Jeffrey Lee Pierce

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Jeffrey Lee Pierce
Jeffrey Lee Pierce cropped.jpg
Pierce, seen performing live with The Gun Club in 1985.
Personal details
Born(1958-06-27)June 27, 1958
Montebello, California, U.S.
DiedMarch 31, 1996(1996-03-31) (aged 37)
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.[1][2]

Jeffrey Lee Pierce (June 27, 1958 – March 31, 1996) was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and author. He was one of the founding members of the band The Gun Club, and also released material as a solo artist.

Biography[edit]

1970s[edit]

Jeffrey Lee Pierce was born June 27, 1958 in Montebello, California. As a teenager, Pierce moved from El Monte, a working-class industrial suburb east of Los Angeles, to Granada Hills, at the time a white working- and middle-class suburb in the San Fernando Valley. Pierce attended Granada Hills High School, where he participated in the drama program, acting in plays and writing several of his own brief experimental theater pieces. Pierce started learning guitar at age 10.[3]

Pierce's early musical interests were towards glam and progressive rock, particularly bands such as Sparks, Genesis, and Roxy Music. During the mid-70s, after attending a concert by Bob Marley, Pierce became deeply enamoured by reggae, being equally fascinated by Marley's shamanistic presence as by his music. He later traveled to Jamaica, meeting with Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear and others, but also “got beat up there too” as Pierce recalled in an interview.[4] He returned feeling unsure about the future role of reggae in US music. Pierce was also very taken with Debbie Harry, becoming President of the West Coast Blondie fan club and bleaching his hair like hers. His infatuation with reggae overlapped with the emergence of punk rock and Pierce became a fixture on the Hollywood scene as a contributor to Slash fanzine, writing not only on the obvious contemporary punk phase but also about 1930's blues, 1950's rockabilly and a reggae section under the name 'Ranking Jeffrey Lea', securing an interview with Bob Marley. By the late '70s Pierce was himself playing as a musician. He later quipped he had the idea that being in a band was a way to get free drinks bought for him by music business reps. Around this time Pierce met L.A. musician Phast Phreddie Patterson, whose vast record collection and knowledge of American roots music added to the eager Pierce's musical education. While his later interest in American blues was presaged by his devotion to reggae, his love for the more theatrical, complex sounds of glam and prog. rock showed up in his support for the No Wave movement in New York City.[5]

Pierce felt disappointed by the swift decline of punk rock into what he saw as strict formality and also began to feel his beloved reggae was ultimately an import, seeking a style combining the authenticity and simplicity of reggae but more rooted in his own culture's history, he discovered the Delta blues and developed an extensive knowledge of the genre which influenced and inspired him. Throughout his career Pierce was supportive of fellow musicians, encouraging new friend Brian Tristan, aka Kid Congo Powers, to play guitar and develop his own unique sound and style, recruiting him to form the band Creeping Ritual. Creeping Ritual evolved into the Gun Club, with the addition of drummer Terry Graham and guitarist Rob Ritter.

In the early stages of his career, Pierce was supported by his former icon and now longtime friend Debbie Harry of Blondie, who was convinced of his potential as musician and artist. He originally met Harry and Chris Stein (also of Blondie) through his position as the president of Blondie's U.S. fan club. [6]

1980s[edit]

The Gun Club's debut album, Fire of Love featured the songs "Sex Beat" and "She's Like Heroin to Me". The Gun Club applied a southern-swamp inspired voodoo sensibility and a punk wildness to their fundamentally bluesy style, derived from one- and two-chord Delta blues artists, such as Howlin' Wolf, Charley Patton and Son House.[7] The album contains a version of Robert Johnson's "Preachin' Blues" and the love song "Promise Me". In July 2014, Australian musician Spencer P. Jones explained that the blues influence in Pierce's music was largely the result of the songwriter's access to the record collection of Canned Heat frontman Bob Hite: "Jeffrey was really lucky he met Bob Hite from Canned Heat before Bob died ... He was allowed to come over and pick out ten albums from Bob Hite's massive blues record collection when he was dying."[8]

