Originally appeared in Razorcake #29, released in December 2005/January 2006.
Here is a printable PDF and full text of the article.
Original artwork and layout by Todd Taylor.
Photos by Edward Colver, Gary Leonard and Romi Mori.
Cover photo by Edward Colver.
Zine design by Marcos Siref.
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An Oral History of the Gun Club by Ryan Leach
The Gun Club is one of Los Angeles’s greatest bands. Lead singer, guitarist, and figurehead Jeffrey Lee Pierce fits in easily with the genius songwriting of Arthur Lee (Love), Chris Hillman (Byrds), and John Doe and Exene (X). Unfortunately, neither he nor his band achieved the notoriety of his fellow luminary Angelinos.
From 1979 to 1996, Jeffrey manned the Gun Club ship through thick and mostly thin. Understandably, the initial Fire of Love and Miami lineup of Ward Dotson (guitar), Rob Ritter (bass), Jeffrey Lee Pierce (vocals/guitar) and Terry Graham (drums) remains the most beloved; setting the spooky, blues-punk template for future Gun Club releases. At the time of its release, Fire of Love was heralded by East Coast critics as one of the best albums of 1981. Unfortunately, Los Angeles didn’t see the album in the same light, accounting for much of the band’s time in New York. When brilliant, formidable bassist Rob Ritter (1955-1991) left the fold in 1982, the initial lineup was broken. A revolving lineup and the artistically successful The Las Vegas Story followed. The Gun Club remained dormant until a solidified lineup of Jeffrey Lee Pierce (vocals, guitar), Kid Congo Powers (guitar), Romi Mori (bass) and Nick Sanderson (drums) reconvened for their 1987 surreal masterpiece, Mother Juno. Soldiering on until 1994, this lineup (sans Congo Powers for the Lucky Jim record) released three full-lengths and an EP. Then the unexpected happen: Jeffrey Lee Pierce passed away due to a brain hemorrhage on March 31, 1996 at the age of thirty-seven. At the time of his death, Jeffrey was working on his autobiography (Go Tell The Mountain) and a new lineup of the Gun Club with musical soul mate Kid Congo Powers.
What follows is a chronological oral account of those close to Jeffrey and various Gun Clubbers, whose playing was integral to the Gun Club’s artistic success. All of the following interviews were conducted between March and August of 2005. Some were conducted at the interviewees’ respective homes (Ward Dotson, Jeffrey’s sister Jacqui Pierce and brother-in-law Johnny Faretra), at Millie’s on Sunset (Keith Morris), via long distance telephone (Kid Congo Powers, Romi Mori and Terry Graham) and one by a quick email (Alice Bag). The closing lines belong to Leon Catfish, guitarist/singer of The Guilty Hearts and lead guitar player of my favorite current L.A. band, the Starvations. Leon and I were talking outside of a Guilty Hearts show about the usual—the Gun Club and Rob Ritter—when it struck me just how important the Gun Club are. Leon and I are clocking in at or under the quarter century mark and continuously discuss a band that hasn’t existed in over a decade. Leon plays his Telecaster in his own refreshing, unique manner, but in a style unmistakably influenced by Jeffrey. Just as Jeffrey took influence from Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix and Howlin’ Wolf, we today reach back into his rich catalogue for influence; proving the Gun Club is not ephemeral. Innovators are not forgotten.
This piece is dedicated to Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Rob Ritter.
Interviews by Ryan Leach
Jacqui Pierce: My uncle Fred was a jazz musician, so we grew up with music. My Mom collected 45s—mostly R&B and soul. Jeffrey was ten years old and started taking lessons to learn how to play guitar, and he stuck with it. A lot of people don’t do that, but he really loved it. He practiced a lot in his room. He would play “Stairway to Heaven” over and over again. We knew he had a love for music and was set on learning how to play.
Kid Congo Powers: I met Jeffrey in 1978. We were in line to see Pere Ubu and I had seen Jeffrey around a lot. We were always in line—this was during the punk explosion—and there were a lot of shows in Los Angeles that you had to go to. And on this particular night I was like, “Who is this guy anyway?” He was wearing a white vinyl trench coat with white girl’s cowboy boots and a polka dot shirt. We started talking and got drunk. That first day he said, “You should be in a band with me,” and I had never played in a band before. I had always been a music fan. I was like, “Well, okay, whatever,” and he said that I should be the singer. I told him definitely not. And he said, “You could be the guitar player.” I told him, “I don’t play guitar.” And he said, “Oh, that’s not a problem, I can show you some things.” And it happened really spontaneously. It wasn’t too long afterwards that we actually started playing around with some people and making a really terrible, terrible noise.
Terry Graham: I started college here in Denton, Texas, but it was basically a seed store with a few cows—it was hideous. I had to go to Los Angeles. My cousin lived out there and I thought film school would be cool. But then you go to UCLA and USC and you realize you’re not going to get in just by walking in; it’s a little different than that. The next thing you know, I go to Kim Fowley’s New Wave Night at The Whiskey and the rest is history.
Keith Morris: Jeffrey and I were living in Inglewood, right in the middle of the Bloods and the Crypts, but they never messed with us. There were probably only six white people in the neighborhood and we looked like a couple of freaks anyway. I walked around the neighborhood and I didn’t care. The gang members, if they think you’re insane, they won’t mess with you. And Jeffrey looked like a freak, too. He had bleached blonde hair.
Kid Congo Powers: Jeffrey and I really hit it off because we had both traveled a lot—to Europe, around the United States, Jamaica—and he was writing for Slash magazine. He was really into reggae and we both had that in common. We were only nineteen or twenty at the time and a lot of people we knew hadn’t done that. We were also interested in New York music. I was running a Ramones fan club and Jeffrey was doing the Blondie one.
Jacqui Pierce: Jeffrey was already hanging out at music spots because he was doing interviews. I think that was what drove him to be a musician, to actually get a band together, because he was interviewing people so much. And, he was around the scene. I’m sure he must have thought, “I can do that.” So he eventually formed his first band, the Red Lights. At that time, he was influenced by Blondie, Talking Heads, Television—big time Television fan, Tom Verlaine—some Bowie and Lou Reed.
Pleasant Gehman: Jeffrey was the one who started me in music. He kept telling me I should have a band. I kept saying, “I don’t want a band,” and he goes, “Well, you would make a great singer.” And I would go, “I don’t know how to sing.” So he would tell me this every time he saw me. And then finally one day he said, “You should have a band and you should be the singer.” And I said, “I don’t want that. I don’t want to put one together,” and he said, “I already put one together for you.” We were called the Cyclones—this was before the Gun Club. Jeffrey played guitar and so did Johnny Nation. There was a guy named John on standup bass and Brad Dunning, who is now a really famous interior decorator, on drums and I was singing. We used to rehearse at Jeffrey’s mother’s house in Pacoima. We were horrible. There was no PA, so I was singing out of a guitar amp and basically screaming above the noise. A lot of people didn’t know how to play what they were playing, just like I didn’t know what I was doing. Jeffrey knew how to play, but Johnny Nation was just starting—he was really sucky—I mean, he went on to play with Lydia Lunch and the Reptiles and all these other things. Anyway, our first and only gig was at the one and only punk night at Gazzari’s. We were opening for the Last and the Go Go’s. I had been going out with the drummer and we broke up and weren’t talking to each other, even though we were rehearsing in a room that was six feet by ten feet. So he would say to Jeffrey, “Tell the singer that she’s not singing in tune.” And then I would say, “Tell the drummer that he’s not keeping time.” And for some reason before the show everyone got really drunk. I can’t remember why but Johnny Nation and Jeffrey got into a fistfight and Brad joined in. It was terrible! We sounded like a train wreck, there was a fight on stage, and everyone could hardly stand up. We were so horrible that Black Flag—God only knows why—was in the audience and thought it was amazing, that it was the most punk rock thing they had ever seen, and asked us to open up for them. But that was the only time we ever played because no one wanted to be together anymore. We were trying to be a pop-rockabilly band and we became the most crazy punk rock band—Jeffrey threw up in a bucket on the side of the stage. The whole thing was out of control. I think it was kind of concurrent with the Red Lights, but they only played a few gigs—maybe two or three.
Keith Morris: I had compiled a list of band names. Jeffrey was playing in the original incarnation of the Gun Club called the Creeping Ritual. And he wasn’t really that excited with the name, so I came up with the name. We swapped the name of the Gun Club for the music that would become “Group Sex.” And if you listen to that song, you could also sing “It’s a Small World After All” along with it, and that’s where Jeffrey got it.
Kid Congo Powers: A lot of people say “blues” and “country” when they think of the Gun Club, but it was more soul and reggae in the beginning.
Terry Graham: I had known Jeff since day one, since he started hanging out. It wasn’t like we were close personal friends, but he was one of the people in the scene, and he was constantly blabbing, and I was constantly listening for some reason. So I knew of him and I knew about his first band, the Red Lights. I had seen the Gun Club somewhere, but I didn’t really pay much attention. And then I talked to Jeff, and he said, “Well, we might need some new people.” Rob Ritter and I went to the Hong Kong Café and saw him. I thought it was pretty cool. It was raw and different. It appealed to me because it was a little scary, a little slimy, and there were some roots music in there, which was interesting.
Alice Bag: I kinda envied Rob Ritter because he was so smart. One day I was in Rob’s apartment waiting for him to get ready to go somewhere. I started looking through his bookshelf. He had the French philosophers with the text in French. I told him I didn’t know he could read French and he told me he had taught himself. I had taken two years of French in high school and thought I was pretty smart because I could order food and ask for directions in French, but Rob burst my bubble.
Jacqui Pierce: Phast Phreddie was a music historian. Phast Phreddie really loved jazz and the Beat scene, not the Warhol scene, but the Beat scene from way back in the ‘50s. Phreddie worked at Rhino (Records), so it was so convenient. Jeffrey and Phreddie would meet up and chat, and play some great records.
Pleasant Gehman: Phast Phreddie was the big maven for everybody. He did stuff for me, Jeffrey, and the Cramps. First of all, the Runaways first show ever was in his living room in Glendale. He had all these crazy records. We would always come over from a club or a night when there was nothing to do and we would go to Phreddie’s house or Phil and Dave Alvin’s house from the Blasters and everybody would bring over their records. And Phreddie had this unbelievable, expensive collection of records from every genre and he was always turning people onto the blues. I’m sure he played some stuff for Lux and Ivy that turned into later Cramps songs, covers I mean. He was a huge influence on everybody. He had really crazy jazz and blues records—all that kind of stuff.
