PREACHIN' THE BLUES
The Gun Club Story, Part 3 (of 3)Over the next two years, Pierce went solo, recording the LP Wildweed with a band including ex Cure & Spear Of Destiny members. This record still stands up and on last checking was still available from Triple X records. This LP is the first one to feature Jeffrey Lee playing nearly all the guitar. He made claims around the time of the records release that he'd had to teach (or rather show) all his musicians every note they played. Researching this article leaves that looking seriously spurious.
by Stevo Olende
The record shows the influence of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed (Pierce had been listening heavily to a pre-release tape of VU). Pierce says that he wanted to make the LP sound as 'city' as he possibly could. The record cover tells a different story- Pierce is standing with a shotgun over his shoulder in what appears to be a desert. To quote a Swedish interview from the time with Pierce, 'the picture is definitely not taken in a desert, quite the opposite. It's taken in England, on the south coast, next to The English Channel. But my idea was actually that it should look like Texas. Or Kansas. We just couldn't afford to go there only to take a photograph...'
Wildweed has a companion mini LP called Flamingoes. This features the 12" version of a Wildweed track "Love and Desperation," and good covers of Flipper's "Get Away" and Jimi Hendrix's "Fire." Outside of that however, Flamingoes is standard state of the art for 85 disco remix wankery. I'd put it last on my want list beside 2 sides of the Beast, which outside of live material better represented on The Birth The Death The Ghost and a sub-Pettibon cover drawing is nothing new.
The tour supporting the Wildweed LP was done by a different band than the recording. This saw the first appearances of Nick Sanderson and Pierce's then-current paramour Romi Mori. At this time, Romi was playing guitar, as she had done previously in a Japanese Runaways covers band. They toured under the name The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Quartet, including Dean Dennis of Clock DVA. As they toured the US, the record label was giving Jeffrey a lot of hassle over the disbelievability of a Japanese girl as a musician. The band were also getting a lot of racism from their audiences, presumably taking the rebel flag seriously.
I remember that I saw him with one line up of the solo band at London's Hammersmith Palais; I think they were supporting The Fall. This was probably the first time I met Romi Mori. At the time, I thought her name was Cleopatra because of the song "Cleopatra Dreams On" on the LP having been announced at one gig being about Pierce's current girlfriend.
Around this time, Pierce started a short-lived spoken word career, which I first came across in the form of a gig in 1987 shared with Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins at the U.L.U in London. Some of that work appears in Go Tell The Mountain. "The Blue Boy" piece I remember from that night is up at Hellione's website http://www.thegunclub.net.
The Gun Club were to re-emerge in 1987 with Kid Congo Powers returning as a member. During the two-year hiatus, he had moved to Berlin where he hung out with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. He was asked to join the Bad Seeds and appears with them on the Tender Prey and Good Son albums. He left in 1990 feeling that the band no longer needed wild rock and roll guitar.
Meanwhile, Romi Mori had switched to bass and was to be a mainstay until the band stopped recording and Pierce's girlfriend for several years. On drums was Nick Sanderson, another Clock DVA alum, now frontman of Earl Brutus. I found his drumming way too angular when he first joined- it struck me as Wagnerian. It loosened up progressively as time went on. I guess Jeffrey knew what he was looking for. From what I heard from musician acquaintances at this time, Pierce was a complete musical dictator to lesser-known musicians. I did actually say to him at the time that I thought that the band needed a more fluid jazz-style drummer, much to Alex Hacke's disgust whose dressing room I was in at the time.
Perhaps Pierce was more along the lines of a James Brown who needed to know that the musicians he was playing with would be able to stretch out when required. The attitude to drugs was of course nothing similar (or maybe from later JB history too much so). Throughout his autobiography, Pierce talks about various habits and bad attitudes to self-destruction he had at different times.
This line-up was to record the next two LP's, Mother Juno and Pastoral Hide and Seek. Pierce also says in his autobiography that this was the best band he ever had together. Both of these albums have just been re-released on Buddah records, Pastoral Hide And Seek coupled on the same disc with the half-live mini LP Divinity. While I like Mother Juno, I always found it a bit 'too rock' but on rehearing it does display the same r+r spirit that the band I first encountered had. I would go as far as saying that this is actually their most representational LP, if somebody were to ask what the band sounded like, you could stick on this album and they would have a picture of all but the bookend records.
Possibly the strangest thing about the heavy rock bias is that the producer on the LP was Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. This may show through in places like the shimmer of "Breaking Hands" where the guitar lead is played by Romi Mori, a role that increases on the next LP Pastoral Hide and Seek, where she plays a lot of the more complex guitar. Mother Juno was recorded over 6 days in Berlin at Hansa Studios the old Nazi ballroom where David Bowie cut part of his Berlin trilogy. Lead off track "Bill Bailey," which takes its name and first line from a traditional number, is supposedly about Nick Cave. It sounds like Robin Guthrie attempting to replicate the Sun studio sound as the later Gun Club get as rockabilly as they will ever be, complete with Nick Sanderson's fatback drumming.
