Forever 27, a club many musicians are dying to get into, quite literally, is famed for its iconic members, all of whom died at the age of 27. Here, rather briefly, we will examine the untimely death of four artists. Tales often associated with drink and drug abuse, each musician lived one hell of a life, albeit a very short one.
1. Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson, an influential bluesman, died on August 16, 1938. A talented individual, Eric Clapton once described Johnson as “the most important blues singer that ever lived.” Initial reports of suicide were quickly quashed, instead replaced by the assumption that the musician was poisoned by a lover’s jealous husband.
Johnson, like many bluesmen of the 1930s, perfected his art on street corners and in shady joints, although his ability to write songs that romanticized this harsh existence soon set him apart. By combining starkly evocative vocals with dexterous guitar play, Johnson gifted us with music that still resonates decades after the heyday of country blues.
Marrying his poetic with his emotional depth, Johnson took feelings of intense loneliness and transformed them into deeply personal art. Speaking about Johnson, a man who lived in the South during the Great Depression, Keith Richards said: “You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it.”
A quarter of a century ago, courtesy of Sony Legacy, the 2-CD box set “Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings” was released. Receiving widespread critical acclaim, the catalogue truly solidified Johnson’s status as a pioneer of country blues, an innovator, and a mercurial genius.
2. Jimi Hendrix
Guitar god, singer, songwriter, and all around legend, call him what you will, Jimi Hendrix was the quintessential rock star. Born on November 27, 1942, even at an early age many agreed that the young Seattleite was destined for fame. From his ostentatious outfits to his left-handed guitar, Hendrix had a swagger that was as unique as it was imposing. Shortly after meeting Chas Chandler, the duo went about creating a revolutionary rock group: The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Released in 1967, “Hey Joe,” the group’s first single, was an immediate hit, especially in the UK. Following up this success with other tracks like “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cried Mary,” Jimi Hendrix soon became the poster boy for the swinging ’60s.
“Electric Ladyland,” released in 1968, was Jimi’s last record as a member of the Hendrix Experience. A year later, after performing a rather unorthodox interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, his legendary status was well and truly confirmed.
Less than 12 months after the historic moment, regrettably, Jimi was found dead after overdosing on pills and suffering from asphyxiation.
Regularly portrayed as a brash advocate of psychedelic rock, the media painted a picture of a rebel, a man armed with only a lighting-rod-cum-guitar. However, when many remember Hendrix, they talk about his placid side. Songs like “One Rainy Wish,” “Little Wing” and “Drifting” endear and enthrall in the most beautiful of manners. Through nurturing an intimate relationship with music, Hendrix, an incredibly technical and theoretical guitarist, captured the hearts of a generation.
3. Brian Jones
Brian Jones, along with pianist Ian Stewart, singer Mick Jagger, and guitarist Keith Richards, formed a little known band called The Rolling Stones. Plagued by demons of a narcotic nature, during the Stones’ early days Jones acted as the band’s leader and manager. A handsome chap, Jones was the group’s most photogenic band member, and his fashionable appearance epitomized the sexed-up scene of 1960’s London. In 1963, shortly after the band hired manager Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ adopted a rough, somewhat ‘middle finger to the world’ persona. As Oldham’s influence rose within the group, the significance of Jones as ringleader diminished severely, with Jagger and Richards, who did much of the songwriting, soon taking the spotlight.
As talented as he was troubled, Jones played numerous instruments: sitar, keyboards, dulcimer, harmonica, xylophone and marimba, to name just six. By the mid 60s, feeling deeply alienated, Jones relied more on drugs and alcohol for solace, and by June of 1969, due to his crippling addictions, he was told to leave the band.
A month later, just after the release of “Let It Bleed” on July 3, 1969, Jones was found dead at his home in Hartfield, East Sussex.
4. Janis Joplin
Growing up, as she later confirmed, Janis Joplin was a deeply unhappy high school student. Celebrated for her influence during a male-dominated rock era, the Texan was a contradiction in every sense of the word. Confident yet vulnerable, brash yet shy, unflappable yet masochistic, Joplin had a weakness for both whiskey and heroin, the latter actually causing her premature death.
Rising to fame in the late 60s, Joplin was lauded for her powerful, blues-inspired vocals. Although she developed a love of music at a very early age, Joplin didn’t taste success until, at the age of 26, she joined the band Big Brother and the Holding Company. “Cheap Thrills,” the group’s 1968 album, was a smash hit, however due to creative conflicts within the band Joplin left and released her first solo effort, “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!” Receiving lukewarm reviews, Joplin found the criticism difficult to digest. However, Joplin’s second project, “Pearl,” released in 1971, a year after her death, proved to be her magnum opus, a record steeped in artistic opulence.
Thanks for reading; Read Part 2 here.