Terry Graham: We did a show pretty early on where Jeffrey came out with a huge bible and he had his Colonel Sanders outfit on. And he slammed his bible down on the stage and started beating it with a chain. Jeff wasn’t the most graceful guy on the planet earth, but it worked. I thought, “That’s pretty cool: Colonel Sanders and the Gun Club.” Some people got the point, but doing that kind of stuff and drawing on images and references from way back in American roots music wasn’t something that registered quickly with “punk rock.” And I was, and still am, a big fan of any and all new music, but this was something that was so different, and because I’m from Texas, it had a great appeal.
Kid Congo Powers: I was in the Gun Club for about a year and a half. We had been playing and trying to figure out what we were doing. By that time we had written “Sex Beat” and “For the Love of Ivy”—not all of the songs of the first record, but a good deal of them. “For the Love of Ivy” was just a stupid, simple riff I came up with. Jeffrey redid some of the lyrics to make it a more blues-based song. We were a big fan of the movie, For the Love Ivy with Sydney Poitier, and it had a double meaning with Ivy from the Cramps. Then the Cramps asked me to join them and Jeffrey was like “Are you crazy? Of course, join them.” They were huge rock stars to us. At the time, the Gun Club hadn’t recorded anything. They were a band playing to a handful of people.
Pleasant Gehman: Kid Congo was in a band with Jeffrey. That’s when Kid was living at Disgraceland (Pleasant’s house which, from 1978 to 1988, harbored numerous punk fans, musicians, and zine kids), and it was called the Creeping Ritual. Then he played in the Gun Club and that was when the Cramps drafted him. Kid and I had been living in New York in 1979, and Lux and Ivy were like our parents. We were always at Cramps gigs. It was a logical progression. Kid was in both the Gun Club and the Cramps for awhile and then the Cramps started touring so he went with them.
Ward Dotson: Punk rock happened. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was close enough. The Ramones—it was faster and smart and stupid at the same time, if that makes any sense. It was simple. Louis Armstrong was asked once, “What is good music?” It was a terrible question, but he was so cool, he said, “Well, if you hear a song and start tapping your toe, that’s good music.” It’s not brain surgery. So punk rock was the closest thing and I liked bands like the Raspberries, the Who, and Badfinger. I was also really getting into rockabilly—the Johnny Burnett Trio and the more pedestrian stuff. And then bands like the Cramps, the Blasters, and X were already going, and I was into bands in that direction. So it makes perfect sense that I end up at a Billy Zoom rockabilly show—he did these shows once a year outside of X with DJ Bonebrake and two other rockabilly dudes—and I went to that and saw Jeff Pierce and said, “Hey, are you still looking for a guitar player?” I didn’t say, “I want to be in your band.” I just said, “Are you still looking for a guitar player?” Next day I’m in the Gun Club. Rob and Terry, when I joined the Gun Club, I went, “Fuck, man, you guys are great! That is a kick-ass rhythm section.” I’m playing along to Buddy Holly records in my living room one day, and the next day I’m in a shitty rehearsal room in Hollywood with a loud-ass rhythm section. These guys had been playing together for three or four years at this point. Being the bass player, you have to lock with the drummer—you have to know each other. And after being in the band for a very short while at the end of a rehearsal, I went to Terry and said, “You’re better than X.” Because I don’t think John and DJ locked the way Rob and Terry did. They were sexier, they had their shit together, and they wrote great songs, but they didn’t lock like Rob and Terry did.
Terry Graham: Rob, Ward and I were a tight unit; we understood each other really well. We had to be able to do that in order to play behind Jeff. If Jeff wasn’t drinking a little bit —and he didn’t drink that much at first—he would still get on stage and push the envelope and put himself right on the edge. If we weren’t this tight unit, we couldn’t have played very well behind him. If we played a tight show, it was because the three of us back there were making sure that happened.
Ward Dotson: Nine months after I joined the band, Tito Larriva from the Plugz, said, “Hey, I have this label, Fatima Records, and I’m putting out half albums. They’re not really EPs, they’re the same size a 33 1/3, only you guys would have one side.” And another band was supposed to have the other side—I can’t remember who. So we went into the studio one night after hours, like midnight to four or something, with this guy and we recorded five or six songs. And Tito produced it, if you could call it producing; it was just putting mics in front of the amps and pushing record. And that came out pretty good. And Jeffrey’s connection to Slash led him into that office. I think he had a crush on some girl that worked there, too. And he would go down there and play that tape, and it was like half of Fire of Love; whatever five or six songs—I don’t remember which ones they were. And Bob Biggs heard it, roaming through the halls and said, “What’s that?” And Jeffrey said, “That’s my band.” And the Fatima thing fell through somehow. It just went belly up and they decided not to do it, and Slash said, “Yeah, we’ll do it. Let’s record another five or six songs.” I had been in the band for a year, but nine months between me joining and that first recording, I was like, “I don’t think I could do this.” And Jeffrey, Terry, and Rob felt the same way. Terry and I were going to form some other band. We would play shows and get booed right off the stage. It was like these punk rockers—if we opened for a punk band—going, “Fuck you! Get off!” It just wasn’t fun and being around Jeffrey was tough, but we just sort of kept doing it. And there was good chemistry in Rob, Terry, and I and Jeffrey had that indefatigable spirit, a relentless self-promoter: “I’m going to do this no matter what.” Dump a bucket of shit on his head and he would just wipe it off. Whereas I’m able to take no for an answer, and Rob and Terry are that way too, so we kind of needed Jeffrey, as much as we hated him. I was watching some Beatles documentary the other day and John Lennon just said, “Yeah, we’re the best fucking band in the world!” And that’s what carried them and that’s kind of what carried the Gun Club.