The follow-up album, Miami, was produced by Stein,[9] and features renditions of "Devil in the Woods," "Sleeping in Blood City" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Run Through the Jungle." Bored of interviewers and critics, who seemed only to want a replication of the debut album, Pierce stated that he preferred Miami and dismissed Fire of Love: "I can't even remember making it. What can you say about a record that you cut for 2500 bucks in 48 hours, on speed? It was just punk rock." [10]

September 1983, as The Gun Club prepared for their first (and only) Australian tour, two band members quit at Los Angeles airport before departure, due to financial concerns over payment and ongoing exasperation with Pierce's mercurial behavior. Pierce arrived in Australia with bass player Patricia Morrison and enlisted two members of support act 'The Johnny's' - Billy Pommer Jr and Spencer Jones [11] to fill in, plus former member and long time friend Kid Congo, who immediately flew over from America to join them after a plea from Pierce.[12] Jones recalls that "Jeffery's voice had an element of horror" and the "nature of their [The Gun Club's] music it was way more brutal and full on than any metal band I have ever heard."[8]

The 1982 to 1984 period of The Gun Club witnessed a fluctuating line-up with disgruntled band members claiming that Pierce's unpredictable genius personality and excessive drug use made him too difficult to work with.[citation needed] The Las Vegas Story (1984) was the band's third album, seeing the return of original guitarist and great friend Kid Congo Powers, drummer Terry Graham and a new bassist Patricia Morrison formerly of the Bags. [13] Dave Alvin also played lead guitar on two tracks. Pierce's evocative lyrics and remarkable vocals evident throughout, it encompassed tribal beat 'voodoo' rock - "Walking with the Beast" - slide-guitars - "Eternally is Here" - and haunting compositions like "My Dreams", "Bad America" and a cover of "My Man's Gone Now". The cassette tape version of the album also featured an extra track, "Secret Fires", missing from the vinyl L.P. but later available on the C.D. Powers recalls; "The song that didn’t make it on the album, “Secret Fires,” that’s in all the reissues, is an absolutely beautiful folk song. That’s a song that Jeffrey wrote as just an acoustic guitar number, he just played. It was going to be on the record. Just him and a guitar - no band. And then we decided that we should add a lap steel just for atmosphere. So we got a lap steel player to come in because none of us could play lap steel. I think in the end we just couldn’t figure out how to fit it onto the record. I think that’s why it didn’t make it onto the actual original one.." [14] The album is 'dedicated to Debbie Harry (for her love, help, and encouragement)' [15] December 1984 the Gun Club played two UK gigs in London but by January 1985 had broken up, cancelling an upcoming Australian Tour. Morrison and Powers remained in London, forming Fur Bible while Pierce visited Egypt with guitarist and new girlfriend Romi Mori, who he'd met at a London show. [16] Pierce relocated to England with Mori and concentrated on a solo career, playing a London gig Jan 17th as 'Astro-Unicorn Experimental Jazz Ensemble' then recruiting Murray Mitchell, John McKenzie and Andy Anderson to record tracks which became Wildweed, the first of Pierce's albums to feature him playing the majority of guitar parts [17] [18] plus material released later in the year as the "Flamingo" E.P. [19] A different line up which included Romi Mori, Dean Dennis and Nick Sanderson also recorded with Pierce, completing the six track "Flamingo" [20] The EP featured a re-mix of Wildweed's opening track "Love and Desperation" and two cover tracks. Wildweed's evocative monochrome cover shot, of Pierce stood in a windswept barren landscape with shotgun over his shoulder, was actually photographed in the U.K., as Pierce told a Swedish interviewer; 'The picture is definitely not taken in a desert, quite the opposite. It's taken in England, on the south coast, next to The English Channel. But my idea was actually that it should look like Texas. Or Kansas. We just couldn't afford to go there only to take a photograph' [21] With Derek Thompson on guitar, Dean Dennis on bass and drummer Nick Sanderson, Pierce toured Europe as 'The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Quartet' From August 1985 he toured the USA and Canada, with Mori taking over from Thompson. Shows were cancelled, Mori faced sexism and racism, and at the end of the tour the band's profits disappeared with the tour-manager. Undeterred Pierce returned to Europe to play more shows, culminating in the 'Quartet's final gig on 27th December in London. After six months in Japan, Pierce and Mori returned to London in August 1986, with Pierce feeling inspired and keen to start a new chapter of The Gun Club. Kid Congo Powers was by now living in Berlin as guitarist with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds but accepted Pierce's offer, managing to combine working in both bands. 'The Gun Club was different – I kept going back to Jeffrey because the chemistry really worked. It never didn’t work and we didn’t break up because of the lack of chemistry.. We were like brothers' [22]With Mori now on bass, they recorded 1987's Mother Juno, produced by the Cocteau Twin's Robin Guthrie that featured songs such as "Thunderhead" and "Araby" and The Breaking Hands. Pierce later said in relation to the album: "We envisioned an album that sounded like ocean waves."

