By Sarah Bennett
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By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
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By Alex Distefano
In The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You Never Heard, author Roni Sarig writes of Jeffrey Lee Pierce, "His impudence in freely appropriating a tradition so clearly not his own was a bold punk statement in it's own right."
But what made this audacity more valid was Pierce's downright blurring of fantasy and reality, living firsthand the lives of his doomed lyrical subjects—the fate of all great bluesmen before him. Pierce died in 1996 of a brain hemorrhage not long after finishing a rehab stint.
Pierce's band, the Gun Club, were one of the most distinctly weird, irrepressibly influential yet somehow unsung groups of the past 20 years (ask Ryan Adams, Queens of the Stone Age, Mark Lanegan, even OC's own Throw Rag). Luckily for all of us, Long Beach indie Sympathy for the Record Industry has reissued three of the Gun Club's most hard-to-find albums, all of which were originally released on Blondie boy Chris Stein's Animal label.
Only slightly subduing the more obvious punk aggression of their Fire of Love debut, Pierce delved deeper into brooding, drunk surrealism, resulting in this ominous masterpiece. An oft-cited blueprint for what's now considered alt.-country, Miami evokes the seediest notions of underbelly Americana on songs such as the yearning "Carry Home," "Bad Indian" and the unnerving voodoo moaning of "Watermelon Man" (on which pal Debbie Harry contributes backup vocals under the D.H. Lawrence pseudonym). Pierce effortlessly assumes the schizo roles of racist war vets, lovesick serial killers and men whose checkered pasts sadly eclipse any would-be good intentions.
Death Party EP (1983). After a lineup shakedown, Pierce recruited the Panther Burns' Jim Duckworth and the Bush Tetras' Dee Pop to record these five songs. While stylistically similar to Miami, there are moments here that put Pierce's howl on the brittle brink of a total nervous breakdown, most noticeably on the title track (rumored to be co-written by San Francisco's Flipper, after stumbling upon a moronic riff that made them all laugh), on which he's either suffering some strain of laryngitis or the throes of total apathy. But it all somehow fits perfectly into this invitation to oblivion. Opening with the tear-jerking anthem of "The House On Highland Ave." and peaking with "The Light of the World" (one of their most underrated moments ever), this re-mastered version also includes a seven-song live radio recording from France. Pierce pretends he's some ancient Creole one minute and a Bing Crosby character the next, resulting in hilarious mumblings in between their psychotic free-jazz version of "Strange Fruit" and other staples of this often-overlooked part of their career.
The Las Vegas Story (1984). Recorded by what's considered to be the definitive lineup, The Las Vegas Story was the group's most ambitious effort, an adventurous cowpunk-meets-smoky-jazz pastiche, fueled by heroin hallucinations while barreling down lost desert highways, running to—or from—something "heavy." Opening with the Bo Diddley beat of "Walking With the Beast," the album takes you through some curious and exhilarating mood swings—from the deviant "Stranger In Our Town" to the overt bloodlust of "Moonlight Motel"—while maintaining the sense of unspoken mystery of this "concept" album. Die-hards will be pleased to find the inclusion of "Secret Fires" as a bonus track (originally released only on the 1984 cassette version) and will be mystified as to why one of their best songs from these sessions never made it on the record proper.