Terry Graham: We only had a couple thousand dollars to do the record and we had time booked in one studio. Every song was a first take. We just went in there and laid it down, then came back and threw a couple more things on the first session—which was about half the songs—and then we went to another studio with Noah Shark and did the same thing. We just laid it down and ran because we just didn’t have the money to do much more than that. Whatever sound there was on there was really dependent on the room and its acoustics. There wasn’t a whole lot we could do to tweak that or manipulate it, but you can tell. Half the songs have a much more faint/clear sound, and the other half are a little bit muddier. And that’s the different studio—that’s all it is. It was really fun to do, but it was so fast; we were just in and out. We were really happy with the way it sounded, considering the time and money involved. For what we were doing and at the time we were doing it, we didn’t know what “sound good” meant. So we just kind of left it and let go.
Ward Dotson: We made Fire of Love and everyone in the band went, “Wow! We done good! It sounds really good. I wonder what other people are going to think.” And immediately we went from this ass-wipe band to being on the front cover of New York Rocker. Boston, Minneapolis, Austin—all the college towns of the early ‘80s ate it up. It was nice to get recognized. Here, in Los Angeles, people in the scene already seen us and didn’t like us. They’re dumb out here or just less erudite. Once you’ve seen some fat, drunk asshole insult you, you’re less likely to pause and notice how good that record is, and that record is pretty good. It is head and shoulders above all other records—I’m not saying this because I was in the band—it’s just a fact. I didn’t write the lyrics, I’m not bragging. Jeffrey’s lyric writing was head and shoulders above everyone who was around at the time. Robert Palmer wrote for The New York Times—The New York Times does not review rock records—and he reviewed the Gun Club record and the Dylan album—I think it was Street Legal—and he said, “In with the new and out with the old.” Slash didn’t even promote it. They just did the basic send out—here’s a picture of the band and here’s the record. They pressed two thousand and sold them in two seconds.
Terry Graham: I don’t know what happened to the bass on Fire of Love. I don’t know why on the first two records that the bass wasn’t emphasized in the mix. It’s a shame because Rob was so incredibly good. This guy could take anything, hear it once, and not just play it again, but play variations of it and it worked perfectly. It would be exactly what the music needed. It has always pissed me off that it just isn’t there. And if it’s not there, then it’s never there. It’s not like you can take the master and play with it, because it’s just not there. I don’t know why. It wasn’t anyone’s fault—they weren’t trying to do it. A band like Gun Club too, the bass should be a serious presence, particularly with Rob.
Ward Dotson: Jeffrey already knew Chris Stein. Jeffrey was president of the Blondie Fan Club a few years earlier. Some of my positive memories of Jeffrey are trying to get to sleep in a motel room, lethargic from a show or drunk or high or whatever, and just talking about ‘60s records. He was such a music fan. He liked a lot of the same stuff I did. I remember going into record stores and him going, “Oh, you don’t have this record? Here, you should get this record,” and that was really cool. He was totally into Blondie. I can’t remember how the record went down, but Chris Stein had this little label, Animal, which was just a vanity label; it really was just Chrysalis. He got to make the worst Iggy Pop record, a James White album, and the Gun Club record. Chris was really sick at the time. He had come down with that virus he had. That record, which should have been done in a week, took two and a half to three months. Chris had to keep going back to the hospital. We would get to meet Iggy. He showed up during the middle of the recording sessions with Chris Stein and that was positive. That record—I wish I still had the tape—I had just a rough mix after we were done with everything; I just had the engineer set the faders up, pop in a cassette, and run me off the whole album so I could have something to take home. That version was ten times better than the mixed version. The mixed version, the ball knob they turned down to two. They removed the rock’n’roll from it. The record doesn’t sound cohesive. That band was a live band. It wasn’t an overdub, studio thing. I don’t know what those other records sound like, I seriously have never heard one note off of The Las Vegas Story on, but with those records, I wish someone would go back and remix or re-master them. But Chris Stein was a great guy, a total pro. He had us step it up a notch, get a little bit more professional, and worry about things being in tune. I don’t know if he was the right guy to make the second album, but it was a positive experience.
Terry Graham: We really hated that recording session for Miami, or at least the band did. It was a horrible tiny little room. We didn’t like it. It was non-motivating, uninspired, and not fun at all to make that record. Jeff, of course, was thrilled because he was working with Chris Stein and Deborah Harry comes in and does some things in the studio and Clem Burke (drummer of Blondie) is dropping by. Jeff’s beginning to feel like he’s one of the stars—he’s hobnobbing with the stars. And that’s fine, I don’t blame him for that, it was just kind of getting to his head a little bit. But for the rest of us, it was dreadful. I think had he not been so star-struck, he would have also felt that it was dreadful. To be in this shitty little studio, of all the studios in New York, and try to create something completely from the board—you just don’t want to do that. You want a room with something into it. When I recorded with The Cramps, we recorded in a huge room at A&M in L.A., because we could get natural reverb, get some stuff in the board, and play with it a little bit and have fun with that, get creative.
