Saturday, May 23, 2009

May 23: The Gun Club, "Fire Of Love"

Artist: The Gun Club
Album: Fire Of Love
Year: 1981
Label: Slash

Though their name might suggest otherwise, if Charlton Heston had a favorite band, chances are, it would not have been The Gun Club. Easily one of the most innovative and original bands to come out of the early 1980's Los Angeles music scene, the band took the organic sound that permeated a majority of their peers' music, and infused slide guitar and blues/country roots. Though they remained largely below the radar throughout their fifteen year career, they remain one of the most influential underground bands to rise from the Los Angeles music explosion. The Gun Club averaged nearly an album a year throughout their career, but their 1981 debut, Fire Of Love remains their finest work and an absolute musical masterpiece.

The Gun Club (who were originally called "The Creeping Ritual" until Black Flag and Circle Jerks frontman Kieth Morris suggested otherwise) brought a stripped down sound with a bit of country twang. The style and delivery would serve as the building blocks for groups like The Pixies, The Reverend Horton Heat, and The Von Blondes. This fusion of roots rock with punk rock can still be seen today, as it was really the first traces of what is now termed "psychobilly" music. The early traces are especially obvious on songs like the rocking and rolling, "Preaching The Blues" and "Ghost On The Highway." Fire Of Love also remains a massive influence of the "garage rock" sound that so many current bands attempt to present. White Stripes frontman, Jack White once referred to the brilliant music found on Fire Of Love by saying, "Why are these songs not taught in schools?"

As previously stated, musically, The Gun Club fall somewhere between punk, rockabilly, blues, and straightforward rock and roll. After original guitarist Brian Tristan left the band to join The Cramps, Ward Dotson joined The Gun Club and brought a brilliant lead and slide guitar along with him. It is Dotson's fantastic guitar playing that solidifies the country feeling that is present throughout the album. Again, this mixture of punk energy with country music roots was simply unheard of at the time, and few bands have presented the style better than you'll find on Fire Of Love. The rhythm section of Rob Ritter on bass and Terry Graham on drums rounds out the band, and the duo are the picture of perfection on every single track, proving that the band was more than capable in every musical approach they attempted. Sadly, due to a number of reasons, Fire Of Love would be the only album from The Gun Club to feature this amazing lineup, and is much the reason that the record remains their finest musical achievement.

When it comes to lead singers, there are few that can compare to the sound and style of Jeffrey Lee Pierce. With a stunning sound and range, Pierce's vocals, much like the music, take a country approach to the punk rock ethos. Often crooning and warbling like classic country singers, Jeffrey Lee Pierce brought an attitude and style that remains unmatched to this day. Along with his stunning vocal work, Pierce also lends rhythm and some lead guitar work to Fire Of Love. Tales of love, voodoo, death, sex, and drugs keep Fire Of Love in accessible "rock" territory, and make the songs even more universal. Though they are often darker and more powerful than your "average" rock song, the brilliance of each song is stunning time and time again. The songs are filled with black humor, though sometimes the humor is absent, and they are wild, haunting bits of mayhem, yet they are, at the same time, undeniably superb.

So many bands came out of Los Angeles at the end of the 1970's and the beginning of the 1980's that it is often hard to keep track of them all. While bands like Black Flag, X, and The Blasters remain relatively well known for their contributions, one simply cannot overlook the undeniable influence of a band like The Gun Club. With the unsurpassed vocal stylings of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and an equally unmatched fusion of country music roots and punk rock attitude, The Gun Club created a sound that remains all their own. Their stunning 1981 debut record, Fire Of Love, is their own album with the Dotson/Ritter/Graham lineup, and the combination, along with Pierce, is undoubtedly the finest grouping throughout the bands' history. Still hailed as one of the finest and most important records in music history, Fire Of Love is a phenomenal and refreshing album each and every time you listen to it, even nearly thirty years after its release.

Standout tracks: "Sex Beat," "She's Like Heroin To Me," and "Jack On Fire."

No comments: