Themes From Great Cities

It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason. I have recently posted a few singles (7 & 12”) and the odd bootleg which have been received very well by all who visit. More of the same will continue as you, dear readers, seem to be enjoying them.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs and I’m just sharing the wealth. If other bloggers out there wish to share the rips from my posts, please as I do, host them yourself. To combat this, the FLAC files that are over 6 months old will be replaced with MP3 files.

Finally I am happy to re-up old posts where the link has expired. Please comment in the relevant posts comments box.


Fire Of Love

The Gun Club's debut is the watermark for all post-punk roots music. This features the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce's swamped-out brand of roiling rock, swaggerific hell-bound blues, and gothic country. With Pierce's wailing twinned with Ward Dotson's lonesome slide guitar and spine-shaking riffs, the solid yet off-the-rails rhythm section of bassist Rob Ritter and drummer Terry Graham, the Gun Club burst out of L.A. in the early '80s with a bone to pick and a mountain to move (and they accomplished both on their debut album). With awesome, stripped to the frame production by the Flesh Eaters' Chris D. and Tito Larriva of the Plugz, Fire Of Love blew away all expectations  and with good reason. Nobody had heard music like this before or since. Pierce's songs were rooted in his land of Texas. On "Sex Beat," a razor-sharp country one-two shuffle becomes a howling wind as Pierce's wasted; half-sung half-howled vocals relate a tale of voodoo, sex, dope, and death. The song choogles like a freight train coming undone in a twister. Here Black Flag, the Sex Pistols, Son House, and the coughing, hacking rambling ghost of Hank Williams all converge in a reckless mass of seething energy and nearly evil intent. As if the opener weren't enough of a jolt, the Gun Club follow this with a careening version of Son House's "Preachin’ the Blues," full of staccato phrasing and blazing slide. But it isn't until the anthemic, opiate-addled country of "She's Like Heroin to Me" and the truly frightening punk-blues of "Ghost On The Highway" that the listener comes to grip with the awesome terror that is the Gun Club. The songs become rock & roll ciphers, erasing themselves as soon as they speak, heading off into the whirlwind of a storm that is so big, so black, and so awful one cannot meditate on anything but its power. Fire Of Love may be just what the doctor ordered, but to cure or kill is anybody's guess.

