As long as I can remember, people have talked about the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin together as if they were related events. Let me make one thing clear from the start, these deaths were completely unrelated in circumstance, and merely happened to have occurred within ten months of each other. Jimi Hendrix died on September 18, 1970 after choking on his own vomit after drugs and drinking. Sixteen days later, Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. One needs to understand that back then, Rock music was the music of the young, performed by young people, for a young audience. It was inconceivable that we could lose two of our legends at so young an age and, with only sixteen days separating these events, people looked for answers and closure for both at the same time. The closeness in time forever linked the two, so when another great, Jim Morrison of the Doors, died nine months later under rather mysterious circumstances, it became natural to link his death to the other two. What was going on here? Many started to even explore the possibility of a conspiracy? Could this have been a government plot to squash the counter culture movement?
Another thing bonded these three deaths together. All three were 27 years old when they died and the group was soon dubbed the “27 Club.” It didn’t take long to notice that another death on July 3, 1969, exactly two years to the day before Morrison’s, should be included. On that day, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones drowned in his swimming people. Now there were 4 members of the 27 Club.
It remained those four, whose first and last deaths were exactly two years apart to the day, until 1994. In that year, on April 5th, Kurt Cobain, front man for Nirvana, decided to end his own life with a shotgun. He was 27 years old. Soon, stories started to circulate that Cobain had been known to have claimed that he would someday be a member of the 27 Club. It raises an interesting question. While the first four deaths were accidents, Cobain’s death was a suicide. Did we have a case of someone joining the club intentionally? Could his suicide have been the fulfillment of a childhood wish?
No one will argue that these greats were taken away from us too soon. There are many that have looked at the 27 club phenomenon and said that there are an inordinately large number of musicians who died at age 27. While I don’t know enough about statistics, life expectancy, etc. to comment on what is a reasonable number and what is disproportionately large, I will list a few others that died at age 27:
Pete Ham of Badfinger
Ron McKernan of the Grateful Dead
Alan Wilson of Canned Heat
Rudy Lewis of the Drifters
Malcolm Hale of Spanky and Our Gang
Gary Thain of Uriah Heep
Pete de Freitas of Echo & the Bunnymen
Freaky Tah of the Lost Boyz
My friend Lanie, who frequents my shows, has requested in the past songs by bluesman Robert Johnson. Johnson died in 1938 at the age of 27, supposedly poisoned. Is this some strange phenomenon or is it just the results of rebellious youths living hard and reckless lives? My mini-set today will consist of the following…
- Paint it Black – Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones)
- All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
- Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
- L.A. Woman – Jim Morrison (The Doors)
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
When you listen to Paint it Black, listen to Brian Jones’s sitar.
As I write this, a song has been going through my head, a 1974 hit by the Righteous Brothers...
“Jimi gave us rainbows…
"Janis took a piece of our hearts…
"Remember Jim that way…
“If there's a rock and roll heaven
Well you know they've got a hell of a band.”