The ghost of Jeffrey Lee Pierce must have been brooding over the Disney Concert Hall two weeks ago when The Gun Club were reunited at REDCAT at the opening night gala of the Don't Knock the Rock Festival. Three of the original members of the infamous L.A. band - Kid Congo Powers, Ward Dotson and Terry Graham - teamed up with ex-Possum Dixon bassist Rob Zebrecky and a variety of guest vocalists to relive those gloriously messy and gloriously bluesy punk memories of yesteryear. Those memories were perdy darned fresh thanks to Kurt Voss' documentary "Ghost on the Highway: A Portrait of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club" that had it's world premiere at the very same theater the very same night. As promised the film delivered 'new insights into the volatile psyche of bandleader Jeffrey Lee Pierce, who died at age 37 after a life of self -abuse which was, by turns , both riotous and tragic." One insight? Drugs will kill you. Another? Ditto alcohol.
"Imagine if Robert Johnson and Debbie Harry had a son and you have Jeffry Lee Pierce' said emcee Michael Des Barres. Maybe more like Marlon Brando and Debbie Harry. Unfortunately there was precious little footage of the charismatic - if often ravaged - Pierce in the film (which is why we offer the video above) and absolutely none of the music (something about Mother Pierce not granting the filmmakers the music rights - something really worth singing the blues over.) Thankfully the music did play after the credits rolled - wonderfuly LIVE and wonderfully LOUD - leaving us all with a night to remember.
And here are just some of those remembrances; first by festival organizer Allison Anders and then by musician and guest vocalist for the night (and - full disclosure - my pal) Kristian Hoffman:
I fell in love with Terry Graham of Gun Club when I first saw him playing with The Bags (he was in the first punk rock band I ever saw -- a little hippy girl at the Whiskey --walking in to that!) And I thought he was the most beautiful boy I'd ever seen and that he'd never look at me in a million years. I saw The Bags and then Gun Club more times than I can begin to count, and was in the same room with him at least a hundred times -- clubs, parties, after hours haunts, and we never spoke -- we locked eyes once briefly. Last year -- as a result of Kurt Voss's movie, Terry and I met on My Space and fell madly in love and now we live together. This was the first time--preparing for this festival that I've seen him play drums since 1983. It was like coming home for me.
I always felt the outsider at the altar of the Gun Club, because I don't quite buy Jeffrey Lee Pierce as a Jimbo Shaman, or even a "True American Original". His obvious but fetching hybrid of the Cramps and CCR, with a whiff of Botanica Chic, seemed as inevitable as another puerile goth-lite article about how Charlie Manson was a misunderstood visionary.
But I DO feel Jeffrey had a very specific genius: giving voice to the painfully raw chasm of need of the lost tribe of uber nerds. His patent wail addressed the agony of those who would never feel hip or gorgeous, no matter how they reconfigured their limited charms or grasp of cultural touchstones. This original, essential take on Da Blooze was truly transcendent: an ectoplasmic whine no one else had ever dared to voice. And, on the first fantabulous Gun Club LP, "The Fire of Love", that voice was backed up by songs that absolutely rocked! I can't tell you how much sex I've had to that album.
At the tribute, I took the stage, self-consciously feeling a bit like a last minute choice, to sing their most complex Bohemian Rhapsody redux composition, "Fire Spirit", and the eerie lament "Goodbye Johnny". Couldn't they get John Doe or Nick Cave? So in my paranoia, there was an air of "settling" around my inclusion. "Hmm...well there's always
But actually, that feeling summoned MY inner lost nerd! So I WAS Jeffrey-adjacent! I was ready to truly inhabit the Santa Ria Kvetch!
And as I stepped to the mike, I was seduced anew by these muscular songs as unquestionable as "Satisfaction". This was the real, nerd-proof stuff! While I hammily did the Bowie wannabe tango with what I call "gesture as a second language", the felicitous combination of fab musicianship and unassailable rock songcraft was letting me float on Jeffrey's appropriations like a true "Ghost on the Highway". It was like post-punk Beatlemania: the crazy screams and palpable love that greeted me helped me channel a strangely effortless performance rife with swamp voodoo. The writhing ovation was not about me, or my skill. I'm not sure anyone even knew who I was! It was due to the actual voodoo that Jeffrey had achieved with this material. "Why can't no one ever touch a fire spirit?" Well, on that night, I believe that we did. Hot!