1990s[edit]

Pierce's autobiography, Go Tell The Mountain, goes into some detail about the personal turmoil he experienced during the late 1980s and early 1990s. His health had been poor for some time.[citation needed] The final Gun Club album, 1993's Lucky Jim, includes the song "Idiot Waltz".[23] Another album from that period is Ramblin' Jeffrey Lee and Cypress Grove with Willie Love; the recording mainly consists of cover versions of blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Skip James.

In late 1993 Pierce spent time with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds during the recording period of the Bad Seeds' album Let Love In. Mick Harvey, a former Bad Seeds member, recalled, "He was sat on the couch during much of the recording ... He'd come almost every day and just sit on the couch and then he'd come out to dinner with us and just mumble away. He was very hard work. He was very unusual and a very unique guy." In May 1994, Pierce joined the band on-stage during the "Let Love In" European tour [24] culminating in the UK at Shepherds Bush Empire, to singing a cover of the Johnny cash / Bob Dylan song "Wanted Man". His last TV appearance was as honorary Bad Seed on Later... with Jools Holland recorded 14 May 1994.[25] Harvey spoke of Pierce:

"I love a lot of his songs but he was pretty hard to connect with at first. I suppose he was pretty out of it with drink and drugs and so kind of difficult to communicate with. Most of the time it was difficult to work out what he was talking about. But he was always very nice and very gentlemanly."[26]

In 1996, aged 37, Pierce died from a brain hemorrhage[27] at the University of Utah Hospital.[28]

In a reflection on Pierce's death, singer Mark Lanegan stated in an August 2004 interview for Loose Lips Sink Ships:

"In early 1996, he went to Japan, and right before he left, he and I were at his Mom's in LA [Los Angeles, US] writing songs. He seemed in really good health—sometimes he wasn't in such good health, sometimes he could barely walk because he was so fucked up. When he came back from Japan, he left me a couple of messages on my answering machine. He sounded completely out of his mind, though not like he was drunk. It was strange, like he'd gone crazy; finally I got hold of someone, and she told me Jeffrey had come back, that he'd been drinking while he was gone, his liver had poisoned his system, and he was experiencing dementia. The hospital turned him away saying, there's nothing we can do for him, his liver's shut down, he's dying. After this, I get a call from him; he was up in Utah and he sounded normal. And I said, what the hell, man, everyone's saying you're going to die. And he said, they always say that. And a week later, he fell into a coma and died."[29]

Cave was in contact with Pierce prior to his death and revealed in a 2012 interview:

"He looked increasingly ill, I mean, we all did, but Jeffrey looked particularly so. His pallor, you know. He was physically suffering. And then he went to Japan. I think he got involved in some kind of relief work ... Helping earthquake victims. This seemed to have a positive effect on him, you know, spiritually. Then he went back to the States. The phone calls that I got from him there, he seemed really well. Or comparatively well. And happy, you know. And then, I think, [Henry] Rollins phoned me to tell me that he died."[30]

Posthumous tributes[edit]

The French rock band Noir Désir paid tribute to Pierce in the song "Song for JLP", from its 1996 album 666667 Club.[31][32][33]

Blondie paid tribute to Pierce in its song "Under the Gun", from the 1999 album No Exit.[34]

