Mentioning the 27 Club, we mean famous artists in the broad sense of this word who died at the young age of 27 in unclear or tragic circumstances. The debate about the nature of those occurrences continue — could it have been a pure coincidence or such patterns are usually non-random? The cause of death in most cases still remains suspicious, thus we can’t surely speculate about how it happened. However, we can try (and it might be more interesting) thinking why it happened, taking 7 members of the notorious club — shining stars of the world of musical culture. Let’s get it started.
Robert Leroy Johnson (May, 8 1911 – August, 16 1938) — American blues singer, musician and songwriter of the Jazz Age, the supposed founder of Delta blues style. People used to wonder if Johnson had sold his soul to the devil, so well he was playing blues, feeling the music and improvising. The musician wouldn’t reply but there is a confirming evidence: the Crossroad statue at the intersection of Roads 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the ‘deal’ took place. Surprisingly, Johnson wasn’t that successful in his lifetime, mostly performing in joints and bistros as well as on street corners. Little known outside his home circuit in the Mississippi Delta, Robert Johnson became famous out of a sudden, right after his death in 1938, when such producers as John Hammond from Columbia Records started seeking for him without even knowing of his death. The irony is that the outburst of attention to Johnson happened mostly because the reasonable hour came — the musician’s talent had finally been discovered. The death of the 27-year-old blues player is still a dark side of the moon — might it have been congenital syphilis that plowed him under or an unfortunate attempt to flirt with the woman of a jealous husband — nobody knows. Neither we know much of Johnson’s biography. His contemporaries describe the musician as polite and indecipherable at once with ‘his weakness for whiskey and women, and his commitment to the road‘. Ordinary man with a marked musical talent and constant lack of money Robert Johnson seems to have been predisposed to escape and reluctant to live in the limelight. Thus, he passed away on August, 16 1938, leaving us just guessing at the details of his biography.
James Marshall ‘Jimi’ Hendrix (November, 27 1942 – September, 18 1970) — African-American rock guitarist, singer and songwriter who was considered as the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Born in the family with a diverse heritage (he had African American and Cherokee routes at once) in 1942, young James Marshall didn’t enjoy his childhood. During the first three years after birth, Jimi couldn’t see his father due to the military career of the latter, so did his mother struggle to take care of him. Even that Jim’s parents reunited a few years later, the family life wasn’t peaceful as both parents suffered from alcoholism and there was no money to lead a decent life. After divorce, Jim’s father was the one to be granted custody of the two elder sons — Jimi and his brother Leon. As you can guess, nobody helped Jimi Hendrix to discover the world of rock and blues music — he did it on his own, starting playing his first acoustic guitar at the age of 15. Young Hendrix was practicing hard, listening to B.B. King and the above mentioned Robert Johnson as well as learning much from Billy Davis in person, who stayed by the way a good friend of his from 1959 till the day of Jim’s death. Indeed, Jimi founded and sat in with various bands during his early career, performing pretty often – however, all of that was mostly within the R&B circuit which neither brought him much fame, nor money. His lucky strike happened in May 1966, as he rejoined Curtis Knight and the Squires to give a concert at New York’s prominent the Cheetah Club. Linda Keith, Keith Richards’ girlfriend, noticed Jim’s talent and referred the musician to Chas Chandler, the Animals ex-bassist who was just starting his producing career. A perfect match was found — with a great help of Chandler, Hendrix flew to London and headed the Jimi Hendrix Experience band, exclusively formed to highlight his talent. The UK was taken by storm by the exotic looking yet great musician. The first two singles by the Experience Hey Joe and Purple Haze (yes, we at Purplehaze mag also love music by Jimi Hendrix) reached top positions of the UK charts, while setting his guitar on fire at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival made the musician an absolute icon of rock music of the time. However, his amazing career burnt out quickly — Jimi Hendrix died on September 18 1970 at the apartment of his girlfriend in the Samarkand hotel. The official verdict says the musician died of asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates — Hendrix took the fatal dose of sleeping tablets possibly after having done drugs. Whatever the cause of Jim’s death, face it, the meteoric rise of his career as well the sudden fame did not only fail to remove but even aggravated the consequences of his unfortunate childhood. Jimi Hendrix couldn’t carry his stardom. All we’ve got for today are his lyrics, records of his songs and, of course, the musician’s look. Supersaturated vintage & street style including numerous lace and silk blouses, striped pants, gold embroidered jackets and a cloud of hair not only made Jimi Hendrix silhouette recognizable but also turned it into fashion icon of the 60’s.
Janis Lyn Joplin (January, 19 1943 – October, 4 1970) — American rock, soul, and blues singer and songwriter, probably the most famous female rock star of the 20th century. From the early years Janis stood out with her bright and daring personality among the mates — in some sense she was born the wrong time as the US still remained quite a conservative place in the 50’s.
An elder child of three, born in the middle-class family, Janis didn’t seem to have troubled at home so much as she used to in high school. Overweight, youth problems with skin and above all lack of the socially accepted femininity in behavior made Janis a complete mystery in the eyes of her peers, so they felt free to bully her. At school, she was mostly acting shy, spending much time on reading and painting and thinking. Having entered the University of Texas at Austin (UT), Janis Joplin felt happier finding soulmates to join together a folk trio which turned into her first musical experience in 1962. Joplin’s vivid mezzo-soprano and her charismatic nature contributed to her career growth as a singer while her addiction to drugs and alcohol were slowly ruining her. Janis recorded a number of songs to start joining various bands from 1966, attracting attention of big producers and receiving lots of offers. By that time her weight had gone down to 40 kilos what really worried her family members and close friends. Actually, Janis tried going straight several times giving up drinking and taking drugs and attending regular psych sessions but it wouldn’t prevent her death soon. Having performed solo for a year, Janis Joplin died on October, 4 1970. Producer Paul Rothchild had been looking for the disappeared singer in the Landmark Motor Hotel, where she was staying as he found the dead body of Joplin lying on the floor besides her bed. Heroin overdose is the official and most likely cause of death, though some people think the rock star couldn’t die accidentally. During her lifetime, Janis Joplin released three successful albums, the fourth one, Pearl, came a year after her death and immediately topped the charts. Janis was always optimistic and open-hearted. ‘The more you live, the less you die’ — she used to say. However, the singer failed to release the past and face herself, caring too much of people opinions. She kept on searching that missing femininity in her appearance and was bent on proving something to others. Still, to us she always remains an icon with her long-sleeved blouses and dresses, piles of jewellery and even massive fur hats. Weird yet elegant rock and soul queen, that’s what Janis Joplin really was.
Certainly, to be continued…
Text /Julia Kryshevich/