THE GUN CLUB
The Blonde Ambition, Blind Drunk Visions & Beautiful Soul Of Jeffrey Lee Pierce.
'You see, all our dressing up, our attitude, it's all linked to something greater...the music...the whole feeling.'
[Jeffrey Lee Pierce, '84]
'In the still of the night I walk with the Beast
In the heat of the night I sleep with the Beast'
[The Gun Club - 'Walking With The Beast']
The Gun Club were out of their time and out of their minds. They were one of those special groups who never got full credit for fearlessly laying a blueprint which others later took to major success because they played the game. Unlike the Gun Club, or rather their front man, Jeffrey Lee Pierce.
There was something prime ally soul-grabbing about Jeffrey, their leader, singer, guitarist and songwriter. When you listened to Howlin' Wolf, John Coltrane or Robert Johnson, you knew dark forces are at play. Jeffrey certainly did. He'd managed to plug into the dark main artery of the blues itself - riddled with demons but one of the ultimate examples of the kind of brilliant artist who could annoy people intensely with his over-the-top behaviour while also being one of the most endearing people you could wish to encounter. It's so frustrating that he basically drank and drugged himself to death and, thanks to his erratic behaviour, managed to make a mess of everything from relationships [inter-band, record company and Personal] to sometimes the music itself, although that was often the better for it.
Jeffrey's vision and talent was up there with Nick Cave and Jim Morrison. The former rose above their wild addictions to become an acclaimed elder statesman. The other succumbed to them. Sadly, Jeffrey took the latter path. The tragedy is that Jeffrey didn't realise a fraction of his potential before his death in 1996. Everyone who Jeffrey touched felt the same he was his own worst enemy. Lovely, talented bloke. Pain-the-arse when he was
For a while Jeffrey was the proverbial best mate to the extent that I asked him to be my son's godfather. Daniel Lee Needs will be 20 in April, so I'm writing this as a tribute to the man he won't possibly remember meeting those few times. Looking at the photos of Jeffrey bouncing the weeks-old Daniel on his knee with a can of Tennents Super lager in one hand and a babies' bottle in the other, maybe it's just as well. Being into hip-hop, Daniel won't know his name either, except he's got the same middle name.
Now listen to the story of a man called Jeffrey...
By 1977, LA had already felt the shockwaves from New York's CBGB's scene but seemed to pick up more on the major punk rock cataclysm shaking the UK. The city had its own way of showing it, usually in LA'ed-up copies of the Pistols-Clash-Damned blueprints. But the place also managed to develop a genuinely vibrant scene which resulted in ventures like Dangerhouse. A lot of America's punk endeavours looked to classic UK rock and pop for inspiration: the CBGBs crew still looked to the Stones and Kinks, while many young punks on the west coast had graduated from the glam-worshipping Rodney's English Disco that had embraced the New York Dolls. The difference with the Gun Club was that it would be primarily influenced by America's own roots music, like blues, folk, jazz and country, albeit put in a blender full of drugs and liquor and taken to hell and back. The only other band that had recently paid homage to the music of its own country were the Dolls - another outfit who didn't allow themselves to fulfil their potential.
Jeffrey Lee Pierce was born in El Monte, near downtown LA - the only part of that city to bear a resemblance to New York's funkier neighbourhoods. He was a natural born rebel who dressed glam-punk-pimp-cowboy and worshipped Deborah Harry to the extent of copping her hairstyle. For a while, he ran the Blondie fan club and continued his fixation for the rest of his life, going dewey-eyed at the mention of her name. While Jeffrey did the Blondie club, Kid Congo Powers was running the Ramones'. Both had Mexican-American mothers with Jeffrey's maintaining a fanatical obsession with Hollywood and its stars.
