Gigwise remembers the biggest members of the fated 27 club...
James Dannatt and Huw Jones
11:47 20th June 2008

Believe it or not, in the world of Rock n Roll, age matters; former Libertine Pete Doherty is two years too old and drug addled diva Amy Winehouse two years too young. We are of course talking about the mythical private members only 27 Club, the collective grouping of musicians who died at the age of 27. The Club was created in 1969 when a number of renowned musicians died within years of each other, each shrouded in mystery. There’s no dress code, guest list or kicking out time and its doors are always open, providing you’re old enough to get in that is. Coincidence, conspiracy, speculation, mystery, tragedy and fate; its all there, click through the gallery below to see which unfortunate musicians are bona fide members.

Gigwise remembers the biggest members of the fated 27 club...

  • Robert Johnson 08/05/11 – 16/08/38 According to folklore, King of the Delta Blues Robert Johnson, considered by many to be the grandfather of Rock n Roll, sold his soul to the devil in order to become the greatest Blues musician to ever live. Although it’s thought he died after drinking from an open bottle of Whiskey laced with strychnine, his death in 1938 remains uncertain as does the exact location of his grave, with three different burial sites all claiming to hold his bones.

  • Kurt Cobain 20/02/67 – 05/04/94 The spokesperson for Generation X and Nirvana front-man was found dead at his home with a shotgun wound to the head, gun by his side, after apparently taking his own life. Despite previous suicide attempts and a note found at the scene, it’s claimed that Cobain was murdered as the position the gun was found in was inconsistent with a self inflicted wound and the levels of heroin inside his body were too high to have then pulled the trigger.

  • Jimi Hendrix 27/11/42 – 18/09/70 After spending the evening at a party, drinking red wine, the guitar legend returned to the Notting Hill basement flat of his occasional German girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, took nine Vesperax sleeping pills and went to bed. He was found having asphyxiated on his own vomit and although suggestions of suicide have long been dismissed, Hendrix died amid circumstances that have never been fully explained, in the process cementing his god like legacy.

  • Brian Jones 28/02/42 – 03/07/69 The Rolling Stones founding member and guitarist, renowned as much for his musical ability as for his overindulgent drug use was found dead in his swimming pool, just two days before the Stones were due to showcase his replacement at a free concert in Hyde Park. While some claimed suicide and others murder, the coroner recorded ‘death by misadventure’. Jones was buried in a lavish casket provided by Bob Dylan, 12 feet deep, to prevent exhumation by trophy hunters.

  • Janis Joplin 19/01/43 – 04/10/70 With her album ‘Pearl’ in production, Rock n Roll’s first female superstar visited the Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles, to listen to the track ‘Buried Alive In The Blues’, for which she was due to record vocals for the following day. She failed to show up and her lifeless body was discovered on the floor of her hotel room at the Landmark Motor Hotel. She had died of a heroin overdose combined with excessive amounts of alcohol.

  • Jim Morrison 08/12/43 – 03/07/71 The Doors front-man broke through to the other side in Paris, found dead by long term partner Pamela Courson in his bath. The exact location of his death is shrouded in mystery and in the absence of an official autopsy, so is the cause. Despite many claiming that like Elvis, he’s still alive, the official cause of death was recorded as heart failure, although it’s widely accepted that its onset was caused after Morrison mistook heroin for cocaine and overdosed.

  • Dave Alexander 03/06/47 – 10/02/75 Five years after being fired from the Stooges after showing up at a festival too drunk to play. The original protopunk bassist was admitted to hospital with pancreatitis, linked to his heavy drinking and subsequently died of pneumonia. His name is mentioned in the song ‘The Angel’s Gate’ written by Mike Watt who subsequently replaced the deceased Alexander in the reformed Stooges.

  • Jesse Belvin – 15/12/32 – 06/02/60 Despite co-writing ‘Earth Angel’ one of the biggest hits of the 1950’s, this acclaimed R&B star is one of the least recognized names among his peers. Just hours after performing in front of the first racially integrated audience ever in Little Rock, Arkansas, he and his wife were killed in a head on collision. Belvin had received several death threats prior to the concert and although never proved, speculation is rife that his car had been tampered with prior to the accident.

  • Dennes Dale Boon 01/04/58 – 22/12/85 Number 89 on Rolling Stone’s top 100 greatest guitarists of all time but best known as the guitarist and vocalist for Californian Punk Rock trio Minutemen, was killed in Arizona when the van he was traveling crashed off the road. Boon had been ill with a fever and was lying in the back of the van without a seatbelt when it crashed. He was thrown out of the back door and died instantly, the result of a broken neck.

