The 27 Club - Rock and Rollers Who Died Too Young

Why do all the good (musicians) die young?

Certainly not all, thank goodness. Tragically enough, the list is a little too long:

There are more members but here are brief biographies of a few who will probably remain in our minds forever.

  • Janis Joplin
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Brian Jones, founding member and original drummer of the Rolling Stones
  • Jim Morrison, front man, singer and songwriter for the Doors

In recent years, this group also includes

  • Kurt Cobain
  • Amy Winehouse

Some say that the first member of the group was a Blues singer and guitarist, Robert Johnson who died in 1938 at (of course) 27 years of age.

It's been speculated that due to a "rock and roll" lifestyle, they took too many chances, too many drugs, worked in the nighttime and played in the daytime, leading to very erratic living and placing themselves in dangerous circumstances. Imagining that they had lived on, such gifted individuals would have continued writing music, performing and perfecting musical techniques well into their later years. The members of the first group were born in the 1940s, which means they would have been about 70 years old today.



Robert Leroy Johnson

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Legendary Guitarist - 1936-37 and 1961+

Robert Leroy Johnson, while not enjoying much if any commercial success in his lifetime, has been regarded an important influence on blues, rock and roll and guitar music. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence.

There are sketchy details of his life, how he lived, where and with whom. We do know that he mastered the Mississippi Delta blues style. He mostly concentrating his playing on streetcorners, juke joints, and Saturday night dance halls.

The circumstances around his death aren't fully known, but there is a story which may be partially true. After a few sessions playing for a Saturday night gig, Robert flirted with a woman, who might have been the wife of the owner or married to another person. Later on, someone offered him an open bottle of whiskey. He had been warned to never drink from an opened bottle, but Robert accepted. In some accounts, he rejected the first or accepted two poisoned bottles. The bottle had been laced with strychnine, and for the remainder of the evening he felt ill and had the symptoms of sthrychnine poisoning. His conditioned worsened over the next few days and on August 16, 1938, he died.

When his works were upgraded to LPs in the early 1960s, he received a revival of fans. Eric Clapton says he's "the most important blues singer that ever lived" and Rolling Stone magazine placed him in the #5 position of rock and roll guitarists of all time.

Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll

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Janis Joplin - female blues singer and drug overdose victim

Janis was a phenomenal singer from the 1960s. She was famous for her stingingly pleasant voice quality, for her love of the blues, singing/screaming rock and roll style and living amidst the celebrated free-living psychadellic "hippie" era in San Francisco, CA. Born and raised in Texas, she was basically a misfit for wearing jeans, enjoying painting, reading, and being a member of the choir. She met some other misfits who loved bluesy African American singers like Bessie Smith, and she began experimenting with her voice. After high school she attended the University of Texas at Austin, finally leaving for San Francisco at age 20. The oldest of three children, her mother said she always needed to be the center of attention. Once she moved, she began to drink - Southern Comfort and experimenting with amphetamines, like many musicians. In a short time, she transformed from an acne infested, young woman to a skeleton. Her worried friends helped her raise funds to return home, where she resumed her studies in sociology. She began performing in Austin, was briefly engaged in 1965 and made an attempt to blend in, sporting a trendy beehive hairdo. But as her heart had remained in San Francisco, she ultimately returned. First staying at North Beach, she relocated to the Haight Ashbury district, heart of San Francisco's counter-cultural hippie movement. Famous for the remake of "Take Another Little Piece of My Heart" and "Me and Bobby McGee", she died in 1970 at the young and tender age of 27, reportedly of a drug overdose.

He could play the electric guitar with his teeth

Jimi Hendrix - Legendary 1960s Guitarist and Songwriter / Singer

Born in 1943, he was the oldest of five children. Of mixed ethnicity, he was also part Cherokee. Unfortunately, his family was riddled with health problems, poverty, and marital discord. One of his sisters was born blind, others had severe learning disabilities. Sent to live with his grandparents in Vancouver as a young boy, his parents finally divorced when he was a young teen. His father saw him practicing guitar chords on a broom handle, and eventually bought him his first guitar. From the start, Jimi quickly mastered traditional chords and learned how to play the guitar behind his back. Meanwhile, his mother died of a ruptured spleen died in 1958. When Jimi began having problems with the law, the authorities gave him an option - go to jail or join the army. He chose the army, where he met his friend Billy Cox. A long time friendship developed, and the two performed music together in a band called the Casuals. They remained friends until the end.