Jeffrey learned guitar at an early age but played drums in his first group - local character Phast Phreddie's The Precisions, who never made it past the rehearsal stage. Jeffrey travelled - New York, Miami, Jamaica, New Orleans - and threw himself into various musical forms before coming out the other end with a list of influences he would pay homage to for the rest of his life: mainly roots music like blues, Bo Diddley, free jazz with John Coltrane, Creedence Clearwater, New Orleans bar music, reggae and, of course, Blondie. He developed an interest in the strange foibles of human behaviour, classic authors like William Burroughs, poets and movies. He started writing for Slash, the LA punkzine which came over like a West Coast version of Sniffin' Glue and Zigzag.
The one influence which kept growing within Jeffrey's soul was the blues. The real deal, raw stuff as practiced by names like Robert Johnson, Son House and Charley Patton. The Devil's music. This roots fascination would later become a major staple of the US rock scene, but this was year zero for the US, especially LA. The Gun Club were more likely to try and sound like Blind Lemon Jefferson than the Ramones.
It has been noted that the Cramps took some of their licks from the early Gun Club. In the UK we heard the Cramps first, before getting reports about the Gun Club. 'If you think the Cramps are strange...' kind of things. Kid and Jeffrey, who were living with Circle Jerk Keith Morris, had first formed a band with Don Snowden and Brad Dunning called Creeping Ritual, who'd become the Gun Club by the time they played their first gig at local punk venue the Hong Kong Cafe.
The Gun Club were the low life gutter to the Cramps' high camp horror show. They pulled the udders of America's bloated cow and sprayed out toxic, bourbon-soaked exorcisms of low living, love and desperation. Swamped-up locomotive breath mayhem, comparing girlfriends to opiates and raising pure hell. They were one of the maddest bands on the planet from the off, as Jeffrey developed recreational interests in heroin, speed and booze.
While the Cramps pushed that voodoo blues-rock trash trolley out into the world, the Gun Club thrashed around the local clubs until they got the chance to make an album for the local Slash Records in '81. They speed-recorded the Fire Of Love in two days. It was an awesome distillation of raw blues, rockabilly and punk, all topped by Jeffrey's out-there preacher screams and harangues. 'She Is Like Heroin To Me' he sang over an amphetamine bull-rhino guitar surge, while 'For The Love Of Ivy' was inspired by the Cramps' own Miss Rorshach. 'Goodbye Johnny' was rampant psycho-carnage. It was a gut-churning spontaneous combustion which sat apart from anything around at that time, except maybe the Cramps or even Suicide.
Ironically, just before the album, Kid Congo Powers upped and joined the Cramps, who by then were fairly huge, particularly in Europe. For the time being, the Gun Club line-up featured Terry Graham on drums, Ward Dobson on guitar and Rob Ritter on bass. The impact of the first album and Blondie connection brought a deal with Chris Stein's newly formed Animal Records. So the Gun Club went to New York to record Miami, which Chris produced and featured Debbie singing backing vocals under the pseudonym D.H.Lawrence Jr.
In my humble opinion, it's one of the great albums. The ultimate realisation of Jeffrey's rive tingly tortured visions and confessions as his impassioned wail cuts across lush backdrops which seem to encapsulate some kind of greater and ancient form of classic American music. 'Carry Home' and 'Mother Of Earth' are timeless and windswept, while 'John Hardy' - his take on traditional blues - is a balls-out tour-de-force. Elsewhere, pedal steel adds to the country flavours that are creeping in on tracks like 'Texas Serenade'. There's a steamy, confident version of Creedence Clearwater's 'Run Through the Jungle', while 'Sleeping In Blood City' and 'Like Calling Up Thunder' defined what some liked to call cowboy punk. I always thought Jeffrey was a very under-rated guitarist as his vocals and stage charisma tended to dominate, but several tracks spotlight his cutting, angular style. It makes sense that he was first inspired to pick up the guitar by Television's Tom Verlaine. The album's killer ballad was 'Fire Of Love', a bitter love song delivered with wracked soul and vicious after-thought.
