Last April 5th marked the 26th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain. Dead by an apparent suicide, the Nirvana front man became Generation X’s contribution to rock’s mythic 27 Club. While dying at 27 is hardly something to aspire to, the members of music’s 27 Club have been exalted to legendary status because of this very accomplishment (although the fact that some even made it to 27 was probably a feat in and of itself). So many well-known and influential musicians died at 27, but the roster of artists who just missed membership into the club is equally impressive. Below is a look at 10 Musicians Who Just Missed The 27 Club, all by less than one year.
September 26, 1967 – October 21, 1995 (28 Years, 0 Months, 26 Days – 27 Days Past 27)
Best known as the front man of the band whose legacy has been reduced to the iconic 1990s music video image of the bee girl, Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon missed out on the 27 Club by less than one month. After a lengthy struggle with drug addiction that landed him in rehab twice and earned him the company of a sober counselor on the road, Hoon died in 1995 of a cocaine overdose while on tour for the band’s sophomore album, Soup. His life and musical legacy is remembered annually at the 3-day Shannon Hoon Vigil at his gravesite in Dayton, Indiana.
September 14, 1949 – October 20, 1977 (28 Years, 1 Month, 6 Days – 37 Days Past 27)
Barely 28 at the time of his death, Steve Gaines had recently joined Lynyrd Skynyrd following the departure of guitarist Ed King and upon the urging of Cassie Gaines, Steve’s sister and Skynyrd’s backup singer. While on tour in support of Street Survivors, the band’s first studio album with their new guitarist, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Convair 240 aircraft crash-landed in the swamps of Mississippi, killing six people, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and the Gaines siblings. Copies of Street Survivors with Steve Gaines engulfed in flames were subsequently pulled from shelves and replaced with a more solemn image of the band standing in front of a black backdrop. Only recently has the original album cover been restored.
November 5, 1946 – September 19, 1973 (26 Years, 10 Months, 14 days – 47 Days Until 27th Birthday)
The strange end of the hugely influential country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons is one of music’s more mythic stories. Upon his death at the age of 26 from a morphine and alcohol overdose, Parsons’s friend and road manager Phil Kaufman, acting on a pact the two made for Parsons’s ashes to be scattered over Joshua Tree National Park upon his death, stole his corpse from Los Angeles International Airport and drove to the Cap Rock section of the park where he doused the casket with gasoline and immolated his late friend. If you were wondering what the repercussions were in 1973 for cadaver theft, there were none. There was, however, a $750 fine for the cost of the charred coffin, which Kaufman earned by staging Kaufman’s Koffin Kaper Koncert.
February 22, 1968 – May 25, 1996 (28 Years, 3 Months, 3 Days – 94 Days Past 27)
The death of lead singer Bradley Nowell is an interesting one in that it came at a time when Sublime was on the precipice of achieving mass popularity. Following the success of the band’s single “Date Rape,” Sublime was set to perform at San Francisco’s Maritime Hall to a sold-out audience when Nowell was found dead of a heroin overdose in his hotel room earlier that day. Leaving behind a wife of seven days and a son of eleven months, Nowell’s death was largely unnoticed, as their eponymous album was not yet slated to be released for another two months. It was only after the album dropped to massive sales and critical acclaim did fans realize that seeing the band live was not an option.
6The Big Bopper
October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959 (28 Years, 3 Months, 9 days – 103 Days Past 27)
Universally overshadowed by the death of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, Jiles P. Richardson, dubbed the Big Bopper, was the third of the three musicians who died suddenly on what was later immortalized in song by Don McLean as “the day the music died.” En-route to Moorhead, Minnesota for the next stop on their 3-week, 24-city Winter Dance Party Tour, the trio’s Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed after spiraling out of control, killing the tour mates and pilot. Motivated by persistent rumors that a gunshot fired aboard the plane caused the crash, the Big Bopper, Jr commissioned his father’s remains to be exhumed in the hopes of settling the controversy and determining if he survived the crash and died looking for help (there wasn’t and he didn’t). The Big Bopper was subsequently re-buried in a new coffin and his original casket can be seen at the Texas Musician’s Museum.
