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(Credit: Yves Lorson)

Music

The everlasting legacy of The Gun Club singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce

Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the founding member of The Gun Club, was one of the most interesting figures in rock music history. An incredible musician who loved Blondie as much as he did Delta blues, when he died in 1996, the world was left without one of its most unique artists, and his loss left a void that has never been healed. However, Pierce manages to live on throughout the heady blend of punk and country that The Gun Club made their own and the legions of subsequent legends he inspired with his work. 

Notably, Pierce was a complex character who confused and captivated those he knew in equal measure. During a 2012 interview with Gun Club’s biographer Gene Temesy, the iconic rocker Nick Cave described the character of the Gun Club frontman and painted a picture of a man who was constantly at war with himself and how he should be in public. Cave said: “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”. 

He continued: “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”.

Notably, in late 1993, Pierce spent a lot of time with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds during the recording sessions for their album Let Love In. In a 2012 interview with The Quietus, former Bad Seed Mick Harvey remembered: “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”.

Whilst we could pursue the route of examining all of Pierce’s complexities, including the time he brandished a Samurai sword after an altercation in London in 1994, this would be reductive, as first and foremost, he was a musician of incredible quality — and this is how he should be remembered.

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Pierce’s idiosyncrasies fuelled his music, and The Gun Club would not have been the same without them. Rock music is full of colourful characters, and Pierce was one of the most striking. 

It’s a testament to his legacy that Pierce is remembered by a whole host of legendary musicians. Mark Lanegan, Henry Rollins, Primal Scream and Thurston Moore have all paid tribute to him in different capacities since his death, but The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project is perhaps the best indicator of his effect on those around him. After unearthing a set of demos that he and Pierce were working on, collaborator Cypress Grove contacted a string of icons to pay tribute to the late Gun Club man by interpreting his demos, such as Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop and Warren Ellis, and we’re sure he would have been delighted by the results.

Outside of those who directly knew Pierce, we can also see his legacy flourish all around us. Whether it be the Americana via Denmark in the shape of Iceage, the psychedelic country of Goat Girl, or even early cuts by The Wedding Present and Grant Lee Buffalo, Pierce’s influence is alive and well and can be found in many different corners of music. Even English hardcore punk legends Gallows mention him in their song ‘Everybody Loves You (When You’re Dead)’. 

Detroit rock duo The White Stripes were also heavily indebted to the work of Jeffrey Lee Pierce. They were well-known to play ‘For the Love of Ivy’ and ‘Jack on Fire’ from 1981’s Fire of Love at live shows. In a 2007 piece in The Guardian entitled ‘Why the White Stripes want to join the Gun Club’, frontman Jack White made his thoughts on Pierce’s songwriting very clear. He opined:” ‘Sex Beat’, ‘She’s Like Heroin to Me’, and ‘For the Love of Ivy’… why are these songs not taught in schools?”.

A true character whose music was coloured by the personal intricacies that fuelled his stark creative vision, it’s likely that we’ll be discussing the influence of Jeffrey Lee Pierce for years to come. A marvellous guitarist and songwriter, his records are timeless, and if you’ve never heard his work before, now’s the time that should change. You won’t regret it.

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