The Gun Club was an American punk band from Los Angeles in the 1980s led by singer/guitarist Jeffrey Lee Pierce. The Gun Club injected punk rock with doses of blues and country music. Along with X, The Flesh Eaters and The Blasters, they helped set the tone of the Hollywood rock scene of the 1980s and are cited as a "tribal psychobilly blues" band.
The Gun Club was formed by Jeffrey Lee Pierce, former head of the Blondie fan club in Los Angeles. Joining him was Brian Tristan, who was later renamed Kid Congo Powers during his stint with The Cramps, Don Snowden, who was at the time a music critic for the Los Angeles Times, and Brad Dunning. Pierce played guitar and lead vocals, while Tristan took on lead guitar, Snowden on bass, and Dunning rounding out the quartet on drums. The band was originally a rockabilly band called The Cyclones lead by Pleasant Gehman on lead vocals, but Gehman departed after only one show. Adopting the name The Creeping Ritual, Pierce moved to vocals and they spent some time gigging at local venues. Eventually, the group grew dissatisfied with their name and switched to The Gun Club, suggested by Pierce's flatmate, Black Flag and Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris.
Kid Congo left before the recording of the first album to join The Cramps. He was replaced by Ward Dotson, who would play lead and slide guitar on the band's debut album. Snowden and Dunning also departed at this time, being replaced by two ex-members of The Bags, Rob Ritter and Terry Graham, respectively. Securing a record deal on Slash Records division Ruby, the group released their debut album, Fire of Love in 1981. The album was produced by Tito Larriva of The Plugz and The Flesh Eaters' frontman Chris D. Critic Stevo Olende has written that the "album's lyrical imagery is plundered from voodoo, '50's EC comics and the blues," while another notes that "Nobody has heard music like this before or since." Fire of Love sold well and received strong reviews upon release.
By 1982, the band had signed to Blondie guitarist Chris Stein's Animal Records. The band temporarily relocated to New York to record their follow-up album, 1982's Miami. This album would feature not only Stein as producer, but also Debbie Harry on backup vocals on select tracks. Upon release, the album received good reviews but was widely criticized for Stein's production, which was said to have a thin mix. Rob Ritter left shortly after the album, changing his name to Rob Graves and forming the band 45 Grave. Before leaving, Ritter taught all of his bass parts to his former Bags bandmate Patricia Morrison and trained her as his replacement. Due to increasingly common arguments, Pierce dismissed Graham and Dotson around this time.
The Las Vegas Story and First Break-Up (1984-1986)
Terry Graham and Ward Dotson were replaced with Jim Duckworth on guitar and Dee Pop, formerly of the New York band Bush Tetras, on drums. During this time, Pierce refrained from guitar playing, instead focusing on singing. This line-up was to be very short-lived though; Dee Pop lasted only eight months before Graham returned. On the eve of an Australian tour, both Duckworth and Graham refused to get on the plane. Without a guitarist or a drummer, Pierce had the supporting act's drummer fill in for the remainder of the tour, while Kid Congo Powers returned on guitar. When they returned to the States, Graham resumed his place on drums.
Pierce returned to guitar playing during this line-up, and both he and Powers are credited with guitar on their third album, 1984's The Las Vegas Story. This album marked a significant change for the band; it represented a shift away from the punk rock of Fire of Love and Miami and a step towards a more polished, alternative rock sound. The Blaster's Dave Alvin appeared to play lead guitar on a handful of tracks. The band embarked on a tour throughout Britain in support of the album, though Graham again departed during this tour and was replaced with Desperate. After a tour supporting Siouxsie & The Banshees, the band decided to call it quits and played their farewell shows in the winter of 1984.
During the break-up, Powers, Morrison, and Desperate formed a band called Fur Bible, while Jeffrey Lee Pierce embarked on a solo career. Pierce assembled a band consisting of former members of The Cure and Spear of Destiny and released Wildweed in 1985. He organized a new band in support of the album, including Nick Sanderson of Clock DVA and Pierce's then-girlfriend Romi Mori. Sanderson played drums while Mori played guitar.
After a short stint doing spoken word performances, Pierce decided to reform a new version of the band in 1987. Powers, who had also been recruited into Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at this time, resumed his place at guitar, with Mori switching to bass, and Sanderson retaining his place on drums. Under this line-up, The Gun Club would record a handful of albums, including 1987's Mother Juno. This album, produced by Robin Guthrie of The Cocteau Twins, was met with positive critical reception and was a successful comeback for the band. After the release of Nick Cave's 1990 album The Good Son, Kid Congo Powers departed The Bad Seeds to focus more on The Gun Club.
