Don Snowden (Thee Precisions and The Gun Club), Interview
Don with Thee Precisions
Don Snowden was the original bassist of the Creeping Ritual/Gun Club (Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Kid Congo Powers, Brad Dunning and Don). He never formally recorded with the group, but alongside Brad Dunning, Snowden comprised the rhythm section that first tackled “Black Train,” “Sex Beat” and a good deal of the songs that would eventually end up on the Gun Club’s seminal debut, Fire of Love.
Don Snowden was also a member of Phast Preddie’s band, Thee Precisions. Unlike the Gun Club, Snowden did record with Thee Precisions. While the original incarnation of the Gun Club wasn’t known for its musical prowess—Kid was still learning guitar and Brad was new to the drums—Snowden’s playing on Thee Precisions’ record is solid, so it should come as no surprise that Jeffrey Lee Pierce asked Don to join the Gun Club to add some stability to the original lineup.
In addition to holding the low end down for Thee Precisions and early Gun Club, Snowden was also a rock writer for the LA Times, Back Door Man and a slew of other zines from the pre-punk and punk era. He currently lives in Spain and continues to work as a writer.
This interview took place in late 2005. At the time, I was working on numerous articles on The Gun Club. I’m happy this piece is finally seeing the light of day. Don was very gracious and thorough with his answers.
Interview by Ryan Leach
Ryan: How did you meet Jeffrey? Seeing as you were both writers, did that form a bond between you two? Can you tell me a little about who you were writing for at the time (I know you were contributing to the LA Times—that leads me to believe you were pretty established by that point)?
Don: I almost certainly met Jeffrey through knowing Phast Phreddie and the rest of the Back Door Man people. That was my entry point for getting to know most people on and in the scene on the local level. I probably met Jeffrey before Thee Precisions happened but I couldn’t say for sure or pinpoint a place or date. I never knew him in his storm-trooping through the suburbs in a Nazi helmet phase.
The bond we shared was less as writers per se than as music people. When you’re into music, you share things you know, you turn other people on to stuff. It gives you something to talk about that you are passionate about and worlds to explore that not that many other people in the world know about or can follow you.
So I could talk with Jeffrey about music in that way and vice versa, that was our connection. We were both into vintage blues and roots reggae, and not many LA punk scene people were into that stuff, outside of the Back Door people and Brendan Mullen. I remember talking with Jeffrey once about being into Al Green and (dare I say this?) Springsteen, both reasonable people to be into from 1972-1975.
When I got a call to go interview Burning Spear in Los Angeles, Jeffrey found out about it and asked if he could tag along. No problem for me, and that was the piece that ended up as the Spear cover of Slash. I remember we had at least one session at his mother’s apartment in West L.A. listening to the tape and deciphering the Jamaican-isms for the transcript since Rasta speak was not easy to grasp for novices.
And if I remember correctly, that same night when we were done, he took me over to the Music Machine to see Top Jimmy for the first time, when he was still playing with X (minus Exene) and one of Billy Zoom’s rockabilly friends. That floored me because Howlin’ Wolf was always my fantasy voice and there was Top Jimmy singing more like Wolf than any big ole drunk white boy from Kentucky had any right to.
Another writer-ly thing about the band was I remember Jeffrey asking me (it possibly could have been a general announcement to the whole band) to look for titles of old blues songs that he could write lyrics to (I suspect that’s where “Preaching Blues” came from, since we weren’t playing that when I was in the band). Anyway, I did and found an old Clarence Gatemouth Brown song called “Dirty Work at the Crossroads,” but instead of giving it to him, I got inspired by the title and wrote a song influenced by it; I was trying to write a Gun Club song for Jeffrey. I even practiced the rhythm and bass riff with Brad a little during one of the last rehearsals while we were still in the band, but I never ended up presenting it to Jeffrey as a song to consider doing in the group.
As for my writing at the time, I was writing for the Times but I wouldn’t say I was particularly established. I didn’t feel that way, that’s for sure. I hustled it and lucked out getting in early, but I was just graduating to live reviews and getting my first published interviews in the Times at the end of the ’70s, so I felt like I was still establishing myself. The rest was the usual freelance hustle—free alternative papers at first, some stuff for Circus, a few things for Crawdaddy, collector mags, record company bios, the print edition of this syndicated radio program called Rock Around The World, early LA Weekly—wherever, whatever kept you on record company mailing lists and concert tickets or club guest lists. The standard freelance hustle in those days.