February 14, 1947 – June 29, 1975 (28 Years, 4 Months, 15 Days – 136 Days Past 27)
Perhaps the artist whose legacy could have best been heightened by membership into the 27 Club is Tim Buckley. Buckley spent his near decade-long career exploring different genres and styles of music, transitioning from folk to rock to psychedelic to jazz to a more soulful sound, with each subsequent album alienating some fans and engendering fanaticism in others. Upon his death from a heroin/morphine/alcohol overdose, Buckley’s friend, Richard Keeling, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for supplying the singer with the fatal drugs. Buckley has since been eclipsed in fame by his late son Jeff Buckley, whose drowning death at the age of 30 also narrowly missed his acceptance into the 27 Club.
March 10, 1903 – August 6, 1931 (28 Years, 4 Months, 24 Days – 150 Days Past 27)
Probably the least known artist on the list, Bix Beiderbecke was a legendary jazz musician whose autodidactic cornet sound made him one of the most innovative musicians of his era (and would have made him the O.G. of the 27 Club had his life been cut short a few months earlier). Beloved by jazz musicians and celebrated as one of the first white musicians to not only gain acceptance, but admiration, in the largely black world of early jazz, Beiderbecke’s problems with alcohol eventually resulted in death during America’s Prohibition period. His musical legacy is remembered at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, which has been held annually in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa since 1972.
June 19, 1948 – November 25, 1974 (26 Year, 5 Months, 6 Days – 206 Days Until 27th Birthday)
Although he released only three albums, Nick Drake has, in death, earned the cult status and widespread acclaim that eluded him in life. By the time he recorded his final album, Pink Moon, Drake’s longstanding depression had incapacitated him so severely that he was unable to function and ultimately hospitalized. Drake died in his parents’ home of an overdose of antidepressants nearly six months shy of his 27th birthday. Posthumous tributes include Dream Academy’s 1985 song “Life In A Northern Town,” which was dedicated to the singer, as well as a music video for “Black Eyed Dog” directed in 2007 by actor Heath Ledger, making Drake’s final recording also one of Ledger’s final artistic outputs before his own untimely death at 28.
September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967 (26 Years, 3 Months, 1 Day – 274 Days Until 27th Birthday)
Hard to believe that Otis Redding was barely 26 when he died in 1967 from a fatal plane crash. By the time his plane plunged into water three miles outside of the intended Madison, Wisconsin airport runway, Redding had already achieved legendary status amongst his peers for his solo and duet recordings with Carla Thomas, as well as through his high-energy performance style. Three days prior to his death, “the Big O” recorded “(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay,” which proved to be his biggest hit and was a marked departure from his “Shake! Otis” sound that defined his earlier career and made him the enigmatic star of Stax Records.
April 13, 1962 – June 25, 1988 (26 Years, 2 Months, 12 Days – 292 Days Until 27th Birthday)
Although Hillel Slovak died from a heroin overdose before the Red Hot Chili Peppers gained enduring fame, he was the seedling from which the band’s idiomatic sound grew. Prior to forming RHCP, Slovak was guitarist for his high school band Anthym. Dissatisfied with the group’s bassist, Slovak taught his friend Michael “Flea” Balzary to play bass and, from that, Red Hot Chili Peppers was eventually formed. Upon his death, Slovak was replaced with guitarist John Frusciante, at the time a teenager with zero band experience but whose playing style was hugely influenced by his predecessor. Arguably Hillel Slovak’s greatest role in music history was that of a mentor, in that protégés Flea and Frusciante have become two of the most celebrated bassists and guitarists, respectively, in music.
About The Author: Heidi Gillstrom resides in Chicago and occasionally works in television. She is no longer eligible for entry into the 27 Club.