"Yellow Eyes," the closing track on the vinyl album's side one features Blixa Bargeld of Einsturzende Neubauten/Bad Seeds fame playing a very spaced out slide guitar. "Thunderhead" with Lead guitar by Kid Congo is reminiscent of the Ramones meets Jim Morrison as Romi takes a funky break half way through. Guthrie gives her a bass sound with a fullness which she appears to lose in Pierce's production on the next LP Pastoral Hide and Seek. Sanderson's drumming style sounds really crisp here. It fits well here too, having lost its initial angularity.
Kid was, at the time of release, still a member of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds but left in the spring of 1990 to concentrate more fully on working with the band he felt he could be of more use with. Kid has always it seems been a better instinctive guitarist than a technical master player. Over the next few years, tension was to mount between him and Jeffery Lee as Pierce's compositions became more and more technically complex. Pierce was actually trying to get Kid to take guitar lessons to place him more in the role of Pierce's guitarist foil. Kid didn't take them; he's now known as a singer's guitarist and is very much in demand. There is definitely a school of thought that finds Pierce's later guitar work to be overly self-indulgent. I've heard him described as a would-be Eric Clapton. I think it may just be guilt by association- I don't think he ever gets quite that soulless.
About a year prior to the release of the next LP Pastoral Hide and Seek, Jeffery Lee finally got down to serious work on the second of his solo LPs Ramblin Jeffery Lee with Cypress Grove and Willie Love, which had been talked about for a couple of years already. The project was initially suggested by Patrick Mathe of New Rose records because Jeffery had been continually talking about his favorite old-timey sounds. It had been intended to be a collection of old traditional country murder ballads with a couple of JLP originals but wound up mainly blues covers. Cypress Grove (real name Tony Melik) told me that he thought that this was the original source of the idea that impelled Nick Cave to put out an LP of murder ballads. They had appeared at a festival together in Holland where the idea had been talked about over dinner. Ramblin' Jeffrey Lee is an album featuring acoustic versions of some prime blues chestnuts, a few of which worked their way into The Gun Club's live set. This also features some more upbeat rock and roll style blues treatments including a version of Howlin' Wolf's "Moaning at Midnight" that is probably the most rollicking the band had been since the departure of Jim Duckworth. This certainly sounds redolent of the material I've heard by this band line-up. The LP also includes a pair of Pierce originals that also turn up on the live set Ahmed's Wild Dream- one of these is "Go Tell The Mountain," the track that eventually gave its title to Pierce's autobiography.
Pastoral Hide And Seek is named after a 1975 Japanese Surrealist film and given an over professional production by Jeffery himself. The album showed a great maturity in songwriting containing some of my favorite of their songs "Straits of Love and Hate," "Another Country's Young" and 'I Hear Your Heart Singing." The latter of these was actually a rewrite of a far earlier song as the semi-official compilation Early Warning displays in a live version recorded when Ward Dotson was still in the band. The lyricism throughout is very novelistic- dirty realist for the main part. Pierce produces himself and on most tracks, he gets it right. I find the guitar on "Straits of Love and Hate" to be too rock-glossy- it sounds like another L.A. rock band, which is a shame because live versions seriously outshine it. The CD includes the band's cover of Jefferson Airplane's "Eskimo Blue Day," the original of which appears on 1969's Volunteers LP.
Divinity features "Sorrow Knows," perhaps the most beautiful song Pierce ever wrote. Also here is a song named after '50's serial killer Richard Speck, a track with backing vocals strangely reminiscent of David Bowie's Berlin period. The third studio track here is a cover of The Urinals' "Black Hole"- when I first came across it I thought it had to be an unknown Jefferson Airplane track. The original is firmly in the D.I.Y. punk camp though. Add the right harmonies and you can make anything sound breathtakingl. This LP also includes the only officially released live material featuring Nick Sanderson and the only time you'll hear the later band play "Fire of Love" officially. This should change with the projected live set from The Town and Country club in 1987 (Thanks Hellione).
Nick Sanderson left after Divinity to concentrate on his other band World of Twist. He was replaced by Simon Fish who is also the 'Willie Love' of the solo LP Ramblin Jeffrey Lee with Cypress Grove and Willie Love from '92.
