Robert Johnson, the “King of the Delta Blues”, became the first member of the “27 Club” of musicians to die at that age today in 1938. Speculation is that he was poisoned by the jealous husband of a wife he’d been cheating with. His songs were covered by or heavily influenced the likes of Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Legend has it that Johnson, as he tells in his song Crossroads Blues, sold his sold to the devil in exchange for his guitar playing ability, but was never as famous alive as he became after death.
Pete Best was “sacked” as the drummer of The Beatles today in 1962 by their manager Brian Epstein. He’d been hired because he could keep a steady beat, Liverpool girls found him “mean, moody, and magnificent”, and he was the only drummer in town willing to go with them to Hamburg, but in the two years and four days that followed John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and especially George Harrison (who later admitted he’d talked the others into it) had soured on him. His curly hair couldn’t be formed into the requisite “Beatle cut”, he was a bit of a loner who kept to himself, wouldn’t take the amphetamines they were taking to handle the long nights in German nightclubs, and even worse producer George Martin thought his drumming abilities weren’t up to snuff, and brought in studio musician Andy White to pound the skins (as was EMI studios standard operating procedure anyway). The band gave Epstein the duty, which he did reluctantly with a simple “the lads don’t want you in the group anymore”, and felt they had to as their career was on the line, but later said they regretted the way they handled it. They even had Brian ask Pete to come play a last show with them that night, but Pete went home depressed and didn’t show up, and they quickly recruited Johnny Hutchinson from The Big Three to fill in, as the drummer they’d already tapped as a replacement, Ringo Starr was finishing an engagement at a Butlin’s Holiday Camp with his band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Best’s dismissal wasn’t popular with their fans, one of whom gave George a head-butt while they were on stage at the Cavern Club amid shouts of “Best forever, Ringo never!” We’ll let you be the judge, as all three drummers’ versions of Love Me Do are available on the interwebs.
Led Zeppelin played a show in Asbury Park New Jersey tonight in 1969, with Joe Cocker as the opening act. Joe was off afterward for upstate New York and the Woodstock festival already in progress. Zeppelin were invited to play there, but manager Peter Grant didn’t want his band sharing a bill with so many other artists, and they’d already done that at the Seattle Pop Festival back in July. Just down the street Bruce Springsteen was missing Woodstock as well, as his band at the time, Child, were booked to play two nights in a row.
Meanwhile at Woodstock, in it’s second day today in 1969, starting around noon with Boston band Quill, things were heating up with Santana, Canned Heat, and The Grateful Dead….Saturday’s lineup didn’t finish until the Jefferson Airplane got done at 10 am Sunday morning. The Who had done an electrifying set at 5 in the morning, briefly interrupted by political activist Abbie Hoffman who thought a lull might be a good time for some speechifying, only to be greeted by Pete Townsend’s Gibson SG upside his head. Pete later said he didn’t know it was Hoffman, but he’d always treated anyone who got on stage during one of his performances the same way.
Peter Gabriel told the other members of Genesis he was leaving today in 1975, after they finished their Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour, which came as no surprise as tensions between them had been building since they started recording that album. Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, and Phil Collins had already decided to carry on, but auditioned some 400 potential replacement singers over the next 18 months before coming to the conclusion that none of them fit as well as Collins, the band’s drummer who’d been singing backup to Gabriel all along. Gabriel would score first after leaving, with Salisbury Hill from his solo debut becoming a big hit, but the Collins-led Genesis would go on to become one of the best-selling artists of all time.
The King Of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley was found dead on the bathroom floor of his Graceland home today in 1977 of a heart attack at age 42.
Rock and Roll Birthdays
The Easybeats drummer Gordon “Snowy” Fleet is 71.
Golden Earring’s lead singer Barry Hay is 68.
Scott “Rock Action” Asheton, drummer for Iggy and The Stooges, would be 67, if he hadn’t been killed by a heart attack in 2014.