Not cut out for the military, Jimi was determined to leave the army. He pretended to be a homosexual - no one believed him - but since the army was just as anxious for him to leave - he was discharged a year later.

Jimi began performing in small clubs, including as a back up singer for Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, George Odell, and many others. He also had a history of drinking, a hot temper, and a reputation for being a womanizer. He was known to hit women when he was drunk. Despite the attention he received for his guitar playing, he was surprisingly humble. He was also a lover of expensive, classy clothing, combing the streets of London for the most interesting styles. He was known for having casual sex with a large variety of women. There is a child born by Diana Carpenter, a prostitute with whom he spent time. The paternity was never confirmed, but it is widely believed that she bore his only chld, a daughter.

His music was heard in Holland, England and throughout Europe long before his music was heard and recognized in America. Jimi finally got his break when Paul McCartney had him introduced to the Monterrey International Pop Festival, where he became an overnight sensation.

The cause of death is listed as asphyxiation. He had taken a large dose of some unfamiliar, Belgian sedatives to sleep, and basically drowned on his own vomit. There was a tremendous amounts of red wine in his body. His airways were completely drowned with wine, and even his lungs and his hair were filled with wine, but his blood alcohol level was low. Some say that he might have been poured with wine after his death, which had probably occurred some time earlier to the time he was admitted to the hospital.

If Jimi Hendrix had been murdered, it would make sense. Those closest to him knew that he was trying to get out of his recording contract.

Posthumously, VH1 placed Jimi Hendrix as the #3 performer for the Greatest Artists of Hard Rock, and in 1992 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004 he was listed as #6 for the Greatest 100 Artists of All Time.




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Jim Morrison of the Doors

Another famous and very talented singer and performer was the front singer and composer of the Doors, Jim Morrison. His father was a military man, and Jim lived in various parts of the country growing up. He had an enormous I.Q. of 149.

One of the most compelling experiences of his life occurred when he was four years old and his family drove across the southwestern American desert. There, he witnessed a car accident which scarred him for a lifetime. A car filled with American Indians was overturned, and perhaps all the passengers were killed. Members of his family vaguely recall the incident, there was no "blood spilled all over the highway" as he says, but some of his songs refer to this incident.

Jim attended community college in Florida, living with his grandparents. There he was arrested after a prank at a football game. Later, he resumed his studies at UCLA and earned a Degree in Fine Arts. Showing an early sign of rebelliousness, he refused to attend the graduation ceremony, having the diploma mailed to him. He was a supporter of the Los Angeles Free Press, and spent time at Venice Beach, living on a rooftop, where he began writing music, including "Hello, I Love You". There, in the summer of 1965, the Doors were formed with Ray Manzarek, a fellow cinematography student. Its name refers to Opening the doors of perception (through psychedelic drug usage). Two other members joined. They followed the Yogi Maharishi Mahesh's teachings, however Jim answered in an interview that he did "not meditate".

His poetic lyrics were "rock and roll material". He and his longtime companion, girlfriend Pamela Courson had what amounted to a common law marriage, and she used her maiden name and his last name interchangeably. In this era of free love, an "open" relationship was highly rated, and the majority of their fights were regarding his frequent infidelities. He had a compelling, deep voice, and many followers adored him.

He was once arrested for indecent exposure, but no formal charges were placed. He is most famous for the blockbuster hits, "Light My Fire" and "Touch me", "Riders in the Storm". Dead at age 27, he is buried in Paris, France where he died of heart failure from most likely a cocaine overdose. There, his long term girlfriend Pamela Carousen found him dead in the bathtub, and sometimes claims it was her fault that he died. Since no foul play was suspected, no autopsy was performed. Many complain that an autopsy should have been conducted, and to this day, no one is completely sure how he died.


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Was Brian Jones murdered?

Some claim that Brian Jones, the red haired, temperamental guitarist for the Rolling Stones, was murdered. The coroner's report made the famous assessment that he had died of "misadventure", whatever that was supposed to mean. In fact, he drowned at home alone in his own swimming pool. To date, no one is completely sure of the circumstances of his death.

Like other members of the 27 Club, Brian lead a "rock and roll" lifestyle.

At the time of death, he had actually fathered six children. The first was conceived while he was still in high school. His girlfriend of 14 years was supposed to get an abortion, but she kept the baby. Many of the other children were fathered during one night stands.

Alienated from his fellow band members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, his close friends Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey sadly forecasted that his final concert given live would be his last - not only with the Stones but ever.

A punk group "Brian Jonestown massacre" was named after him, and the song "Death by Misadventure" was also written with Brian Jones in mind.


