No Gun Club? No White Stripes

The kamikaze hell-ride of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and his Gun Club straddled only a few years of the last century, but his caterwauling punk-blues tear-ups and bared soul confessionals still resonate, from the most demented psychobilly to desolately windswept Americana (plus anything bearing the name Jack White).

A visionary wordsmith, singer, songwriter and guitarist at the same time as tragic alcoholic and demon-besieged junkie, Pierce carries a unique, astonishing legend but, thankfully, his monumental legacy is now being kept alive thanks to the efforts of The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Project, which has just released its third volume, Axels & Sockets, featuring former collaborators, friends and fans including Nick Cave, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Primal Scream, Mark Lanegan, Jim Sclavunos, Warren Ellis, Mick Harvey, Thurston Moore, Crippled Black Phoenix, blues-rockers Honey and Black Moth.

Preaching The Blues (Fire Of Love, 1981)

The first manifestation of the Gun Club’s soul-scorching synthesis of delta blues and rampant punk reinvented Robert Johnson’s original with a dynamic template veering between ghostly whispers and moon-howling psychosis.

She’s Like Heroin To Me (Fire Of Love, 1981)

Every track on the Gun Club’s incendiary debut album formed an essential part of their cataclysmic new blueprint but this full-tilt narcotic rush perfectly encapsulates their dark, opiated magic.

For The Love Of Ivy (Fire Of Love, 1981)

Jeffrey and Gun Club co-founder Kid Congo Powers paid cheeky tribute to Poison Ivy and the Cramps before the latter found himself temporarily in their ranks.

The Fire Of Love (Miami, 1982)

After Jeffrey’s Blondie connections and the Gun Club’s swift success brought them to Chris Stein’s Animal Records, the guitarist produced the Miami album with an opiated luminescence befitting evocative outings such as this title ballad held back from the debut album.

Mother Of Earth (Miami, 1982)

With pedal steel guitar and Debbie Harry singing backing vocals (as D.H. Lawrence), Pierce brought an arcane country influence into his sound, although tracks such as Like Calling Up Thunder defined cowboy punk.

Walking With The Beast (The Las Vegas Story, 1984)

The quintessential Gun Club evil boogie rumble, recorded with artificial charred soul energy amidst escalating LA excess.

The Stranger In Our Town (The Las Vegas Story, 1984)

Often overlooked as a lyricist, Pierce’s songs of love, death, desperation and addiction seethed with lines such as this lonesome missive’s immortal “There’s a stranger in our town, pulls out a punk’s spinal chord, piss and blood on the sidewalks of hearts”.

Death Party (Death Party EP, 1984)

Pierce’s cacophonic “disco dance song” thrashed out with a mission to turn their audiences into flesh-tearing zombies.

Love And Desperation (Wildweed, 1987)

Temporarily suspending the Gun Club, Pierce recorded an assured solo album with Blondie-Ramones producer Craig Leon.

Yellow Eyes (Mother Juno, 1987)

Bleak, haunted ballad from rich masterpiece produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins.

Thunderhead (Mother Juno, 1987)

Scathing, late period rocker covered by Cornish blues-rock demons Honey on the latest JLP Project set.

Goin’ Down (Ramblin’ Jeffrey Lee & Cypress Grove With Willie Love, 1992)

As his health deteriorated, Pierce found renewed vigour in the blues which first inspired him with London guitarist Cypress Grove.

Idiot Waltz (Lucky Jim, 1994)

Heart-breaking reflection on his condition on what has been called “the saddest song ever written”, peppered with lines such as “your body don’t get me off no more, it takes a lot of smack to do that”. It’s almost one of the most beautiful.

Shame And Pain (Mark Stewart & Jeffrey Lee Pierce feat. Thurston Moore, 2014)

Startling highlight from Axels & Sockets: The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project, featuring Pierce duetting with Stewart from beyond the grave.

The story of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club is told in Classic Rock 198, available in digital and print editions from MyFavouriteMagazines.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!