Ward Dotson: Rob was just like, “Ahhh! I just want to make this record and get the hell out of the band.” We were all happy that he stuck around. He was out of the band before the record even came out. Jeffrey was pissed off at him. I was pissed off at him. I liked going to sound check—most people loathe going to sound check—and Terry and I were like, “Yeah, we get to play with Rob for an hour without Jeffrey, and just screw around.” I was bummed at him. He was a great guy to have in a band. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t cause any problems, other than being strung out. But even then, he wouldn’t snap at anybody. I remember playing shows with him and seeing him almost nodding out, almost asleep—and he would play the bass really low—and catch him leaning up against the SVT (amp cabinet) and him playing perfectly. Yeah, he quit. He was in that band 45 Grave. Those were his friends. I remember running into him later and him saying, “Man, I didn’t really realize it when I was in the band that we were kind of popular and that we were making money. All I could think was I can’t stand being around Jeffrey. Even though 45 Grave is only popular in L.A., those are my friends and I would rather hang out with them.” That’s how I felt too. All the contracts were signed in Jeffrey’s name. He got all the publishing. We were really around to promote his solo career. It wasn’t a band. It was really obvious of that.
Jeffrey was constantly so hard to be around, and only an idiot would have stuck that out. I look at the other people who stuck it out only because they’re idiots. That’s fairly judgmental, but it’s the truth. I even know that Terry went back for more and quit in the middle of a tour. Nobody quits in the middle of a tour, and that happened in that band with several people. We went to Europe for a mini-tour; we played like five shows in London, Paris, and Dresden. I was really excited. I remember going up to the tour manager and him saying, “Ward, just shut up. Just don’t say anything. Do you know how many people would like to be in your shoes? You’re on tour making money, not working, having girls throw themselves at you—all the rock star stuff—so just shut up or you’re not going to be in the band much longer.” Basically what happened was we did one more tour of the States and halfway into it I was like, “I might end up murdering this guy. I can’t take it.”
At the end of the tour, with like three of four shows left, a roadie came up and said, “Hey, I just heard Jeff on the phone booking a flight out of here and going home.” He wasn’t even going to tell the band. He was going to ditch us. So I went in there and said, “Hey, motherfucker, you’re finishing this tour. Don’t pull this shit. This is bullshit.” So we finished the tour and then that was it. He never called me. I just heard there was a new Gun Club record out and I wasn’t on it. Everything was handled in the absolute worst fashion. I think back on it now, and Jeffrey was twenty-three or twenty-four and I was twenty-two, and that’s how kids act. I can’t complain about anything. I don’t work, I live in paradise, and I can do whatever I want.
Kid Congo Powers: One day, Jeffrey’s band had quit on him going on an Australian tour. Terry and Jim Duckworth (guitarist who briefly played with the band after Ward’s departure) had decided at the airport not to go on this Australian tour. And so Patricia Morrison (Rob Ritter’s replacement on bass) and Jeffrey ended up in Australia. I get a phone call from Jeffrey asking if I could come to Australia tomorrow. I had already fallen out of the Cramps and Jeffrey had been living with me at the time, so I said, “Well, I’m not doing anything else. Sure, I’ll come to Australia.” It was a really fun and crazy tour. People reacted really well to it, and it was decided that I would stay.
Kid Congo Powers: I had remained really close friends with Jeffrey this whole period. Patricia, I hadn’t met, but I had known from the Bags. It was different because Jeffrey was playing guitar and was further along with his songwriting. We both had had a lot of experience and that was also a difference—we had started with no experience and then when we reconvened we had a lot of experience. That was a new dynamic and we were not interested in doing what we had done before and we were interested in a lot of literature—William Burroughs and Beat writers. We were also listening to a lot of jazz. A lot of different things happened. It was great.
Terry Graham: I rejoined the Gun Club and we did The Las Vegas Story. And of course that recording session was pretty good—that was the first “real” recording session that really felt like one, in a good studio. I don’t really like the songs on that record except “Walkin’ with the Beast.” It was a great sound, at least a professional sound.
Kid Congo Powers: The Las Vegas Story was the biggest thing we had done. We had a big budget for us and support from the record label. We actually got a producer-producer, not just a friend. We actually wanted John Cale (bassist of the Velvet Underground, solo artist, producer) to produce the record but he wasn’t available or he wanted too much money, so we ended up talking to Jeff Erich (producer) and it sounded like it would be good. He brought a touch of professionalism to us. I look at that time as one of the strongest times. We had vision and a good handle on musicianship and we weren’t too fucked up. We were at a point where drugs and alcohol were still working in our favor, if that’s possible—right before it dampens the creative process, which it eventually always does. People talk about Jeffrey being so difficult and a fuckup, but when it came time, especially for recording, he was right there.
Terry Graham: I remember that last European tour—kind of hard for me to forget because I left towards the end of it. I went over there with my girlfriend Amy. They didn’t like her coming too much, and I don’t really blame them now—I could see why they wouldn’t. I don’t think I would have either, unless I liked the person and she seemed to add to the mix. And Amy was very quiet and friendly, took no drugs, so they had no excuse not to like her—you couldn’t help but like her. But at the same time, it’s a band and you want to do your tour. So we go over there and immediately it was, “We’re gonna stay here. We’re not gonna go back to the U.S.” So I knew my time with the Gun Club was over, ‘cause there was no way I was going to move to London. It had no attraction to me whatsoever. Then after five weeks of touring, someone broke into the van outside of a club in Manchester—no crime England—and not only stole my camera, which, who cares? They stole all the video tapes. I had about fifteen hours worth of taped interviews and every show we did. While we played, Amy taped us—all of it gone. That was the final straw for me. That was the end of it. I was really upset. Now, I don’t regret leaving, but I do regret that I didn’t just finish the tour, just for the experience. The animosity I felt was very real.