Another personnel change - this time as Miami was awaiting release. Ritter left and Jeffrey got in Patricia Morrison from LA punk group the Bags. She would stay on for a record four years, being a quiet and stately witness to the peaks of Jeffrey's escalating excesses. This line-up wouldn't last too long - Jeffrey was reportedly very difficult to work with - but it was fantastic, as a French live album recorded at Al's Bar in Los Angeles testifies. Talking of testifying, Jeffrey is on ferocious form, working his way through 'Lost Highway', 'Fire Of Love', an ear-bleeding new tremor called 'Death Party', 'For The Love Of Ivy' and 'Walking The Beast'. There's a ten-minute romp through John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' with the guitars attacking the sax parts as Graham holds the beat like the Velvet Underground's Mo Tucker and it all ends up in MC5-tackle-Sun Ra territory. Jeffrey's chant of the title would later become hijacked by Primal Scream in their live version of 'Higher Than The Sun'. The funereal crawl through 'Goodbye Johnny' tips full-tilt onto the hell-bound express for a blazingly breakneck take on Robert Johnson's 'Preachin' The Blues'. Finally, 'Bol Weevil Man' is the patent Gun Club guitar rush scream-up for a finish. I was always intrigued how a group could be so hauntingly sensitive one minute, then howling demented blue murder the next. As for Jeffrey, those recurrent Jim Morrison comparisons are raucously evident but you could also bring Gene Vincent and Johnny Cash into the equation.
For a while Dee Pop from the Bush Tetras was on drums, and Jeffrey rekindled his friendship with Kid Congo, who rejoined in '83. 'Kid Congo got bored with The Cramps,' explained Jeffery at the time. 'He started getting better and didn't want to carry on playing an E chord all the time...it's just like being asleep. He also got tired of "fashion". I still like The Cramps though, they're creative.'
Then it was time for the Gun Club to bring some of bad America to Europe.
'When the last drop has been drained from the bourbon bottle, the stage coach careers into the screaming wind into your cranium and the leering skeleton outriders are taking potshots at what's left of your sanity...that's the time to join the Gun Club.'
So went the opening salvo in my first Gun Club feature in early '83 - in a supposed teeny mag. The interview was to be the first of many encounters with Jeffrey Lee Pierce.
Flexipop was an innocent lamb I fed to the slaughter. It was happy with its day-to-day genuflection at the alter of Duran Duran until, for some unearthly reason, they brought me in as editor to work alongside depraved designer Mark Manning [later to find infame as Zodiac Mindwarp]. We refused to do conventional 'tell us about the new album' type interviews, preferring to home in on any tales of debauchery that we could prise out of unsuspecting victims who thought they were being interviewed for some kind of Smash Hits type organ. Idols were regularly desecrated and threatened by a cartoon pig called Grunt Wazzock Pork and his bad salami. The mag's short life under my editorship coincided a period indulging in Bat Cave-related excesses - all rollicking system-punishing fun which culminated in us sticking Aleister Crowley on the cover and driving the final nail into a waiting coffin.
At the interview, with Jeffrey and Patricia, there was a lot of drinking, which wouldn't stop for the best part of the next three years, along with sundry other practices. In other words, Jeffrey and I kind of hit it off, initially due to mutual recreational pursuits. Usually, those kind of all-out thrashes are a great laugh to begin with. Happily, it was always the same way with us. It was only later, after we'd gone different ways, that we would both pay the price - Jeffrey in the most terrible way possible. That seemed so unimaginable at the time.
In Spring '83, the upright citizens of France and Holland were little prepared for the excess invasion led by the sturdy cowboy boots of Jeffrey and his fellow marauders. Although familiar with various forms of abuse at the time on a regular basis, I was quite shocked - and very amused - by the stories Jeffrey and Patricia told on our first proper meeting in a West End pub: Jeffrey being taken off the air during a Paris radio interview for being negatively monosyllabic and calling the presenter an asshole. 'I went on French radio, like Radio One in France. They only asked me two questions and threw me out!'
By Amsterdam, 'our reputation had begun to proceed us', recalled Patricia. For the radio interview, Jeffrey had 'taken every imaginable kind of drug you can find in Amsterdam.' 'He just slid down the wall,' remembered Patricia. 'We were holding him up each side and all he'd say to the questions was, "Oh, you don't really wanna know that". Every question!'