Ryan: Can you explain Thee Precisions and the Creeping Ritual/Gun Club connection (e.g. did one feed into the other and were you playing in both at the same time)?
Don: That’s easy. Jeffrey was in the first edition of Thee Precisions to help Phreddie get his group off the ground. He said that and everybody knew it up front—he was there until Phreddie found another guitarist, so that was clear. The surprise to me was one night at the end of a Precisions rehearsal, he came over and asked me if I would play bass in this group he was starting up. I said sure, and frankly I was flattered because Jeffrey was like, you know, a real musician.
Ryan: What did you think of Jeff’s writing (rock criticism)?
Don: I never focused on it much. I was reading a lot of different music papers, so I knew the Ranking Jeffrey byline as we say in the trade, but I probably read him (like almost everyone) to find out more about a record, or what someone else thought of it, or to get info about it and the group. Claude Bessy, aka Kickboy Face, was the one Slash writer who really made an impression on me with his style, etc. So I had total respect for Jeffrey (I don’t buy into being competitive with other writers) but I never read him devotedly.
Ryan: Speaking with Brad Dunning and Kid Congo and reading Jeffrey’s autobiography, it appears that the Gun Club started out as something fun to do, but by the time of your departure (along with Dunning), the band had become much more serious. Dunning attributes this to Jeffrey honing in on his formidable writing talents. Do you agree? Did you feel that?
Don: There are a lot of different factors at play in here. The Gun Club was something fun to do at first, but Jeffrey came up and asked me if I wanted to join this band he was putting together, so I always thought he was dead serious about it. He did Thee Precisions as a temporary thing until he could get his band together. It wasn’t like we were four guys who were hanging out together all the time and decided, “Hey, let’s form a band. It’ll be fun.” Jeffrey put us together so I think there was intent. I had no idea how Jeffrey came in contact with the other two or who would be there when we rehearsed
I never met Brad until the first rehearsal. When I walked in and saw Brian, who had not yet become Kid Congo, we both looked at each other like, ”What are you doing here?” The first time I met Kid was in the office of Sue Sawyer, a very cool record industry PR person, at ABC when they were distributing Sire. The occasion was the test pressing of the first Ramones LP and Kid was there in his capacity as the head of the Ramones West Coast Fan Club. (I’m pretty sure that was it. I know for sure I first met Kid in Sue Sawyer’s office as the Ramones Fan Club head and I know for sure I heard the first Ramones LP test pressing there—maybe the two memories merged.)
I also worked with Kid at this Licorice Pizza in North Hollywood, where the manager Jett (now ML) Compton assembled a sort of punk-rock staff. Lisa Fancher from Frontier and Danny Benair from the Quick worked there, so did Cliff Roman of the Weirdos and Jane Weidlin from the Go-Gos had applied the week before Jett gave notice.
I can give you the time frame via records—we were all waiting on Give ‘Em Enough Rope and all the Chicano kids in the neighborhood came in all the time and asked to play a 45. They heard “Freak Out” and that was it—Chic’s “Le Freak” single was the monster. I used to give Brian (Kid Congo Powers) rides from Hollywood to work when we worked the same shift. I lived at Franklin & La Brea and picked him where Franklin bends into Highland on the way to the 101 Freeway.
But back to intent, it was always Jeffrey’s band to me. I’ve often thought Jeffrey got us together because he was the only real musician. In Thee Precisions, we rehearsed a version of “Midnight Hour” that morphed into “The End” so Phreddie could do some spoken word rap and Jeffrey would tune down in mid-song so he could get the sitar drone effect Robbie Krieger got. Jeffrey knew music and no one else did, so I thought the Creeping Ritual was a vehicle for him to direct and form things exactly like he wanted, which was fine by me and everyone else. He knew what he was doing and just wanted to be the singer/frontman—fine, show us what to do, you know?
