According to blues folklore, a young Robert Johnson took his guitar out to the crossroads of US Route 61 and US Route 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi at precisely midnight. He met with a large, dark man who took Johnson’s guitar, tuned it, played a few songs and handed it back to him. When Johnson took his guitar back, it is said that he received mastery of his instrument and in exchange for this he sold his soul to the Devil. In solidifying this deal, unbeknownst to him the 27 Club was founded.
I know how it sounds, like a bunch of crap.
Let’s look at some facts.
There have been 24 musicians, well known and gifted musicians, who have perished when they were 27 years old since 1938. The year 1938 marks the first “inductee”, our friend, Robert Johnson, a man who is considered to be the “Master of the Delta Blues” and who has influenced such legends as Eric Clapton. He was a master of his craft and has been listed on the Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” He is ranked 5th. At the age of 27, Johnson was supposedly poisoned and died a painful death, thus the curse is said to have begun.
The 27 Club, as it has been named, consists of musicians who have died from other than natural causes; drug overdoses, alcohol, poisoning, heart failure and suicides. It is believed by many that these musicians were cursed. So many of them had achieved such big success at such a young age, and then to lose it all when they are at the height of their achievement. Coincidence?
Here are five:
1970- Jimi Hendrix, named by Rolling Stone Magazine to be the “Greatest Guitarist of All Time” was already a legend at the time of his death. Due to the consumption of alcohol and sleeping pills, he drowned in his own vomit. He was 27.
1970- Janis Joplin, also known as Pearl, was a singer and songwriter. She was soulful and full of life. She changed the music scene and burned hot for only five short years until she overdosed on heroin. She was 27.
1971- Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors and a poet. The Lizard King was found dead in his bathtub in Paris supposedly from a heroin overdose, although alcohol was probably involved. He was 27.
1994- Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana. Suffering from depression and drug addiction, Cobain was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His body was not found for three days. He was 27.
2011- Amy Winehouse, the English born Grammy award winning artist. Her style of singing and songwriting was original. She publically dealt with alcohol and drug addiction. She was found dead in her apartment. She was 27.
The list goes on and on. Those listed are ones that are well known and truly at the height of their stardom. They were legends already in their lifetime.
It comes down to what you believe. Can you believe that Robert Johnson made a pact with the Devil all those years ago on the crossroads in Mississippi, to hand over his soul to achieve greatness? Being it was the Devil, was it always to be short lived, dying at a young age contributed to a horrible death in exchange for fame and fortune? Did this begin a curse that would affect people who would aspire to be the master of their craft, only to lose it all after a very short time and at the young age of 27? Or is it all coincidence and hog wash? A romanticized ideal to answer why these people we loved were taken from us so young and after just a short while. We always want to know why, and as humans we have to make it either dramatic or tie a pretty bow on it. It is what it is. Or is it?
Here is complete list of the infamous 27 Club; all died at the age of 27.
1. Robert Johnson – unknown, but typically attributed to strychnine poisoning.
2. Jimi Hendrix – asphyxiation.
3. Janis Joplin – probable heroin overdose.
4. Brian Jones – bandleader of the “Rolling Stones”, found at the bottom of his swimming pool.
5. Chris Bell – guitarist for “Big Star”, car hit a pole, died on impact.
6. Jim Morrison – reported as heart failure.
7. Kurt Cobain – suicide by gunshot.
8. D. Boon – van veered off the road when he was asleep, died of broken neck.
9. Dave Alexander – bassist for the “Stooges”, pulmonary edema.
10. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan – founding member and keyboardist of “The Grateful Dead”, stomach hemorrhage attributed to years of drinking.
11. Pete Ham – guitarist from “Badfinger”, hanged himself.
12. Jean-Michel Basquiat – member of “Gray”, heroin overdose.
13. Pete de Feitas – first drummer for “Echo and the Bunnymen”, motorcycle accident.
14. Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson – singer for “Canned Heat”, drug overdose.
15. Jeremy Michael Ward – sound tech for “Mars Volta”, heroin overdose.
16. Kristen Pfaff – bassist for “Hole”, heroin overdose.
17. Mia Zappata – singer for the “Gits”, raped and murdered.
18. Bryan Ottoson – guitarist for “American Head Charge”, accidental prescription overdose.
19. Malcolm Hale – lead guitarist for “Spanky and Our Gang”, carbon monoxide poisoning (accidental).
20. Richey Edwards – guitarist for “Manic Street Preachers”, missing since 1995 but believed to have committed suicide.
21. Gary Thain – bassist for “Keef Hartley Band”, heroin overdose.
22. Jesse Belvin – R&B singer, also wrote Earth Angel and Goodnight My Love, killed in a head on collision.
23. Roger Durham – percussionist for “Bloodstone” , thrown from a horse and killed.
24. Helmut Kollen – bassist and singer for German group “Triumvirat”, killed by carbon monoxide while listening to his radio in his car with the door shut. Weird because he was a mechanic and race car driver and knew better.
25. Sean McCabe – lead singer for “Ink and Dagger”, choked to death on his own vomit.
26. Les Harvey – founding member of “Stone the Crows” and Scottish group “Cartoone”, who opened for Led Zeppelin, electrocuted by an ungrounded microphone.
27. Amy Winehouse – alcohol poisoning.