'They were pretty angry about it,' agreed Jeff. 'It was pretty wild. Our drummer threw up while he was on camera. He's asked me a question and goes, "Hueueey!" right in the middle of this really serious answer. We designated Amsterdam to be our drugs binge. They don't have to drink in Holland because there are so many drugs. I guess Amsterdam would be like a dream vacation, wouldn't it? But I think we went a little over the top, a little too much of everything. We'd been pretty straight up until then so we were starting to get bored.'
The boozing got particularly out of hand in the UK. 'Yeah!' chuckled Jeffrey with malevolent glee. 'The wildest night of the tour was in Newcastle. That was a drinking session. The bartender was an old sailor and challenged Dee to a drinking contest - they were drinking triple shots of bourbon. The bartender won. Dee was crawling around on his hands and knees, knocking over the tables in the bar. It took us two hours to bodily haul him up to his room and every time he woke up he'd start punching us!'
Jeffrey confided that he'd been forced to tone down his tipple from bourbon to gin. When I read these words today, they take on an extra depth and I sometimes get quite angry because this is precisely what would end up killing him.
'I had to stop because I got really sick. When you start to drink bourbon nothing else will do. I used to love it - a big pint of Old Granddad was the thing for me, never less, every night. I was sleeping at all these houses because I was too drunk to get home. I just got too rowdy or went round beating everybody up or doing something totally asinine. You don't feel things when you drink that stuff. You fall down the stairs and don't even notice. I ruined a lot of things on bourbon and got sick all the time. I drove my friends and my girlfriend insane. Finally I promised I'd stop. I can't believe I even lived through it. I took a liking to cognac for a while but I stopped for the tour. My liver hurt like hell.
'Gin's different - it's a more soothing drink. Patricia gets wild on gin. I never do. I get drunk, drunk, drunk so I can barely keep my eyes open. People think I'm a junkie when they see me nodding around on gin.'
Then Jeffrey's social conscience shone through for a moment. 'Boy, we're doing a lot to encourage the kids! But everyone drinks in England. In bars it reminds me of Texas - everyone gets wild, then they're singing, then they're knocking things over. Just like Texas! Two completely different cultures with the same drinking standard!'
I later found out that Jeffrey had already been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver around the time of Miami. If I'd have known that I never would've encouraged the marathon booze binges we embarked on as he became my regular drinking buddy for the next few years.
Unsurprisingly, the Gun Club incurred their fair share of disapproval from the press. This was the early 80s - when synth pop ruled in the clean and squeaky forms of Tears For Fears, Heaven 17 and Haircut 100. 'Those papers are like the guests you invite to a party who won't leave. I never could understand why people slag us off for being sloppy when that's the whole damn point - so you don't know where things are gonna end up or where they're gonna start. Rehearsing is totally against the spirit. This band never rehearse more than once at a time. It would just kill it. Sometimes we're miserably bad - in fact, it usually is! But it's worth it.'
The feature coincided with the awesome 'Death Party' EP. All feedback swamps, whistling deserts and the spirit of Howlin' Wolf. The title track is a torrent of glorious racket which even scared the shit out of the Bat Cave.
'"Death Party" is one of my favourite things I've done because it's completely unbearable,' crowed Jeff proudly. 'No one can stand listening to it. Therefore all others of a similar mould fail and pale. The Gun Club are the difference between shamming and shamanism.'
The Gun Club at London's Lyceum has since gone down as one of the great gigs. Jeffrey wore an admiral's jacket and hat, for some reason, and caterwauled through a set which bristled and smoked with evil heat. He was staggering - in more ways than one. 'I don't know about anyone else, but I had a ball,' he giggled later.