Kid Congo Powers: Our concerts were really big and good, but then we kept booking shows, which was both good and bad because people got burned out. People started fighting and we all got horrible to be around. Being that close together is hard on a long-term basis and we were pretty volatile people. That ended up in a complete disaster. Terry left the tour and we kept going with a pickup drummer, which was an awful thing to do. Prior to that, we were so on. We were so tight, but when Terry left we could only do the most basic songs. It was really soul crushing. So we ended the tour and just decided we would end doing the band. There was too much drugs, alcohol, and fighting.
Romi Mori: I was in school bands and would play with mates. We would cover the Runaways and things like that. I did bits and pieces but was never really serious. I was a big fan of the Gun Club and went to see them play. Some people say, “I introduced you to Jeffrey,” but I’m quite sure I was at the show with friends and Jeffrey came up to me and started talking. He was really nice. He said, “We’re going to a nightclub. Do you want to go?” And I said, “Yeah,” and we all went. I didn’t really mention that I played guitar or bass, and then when I went to Jeffrey’s hotel room, I just picked up his guitar and started playing along to the records he was playing—I can’t remember which ones they were—and he was really impressed. He was like, “Wow, you should do something.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “You should play with me.” And that evening we started. He was just about to start his solo albums.
Romi Mori: I did his solo tour, but I didn’t play on the albums. It was really miserable in America. The tours were disorganized. America is so big and we would have to drive for hours a day in August, when it was so hot. Lots of gigs would get cancelled and we didn’t make money. It was just going really downhill. And in the end, the tour manager nicked some money and disappeared, which wasn’t very nice.
Kid Congo Powers: So the Gun Club kind of ended for a couple years. We pursued other things. I stayed in touch with Jeffrey and would see him when he would play his shows and we all ended up in staying in Europe: Jeffrey, Patricia and I. I played in a band with Patricia for awhile. Jeffrey did his solo thing with Romi and Nick. So when both of our things imploded or reached their logical end, Jeffrey and I decided to hatch a new plan. He had gotten together with Romi, who was a guitarist and a bass player, and Nick was up for whatever with drumming. Every time Jeffrey and I do something, it has to be called the Gun Club, so we decided to record an album. I had been living in Berlin and recording with Nick Cave, so we came to Berlin, which had a cheap studio. We made that album, Mother Juno, with Robin Guthrie from the Cocteau Twins. Guthrie produced that record.
Romi Mori: Jeffrey really, really didn’t want to talk about the Gun Club for a couple years. He wasn’t very happy with his experience. Then Kid and Jeffrey started talking again, and probably they just started talking about doing it again with different people. So then I joined as a bass player and Nick joined as the drummer. They did a short tour in the UK while I was ill in Japan, so Barry Adamson played bass instead.
Kid Congo Powers: The songwriting on that record went back to L.A. Strangely enough, it was a very international album, recorded in Berlin and with a British producer, but a lot of the stuff like “Yellow Eyes” and “Lupita Screams” are very L.A. Jeffrey was saying he was thinking of things he heard from out of the garage in El Monte. We were on that tip.
Romi Mori: We were talking about recording and I remember Peter Hook of New Order wanted to produce Mother Juno. When I met Jeffrey, he was really into Bob Dylan. He was playing Bob Dylan every day and I got really sick of it. I was really into Cocteau Twins, so I introduced him to the Cocteau Twins’ Treasure, and he really, really fell in love with it; he had never heard anything like that in his life. So he listened to it almost every day. Then when we were in L.A. we were taking a walk along the Sunset Strip and we bumped into Robin and Liz from the Cocteau Twins. It was just so weird because we were just talking about them. We became friends, and then Robin really wanted to produce Mother Juno, so we chose Robin over Peter Hook. I think we did the right thing.
Kid Congo Powers: There were a lot of extremes going on at the time of Mother Juno. There was extreme partying and extreme sobriety. Sometimes you didn’t know what to believe. And sometimes the energy was really, really manic, which might have fueled a lot of good creativity, but I’m not sure if that was a good way to be. At that time I wasn’t hanging around Jeffrey a lot. I was living in Berlin, so we would get together to record and play, and then I would go back to Berlin. After the Mother Juno tour, I got straight and Jeffrey would go back and forth. I ducked out of all of that. I then moved back to California. I changed my life. This was a point where my involvement with Jeffrey was strictly about music. And then I would hear people freaking out about Jeffrey to get straight and sober. You would hear one thing and see another. He was my good friend of a million years at this point. We would be talking and it would be fun. You can’t force someone to get straight—you can’t lock them up and make them do it. He would really go between those extremes. And also he was becoming very physically ill with hepatitis C and liver damage. There was a lot of stuff going on in my own life: friends dying of AIDS. Being a gay artist at my age, it happened a lot. In the ‘80s it happened on a crazy level and in the mid-‘90s there was another weird wave of it. It was horrible. So it was hard to keep track on what was going on with Jeffrey.