Over the next couple of years, Pierce was to alternate playing acoustically with Tony Melik and playing with The Gun Club where the emphasis was more on oomph. The last official recording featuring Kid Congo is Ahmed's Wild Dream (simply called Live in the U.S). This was recorded live at the Tivoli club in Utrecht, Holland for a radio broadcast. It is an almost complete full-length performance, lacking two tracks because of sound quality, with the sleeve notes claiming that it was released by public demand. Guitars here have a tendency to noodle and two tracks come close to 10 minutes apiece. Material stretches back as far as the first LP but Miami is skipped. Not totally liking the production on Pastoral Hide and Seek, I find the tracks represented here more appetising. Unfortunately the taping leaves Simon Fish's drums popping though there is a disclaimer covering this on the sleevenote.
World of Twist had split so Nick Sanderson had returned to the Gun Club rhythm section at the time of the recording of the 1993 LP Lucky Jim. By this time, Kid Congo, who hadn't been getting along very well with the rhythm section, had decided to return to his native Los Angeles. His presence is sorely missed. This is mainly because, lacking him, Pierce decided to play rhythm guitar as well as lead. The songs are very strong but throughout you have this feeling of drag because of the imposed pedestrianism of the rhythm guitar.
(Hopefully this is corrected by the presence of Die Haut's guitarist Rainer Lingk in the live in the studio TV show he is present for, recorded at the WDR-1-Radio-Rocknacht, Grugahalle, Essen, Germany, on June 20, 1993. I haven't actually seen this so I can't tell for sure. It has been strongly recommended though and features this set list: "A House Is Not A Home," "Another Country's Young," "Kamata Hollywood City," "Go Tell The Mountain," "Lupita Screams," "Thunderhead," "Goodbye Johnny." This includes material dating back surprisingly far and only 2 tracks from the then-current record- "Kamata" and "A House is not a Home.")
The Lucky Jim LP is probably the most literary Pierce's lyricism would ever get, even if he can't pronounce the word 'Quays.' The opening track, the semi-acoustic "Lucky Jim" was written about an Australian acquaintance from the time Pierce was in Saigon. He has been described as the only other white guy than the band in the hotel. A later fully acoustic version was among the last things recorded by Pierce. "Kamata Hollywood City" is probably the closest to a directly autobiographical lyric Pierce ever wrote- it details a visit made to presumably Romi Mori's parents place in Japan. "Idiot Waltz" has been said by some to be the bands most representative track; I fail to see this since the lack of another guitarist makes this sound like a solo LP, especially on the semi acoustic tracks. It's on tracks here like "Cry to Me" that Pierce gets closest to sounding like Clapton. Thankfully, he doesn't sound quite so politely tasteful.
Sanderson was growing closer and closer to Romi Mori while Pierce was chasing her friend band photographer Kayo Hosaka. Mori and Sanderson embarked on an affair, eventually eloping in 1994. This left the band without a rhythm section and Pierce with a broken heart. The heartbreak is supposedly the contributing factor to him switching back to self-destruct mode.
The first the public heard of the band break-up was that a concert at The Garage venue in London's Highbury was cancelled by a note on the door. Soon after this Pierce did a European tour as an acoustic duo with Cypress Grove where they drove around 10,000 miles as three people in a car with their tour manager. Cypress told me he returned to London while Jeffrey headed to Holland.
Pierce's last TV appearance was on Jools Holland's BBC2 'Later' show on May 14, 1994 as a Bad Seed. Look to stage left, for the small round guy with specs and maracas leaning against the amp - it is our hero indeed. It always struck me how for a small guy (5'6"), he had such a massive voice. His last live performance in England was six days later joining the Bad Seeds onstage during "Wanted Man." He'd joined in on the same song at Vredenburg, Utrecht, Holland on May 13, 1994 alongside Kim Salmon and his new band, the Surrealists.
Pierce had been having trouble with his British visa because he had been living in London for most of 10 years as a U.S. citizen. When it expired in spring 1994, he was hanging out in Holland a lot and continually to'ing and fro'ing from the Orient. In fact, it was to be his central dream to be accepted in Japan towards the end of his life.
He went out to Japan and tried to gain recognition for some of the new garage influenced bands there. Japan is a traditionally insular culture and he was to find that as a roundeye (geijin), even these punk bands were treating him like an outsider. He gave up and returned to Los Angeles, heartbroken first by his long term Japanese girlfriend, then by her homeland. It was around this time that Pierce sat down and tried to put his autobiography together. The depression caused by recent heartbreak may be one reason for it being so scathing toward his old bandmates.
In the liner notes to Early Warning, Terry Graham talks of reconciliation when they bumped into each other at the Viper Room. Unfortunately, this was the last occasion the pair were to meet.