'I'm usually oblivious to anything onstage. When you're drunk you can play with the audience and it's fun, but usually I'm out on left field and not paying attention.' I suppose the obvious comparisons were the bad side of Jim Morrison without the sex. The unpredictability of Iggy Pop without the self-mutilating gymnastics. Sometimes the drugged ruin of Elvis without the rhinestones. And somehow this man's voice could send similar shivers down the spine as Robert Johnson's pained wailing, Coltrane's dam-busting sax or Johnny Cash passing deep, righteous judgement. Jeffrey was possessed by some very dark spirits indeed.
In September '84, the group were about to unleash The Las Vegas Story, their third and truly great album. Compared to the debut, it was complex and mature with songs like the eerie 'The Stranger In Our Town' and long-standing crowd-pleasers like 'Moonlight Motel' and 'Give Up The Sun' making an appearance. 'My Dreams' was a hallucinogenic ballad but 'Bad America' was dark, vicious and laced with vitriol. 'Walking With The Beast' showed that, when it came to the evil boogie rumble, the Gun Club could not be bettered. But then, in complete contrast, there's an amazing cover of George Gershwin's 'My Man Is Gone' from Porgy & Bess, where Jeffrey's vocal is as wracked and haunted as he ever got. He even had the balls to cover jazz great Pharaoh Sanders' 'The Master Plan' too.
LA's Beyond The Blackout fanzine - an early 80s haven for fans of the Cramps, Bad Seeds, etc - called it the best album of '84 and talks about 'the resurrected fire spirit currently guiding the band.'
Richard did an interview with Jeffrey, who was planning a day at his LA home watching Bilko and The Addams Family on TV. He said he never went out any more 'because all the people in the clubs have turned into junkies. I can't stand it. It's all so dismal, such a drag. I'm not into self-abuse any more...I'm interested totally into work now.' He asks Jeffrey about the swamp-voodoo psychobilly tag which was getting them Cramps comparisons. 'Umm, no one's called it that, have they?' What music does he play then? 'We play punk rock', replies Jeffrey.
There is punk rock on The Las Vegas Story, but also jazz, which Jeffrey admitted was the main inspiration for the arrangements and timing, 'Jazz is my main preoccupation,' says Jeffrey, citing Mingus, Dolphy and Coltrane as favourites. The record also oozes with the masturbating phantoms of rockabilly, pure pop and the traditional all-out death-crash.
Jeffrey says his lyrics were now observations instead of personal. 'I hate America. The lyrics are about that. The anguish, the description, the frustration. The awful life in the city where nothing ever happens. Where everyone has to "get off" on something all the time. I hate the random, immoral violence that is "America". Where car-loads full of Mexicans cruise around, picking off people at will and beating the shit out of them. They don't do it for any reason except to show how "bad" they are....I got badly beaten up about three months ago. It's because of the way I look - I'm no good at staying cool when someone's hassling me. I just have to mouth off.'
'LA's like a Nazi state at the moment with the Olympics - the police are going mad, picking on everyone. I'm gonna move soon.'
Asked if that might be England, Jeffrey replies, 'Nah, that place is getting to be like New York. Everyone's so hostile, so uptight, so crabby.' He picks France as top choice, but the following year would see Jeffrey end up basing himself in London.
In that interview, Jeffrey talked about his interest in the Peruvian folk-jazz music that laced 'The Master Plan'. He also enthused about South American music in general. Jeffrey also announced his plans to create a Third World jazz carnival with 27 musicians who'll have just two rehearsals and play only three songs that last a total of two hours.
As Beyond The Blackout liked to point out, the Gun Club were never quite accepted in their home city, calling them, 'LA's most misunderstood band'. They were still at club gig level when The Las Vegas Story was released and even found themselves supporting Billy Idol one less-than-gratifying night. But there was a long-standing bond between the Gunners and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Sioux had always been big mates with Kid Congo and when the Banshees came to LA in Spring '84, they asked the Gun Club to open for them at the Santa Monica Civic. With a packed house, good sound, great album and the band - Jeffrey in Indiana Jones drag, Patricia in mutant wedding dress, Kid exploding out of Cramps confines and Terry in Simon Le Bon's Duran t-shirt - burning with that righteous fire, turned in a belter. Jeffrey even got to demonstrate a bit of his newly discovered love of the trumpet.
