WHEN Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Brian Tristan first got together to form a band in Los Angeles in 1979, they were both fans; mega-fans. Jeffrey headed up the LA branch of the Blondie fan club; Brian, later better known as Kid Congo Powers, the Ramones fan club. But no one could’ve guessed, for all their rapt attention to music, how far they would push the American post-punk scene forward with The Gun Club.
The were the first US outfit to really mesh punk, blues, even country influences together and offer another way forward for music as punk faltered.
One well-received album, 1981’s Fire of Love, for the the West Coast Slash/Ruby label got tongues wagging; but it was to be their second album, the following year’s Miami, which really turned a smoulder into a blaze.
Now LA reissue specialists Blixa Sounds is set to reissue an expanded version of Miami on CD and double vinyl – both with extra discs – in time for Christmas.
When it came time to record the follow-up to Fire of Love, The Gun Club swapped coasts to New York to avail themselves of the production skills of Blondie guitarist Chris Stein, who had signed them to his Chrysalis offshoot Animal. Debbie Harry sang backing vocals; she’s credited as “D.H. Laurence Jr”.
But although Chris Stein’s production brought a lighter touch than was present on Fire of Love, something that was criticized at the time, there’s still so much brooding power. Take a listen below to their cover of Creedence’s “Run To The Jungle”, one of a trio of covers on the album, and hear the brooding power. Only Nick Cave was really operating anywhere close at the time.
Chris Stein is still proud of the album, as recalled in Dick Porter and Kris Needs’ book, From Blondie: Parallel Lives: “I have gotten flak from Gun Club members who played on Miami for not having a ‘hard rock’ enough approach to the production,” he commented.
“I don’t recall any of them voicing concerns at the time. Jeffrey and I spent a lot of time thinking about what the record should ultimately sound like. He really wanted to get away from a standard punk rock approach and reach into the world of so-called ‘normal’ music by making more references to country, et cetera.
“Jeff was the one who brought in a pedal steel guitar player. I know for sure he liked the record.”
Miami also caught the band in flux; bassist Rob Ritter laid down his contribution and left, and Patricia Morrison, later of The Sisters of Mercy, came in and learned his parts. Press photos of the time show a trio.
The album and band, with that deep swamp brood, were to play out as influences on The White Stripes, Mark Lanegan, and perhaps less obviously Billy Idol, who cited the opening track “Carry Home” as a key influence on his 1982 global hit “White Wedding.”
Jeffrey Lee Pierce said in an interview: “I didn’t see how he saw it similar in his head, really. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I said, ‘Fine, I guess if it inspired you to make that music, it’s good.'”
The album includes a revved up version of the traditional folk song “John Hardy,” and a swamp-punk rendering of Jody Reynolds’ “Fire of Love”; the psychobilly stomp of “Like Calling Up Thunder,” the anthemic “Brother and Sister,” and “Sleeping in Blood City”, on which Pierce rants like a madman.
Both vinyl and CD issues feature an extra disc featuring demo versions of the entire album; in addition, the CD also includes six previously unreleased demos of material that would later turn up on The Las Vegas Story: “Walking With the Beast,” “Prune Dicks From Mars,” “Vampires,” “Journey to Zatar,” “Blue Hair” and “Pig Boys”.
Gun Club biographer Ryan Leach says of this, their second album: “I think Jeffrey’s lyric writing had progressed in that year or so. There are also a lot of harmonies on that record that Fire of Love never dreamed of.”
The expanded edition of Miami will be released by Blixa Sounds on December 4th; you can pre-order your copy from Amazon or your local record emporium.