  • Pete de Freitas 02/08/61 – 14/06/89 Post-Punk Liverpudlians Echo & The Bunnymen were formed in 1978. By 1980, Pete de Freitas (second from left) had replaced the drum machine and the group’s debut album ‘Crocodiles’ made the UK Top 20 gathering critical acclaim along the way. The band split in 1988 and the following year, de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way back from filming the video for Julian Cope’s ‘China Doll’. His ashes are buried in Goring-on-Thames.

  • Peter Ham 27/04/47 – 24/04/75 Despite releasing six albums and having four hit singles, Swansea rockers Badfinger got caught up in severe financial and managerial difficulties. Unable to cope the keyboardist and guitarist committed suicide by hanging in 1975 and leaving a note that accused the bands manager Stan Polley of stealing the bands royalties. Ham was just three days shy of 28. Eight years later, fellow Badfinger band-mate Thomas Evans took his own life in a similar manner to that of Ham.

  • Les Harvey 1945 – 03/05/72 Les Harvey, younger brother of Rock n Roll artist Alex, was a Scottish guitarist who played in several Scottish bands throughout the late 1960’s and early 1970’s but most notably with blues outfit Stone The Crows formed in Glasgow in 1969. Harvey was electrocuted and subsequently died while on stage at Swansea Top Rank after he touched an unearthed microphone with wet hands in 1972.

  • Alan Wilson – 04/07/43 – 03/09/70 Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson (centre), was lead vocalist of Canned Heat, wrote ‘Going Up The Country’ the unofficial theme to Woodstock and performed at two of the 1960’s legendary concerts; The Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. He was found dead in Topanga Canyon, California, after according to autopsy reports, a barbiturate overdose. Some cried suicide but with no suicide note or conclusive evidence, this claim has been dismissed.

  • Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan – 08/09/1945 – 08/03/1973 Years of incessant drinking inevitably caused a series of liver problems for the founding member of Grateful Dead. McKernan was given doctors orders to stop touring, but unable to keep away he rejoined the band. Unfortunately his health deteriorated so much he was forced to quit touring once again. He was found dead at his home in Corte Maderna after passing away from a gastrointestinal haemorrhage.

  • Chris Bell - 12/01/1951 - 27/12/1978 An example of live fast die fast. The Memphis born Big Star singer/guitarist was on his way home from his family restaurant in a sports car when he lost control and hit a wooden light pole. His was killed instantly and his funeral was held the next day.

  • Bryan Ottoson – 18/03/1978 – 19/04/2005 The guitarist of Minneapolis nu metal band American Head Charge was found dead in the bunk of his band’s tour bus. An overdose of prescription drugs was the reason for his untimely death and police upset the band when they claimed Ottoson had been drinking heavily the night before his death. Bassist Chad Hanks said: “If 3 drinks is a ‘large amount of alcohol’, then apparently my mother is a raging alcoholic.”

  • Mia Zapata – 25/08/1965 – 07/07/1993 The lead singer of punk outfit The Gits was raped and murdered as she walked home from a heavy nights drinking. She had been staying at a friend’s house after her night out and rather then taking a taxi she elected to make it home on foot. She was found in a street by a prostitute, battered and strangled to death. The murderer, Jesus Mezquia, was convicted in March 2004, 11 years after the death of Zapata.

  • Sean Patrick McGabe The lead singer of the vampire themed punk band Ink and Dagger was found dead in a motel room after choking on vomit. As well as influencing such bands as Thursday, At The Drive-In and My Chemical Romance, McGabe was known to egg Hare-Krishna followers, throw yoghurt on a vegan moshmetal band and throw up on Christmas Trees onstage.

  • Jeremy Michael Ward – 05/05/1979 – 25/05/2003 The Mars Volta star was on tour with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers when he was found dead in his California home from a heroin overdose. Ward was an avid artist and respected musician and his death motivated Mars Volta members Cedrid Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez to stop using opioids.

  • Kristen Pfaff 26/05/67 – 16/06/94 In 1993 Pfaff left her Minneapolis band Janitor Joe to join Hole’s line-up in Seattle. During her time in Washington’s heroin capital, she formed a close friendship with Kurt Cobain and developed a taste for the brown. After spell’s in rehab Pfaff cleaned up but the death of Cobain was too much and she decided to move back to Minneapolis to rejoin Janitor Joe. On the morning she was due to leave, she was found dead after overdosing on heroin.

  • Gary Thain – 15/05/1948 – 08/12/1975 Electric Shock, STD, Heroin overdose. The final days of the Uriah Heep bassist certainly typified rock ‘n’ roll excess. Drug addiction resulted in a string of poor performances, forcing the band to relieve Thain of his services. During his final tour with the band Thain sustained a serious electric shock and contracted an incurable sexual disease. He eventually died of a heroin overdose.


WORDS: