Preachin' the Blues
81/82 era band, courtesy of Hellione's Gun Club site
The Gun Club Story, Part 2 (of 3)The departed players were replaced by Jim Duckworth, ex of the Memphis based Panther Burns, on guitar and Dee Pop, ex of New York's Bush Tetras, on drums. Duckworth was a far more aggressive player than Dotson and was normally the sole guitarist during his time in the band. This band line-up existed for about eight months, the first month of which was spent bonding. Jim Duckworth: " Dee and I had been recruited a month or more before the recording. All we did before the recording came up was drink and bullshit."
by Stevo Olende
A scheduled recording session for Tex and The Horseheads, the band JLP had put together around his girlfriend Linda/Texacala Jones was going to go unused. So the Gun Club filled the booking and recorded the Death Party EP with a bassist called Jimmy Joe Uliana who was a friend of Dee Pop's.
The title track of the EP was co-written by Pierce and members of the great San Francisco slow-core band Flipper. Later, a solo Pierce would cover Flipper's single "Get Away" both live and in partially rewritten form on the Flamingos mini-LP. Death Party consists of the title track which was, to quote Jim Duckworth, a 'moronic rock riff ("Death Party" itself) which made all of us laugh (with him not at him).' As well as several tracks showing the Spectoresque girl group influence that Pierce's first group the Red Lights centred on. Possibly the best track here is "Come Back Jim" a yearning lament for a hero/lover.
Death Party was again supposedly produced by Chris Stein. He actually came in after most of the recording was finished and proceeded to make strangling motions when Jim Duckworth went to play a heavy guitar solo.
Duckworth regards the E.P. as a missed opportunity. It is unfortunately the only studio representation of this (almost) line up. Duckworth says he has an entire concert from Radio Geneva on tape and wants to contact the estate about releasing it. There is also the Live Hacienda '83 video and an unreleased video from Dutch T.V. of a gig plus an interview where both Pierce and Pop are out of their heads, nodding off on drugs.
Jim Duckworth stayed with the Gun Club for the best part of a year, Dee Pop lasted eight months after which Terry Graham returned. The bassist throughout almost all this period was Patricia Morrison. According to Jim Duckworth, 'Patricia wasn't on Death Party because she was in L.A. and we were (or in my case could quickly be) in NYC-if memory serves, we recorded on the spur of the moment because a Tex and the Horseheads recording had fallen through and the studio (Blank Tapes?) time was booked."
After the return of Terry Graham, the combination only lasted about a month, at the end of which they were supposed to go on an Australian tour. Duckworth was becoming progressively pissed off with the band management, feeling them to be scamming thousands of dollars from the band. This was later a view taken up by Pierce. After being told that they could only expect to make any money by saving their tour, per diems Jim Duckworth and Terry Graham refused to get on the plane to Australia. Jeffery Lee Pierce and Patricia Morrison got on the flight and were initially augmented down under by members of The Johnnys, an Australian band who had been booked as tour support act.
After a day's rehearsal where Pierce was retaught several of his own old songs by the Australians, this compromise line up didn't appear to be working. Pierce contacted management and had Kid Congo Powers brought over for the duration of the tour. This was to prove a long-lasting decision. Kid was to remain with the Gun Club until their 1984 split and then was in '86's reformed line-up. He is only missing from one record between there and the end. He also returned to play the very last L.A. dates with the band just before Jeffrey died. His band Congo Norvell would also turn up as support for several of the later U.S. Gun Club tours, during which he'd occasionally join his old band onstage.
On the band's return to the States, both of the musicians who had left abruptly before the Australian tour were almost instantly offered their jobs back. Seeing no change in the management situation, Jim Duckworth couldn't see the future in it. Despite what it says in the autobiography Go Tell it To the Mountain, Pierce and Duckworth remained on reasonably good terms. That book might be read better as fiction (more of that later).