Pierce is honored by the rock star Thåström in a 2005 song recording.[35] The World/Inferno Friendship Society also paid tribute to Pierce in their song by the same title.[36]

Mark Lanegan recorded a cover version of The Gun Club's "Carry Home", from the Miami record, on his album I'll Take Care of You.[37][38] Pierce and Lanegan cowrote the song "Kimiko's Dream House" that appears on Lanegan's album Field Songs.[39][40]

In 2010, OFF!, a punk "supergroup" fronted by Keith Morris former member of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks released a song dedicated to and named after Pierce. Morris, who also shared a house with Pierce, was responsible for suggesting "The Gun Club" band name while they were living together.[41] He explained, "because Jeffrey Lee Pierce is not only one of my heroes, he’s totally inspirational to me." [42] At live performances, Morris has introduced the song with a description of Pierce and the relationship that he shared with the late musician, stating that Pierce was one of his best friends and that the song, "Jeffrey Lee Pierce", is a "eulogy".[43][44][45] At a May 2012 performance at the Bell House venue in Brooklyn, New York City, Morris introduced the song by stating:

Some people have been around long enough to be able to sing songs about our friends, whether they be, um, celebratory, "let's fuck shit up forever"-type of songs—this is one of those type of songs. I lost a very close friend, a guy named Jeffrey Lee Pierce. This is a eulogy, um, for my very good friend, Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Now I don't know how many of you were at the Bowery Ballroom [New York City] last night? But I got to tell the story of this, uh, meeting, here in New York City, over at the Irving Plaza; my friend, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, and another one of our good buddies, Kid Congo Powers ... they came to a show that I was at, and I just got off performing, and they showed up, we're partying and we're all chattin' and havin' a good time. And we raced over to a benefit for a guy named John Anderson, who is the Independent Party candidate for the presidency of the United States; and The Gun Club happened to be performing that night, over at this other place, and it was a blast! And this is for my friend, Jeffrey Lee Pierce.[46]

While touring with OFF! in 2010, Morris explained in an interview, after he was asked about the Gun Club T-shirt that he was wearing at the time:

... because Jeffrey Lee Pierce is not only one of my heroes, he's totally inspirational to me. He was also my roommate and at one time he was my best friend. And before he died I got to watch him deteriorate; it was just brutal. One of the last things we were gonna do was put together a band. He started playing me this music and I taped it on one of those little microcassettes and the song, he was like, "Keith, you're gonna have to write about Deborah Harry," because he was president of the Blondie fan club. I like Blondie but I like the Ramones better, or the Dictators, out of that group of New York bands, when all of those bands came up.[47]

Pierce is mentioned in the Gallows song, "Everybody Loves You (When You're Dead)", from the 2012 self-titled album.[48] The song ends with the lines:

Come back, Dee Dee Ramone. Come back, Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Come back, Frankie Venom. Come back, Lux Interior. Come back, Darby Crash. Come back, Johnny Thunders. Come back, Sid Vicious. Come back, Joe Strummer. We need you now.[49][50]

Musician, spoken word artist and friend Henry Rollins played the Gun Club song "Bill Bailey" during his first show for the "Artist in Residence" feature on Australian national radio station Double J. Rollins stated prior to the broadcast of the song: "Jeffrey Lee Pierce was a very good friend of mine and I miss him horribly. I play a lot of his music because I miss him and I want people to never forget The Gun Club."[8]

the Argentinian Sergio Rotman member of the popular Latin rock band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs edited in 2014 a special edition of 500 cd's with versions of 14 Jeffrey Pierce's songs and "fire of love" "el fuego del amor" previously edit 8 songs

Dax Riggs, former front man of Acid Bath, Agents of Oblivion and Deadboy & The Elephantmen, frequently plays a phenomenal cover of The Gun Club's - Mother of Earth at his live shows. He always gives credit to the band & Mr. Pierce and also states how much he admired Jeffrey Lee Pierce's song writing.

Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project[edit]

The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project is a tribute initiative that was launched after Cypress Grove, one of Pierce's musical collaborators, cleaned out his loft following the musician's passing— Grove uncovered a collection of three songs that had been recorded onto a cassette marked, "JLP Songs" and subsequently realised the recording was from sessions he had worked on with Pierce for an album project that they had been planning—the album was originally slated as a country-style album but eventually transformed into a blues recording. The sessions were recorded with acoustic guitars in Cypress Grove's bedroom, using a "boombox" device. The three songs were named "Ramblin' Mind", "Constant Waiting", and "Free To Walk", with further material uncovered over time to support the tribute project.[51][52][53]

To enlist the support of other artists, Cypress Grove initially attempted contact through the respective Myspace sites of particular artists, including Lanegan, and the project progressively evolved, as other artists, such as Isobel Campbell and Jim Sclavunos, agreed to contribute.[53] The discovered recordings were too rough to release and Glitterhouse Records, the label responsible for releasing the recordings of the project, has explained:

This would have been impossible without Digital technology, with artists adding their parts all over the world – London, Melbourne, Glasgow, Barcelona, Los Angeles etc. Once word of the Project started to get out, more material became available through family and friends. Jeffrey's old friend Phast Phreddie Patterson provided a copy of a home made cassette recording he made of Jeffrey doing 'My Cadillac' and 'St. Mark's Place', which were actually pre – Gun Club recordings. Also, Cypress Grove was able to obtain the two inch master tapes of some song ideas they had recorded at the end of the "Ramblin' Jeffrey Lee" sessions.[53]

In 2010 The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project launched We Are Only Riders, the first of a series of four albums featuring Pierce's previously unreleased "works-in-progress". The album features interpretations of Pierce's work by old friends and collaborators, such as Debbie Harry, Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch, Mick Harvey and Kid Congo Powers.[53]

The Journey is Long, the second album from The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project, was released in April 2012 and features The Jim Jones Revue, Barry Adamson, Warren Ellis (The Dirty Three), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) and artists from the first album – on the second release, Cave performs a duet with Harry for a rendition of the song "The Breaking Hands", a song that is also performed by Lanegan and Isobel Campbell on the album, while Tex Perkins performs together with Lunch on "In My Room".[51][54][55] Following the release of the second album, Cypress Grove has explained:

The idea was that, these are not our songs, we merely interpret them... In some cases the artists have had to finish the songs, so there can be no nonsense about this not being as good as the original version as these are the original versions! It's a musical collective of artists who have come together to interpret or complete skeletal, unfinished material by Jeffrey. Where possible we have used Jeffrey's contributions, so he actually appears posthumously on this album. I like to think of it as being like Josh Homme's The Dessert Sessions[55]

Following the release of The Journey Is Long, Cave gave an interview to Gun Club biographer Gene Temesy, who planned to use the interview in a future book on the history of The Gun Club. During the interview, published on Australian web-based magazine Mess and Noise, Cave spoke of his relationship with Pierce, including their initial encounter: "Yeah, I think we went to see Under The Volcano. And then we retired back to my place. I think Henry Rollins might have been there as well actually. Jeffrey & I sat around and took loads of drugs & watched Henry do push-ups."[30] The following is an excerpt from the 26.03.2012 interview;

He had a thing about the Vietnam War, for some reason. He was very well read on the subject. And dinosaurs. He talked a lot about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and the Vietnam war, I think, were his two major topics of conversation … and Japanese horror movies ... I mean, with Jeffrey, you pretty much entered his world when you saw him. His obsessions crawled all over him. But in Jeffrey’s world, sometimes it was very inspiring and illuminating and other times it was painful and depressing. But Jeffrey did make efforts to stay on top of all that sort of stuff. But I think it was very difficult for him ... Jeffrey very often didn’t make sense. That was part of his charm. Jeffrey was full of digressions. I think that was very much part of his character. Jeffrey digressed a lot. One minute he’d be talking about the fall of Saigon and the next minute he’d be talking about the size of a dinosaur’s brain. But I didn’t care I was just happy somebody was talking to me. You just kind of sat back and nodded and listened ... But Jeffrey, a beautiful thing about Jeffrey was that he was able to move outside that and connect on some other level to people … I mean, things like with Luke, my kid, and stuff like that. He genuinely cared about other people. He was very genuine. And you know, I loved him very much. And I think he was a great songwriter. And had a great unique voice. The way he sung [sic] up high like that and slightly off key was enough to tear your heart out.[30]