“Why are these songs not taught in schools?” So asked Jack White in 2008, citing “Sex Beat”, “She’s Like Heroin to Me” and “For the Love of Ivy”. Careful examination of them, as much of this fiery 1981 debut which pioneered post-punk roots music, may provide a self-evident answer why impressionable tots may not want to be exposed to sex, drugs and promises of a third element added after the first two: death. But it all sounds like (semi-?) Grown-up fun, 11 tracks that wallop on this reissue as exciting, entertaining and evil as ever.
Jeffery Lee Pierce’s howling vocals, backed by Ward Dotson’s slide and lead guitar, and two recruits from Los Angeles punks the Bags, Rob Ritter on bass and Terry Graham on drums, fire this album up. Produced half by Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters and half by Tito Larriva of the Plugz, it carries a ramshackle feel that the original vinyl with hiss and crackle and a very low budget conveyed vividly.
This reissue heightens the impact of the raw sound. While on its Ruby Records vinyl original, what after all is a punk-era indie LP, may not satisfy purists. Pierce’s poetry, as in “we sit together drunk like our fathers used to be”, survives his slurred phrasing and the band’s clunky playing. His cover of “Preachin’ the Blues” combines Robert Johnson’s and Son House’s lyrics, showing an intelligent rendering of this classic blues song, updated with Dotson’s ringing slides up and down the frets, and a skittering drum roll from Graham, before Pierce enters, growling.
Following a rockabilly “Sex Beat”, these two track signal the band’s intentions: The Gun Club wanted to be taken seriously, by its punk-blues fusion. Pierce could be light-hearted, but he also could hone his voice and guitar into a threat, making sex seem less a release than a sentence imposed on his intended partner, or target. “We can fuck forever/but you will never get my soul”, the object of his affections is assured in “Sex”. At the end of “Preachin’”, he yowls with similar glee, sure that his calling, one that gets him off the hook of having to do real work for a living, is now attained.
Larriva’s plaintive violin backs “Promise Me” with a slower pace, droning as the fiddle’s few notes sustain under the slide guitar; the band’s use of dynamics on this album merits acclaim. Sequenced well, it mixes tracks from Larriva’s and Chris D’s productions, adding variety in tone and volume. Therefore, “She’s Like Heroin to Me” showcases Pierce’s knack for boastful blues swagger and surprising snips of poetry as when his earnest voice and unsteady pace make him more rather than less believable. “I know my special rider / I can feel her in the dark.” He presents himself as both superhero and everyman, as capable of transport on whatever kind of horse he may summon at night.
“For the Love of Ivy” wobbles as the rhythm section pounds out the basic patterns, while Pierce opens with, “You look just like an Elvis from hell.” The song meanders despite its relative brevity, but it too conveys the sense of a band exploring new ground musically as it figures out its innovations. Pierce’s boasts continue, and akin to an antagonist in a Quentin Tarantino flick, I find them less disturbing. Pierce may be seen as a precursor of complex racial appropriation, or not. It may be for shock value, or it may be drug-fuelled and drink-sodden macho posing. After all, both the blues and punk shared this lyrical and musical stance. The Gun Club figured this out first.
You can hear him hiss “shh” as the song concludes, a feature of the remaster. “Fire Spirit” closes what was side one with a mid-tempo “Fire Spirit”. This allows the band to regain its place in a manner anticipating Pierce and a changing line-up in later years, when the band lost its early edge even as it attained a better grasp of alt-rock standards.
A chugging guitar introduces “Ghost on the Highway” with another rockabilly song to start a side of the vinyl original. “It is not an art statement / to drown a few passionate men”, is likely not a sentiment to be found on either punk or blues records preceding it, I reckon. The offbeat nature of Pierce’s lyric, declamatory and allusive, offer a twist on either genre, and they embed themselves in the songs beneath their busy or lazy melodies. He ends with a moan, and the listener shares his loss.
Side two settles in more. “Jack on Fire” takes the slow burn approach. Again, Pierce adopts a series of claims as he confronts his lover-to-be: “Me and you a temporary debut.” “Some Creole boys were lying dead.” “I used his blood to paint my costume.” “You will make love to me tonight.” “It will be understood that I am bad.” “For every day is Judgment Day to me.” It’s all meant in jest, surely. Or maybe not. For like a skilled front man, Pierce keeps us guessing his next move. It draws us in deep.
True to its title, “Black Train” trundles on, as Graham’s drums begin. Ritter’s bass was always the least-prominent instrument on this rather primitive recording, and the reissue while it sharpens the soundstage and allows Pierce’s voice a better place at the centre, apart from the music, doesn’t sufficiently boost the lower registers here. The record usually feels tinny, if as a lo-fi homage to past masters.
The bass pops up more amidst the swampy feel and grinding, bayou critter percussion from Graham, echoing in the quieter “Cool Drink of Water”. It sounds the most improved, sonically, on this reissue. This covers another Johnson, Tommy, in the most languid track. “I wanted water / she gave me gasoline”, is quite a couplet, too. It does take its time, as a blues song may, but it’s a needed respite.
“Goodbye Johnny” closes with a farewell, gliding away on slide guitars again. They alternate with slashing ones, and Ritter’s bass rumbles along. It serves as a fitting reminder of both a sawed-off, hard-bitten punk sensibility and a bluesy, drawn-out compulsion to sink deeper into cloudy depths.

Fire of Love has often been reissued, but it has been a decade or so since it has appeared on CD. Take this opportunity to add it to your collection. New generations need to hear this, and so should you.

Ripped from a decidedly dodgy CD to MP3 @ 320kbps and now FLAC

The Gun Club; Fire Of Love

1.      Sex Beat
2.      Preachin’ The Blues
3.      Promise Me
4.      She Is Like Heroin To Me
5.      For The Love Of Ivy
6.      Fire Spirit
7.      Ghost On The Highway
8.      Jack On Fire
9.      Black Train
10.   Cool Drink Of Water
11.   Goodbye Johnny

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