Romi Mori: Jeffrey had “The Breaking Hands” months and months before we started recording Mother Juno. He told Robin, “I have this song and maybe we could work on it.” And Robin came up with all the bells, and Jeffrey was really, really in love with it. Jeffrey would write guitar bits, then he would write with Nick on drums, and then I’d play bass and Kid would play guitar and finally Jeffrey would finish his vocals; so it was rather awkward really. So we would never really be together writing. The Mother Juno tour was brilliant. We had loads of people coming to see us. We did quite a lot of touring in Europe. It was the best moment. Jeffrey was really into it—he was all over the place on stage. He was brilliant.
Kid Congo Powers: The first Mother Juno tour was really great. I felt like people were like, “Wow, the Gun Club is amazing!” And then by the second and third legs, Jeffrey started getting messy again and it got worse and worse. People were getting really fed up with seeing the Gun Club. They would wonder whether it would be good or whether Jeffrey would end up mumbling and walking off stage just to fuck everything up, to fuck with people. That was always a good card with the Gun Club, fucking with people, but there’s a way to do it well and a way to
do it poorly. I could see the audience dwindling and the band losing interest and the focus leaving. Finally, I decided to do my own thing and I couldn’t be a part of it anymore. That was before they made the Lucky Jim record. I was already living in Los Angeles by this time and they were still living in London. I would rather go out on a good note.
Romi Mori: At the end of the Mother Juno tour, Jeffrey was very ill without realizing he had a very serious illness. So he went back to L.A. after the tour and went to the hospital and found out he had cirrhosis of the liver. He had to stop drinking and it was obviously very hard for him, being a serious drinker. So, he did successfully and he tried desperately to find a hobby. He tried shopping. He tried everything. He was always like, “Let’s go shopping, let’s go shopping!” And I said, “You must be joking!” And he would say, “Oh, no! Let’s go!” He tried it, but I don’t think he liked it. He was okay for about two years. He didn’t drink at all. So we didn’t drink around him. We were trying very hard for his health.
Kid Congo Powers: Making Pastoral Hide and Seek was really not the most focused of records. I just showed up, did my thing, and left. I had very little to do with what was going on. It was really Jeffrey and Romi’s trip. Jeffrey really wanted to play his guitar more. They were together a lot and they could play together. There were a few moments on the record that were good, but by and large it wasn’t an energized masterpiece like Mother Juno or The Las Vegas Story might have been for me, personally.
Romi Mori: Jeffrey wasn’t drinking during this time. We didn’t really have the edge during Pastoral Hide and Seek that we had during the Mother Juno period. All the energy and ideas came from Jeffrey being drunk, so without alcohol it must have been confusing. Obviously he was depressed. The drink supported him. I can’t really compare this period to the first three albums. I think “Temptation and I” is a fantastic song. Jeffrey couldn’t quite come out with an idea. “I Hear Your Heart Singing” is a very, very old song. It was written for The Las Vegas Story or maybe before. We would work the songs out together. I wrote the guitar solos on that song. I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I think that last solo is by Jeffrey, but those first two are mine.
Romi Mori: It was awful and depressing making Lucky Jim. It was bad. Because of where we were, the junk situation was quite easy for Jeffrey; Holland has drugs everywhere. Without realizing he was on drugs, we were recording and the rhythm was completely gone. He couldn’t play in time—it was so hard to play with him. He was insisting that he was right and that we were wrong. I had to play some of the guitar bits; he was quite happy letting me play some of the guitar parts. It was very sad.
Terry Graham: Years and years passed before I talked to Jeff again, but when I did, there was no bad feeling at all. We kind of shook hands and that was cool. And that was the last time I saw him. It must have been a year before he died. To me, I felt that all this water was well under the bridge. And the point is, Jeff, is that you and me and a select group of other people stood our ground when disco was ruling the planet like a dinosaur and to me that counts more than anything that happened subsequently. The fact that we had the guts to be something different in the face of a hideous culture—or lack of a culture. And that’s always been my attitude ever since then, about anybody and anything concerned with that scene.
Keith Morris: We actually checked Jeffrey into a rehab/hospital down in Marina Del Rey against his will. Mike Martt (guitar player of Tex and the Horseheads) and I had to take him down. He was already dying. Our friend Sal who ran the Viper Room said, “Hey, look, I’ve got a doctor in Beverly Hills. I’ll pay for the visit.” We took Jeffrey to this doctor and he gave Jeffrey three months. This was a couple of months before he died. He wanted to go back to Japan because he had fallen in love with a nurse over there. He thought he could go back over there and she would take care of him. One of the problems was that he had been kicked out of the country by the U.S. Consulate. So we checked him into this hospital/rehab and the doctor there said, “Don’t believe what the doctor in Beverly Hills told you about him having only three months to live. I can get him over to UCLA Hospital and we can cut him open and have a transplant and give him a new organ. He’ll be all right. I’ll supervise the operation and let the students work on him and we’ll get him back in shape.” And we we’re totally into that. Jeffrey was angry because the money used to get him into rehab was money that he would have used to fly back to Japan.
Kid Congo Powers: Jeffrey came back to Los Angeles and some people had convinced him to make a concert to play the hits with Mike Martt from Tex and the Horseheads and a couple other guys. It seemed like a fun thing to do and maybe a good time to do it. Jeffrey wasn’t too fucked up at first. We did this show at the Viper Room, and it was really, really good. It was really fun and great. Then a couple months later we did another one and it was really terrible. I was getting fucked up again. I think that was the last thing we did. I don’t think he played any shows after that. Certainly, I didn’t. Some people said that was really great and amazing, because a lot of people hadn’t seen it. But if you had seen it, it wasn’t so great. It was really quite sad and horrible. Jeffrey looked bad. After that he had gone to his father’s to dry out.