The third album from the project is Axels & Sockets and was released by Glitterhouse Records on May 2, 2014. Contributors include Iggy Pop, Cave, Harry, Lanegan, Race, Thurston Moore and Primal Scream. Prior to the album's release, Grove stated that it is "the best yet, and having Iggy on board is such an incredible honour". Grove also explained that exposing Pierce's music to new listeners is "entirely the point of it [the album]" and he hopes that a wider audience is attained through the tribute.[8][56] Axels & Sockets opens with a rendition of "Nobody's City", for which the artists—Pop, Cave and Moore—used an original Gun Club demo recording:

We found the original Berlin demo tapes from the Mother Juno album in 1987. It's funny how sometimes demos can be better than the released version. So we took those original guitar parts played by Jeffrey Lee and Kid Congo Powers (The Gun Club guitarist) and built a new song. Jim Sclavunos from the Bad Seeds added drums and Iggy [Pop] and Nick [Cave] and Thurston [Moore] layered guitar and vocals on top. Nick has a great love and admiration for Jeffrey and it shines through.[8]

Although the project's third and final album, The Task Has Overwhelmed Us, was due for release in late 2012,[57] the schedule was changed after the release of the second installment. Glitterhouse Records, the label producing the collection, instead released Axles & Sockets. The label clarified that the third album has become the "penultimate" full-length release of the Project, but did not name the final album, or its release date.[58]

Primal Scream 2013 album 'More Light' referenced Pierce and The Gun Club with a re-working of Pierce's 'Goodbye Johnny' and use of the title 'Walking with the Beast'. Singer Bobby Gillespie commented that "Jeffery Lee was a really great lyricist. He says a lot with a little." [59]

Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club Documentaries[edit]

"Jeffrey’s Blues" - documentary filmed in 1989, directed by Bram van Splunteren for VPRO's Onrust and re-edited with unseen footage 2016, it features interviews with Pierce, acoustic performances and clips of The Gun Club.[60]

Pierce's life is the subject of the documentary, Ghost on The Highway: A Portrait of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club, directed by Kurt Voss, and produced by Voss and editor/composer Andrew R. Powell.[61] In the documentary, Voss interviews Pierce's former collaborators, Kid Congo Powers, Ward Dotson, Terry Graham, Jim Duckworth, and Dee Pop, in addition to his high school friend (actor/photographer) Steven Tash, former publisher of Pierce's work, Henry Rollins, and Lemmy, lead singer of Motörhead.[62] The documentary received mostly positive critical reception, but was criticized for not including any of Pierce's music or interview footage with him.[63] Some fans also felt the narrow spectrum of contributors gave the film a limited and somewhat slanted view of Pierce.

Hardtimes Killing Floor Blues, filmed in 1992 and released in 2008, documents Pierce's time living in Knightsbridge, London.

Solo albums[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Jeffrey Lee Pierce had a number of significant romantic relationships in his life. Pierce was always supportive and encouraging of musical aspirations and talents in others, including his romantic partners. One of Pierce's early relationships, singer Texacala Jones, was initially encouraged and supported by Pierce, and together they formed the band Tex and the Horseheads, with Pierce providing arrangements of traditional songs and playing guitar in some of their initial performances. Guitarist, bass player and photographer Romi Mori was Pierce's longest romantic partner and a member of the second incarnation of his band The Gun Club, making a significant musical contribution to the band's sound. Perhaps the longest lasting influence on Pierce was Debbie Harry, lead singer of the band Blondie, for whom he had a strong admiration. Pierce was president of the Blondie fan club, and often professed his admiration for her. Harry contributed backing vocals on the album Miami under the pseudonym D.H. Lawrence, and was a longtime mentor and supporter of Pierce. Texacala Jones noted that Pierce used to carry a handwritten note from Harry in his wallet that had instructions on how she dyed her hair, including the types of products she used. According to Jones, the note was "written out in beautiful handwriting and 'with love, Debbie' at the bottom" and was Pierce's "most prized possession".[8]

References[edit]

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