The tour-de-force was again 'Preaching The Blues', while 'Goodbye Johnny' was coming on like Morrison's 'The End' as Jeffrey delivered his chilling narrative: 'Johnny, I have something I want you to do. I want you to go in the house and take care of that mess we made. Johnny, you can't get fucked all the time like that and go down to the house and do those things to people. Johnny, Johnny, you're my brother. I hate for you to get in trouble. I'd hate to see you sliced in two and...'. Blimey.
Back in the UK, the Bat Cave was in full swing in the West End. Although later painted as a posey goth watering hole, the place was fairly audacious in its presentations and simply very good fun. I was the dj from '83 through '85 and made sure I played at least one Gun Club tune every week. Jeffrey would come down when he was about, although he would profess to hate the place. In fact, his initial visits saw him getting quite belligerent towards the regulars after a few drinks. Thus started some nights that remain among the most booze-sodden I can't recall. Yes, I can't remember half of what we did, where we went or why we seemed to get in so much trouble. Why did we get thrown out of the Columbia Hotel at eight in the morning? That might've been because of Jeffrey's trumpet serenading from the balcony - a result of the dawn shopping trip for a bottle of Old Grandad. I really don't know!
During the last half of '84, the Gun Club toured extensively in Europe - where they were more popular than the US - and finished off the band in the process. Jeffrey was in maximum destruction mode. As Patricia Morrison explained to Mojo, 'I spent my years in the Gun Club with people coming up to me and saying, "This is a great band, get rid of the singer". But we'd say, "He is the band”. Because Jeffrey was totally in control. His saving grace was his vision and talent. The Gun Club should have been massive, but they weren't - because of Jeffrey. In the end, I said, I'm out.'
The tour ground to a halt around Christmas '84, along with the Gun Club. One of the last shows - at Camden Town's Dingwalls and possibly a step down from the Lyceum - was ramshackle and tense onstage, but one of those gigs where the demons raging onstage somehow manage to whip up something spellbindingly gripping out of the chaos and ill vibes.
After the show, Jeffrey met Romi Mori, one of the Japanese girls who used to frequent the Bat Cave. Romi and Jeffrey swiftly became inseparable and, it's fair to say that she became the one of the few stabilising and truly good influences in his short life - even if he did spike her with acid on that first night! I would go round to their place in Shepherds Bush sometimes and it would be like a cute couple of newly-weds [but with chaos always just around the corner].
One drunken night Jeffrey and me decided to form a super-group out of our friends and acquaintances to try and realise some of that vision for the jazz orchestra. We'd talked about doing something before but, at that time, I felt too musically inept to try and suggest something so serious as doing a band with Jeffrey.
Sometime in '84, the Bat Cave expanded its operations to take in another night at the now-defunct Embassy Club, which they called Helter Skelter. It was never very successful and being held on a Thursday the night after the Bat Cave - meant that the organisers and participants had to take inordinate amounts of drugs to keep afloat. One drunken night me and Jeffrey decided to form that supergroup to play at the club. We wouldn't rehearse, just rope in a bunch of musician mates and see what happened. To this end, a core rhythm section was put together featuring members of Youth's Brilliant and Flesh For Lulu. [At the time I was living with Youth, who considered Jeffrey to be a bad influence!]. We asked Lemmy, who liked going to the Bat Cave because of the girls' disregard for clothing, but he just agreed to stand on stage if we wheeled on a fruit machine.
Jeffrey, who confined himself to electric piano-plinking and sporadic improvised vocalising, called the group The Astro Unicorn Experimental Jazz Ensemble and wanted to capture the feel of Sun Ra and John Coltrane. It turned out to be a discordant racket, rendered by drug-crazed piss-heads, and rightly got panned in the music papers, who were curious as it was Jeffrey's first gig since the demise of the Gun Club.