Jacqui Pierce: He had been in rehab at least three times or more trying to clean up his act. A lot of people make him out to be this tormented artist who just drank himself to death, but he could have committed suicide. He could have gone a lot earlier had he chosen to leave this earth because of all the pain. He didn’t want to die. He wanted to live.
Pleasant Gehman: They played their last show at my Ringling Sister’s Benefit—this was when I had that group the Ringling Sisters. We used to put on these charity benefits for thirteen years every Christmas. Henry Rollins, X, Concrete Blonde, 7 Year Bitch, Babes in Toyland—all these amazing people would play on them—even River Phoenix played on one once with Flea. It was all for the kids. We gave every cent to charity. So Jeffrey’s last show was at the Ringling Sister’s benefit. He looked terrible. I’ve known so many people who are dead now—Exene’s sister Muriel (passed away in 1980), Rik L. Rik. (singer of F-Word; passed away in 2000), Lance Loud (singer of the Mumps; passed away in 2001)—I can’t even think of it now how many there are. It wasn’t the first time it happened to me and it definitely wasn’t the last time either. It was a closure experience, writing his obituary. It’s because you know the person and you know aspects of them that someone who just got assigned to do it wouldn’t know. I remember one fun thing about Jeffrey no one would believe: Jeffrey, Tex, Levi (Dexter), Belinda (Carlisle), I and a bunch of other people went to see E.T. and we are all sitting in the theatre on Hollywood Boulevard and Jeffrey was just bawling during the beginning part where E.T. was getting chased. After that movie was when he announced that Tex was in a band that he had put together for her called Tex and the Horseheads.
Kid Congo Powers: I was talking to Jeffrey again. He said that he was sobering up again at his father’s and that he was trying to finish up that book he was writing for Henry Rollins. We had been talking about doing another project and we’ll call it the Gun Club. And Jeffrey would come to New York, so I started looking for people, and people said, “Of course, I would love to do something with Jeffrey Lee Pierce.” I told him when he got his stuff together to come out here and we’ll do something. He had been reading me some of the stuff he had been writing—a lot of the crazy passages, like where Isaac Hayes is calling him on a radio tower, and we were just hysterically laughing over the phone. And he assured me that he was doing well. I was always hearing from other people that Jeffrey was really sick and it was really, really bad. I would call Jeffrey and he would say, “They are crazy and that it’s not that bad.” And I would say, “I saw you. It’s really bad.” He would say, “I’m getting my shit together. I’m in Utah and I’m going to meetings and I’m taking it easy.” And I believe that’s what he was doing there.
But then one day his body said, “No more.” That’s when he died. It was a shocking ending. Some people were not shocked at all, and really thinking about it later, I shouldn’t have been shocked. This person was in very, very poor health and expired. It was still kind of shocking to me. Part of it was that I was in denial that he would die. It was the end of my collaborator; the person who taught me how to play guitar; the person who for years I had done stuff with and can only communicate in a certain way with—a brother. That was the end of an era. And it has been very sad. I went through a lot of stuff over it. So it’s good, all of these reissues and re-interest and circular amount of time—ten years of him dying and twenty years of being a band. It’s good and I’m actually able to talk about it in hindsight. I’m really proud of it and appreciative of it. And I have an appreciation that people still appreciate it. And I appreciate that people recognize Jeffrey as kind of a visionary and a great songwriter. And for as self-destructive as he was, he was a million times more creative. That’s the thing I always like to point out.
Jacqui Pierce: After awhile, going to the tribute gigs, people would ask, “What happened to Miami?”
Johnny Faretra: We had been working on it the whole time and no one would do it.
Jacqui Pierce: The thing is we didn’t want lawsuits. We didn’t want to cause trouble, but we wanted them out, so we kept trying. I had talked to so many people; I even talked to Ward at Tomata Du Plenty’s (front man of the Screamers; passed away in 2000) funeral, and I hadn’t seen Ward in years—I guess Jeffrey and Ward had some problems and didn’t get along. I went up to Ward and talked to him—he was doing really great. I asked him about Miami, and he said, “Well, they should just give that stuff away.” I went, “I don’t understand? What do you mean, ‘give it away’?” We don’t even know who it belongs to. So we had to find help and Chris Stein was a big help because he actually produced the album and told me that they had no contract and that the band was paid as they went. And that was that.
Johnny Faretra: Seven years later.
Jacqui Pierce: We are really proud. Long Gone John (owner of Sympathy Records) did a great job.
Leon Catfish: Jeffrey’s influence isn’t only in my music, but in music in general. Sometimes people don’t realize the impact the Gun Club had on the music they love. Recently, I’ve run into more Gun Club fans, and I always wish for more. The disease that is the Gun Club should spread, like it should have back then, when they were still in their prime. In the spirit of Jeffrey, and the Gun Club, I spread the disease that is the blues, and we hope it stays strong. It will be for me, at least.
Ryan Leach is a skateboarder who grew up in Los Angeles and Ventura County. Like Belinda Carlisle and Lorna Doom, he graduated from Newbury Park High School. With Mor Fleisher-Leach he runs Spacecase Records. Leach’s interviews are available at Bored Out.
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