Jeffrey Lee Pierce  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jeffrey Lee Pierce (June 27, 1958 - March 31, 1996) was an American singer, songwriter and guitarist. He was one of the founding members of the 1980s punk band The Gun Club. He also released several solo albums and was a founding member of The Red Lights prior to forming The Gun Club.

In the 1980s The Gun Club released a number of albums. The first, "Fire of Love" (Ruby Records) is still widely regarded as the band's most fully-realised work, and contained several songs that won critical acclaim, above all "Sex Beat" and "She's Like Heroin To Me". The next two albums, Miami and The Las Vegas Story, are highly original, the music being a unique mixture of punk, country elements and blues. Later albums depart somewhat from the swamp-punk template in favour of more reflective, melancholic moods.

Though The Gun Club never attained significant commercial success - thanks in large part to Pierce's wilful personality, and his struggles with alcohol and drugs - they were always critically lauded, and are widely recognised now as one of the most influential bands of the age. The White Stripes' Jack White and the Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan have cited the band as huge influences, as have England's Gallon Drunk and the Flaming Stars.

The startling debut, "Fire Of Love", was a hypnotic fusion of various strands of America's musical history. The Gun Club applied a Cramps-inspired, B-movie 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. Indeed, the album contains an anarchic, emotionally faithful version of Robert Johnson's "Preachin' Blues", though hardcore fans tend to favour the sad, delicate, country-tinged swamp love song "Promise Me" as Pierce's most inspired moment.

The follow-up "Miami" produced by Blondie's Chris Stein, sounds more haunted still, as Pierce's maturing vocal style (often compared to The Doors' Jim Morrison) howls, wails and drones its way through fevered renditions of "Devil In the Woods", "Sleeping In Blood City" and Creedence's "Run Through The Jungle". Pierce's morosely poetic lyrical sensibility is echoed in the later work of Nick Cave, whom Pierce cited in his autiobiography as "my truest mate".

The years 1982-84 were characterised by shifting line-up changes, with various band members testifying that Pierce's unpredictable personality and chemical excesses made him a difficult character to work with. Nonetheless, the next full album, 1984's "The Las Vegas Story" was something of a triumph, with the ghostly "Walking With The Beast" (perhaps the band's most representative song) and a supreme closing three tracks.

Pierce recorded a solo album, "Wildweed" in 1985. To general surprise, it was an accessible, melodic and occasionally danceable work, with the tenderly devotional "From Temptation To You" displaying his (perhaps surprising) flair for soul-searching love songs. A reformed Gun Club then made 1987's "Mother Juno", generally cited second only to "Fire Of Love" as their finest work. Typically punkish efforts "Thunderhead" and "Araby" co-existed with startlingly melodic compositions "Breaking Hands" and "Port of Souls". As Pierce later said, "We envisioned an album that sounded like ocean waves".

Pierce's autobiography, "Go Tell The Mountain", goes into some detail about the personal turmoil he experienced during the late Eighties and early Nineties. His health had been poor for some time, and suffered further from prolonged use of opiates ("I beat scars into my arms waiting for an early death"). His creativity suffered accordingly, though the final Gun Club album, 1993's "Lucky Jim" stands up as a mature and reflective semi-masterpiece, most notably on "Idiot Waltz" and "Desire". Another much-loved album from this period is "Ramblin' Jeffrey Lee and Cypress Grove with Willie Love", consisting mainly of blues cover versions (Howlin' Wolf, Lightning Hopkins, Skip James). Though most of the material is charcteristically doomy, a number of songs are quite beautiful.

In the early stages of his career, Pierce was supported by Debbie Harry of Blondie, who was convinced of his potential as musician and artist. He originally met Harry, as well as Chris Stein (also of Blondie), through his position as the president of Blondie's US fan club. The group also paid tribute to him in their song "Under The Gun" from the 1999 album No Exit.

Jeffrey Lee Pierce is honored by the Swedish rock star Thåström in a song from 2005. The World/Inferno Friendship Society also payed tribute to Jeffrey Lee in their song by the same title. Jeffrey Lee Pierce died from a brain hemorrhage in 1996 at the age of 37.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jeffrey Lee Pierce" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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