Another time, Jeffery performed a more conventional acoustic set, backed up by Nick of Flesh For Lulu. Unfortunately, I was developing this alter ego who was self-explanatorily called the Rev Jack Daniel Needs. Fuelled by the appropriate fire-water, I started joining in with a rousing selection of gospel favourites, with Jeffrey and Nick backing me up, before going off like a demented preacher and howling about pork swords and underpants. But then, insane impromptu gigs seemed to be the rage amidst this bunch of willing sinners who'd cavort each week around London's seedier dives. Can't remember if Jeffrey was in the one we called the Toilets From Hell. All this might've been appallingly self-indulgent but it was great fun [for us, anyway!]. Jeffrey liked it because it was free from the constraints of record companies and press [although they would still slag him off for having a laugh].
At one point, my forthcoming son was going to be called Jack Daniel Needs, but good taste prevailed and he became Daniel Lee Needs, after that damn sour-mash and Jeffrey [with a nod to Jerry Lee too]. Jeffrey dutifully accepted the position of godfather. One evening, Jeffrey came round to my humble abode off Upper Street in Islington - a basement I shared with my late missus and Daniel Lee - to see how his godson was doing. Around that time, Tennents Super Lager had been launched as a purple riposte to Special Brew domination. The photos from that night are rather different from the usual! Another time Jeffrey came round he o.d.'ed in the front room, necessitating the old wet towel and walk about treatment.
Unfortunately, '85 saw me and Jeffrey playing around a bit too much with the wrong drugs, as well as the excessive boozing. He'd wisely given up on the free jazz group and secured a record deal - with Statik Records. Recording the album at Britannia Row studios in North London, his band now included Clock DVA's old rhythm section of Nick Sanderson and Dean Dennis. Also along on guitar was the great Murray 'Muzza' Mitchell, who'd been a long-standing roadie for Siousxsie and the Banshees, had a stint with Lydia Lunch and would go on to become production manager and chief roadie for first the Orb then Primal Scream.
First there was a single called 'Love And Desperation', which even saw Jeffrey with a twelve-inch dance mix [not to mention leading a llama through Soho on the sleeve]. Riding a clipped, bold groove with a Tom Verlaine-like riff, the vocals were like a naked plea from the heart. 'I am blue as you pull off your skin/I can read in flesh everywhere you've been/That's why we bother to know each other so well/That's why I bother to live in hell with you/Love and desperation'.
The mothership album was Wildweed and it was another fine body of Jeffrey songs, if sometimes seeming to try and recreate the Gun Club myths to order. Producing was Craig Leon, who had worked with many of the American acts, including the Ramones.
The album was supported by some ill-fated touring in the US and a few in the UK but, I have to confess, all this period is a bit of a blur too.
In early '85 - by which time Zigzag was a travesty - I had taken menial labour as publicist at Flicknife Records, an independent label who roped me in and paid me forty quid a week to get press for their bands. Their office was in Acton - a bus-ride away from Shepherds Bush Green and a nearby pub called the Kensington. After a hard day trying to persuade Melody Maker to print a Hawkwind review, I would get on the bus and, having alighted at the Green, go and meet Jeffrey.
Having staked out his turf in the Kensington, Jeffrey would be parked there in his trilby hat reading. Always reading. He was still steeped in his Burroughs-related heritage but it could just as easily be the Evening Standard. He talked of meeting Burroughs, who had encouraged him in his writing, and was planning to write a book of his own. Jeffrey's reading material at the time included Jospeh Conrad and William Kennedy. He would always credit James Joyce for giving him his initial inspiration.
For the first two pints, the conversation was easy - catching up. For the next two it was at the 'well I should be getting off now but just one more' stage, then beyond that it was plain silly, 'where can we score?' or hatching a plan for some spectacular music scheme somewhere somehow.
