The 27 Club: Remembering A Few Great Musicians

Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison all great musicians who died at the age of 27. This is not to conclude that there is an increase in the risk of death for musicians at the age of 27. This is just a remembrance of some great musicians and the legacies they left behind in the short 27 years they each had. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all left their mark on the music industry each in their own way. Some may even say they all changed music history with the legacies they left.

Jimi Hendrix

James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix was an African-American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter. His mainstream career spanned only four years. Many regard him as one of the most influential electric guitarists in history. Possibly one of the best musicians across all of music. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.” Hendrix earned fame with three UK top ten hits with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, and “The Wind Cries, Mary.” He achieved fame in the United States after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and in 1968 his third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland, reached number one in the U.S. This was Hendrix’s most commercially successful release and his first plus only number one album.

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The world’s highest paid performer at the time, he headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. American rock and roll along with electric blues inspired Hendrix musically. He was one of the first guitarists to make extensive use of tone altering effect units, such as fuzz tone, Octavia, wah-wah, and Uni-Vibe in mainstream rock. He was the first musician ever to use stereophonic phasing effects in music recordings. Hendrix left behind this piece of the legacy and most people appreciate his contributions.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Rolling Stone ranked the band’s three studio albums among the 100 Greatest albums of all time and ranked Hendrix as the greatest guitarist of all time. The defining moment of his career is arguably at Woodstock in 1969. Hendrix’s performance featured a rendition of the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, during which he used copious amounts of amplifier feedback, distortion, and sustain to replicate the sounds made by rockets and bombs. Pop critic Al Aronowitz of the New York Post wrote: “It was the most electrifying moment in Woodstock, and it was probably the single greatest moment of the sixties.”

In 2011, the editors of Guitar World placed his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock at number one in their list of his 100 greatest performances. So the legacy he left is this, Hendrix created modern electric playing, without question, he was the first. He started it all. The rest is history. Jimi left us with these words from his poem he wrote the night before he died. This represents his life and he wrote “The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye. The story of love is hello and goodbye until we meet again.”

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Janis Joplin

Janis Lyn Joplin, nicknamed “Pearl”, was an American rock, soul and blues singer and songwriter, also one of the most successful/widely known female rock stars of her era. She died suddenly at the age of 27 and she had released three albums before her death. A fourth album, Pearl, was released in January 1971, just over three months after her death. It hit number one on the Billboard charts. In 1967, Joplin rose to fame during an appearance at Monterey Pop Festival, which she was the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company. After she left to continue as a solo artist, she appeared at the Woodstock Festival and the Festival Express train tour.

Five singles by Joplin reached the Billboard Hot 100, including a cover of the song “Me and Bobby McGee” which reached number one in March 1971. Joplin, highly respected for her charismatic performing ability was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. People in audiences and critics referred to her stage presence as “electric”. She remains one of the top-selling musicians in the U.S. with Recording Industry Association of America certifications of 15.5 million albums sold. In 2008 Rolling Stone ranked Joplin number 28 on its list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Her legacy that she left behind is her ability to perform and captivate an audience.

Joplin as an artist was “overpowering and deeply vulnerable”, and could be considered the female version of Elvis Presley on stage. Joplin opened opportunities in the rock music business for future female singers and musicians. Janis Joplin was herself and that’s who she counted on. Joplin lived life and decided to not settle and in a quote from her “You are what you settle for.” To many she did settle, she settled for greatness.

Jim Morrison

James Douglas Morrison was an American singer-songwriter and poet, best remembered as the lead vocalist of the Doors. Music critics and fans regard Morrison as one of the most iconic and influential frontmen in rock music history. Due in most part to his poetic lyrics, distinctive voice, wild personality, performances and the dramatic circumstances surrounding his life/death. Morrison co-founded the Doors during the summer of 1965 in Venice, California. The band spent two years in obscurity until shooting to prominence with their number one single in the United States, “Light My Fire”, taken from the debut album.

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Morrison recorded six studio albums with the Doors, all sold well and received critical acclaim. The death of Morrison crippled the band. Even though the Doors recorded two more albums, the band split up in 1973. In 1993, Jim Morrison, as a member of the Doors, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The legacy Morrison left is that is that of being one of pop culture’s most rebellious icons in history. He was also well-known for improvising spoken word poetry passages while the band played live.

The Doors once appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, a popular Sunday night variety series that introduced the Beatles and Elvis Presley to the U.S. Ed Sullivan requested two songs for the show, “People Are Strange” and “Light My Fire”. Producers asked The Doors to change the lyrics. Partly because of a perceived reference to drugs was in the original lyrics. However, after giving assurances of compliance to the producer in the dressing room, the band went out and sang the original lyrics anyway.

Sullivan had a show producer tell the band that they would never appear on the show again. Morrison reportedly said to the producer, in a defiant tone, “Hey man. We just did the Sullivan Show”! This was just one rebellious thing Morrison and the Doors did. Other acts include Morrison being arrested for indecent exposure at a concert. The judge at his sentencing told Morrison that he was a “person graced with a talent”. Therefore, Morrison remained free on $50,000 bond.

A Lot of Morrison’s poetry came out after his life. This is due to his friend Frank Lisciandro and girlfriend Pamela Courson’s parent owning the rights to his poetry. The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison Volume 1 is titled Wilderness. In fact, upon its release in 1988, it became an instant New York Times Bestseller. Jim Morrison was and continues to be, one of the most popular singer-songwriters and iconic frontmen in rock history. In 2011, a Rolling Stone readers pick placed Jim Morrison in fifth place of the Magazine’s Best lead singers of All Time. Most appreciate Morrison for all his contributions to all of music history as one of the best musicians. In his words a quote he wrote: “It may have been in pieces, but I gave you the best of me”.

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Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin gave the best of themselves. All the contributions effort, passion, and heart they gave was everything they had. Like shooting stars, these musicians shined bright in a flash and burned out as quickly as they came. The short 27 years the music industry had them does not take away from their greatness. These musicians didn’t settle for less than the top of the charts. They were themselves. The best they could be with all the love they had to offer. Even though their lives were quicker than the wink of an eye, many music fans dearly miss these individuals. This is to Jimi, Janis, and Jim until we meet again.

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