1990 saw the release of the band's fifth studio effort, Pastoral Hide and Seek, which Pierce produced himself. Nick Sanderson departed after the release of 1991's mini-album Divinity to focus on his other project, World of Twist. He was replaced with Simon Fish, who had previously played with Pierce on one of his solo albums. During this time, Jeffrey Lee alternated between his solo acoustic material and The Gun Club, which was his outlet for harder-edged songs. In 1992, Powers left the band to focus on his solo project Congo Norvell, and Nick Sanderson soon returned to drums after the dissolution of World of Twist.
Later Years (1993-1996)
Without their lead guitarist, Pierce decided to handle both lead and rhythm guitar parts on what would be their final album, 1993's http://www.last.fm/music/The+Gun+Club/Lucky+Jim]Lucky Jim. Pierce and Romi Mori had, at this point, been dating since the mid-eighties. However, Sanderson and Mori grew increasingly close until finally the two eloped in 1994, leaving The Gun Club without a rhythm section and Jeffrey Lee without a lover. Pierce, by his own account, had been clean for several years but soon switched back to drug and alcohol abuse after the departure of his longtime girlfriend.
He made a few live appearances with The Bad Seeds in 1994 but mostly remained reclusive during this time to write his autobiography, which proved to be exceptionally critical of former members of the band. He returned to Los Angeles, after a 10 year stay in London, where he grew increasingly fascinated with rap music and even recorded a rap cover of Tom Waits' song "Pasties & a G-String" for a Waits tribute album. With his health failing, he was only able to play a handful of shows in 1996 with a new band that consisted of Mike Martt and Kid Congo Powers on guitar, a bassist named Elizabeth Montague, and drummer Brock Avery. Pierce decided to visit his father in Utah where he suffered a stroke and was taken to a hospital. He was to undergo surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain but died on March 31, 1996.
Being among the first bands to combine punk and blues, The Gun Club has had a lasting influence on many artists. The White Stripes have been known to cover "For the Love of Ivy" and "Jack on Fire", off the band's debut album, at live shows. Of The Gun Club's music in particular, the band's vocalist and guitarist Jack White has said, "'Sex Beat', 'She's Like Heroin To Me', and 'For The Love Of Ivy'…why are these songs not taught in schools?"
Several other artists—such as Henry Rollins, Blanche, the Pixies, Cobra Verde, Noir Désir, The Flaming Stars, Tito & Tarantula, Soul Bossa, The Deadly Snakes, Calla, Lucid Nation, Love Life, Madrugada, The Von Bondies, American Mars, Th' Legendary Shack Shakers, The Fever, Archie Bronson Outfit, and Mark Lanegan of The Screaming Trees, who covered Miami's opening track "Carry Home"—have been influenced by The Gun Club.
Fire of Love (album 1981)
Ghost On The Highway/Sex Beat (double a-side single 1981)
Miami (album 1982)
Fire of Love (single 1982)
The Birth, The Death, The Ghost (live album 1983; recorded 1980)
Death Party (EP 1983)
The Las Vegas Story (album 1984)
Sex Beat '81 (semi-legal live album 1984)
Two Sides of the Beast (compilation album 1985)
Love Supreme (semi-legal live album 1985)
Danse Kalinda Boom - Live in Pandora's Box (live album 1985)
Sex Beat 81 (semi-legal live single 1986)
Death Party (semi-legal live album 1987); has no tracks from the 1983 Death Party EP
Mother Juno (album 1987)
Breaking Hands (single 1988)
Sex Beat (single 1989)
Pastoral Hide and Seek (studio album 1990)
The Great Divide (single 1990)
Pastoral, Hide & Seek (The Lost Song) (single 1991)
Divinity (album 1991)
Ahmed's Wild Dream a.k.a. Live in Europe (live album 1992)
In Exile (compilation album 1992)
Lucky Jim (album 1993)
Cry To Me (single 1993)
Live at The Hacienda 1983 (live video 1994)
Preaching The Blues (live video 1995; recorded 1984)
Early Warning (rarities and demos double compilation album 1997)
Walkin' With The Beast (single 2004)
Live at The Hacienda 1983/1984 (live DVD 2006; reissue of above videos)
Fire Of Love (live DVD 2007; recorded 1983 and 1985)
Da Blood Done Signed My Name (rarities and demos double compilation album 2007; reissue of Early Warning plus one extra interview track)
Larger Than Live (live album 2008; recorded 1990 - not 1992 as incorrectly listed on sleeve)
The Life & Times of Jeffrey Lee Pierce & The Gun Club (studio cuts and live compilation 4CD box set 2008)