Pierce had recently been attempting to get a new line up of the band together as well as hanging out around L.A. with the Dogg Pound, Snoop Doggy Dogg's crew. I think he may have seen rap as a modern equivalent of the blues and as already noted, he was a fan of some more mainstream black music. Toward the end, he was saying that he wanted to blend the sound of rap music with the Japanese language he had taken immense pains to learn. This was to be a hybrid called 'rappanese.' In fact his last recorded work is a rap version of the Tom Waits track "Pasties & a G-string," which was included on the Waits tribute LP Step Right Up.
Mike Martt has told me that a group of people including Jeffrey's family, the manager of the Viper room and Keith Morris had tried to get Jeffrey into hospital before he got too bad. He needed to get a liver transplant but didn't have the money for it. He mentions in an interview he did around the time of the release of Lucky Jim that he didn't want to return to the states as Kid had done since he would be broke if he did so. He spent a lot of time hanging around L.A.'s Viper room where he had a show-down with Noel Gallagher of Oasis over Gallagher's rudeness to an acquaintance of his. He wound up sending a letter complaining about Gallagher's behaviour with an attached list of 50 odd recommended records to the British music rag NME. Needless to say that philistine publication cut out the list and just printed the contentious part. That list now counts as one of my grail items.
Pierce's stamina had suffered from his continual self-destruction so he was only able to play three shows over the final year he spent in L.A.. These were done with a band consisting of Kid Congo and Mike Martt on guitars, an unknown bassist called Elisabeth M and Brock Avery of Wayne Kramer's rhythm section on drums.
Pierce had decided to go to visit his father in Utah. While there he had a stroke and was taken to the local hospital. He was booked into surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain and died without regaining consciousness in 1996: there's an obituary by his first singer Pleasant Gehman up here: http://www.thegunclub.net/obit.html.
Band members' aftermath
Kid Congo Powers who was a friend right up to the end is now a world-famous alternative guitarist. He recently toured Europe with his partner Khan. He has a new LP recorded in Mexico City that he's trying to get a record deal for. He has his own website here http://www.kidcongo.com/powers/
Terry Graham has retired from the Music business but is thinking of setting up a website to hopefully tell the story of the band that he was 1/4 of from a less Pierce-centric focus. I have an interview with Terry published here http://www.thegunclub.net/terry.html
Ward Dotson is a renowned guitarist still working in the roots -punk area and was last heard of under the name The Liquor Giants
Patricia Morrison is still bassist with The Damned and married to Dave Vanian. She has a mini-autobiography here http://www.officialdamned.com/docs/bandmembers/patricia/patricia.htm
Romi Mori and Nick Sanderson are in Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain's new band Freeheat. They have a new e.p. out. Hopefully that means a tour and a chance to talk to them. Unfortunately not in time for this article though.
Jim Duckworth is a teacher at a school in Memphis. He gigs with a band called The Jazz Midgets. It looks like I was lucky to interview him when I did since he has recently been voicing tiredness at talking about the band. He appears to be seriously under-represented in terms of recording. He's a great guitarist so I wish that could be remedied. He has some Gun Club era reminiscences up here http://www.thegunclub.net/jim.html
Keith Morris is currently fronting Midget Handjob. http://www.midgethandjob.com/band.html. He's recently toured with a reformed Circle Jerks.
Mike Martt has been playing with a reformed Tex and the Horseheads He put out a solo LP last year, which has a site here http://www.mikemartt.com/
Hellione was one of Jeffrey Lee's friends during his last year in L.A.: she has a website at http://www.thegunclub.net. She is also trying to arrange the release of a live LP from a Town and Country, London appearance in '87. She is also working on a Gun Club tribute LP. So far she has Gallon Drunk and a few other people appearing. She asked me if I could think of anyone who ought to be included. I suggested some kind of reunion of surviving members. I think it is a good idea, I don't know how practical though.
Other Resources There is an ex-fan club head called Saucerman currently writing a book compiling various interviews from the early '80's with new interviews with ex -members.
Wildweed, Gun Club's Yahoo groups mailing list is here Subscribe: Wildweedfirstname.lastname@example.org
Ger Potz has a discography/tape-trading page here http://www.magnix.demon.nl/gunclub.htm. It has helped me a lot with knowing what tracks go where.
Andy Sztehlo, longstanding Gun Club fan and archivist, says Pierce's spoken word career consists of the following:
English: Spoken word double LP, two JLP tracks
Neighborhood Rhythms: Basically sequel to previous LP, one JLP track.
Free single with Wildweed: 3 SW tracks
ULU gig: Only one of two or three performances he gave. One other was in Holland at some show with Henry and Nick Cave.
I'd like to thank Gene Temesy. I didn't get to talk to him but this article couldn't have started without him, compiling Jeffrey's attempted autobiography Go Tell The Mountain. He's currently writing his own Gun Club biography. I wish him the best of luck.
Also see Jay Hinman's write-up of Fire of Love
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