Duckworth's refusal to return may be a deciding factor in Piece's return to full-time guitar playing since otherwise, he may have remained just a singer. Pierce had said in various earlier interviews that he could never sing and play at the same time - since the act of singing left his body numb. There's a story I've heard about Pierce suddenly being discovered to be a great guitarist after having been left in New York with nothing else to do but play guitar while his girlfriend went out and copped drugs. I'm not sure at what point that supposedly happened but Jeffrey was playing guitar prominently from this point forward.
The first time I saw the Gun Club was at the Lyceum Ballroom, off the Strand in London's theatre district. As I remember, my ticket for that night had a different date on it. I think this was because the gig had originally been set up for the old line-up, which had just collapsed, and the new one was only just coming together. The set at that time was heavily slanted to the first two LP's, which neither Congo or Morrison had appeared on. There were a couple of tracks from the next LP Las Vegas Story already cropping up on this tour. Two days later in Leeds, the set included both "Moonlight Motel" and "Bad America." Also strangely "Death Party," which I had thought, was a Jim Duckworth-era signature tune.
On bass was Patricia Morrison, the tall ultra-Goth. That night she was really striking, standing stock-still pounding out basslines surprisingly funky for her image. From what I hear, the way she looked was always more important to her than her music. She certainly appears to have been contributory in the popularisation of the Vampira look. Jeffrey Lee was dressed in Captain's cap and blazer. This was pretty tame for him and seems to be his main outfit for the tour, as photos of other dates appear to show. When I say 'tame,' this was a guy who used to run around L.A. in drag like some kind of Marilyn Monroe from Hell. I've recently heard that he was absolutely out of his head drunk at this gig, trying to hide under the drum riser. I just remember wanting to hear more.
Throughout the set he kept on going on about 'Dance mixes.' His last project before he died was supposed to be a thing called 'rappanese,' where he combined his use of the Japanese language with rap rhythms. I wonder if this is the start of the path to that point? I've also thought that maybe he saw himself as some kind of whitey James Brown, marshalling a funk troupe. Coincidentally Jim Duckworth-era bootlegs feature a track called "Disco Medley"- more evidence of the funk influence?
This Pierce/Congo/Morrison/Graham line up was the band that recorded 1984's Las Vegas Story. It took me a while to get into this LP on first release, because I found it too poppy but it really grew on me. On rehearing it recently, I noticed that this might just be because it was more 'up' than previous works. The back cover has all the members but Terry Graham looking like they're in drag- it's almost a reflection of the glossy nature of the sound here. For the front cover, to quote Terry, 'the photos on LVS were a montage of old '60's and '70's Vegas. Jeff and I were pissed off we missed the Rat Pack days and searched in vain for little references to those swingin' days every time we passed through LV. The town is now much more hideous in its display of colored electricity. And utterly void of Rat Pack charisma.'
The LP starts with presumably Pierce's voice saying "This is the Las Vegas story it's the story of a couple of…" (he inner sleeve of the original version has an excerpt from a short prose piece, I think of the same title). This introduction abruptly fades and Terry Graham's Bo Diddley beat introduces "Walking With The Beast," a track they had been performing live five years earlier when Kid Congo was originally with the band. (and available on The Birth, The Death The Ghost, the live LP taken from L.A. shows in 1980 when the band were still called the Creeping Ritual). It was also the B-side of their second single "Fire of Love." Here it appears as an invite into a new riskier world - the walking with the beast of its title. The only melody from guitars on this track comes from feedback swathes- other than that, guitar is present in a fuzzed out rhythm sludge. This is followed by "Eternally Is Here" -another invocation of older gods? Or the comparison of a night free of inhibition with the same -well, we are animals too. Lead guitar is played by Dave Alvin of the Blasters (he also plays lead on final track "Give Up The Sun"). Things get darker on the next track "Stranger In Town" as Pierce describes a serial killer that takes over his mind -as he walks like he walks, talks like he talks, puts his hand up to his face like this etc..
Then comes "My Dreams": my favourite track off the album. Starting with a bass riff that could come straight off Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, the track gets more and more reminiscent of Creedence choogle as Jeffrey Lee's voice Iggys its way forward. It appears to nearly broadside parts of the song as he breaks into his trademark wails and moans.