But Jeffrey was a lovely man. I recall his face in the Kensington - often bloated and out of it - but that smile would start a laugh and the nervous child snigger would kick in and shake his frame. Jeffrey was an endearing lost soul, with an incredible thirst for music, literature and intoxicants. He obviously loved Debbie. At the mention of her name his eyes would cloud and memories start. I also remember how nervous he was of his imminent trip to Japan to meet Romy's parents. I could see why Romy fell in love with him but also, after a couple of incidents where he just got out of hand in the gross-out stakes, why some people washed their hands of him.
By '87, Kid Congo had hitched up with Nick Cave's Bad Seeds in Berlin. Jeffrey called him up and Kid found himself joining the Gun Club for a third time, with Romi playing bass and Nick Sanderson on drums. The fruits of this line-up was an album called Mother Juno which again showed what a brilliantly evocative songwriter Jeffrey could be. It was produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins but, surprisingly, was the rawest the Gun Club had sounded since the first album. Jeffrey was really proud of it and the group were getting on. It seemed like a new lease of life.
The frivolity stopped in '86 as I dissolved into dark opiated chaos then moved to New York in pursuit of my wife and son, who'd gone for a visit and not come back. I kind of lost touch with Jeffrey after that. While I was over there night-crawling the streets of Alphabet City, Jeffrey and the Gun Club continued touring but the constant boozing was taking its toll as the cirrhosis returned. By the end of the decade, Jeffrey was on the wagon, out of sheer, life-hinging necessity.
One of the first things I did when I returned to the UK in mid-'90 was try and seek him out. I was delighted to find the Gun Club playing at the Kentish Town Forum, still with the same line-up. Afterwards, I went and said hello to this slimmer, black-haired, teetotal Jeffrey. He seemed rather ill at ease - possibly because I hadn't exactly followed the same path myself yet. He'd released an album called Pastoral Hide And Seek on Fire Records. Produced by Jeffrey, it was good and solid with tracks like 'Temptation & I' delving into some soul baring. Maybe it had lost the wasted recklessness and the untamed quality was more subdued, but it was still a good Gun Club record. Romi must have found domestic life a lot easier, but even she felt that Jeffrey with his demons being well behaved also meant a loss of edge.
Jeffrey might not have been drinking now, but had rediscovered heroin. At that time, I was in a period of great denial with smack - but drinking like a fish! Our paths did not cross and, by the time the group went to Holland to record '93's Lucky Jim’, we'd all but lost contact. Just as well probably - Jeffrey now had a habit which I'd hear about on the bush telegraph. Despite the fact he remained living in London, we moved in different circles.
Jeffrey was deported back to LA in '95 after an altercation in the pub led to him brandishing a Samurai sword he'd picked up when he visited Romi's parents. He saw this as a new start, planning a new Gun Club with ever-faithful Kid Congo and having been asked to write his autobiography by Henry Rollins' publishing house. He'd started writing it years before in the Kensington and I wish he'd got to finish it. But in late March '96, while holed up at his father's house in Utah, Jeffrey collapsed into a coma. The cause was a blood clot to the brain, caused by the cirrhosis. He never came round. I found out by reading it in a music paper and burst into tears in the middle of a crowded pub.
I miss Jeffrey Lee Pierce, that beautiful, damned soul who could be totally infuriating after he'd had a couple of drinks but, ultimately, an individual who I grew to love and respect. His talent was indeed capable of placing him up there with wordsmiths like Morrison and Burroughs. Jeffrey himself, wasn't. If he were about now, he'd be cleaning up in the Mojo/Uncut climate which pays lengthy tribute to the pioneers of great Americana, particularly if they were victims of their own self-destruction. Although he might have hated the fact, Jeffrey was a great American, a charismatic front man and as good a writer as many of his heroes.
Apart from regretting not fully rekindling our friendship when I returned from New York, I also wish I could remember more of what we got up to. What a lot of those great plans were and that we hadn't been too fucked up to do most of them. Some of what was said in those marathon conversations. But one thing's for sure - the times I do remember are up there with the more inspirational fun I've had in my life.
More than anything I wish Jeffrey was around to see how Daniel Lee was doing.
Kris Needs tMx 19 04/05