Kris Needs’s fine feature in CR198 definitively laid out Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s often unlovely legend: the LA boy who wandered the south as a teenager trying to imbibe Robert Johnson’s Delta blues, then tried New York for a hit of punk. As he spliced these two obsessions into this first Gun Club album, he knew his booze-fuelled self-destruction was already far advanced, a long death-trip which finally felled him, aged 37, in 1996.
Like the black stains Johnny Thunders’s body left on furniture near his own end, Pierce’s alcohol-poisoned brain and liver were the grim reality of his romantic-sounding, ruinous ride. But like his friend and fellow blues-punk traveller Nick Cave, Pierce’s early work was beneficially scorched by his fast-burning life.
His first right-hand man, guitarist Kid Congo Powers, had already left for the Cramps by the time the always unstable Gun Club began Fire Of Love. Powers’ replacement Ward Dotson is a fine replacement alongside Pierce’s slide guitar. Preaching The Blues lays down the first marker for Pierce’s vision of punk removed from its New York origins to more primal American terrain. ‘Blu-ues is a low-down shaking chill!’ he testifies, runaway rockabilly guitar pausing only for his confession that ‘the womens and the whisky’ stop him preaching anything but this whooping, unholy music.
Jack On Fire stalks a mystic Southern swamp which is Fire Of Love’s main landscape. The Tommy Johnson cover Cool Drink Of Water even lets the chitter of Mississippi insects add conjured atmosphere to this LA production. Further elements add to the album’s wide influence on the cowpunk and psychobilly scenes which sprang up partly around it.
Promise Me favours Pierce’s Lou Reed-style, conversational voice and a Velvets violin drone. ‘It is not an art statement to try to be a passionate man,’ he adds on Ghost On The Highway, a self-aware 80s declaration in the midst of a careening country track. The furious, pounding devotion of She’s Like Heroin To Me is the heart of this music, blazing beyond genre.
Sensitively remastered for its first UK CD availability in 20 years, Fire Of Love’s radicalism has been absorbed, from Cave to Jack White. You can still hear how much it meant to its maker.