A young Wino charmed them with her rich contralto vocals

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Amy Winehouse - Rehab was her signature song

When her death was announced on July 23, 2011, almost everyone jumped to the conclusion that Amy had died of a drug overdose. Not so. However the coroner concluded that Amy did not die of an overdose - no illegal substances were found in her body at the time of death. Three or more weeks earlier, Amy had stopped using drugs. Certainly, in her last concert in Serbia, it was obvious that Amy was not fit to sing nor perform and was booed off the stage, her tour cancelled 'til she regained her strength and health.

As the song Rehab goes, "they tried to make me go to Rehab but I said No, No No..."

A child protogee, she began singing at an early age, and her deep, smoky vocals surprised her listeners - she was a tiny slight woman. In only a short career of 9 years, she managed to sweep many important musical awards, including a BRIT, and her second album, Back to Black was one of the top albums of the 2000s.

Amy and the others - rest in peace!

Kurt Cobain, young father

Kurt Cobain came from humble beginnings. Father auto mechanic, mother cocktail waitress, he spent most of his life in a dead logging town fighting bronchitus. Kurt was temperamental, sensitive and depressed by nature. This was only worsened by his parents divorce when he was seven years old. After that, he was shuffled back and forth between relatives. He admitted that he never felt loved or secure after that, and had a difficult childhood. For a short time, he lived under a bridge as a homeless runaway. Kurt had troubles making friends in school, getting beaten up by sports types who figured he was a handy target. Kurt retaliated by writing Queers on the back of their cars with spray paint.

When he became 11, he and his friend Krist Novoselić began listening to the British punk bands, the Sex Pistols, Joy Division and others. Both followed the melodious style, angry and ironic lyrics.

When the boys reached 18, they left Aberdeen for Olympia, forming several bands before finally settling on Nirvana. In the end, it was an uneasy alliance of three players - Kurt as front man, Krist on the bass, and a multi-talented instrumentalist and drummer named Dave Groel.

By the late 1980s, Nirvana's music was being widely listened to in England, and tapes of the band's music were being passed around. In 1989 the album Bleach was released, and two and a half years later the second, Smells like Teen Spirit, became a phenomenal hit. Overnight, members of the band became millionaires, something that no one had ever expected to happen.

Kurt married his girlfriend, Courtney Love in 1992 in Hawaii. She was the leader of an all girl band "Hole" and they had a close but tumultuous relationship.

The band continued to rise in popularity. In 1993, Nirvana played an acoustical concert on MTV, silencing critics who had claimed that Kurt had no talent. His lyrics could be plainly heard, and the same sensitive sickly boy growing up in Aberdeen was now in center stage. He continued to battle his personal demons, upset that that same kind of jerks who used to beat him up were now listening to his music. He admitted to wanting to enroll in Rock and Roll 101 - if such a course existed, in other words, how to survive the pressures and lifestyle of rock and roll stardom. He began using heroin to ease his stomach, nerves, and lifestyle pressures.

In 1994 his wife and mother asked him to enter a treatment program for drugs. Leaving the program, he later went home to write a suicide note and place a pistol in his mouth, killing himself on April 5th, 1994. His daughter Frances Bean Cobain was only 19 months old at the time.

Fans and mourners attended a candlelight vigil in his honor while Courtney Love read his suicide note ending with "I love you, I love you".

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Comments 5 comments

cre8ivOne profile image

cre8ivOne 5 years ago from Midwest, USA

It is very tragic when we lose such talented young musicians. Too bad they couldn't have figured out how to handle all the fame before it was too late.


thoughts220 profile image

thoughts220 5 years ago from India

What about 'La Bamba' fame Ritchie Valens?


Yumi 5 years ago

Brian Jones was not a drummer but a guitarist...


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 5 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

Thanks for the comments. Cre8ivOne, yes, exactly, almost all had drug problems. In my opinion, they were also targets of jealousy, which didn't make things any easier....

@Yumi thanks for pointing out my error, I made the change.

@thoughts220, Ritchie Valens was only 17 when he died in a plane crash.

Thanks for reading and commenting.


freds hubpg 2015 21 months ago

Tragic indeed, and the losses go on, including those in other music genres and not necessarily limiting those gone too soon to 20 somethings... artists like Aaliyah, Whitney Houston, John Denver, John Lennon...and on.. It's nice to see all the old '50s thru '70s performers making comebacks, but it saddens thinking of all those we have lost, BUT WE ARE BLESSED to have enjoyed them all!

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