The second side of Las Vegas Story starts with an extremely short cover of Pharaoh Sanders' "The Creator Has A Master Plan" clocking in at about 1 1/2 minutes as opposed to the original 32 minute version from Sanders Karma LP. The track flows into a piano-based version of Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now," a song originally taken from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" opera. It's strange to hear this song sung by a man for obvious lyrical reasons and the vocal here is, to these ears anyway reminiscent of Marc Almond's, somebody Pierce was writing with at the time. The Lyceum show culminated in a song called "I Want to be Pharaoh" apparently co-written by the two of them.
The end of the year saw a major European tour during which Kalinda Danse Boom was cut live at Pandora's Music Box festival on September 22nd 1984. It's a good powerful set but at around 35 minutes, it's way too short. I know that a version of "Bad Indian" I've been told is brilliant has been cut from the start. I wonder what happened to the rest of the gig?
While they were touring Britain, the band appeared on British Channel 4's The Tube on October 19th, coming on stage with a pig's head with a lit cigarette in its mouth in Pierce's hands, which he set on top of his amp. I have this on tape and its great. Pierce dressed up like some kind of jungle adventurer and Kid in extremely dudish cowboy shirt and She-and-Me glossy PVC trousers. Patricia looking demure in black, hair stacked and sprayed. Terry Graham looks really straight in white shirt and jeans.
It was on this tour that Terry Graham disappeared in Paris. The story is that he was tired of Pierce's dictatorial attitude. Also, he wasn't seeing a financial return after having given four years of his life to the band. After playing Manchester, he had found that both a collection of video footage he had been taking of the band and the camera it was being recorded on had been stolen backstage. He had also discovered that the band had en-masse decided to move their base of operations over to London without telling him. It was a lousy position to be put in and was the last straw at the wrong moment.
The band was finally seeing a level of success on the back of their latest album Las Vegas Story. Finally the band were locating to where their audience was and had record label support and a sympathetically produced LP.
This may unfortunately be seen as contributory to the band never being able to capitalize on any hard worn popularity. One more major upheaval at this point seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back. Graham was replaced by Desperate who had up to that point been one of the roadies. There is a dividing line cast around this point -the LP's up to and including Las Vegas Story and after Mother Juno. It doesn't quite fall into Terry Graham years/Nick Sanderson years since neither musician is the sole drummer in either era.
The Gun Club did a tour supporting Siouxsie & the Banshees sometime that year with Australia's Scientists as second support, at least when they toured Britain. One of the first things the Scientists had done on having arrived from Australia was to write to Kid Congo and say that they were going to support The Gun Club on their next tour. They thought they were being a bit cheeky but the ploy worked and Kim Salmon, the lead singer, and JLP became fast friends over the course of the next year.
That line-up of the Gun Club (Pierce, Congo, Morrison, and Desperate) played their farewell shows at Xmas '84. These were two nights at Dingwalls in London's Camden, again supported by Kim Salmon's Scientists .The highpoint in most people's eyes of these two nights was the sight of Pierce on stage with a giant snake around his neck. I don't know if this was some kind of tribute to Alice Cooper whose early '70's shtick it was to appear with a boa constrictor. I also remember Pierce ending each night with wild versions of "The Twist."
The high point for Jeffery Lee Pierce was an introduction by Kim Salmon to a Japanese girl from the audience. This was Romi Mori who had just taken the photos for inside the gatefold sleeve of the Smiths' compilation LP Hatful of Hollow. She was to be the love of Jeffery Lee's short life and later bassist in the second main period of the band.
After the band split, Congo, Morrison and Desperate returned as members of a band called Fur Bible. They were augmented by a guy called Murray Mitchell who used to play saxophone with Clock DVA, the band that Nick Sanderson later came from. Strangely, he crops up in the lyrics of "Hey Juana" from Jeffrey's solo LP Wildweed. This band put out one single, which I don't remember too much about. Also around this time the ex Gun Club contingent appeared as the backing band to the Legendary Stardust Cowboy (of 'Paralysed' fame) on a tour of England.
See Part Three (of three) of the Gun Club story
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