Anyone with more than a fleeting interest in music will be well aware of the infamous ‘27’ club, and those famous musicians who dwell within its ranks, with Jones, Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix, Cobain and Winehouse being the most well known to most.
Yes, we are talking about the seemingly uncanny ability by some of the rock alumni to pop their clogs at the tender age of twenty seven. There is no known scientific reason for this, just the theory that many musicians have by then had the time, money and resources by that age to indulge in whatever way they seem fit, sometimes with fatal consequences. Others have been just plain unlucky, accidents, murdered etc, or simply realised that even as successful musicians, their lives were complete bollocks.
But what about those rather lesser known members? Other famous musicians who aren’t necessarily associated with this morbid ‘club’ but nevertheless succumbed to the same fate at the same age? There are many out there, so in the spirit of rock, here are some other notables:
Robert Johnson: 8 May 1911-16 Aug 1938
The Mississippi born Bluesman for whom the term ‘mysterious’ could have been invented for, was born in 1911 and died after a rather dodgy night out in 1938. His 29 recordings, including ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’, have inspired a whole generation of musicians; The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers have all recorded his songs and worship the ground, quite literally in some cases, he walked on; mainly the ‘Crossroads’ near Clarksdale, the place to be if you want to sell your soul to the Devil apparently. Johnson supposedly died after drinking from 2 bottles of poisoned whiskey, provided by a jealous husband.
Richey Edwards, Manic Street Preachers: 22 Dec 1967-1 Feb 1995
Boy, he couldn’t play guitar, but his presence and lyrical ideas were fundamental to the fledgling Preachers up until mainstream success. Edwards’s notable swansong ‘The Holy Bible’ does give some insight into a tortured mind; he had been suffering from alcoholism, depression, and was known to self harm, just ask Steve Lamacq. Richey disappeared on 1 February1995. I met him once, didn’t seem very happy then, but then again he was in Margate on a Radio One Roadshow. His car was found by the bridge crossing the River Severn, and a cult has grown up amongst his followers who believe they have seen him since. This is sadly more wishful thinking than reality.
Ron ‘Pigpen” Mckernan, The Grateful Dead: 8 Sept 1945-8 March 1973
Alcohol is to blame for Mr Pigpen’s demise back in the wild old days; he was found dead at his California home of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. He was a founding member of the Grateful Dead, contributing keyboards, harmonica and guitar. He is always remembered through the Dead’s live finale of ‘Turn On Your Lovelight,’ which he once jammed with his then-current shag, Janis Joplin.
Dave Alexander, The Stooges: 3 June 1947-10 Feb 1975
The bass player of the infamous Stooges died of pulmonary edema, a condition caused by alcohol way back in Febuary 1975.Most of the Stooges have followed suit eventually in one way or another (anyone would think they’d led an unhealthy lifestyle). His last main contribution was on 1970’s ‘Fun House’ after which he was sacked for being too pissed to play! This is from a band whose lead singer was usually so whacked out on Heroin, he could barely stand up on stage. Talk about the pot calling the Steven Adler black.
Pete Ham, Badfinger: ( 27 April 1947- 24 April 1975 )
Welsh born Ham, an Ivor Novello award winning song writer, took his own life on 24 April 1975, hanging himself. He is the man responsible for a slew of hits with Badfinger in the early 70’s including ‘No Matter What.’ He also wrote ‘Without You,’ an international hit for Harry Nilsson and many others. Badfinger started out as The Iveys, and were signed to the Beatles’ Apple Label in 1968. Paul McCartney, a big fan, also wrote Badfinger’s first top ten hit ‘Come And Get It’, in 1970. Victims of the more ruthless side of the music business after they became embroiled in managerial conflicts and internal politics, Ham's income had been cut off and he was contractually stifled. Depressed with the whole situation he decided he’d had enough.
Gary Thain, Uriah Heep: 15 May 1948-8 Dec 1975
A New Zealand born bassist, he was playing with the Keef Hartley band, until poached by Uriah Heep in February 1972. His tenure with the band lasted until 1975 when he was sacked for drug addiction, and he died shortly after of a heroin overdose. The last studio album Thain appeared on was ‘Wonderworld’ where he is credited as co-writing several of the tracks, such as ‘Something Or Nothing.’
Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson, Canned Heat: 4 July 1943-3 Sept 1970
A through and through blues scholar, ‘Blind Owl’ was the leader and singer/guitarist and harmonica player with Canned Heat, and is the man responsible for one of the spookiest blues tracks you will ever hear- ‘On The Road Again.’ Wilson once sat down with the legendary Son House, to re-teach him his own back catalogue as Son had forgotten most of it; not bad for a guy in his twenties.
Unfortunately Wilson is thought to have been suffering from mental illness most of his life which culminated in dying of an overdose, thought to be deliberate. The Wilson-written ‘Going Up The Country’ became the unofficial anthem of Woodstock due to appearing in the film (Woodstock) about the festival, and is widely regarded as their most famous song, with ‘On The Road Again’ a close second.
So if you are a famous musician approaching your 27th birthday, don’t panic, just hide. Chuck the drugs and booze away, throw away any ropes and guns, and don’t watch anything depressing on TV, and you might just make it. Oh, yeah, any builders doing any rennovations to your house? Send them away as quickly as possible.