan’s gave him the nickname “Pigpen”, referencing the Peanuts charcter. After leaving highschool, McKernan began hanging out at coffeehouses and eventually met Jerry Garcia. After a series of bands and member changes, in 1965, The Greatful Dead was formed. McKernan played organ, harmonica and vocals. While some of the members of the band were more into the psychedelics, McKernan stayed with alcohol. In October 1968, McKernan was fired from The Greatful Dead for not coming to rehearsals, but by November 1968, he was back in the band, however, now Tom Constanten had replaced McKernan on the keyboards, and McKernan was now playing the congas. The Greatful Dead played Woodstock in August of 1969, featuring McKernan singing a 48 minute version of “Turn on your lovelight”. Constanten left The Dead in January 1970, and McKernan was back on the keyboards. McKernan also had a short relationship with Janis Joplin, and she even joined The Greatful Dead onstage at the Fillmore West in June of 1969. McKernan’s final concert appearance on June 17, 1972 at the Hollywood Bowl, in Los Angeles, California. On March 8, 1973, he was found dead of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage at his home in Corte Madera, California.
Kurt Cobain April 5, 1994
Kurt Donald Cobain was born on February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington. Cobain began playing piano and singing at age 4. When Cobain was 9, his parents divorced, which seems to have had a devastating effect on him. Cobain’s rebelliousness eventually lead his father to send him off to live with family and friends. While living with the Reed’s, who were devout Christians, Cobain became a born again Christian. He later renounced Christianity and leaned more towards a Buddhist philosophy, hence the band name “Nirvana”. Cobain dropped out of Aberdeen High School 2 weeks before graduation, and his mother kicked him out of her house. Cobain was a Beatles fan, with John Lennon being his favorite, and was also a fan of the classic 70’s rock bands. Later, his musical tastes expanded into punk and alternative. A big influence on his song writing style for “Nevermind” was the alternative band “Pixies”. Most of Cobain’s life, he suffered from bronchitis and a chronic stomach condition, which cause him a lot of pain. On April 8, 1994, Cobain’s body was discovered at his Lake Washington home. Cobain had apparently taken his own life around April 5th and he had heroin and small traces of Valium found in his body.
Amy Winehouse July 23, 2011
Amy Jade Winehouse was born on 14 September 1983 in the Southgate area of North London. As a young girl, her father Mitch, would sing old jazz songs to her, and Amy loved to join in. Winehouse got her first guitar at age 13 and began writing songs at 14. As she grew older, her influences included Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. In the summer of 2000, Winehouse was a featured female vocalist with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. On October 20, 2003, Winehouse released her debut CD, “Frank”, named after Frank Sinatra. She co-wrote all of the songs except for two cover songs. “Frank” was very influenced by jazz and it was nominated for two BRIT awards. In 2004, Winehouse won the Ivor Novello (songwriting) Award for Best Contemporary Song. Winehouse’s second CD, “Back to Black”, went in a new direction, musically, very influenced by the girl groups of the 1960’s. “Back to Black” was released on October 30, 2006, where it went to number 1 in the UK and entered the US Billboard charts at #7. It became the best selling album in the UK in 2007, selling almost 2 million copies there. At the Grammy Awards in 2008, Amy Winehouse won five Grammys, which set a record as the was the first British female to do so. In March of 2011, Winehouse recorded “Body and Soul” with the legendary Tony Bennett, which was released on what would have been Winehouse’s 28th birthday, September 14th. Three days before passing, Winehouse made her last public appearance on stage at the Camden’s Roundhouse, London to support her goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield, who was singing “Mama Said”. Amy Winehouse died on July 23, 2011 alone at her home in Camden, London.