(Sympathy for the Record Industry)
True musical pioneers are essentially faceless. Granted, a rare few individuals attain "icon" status, but in the lore of American folk music (blues, country, rock 'n' roll), its most significant contributors often fade into obscurity. So it's sadly fitting that the impact and legend of the Gun Club's songwriter and singer-guitarist, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, is present in myriad forms of American "alternative" music, yet less than a decade after his untimely death he's already nearly forgotten.
Thanks to the efforts of Sympathy for the Record Industry's self-proclaimed "anti-mogul" visionary Long Gone John (along with Pierce's family and producer Chris Stein), three long-lost classic releases by the Gun Club have been rescued, remastered and reissued on CD and LP with original artwork intact. The unique and innovative blues-punk quartet is best known for its raucous 1981 Slash records debut, The Fire of Love, which includes such punkabilly favorites as "Sex Beat" and "She's Like Heroin to Me." However, these more varied and expansive albums show further depth and soul in Pierce's impressionist songwriting.
The Gun Club came onto the blossoming L.A. punk scene in 1980, revitalizing the stagnating genre with an almost taboo reverence for antique musical forms--but delivered with punk's vicious, reckless abandon. A scene of western-noir-tinged rock bands quickly sprung up around the group, and Pierce is often cited as a key influence on the alt-country sound of today, along with dark balladeers like Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan.
Miami, the band's 1982 sophomore album, is widely considered its masterpiece. Obsessed with the decrepit, seedy underworld readily displayed in notorious cities like Las Vegas and Miami, Pierce's bleak lyrical desperation finds its harshest voice herein on songs that further explore traditions of voodoo rhythm, Delta blues drones and weeping slide guitars. In keeping with Pierce's penchant for blurring reality as thoroughly as possible with excessive alcohol and drug use, he also sought to give his guitar playing a smudged, smeared sound that's more textural than rhythmic. Classic songs like "Texas Serenade" and "Carry Home" showcase the characteristic charm of the singer's warbling, discordant tenor.
The 1983 Death Party EP (expanded on the reissue with seven live radio tracks) follows the first of many lineup changes and shows the band's twangy sound leaning toward heavier distortion and slower tempos. The Las Vegas Story is an underappreciated "all-star" endeavor featuring the return of co-founder Kid Congo Powers (The Cramps, Bad Seeds) and original drummer Terry Graham (Leaving Trains), as well as bassist Patricia Morrison (45 Grave, The Damned). "The House on Highland Ave" and "My Dreams" demonstrate Pierce's split personality, sounding like songs penned as somber ballads but ravaged with distorted guitars and ever more frustrated and desperate vocals.
The Gun Club's all-too-realistic Americana brought Pierce celebrity status overseas. But since his death in 1996, from a brain hemorrhage due to years of drug abuse, Pierce's artistic influence has faded into the background, his identity blurred even as his sound reverberates. The reissue of these albums could bring him back into focus.