You know the famous story of Kid learning bar chords and songs by numbers and not letters (all true) and Brad had some drum rudiments down but never struck me as a drummer drummer, a musician who came to L.A. for that. I always felt, without trying to flatter myself, that Jeffrey got me because he could more or less leave me alone and work with Kid and Brad on the guitar and drums. He knew I was into blues and into reggae, both of which are basically foundation styles, where you could come up with a melodic pattern or riff but the idea was to lock it down into a groove, so you weren’t out to be fancy. So he could leave me off by myself and if I came up with something, it might add extra and probably wouldn’t take away from the song. I did that in “Black Train” with this downward scale walk at the end of the chorus that Rob (Ritter) didn’t play on the recorded version. But Jeffrey could concentrate on working with Kid and Brad because I always thought getting the guitar and drums were all he really cared about in the music.
I don’t know if I agree with Brad about honing his writing chops that much because I always felt he was several notches above us musically and again that it was his band. We were always serious about it because it was work, fun work but still work trying to learn the songs and getting them ready to perform. I mean we were doing “Sex Beat,” “She’s Like Heroin To Me” and “Black Train” from the start and “For The Love Of Ivy” came into the set while we were still in the band. I half want to say “Jack On Fire” because the music sure feels familiar but I couldn’t swear to it. Maybe Jeffrey’s expectations of what could be gotten from or out of the songs changed.
Ryan: What do you remember of the early shows? Dunning recalls X being saviors to the Gun Club in their championing of you guys.
Don: I don’t know about saviors, and I always heard about them championing the band, but they championed a lot of bands. One of the best things about the early LA scene was all the big bands used the pull they had to get baby bands as opening acts. I was sort of off in a different zone, too, because I was doing Creeping Ritual/Gun Club, Precisions, my Times writing, the hustle for other writing, seeing shows on the local punk scenes and also the industry gigs, settling into my first serious relationship, etc. It was a good busy time, but I was removed from who was saying what about who circles on punk circuit.
Let’s see, gigs, I think we did a total of six. I’m pretty sure we did one at Club 88 opening for X and the Blasters. The two I remember most clearly are the Hong Kong opening for the Blasters because we had learned some old Delta blues tune by Willie Brown that Jeffrey taught us. It was sort of loose and there were time things when you had to know when to come in right and the rest of us lost the thread completely real early. Kid and Brad and I were all looking at each other like, “Oh, shit, do you know where we are?” None of us did so it just sort of fell apart with Jeffrey out front singing.
I remember him turning back and laughing and saying something like, “Man, we really fucked that one up.” He wasn’t pissed. And all I could think of was good thing the Hong Kong pillars and walls were painted blood red to begin with because poor Willie Brown gets resurrected after 40 or 50 years just to get absolutely butchered and slaughtered, blood splattered all over the place.
The other one was at the Sweetwater, the set filmed for the Decline of Western Civilization segments with Circle Jerks and Fear. Jeffrey persuaded the Urinals, who he knew, to give up half of their 20 or 30 minute set, so we wound up doing a guerrilla-style, hit-and-run set of two or three songs. It was all a blur, set up, we probably did “Sex Beat” and “Heroin” for sure, maybe “Black Train,” break down and get the fuck offstage. I don’t remember the reaction, certainly nothing heavily negative.
That’s sort of like calling me up and inviting himself to the Burning Spear interview. Jeffrey was hustling, man, which is what makes me think he was going after it with serious intent from the start. I think he wanted to get himself out there, and I don’t mean any of this negatively. Maybe he saw it was his time and went to grab it, and had no qualms or hesitation about asking people to help him along.
Ryan: You and Dunning left at the same time. Had you both kind of reached the end of your ropes at the same time? Jeffrey states in his autobiography that you quit the Gun Club to focus on Thee Precisions. True—or is there more to the story? Dunning states Jeffrey outgrew the first lineup (e.g. He kept developing at an exponential rate, making it hard for you guys to keep up with him.) and was tough to work with.
Don: I saved the break-up story for this. The way I remember it going down was that Jeffrey came in at the start of rehearsal and announced he wasn’t happy and was breaking up the band or wanted to do something different with it. I had come to rehearsal with the intention of quitting. It was a little bit of musical differences—we both like Louisiana but Jeffrey was going deep into the swamps with the Cramps and I wanted to go closer to Meters soul/funk—but mostly because he was riding Brad really hard. So when Jeffrey said what he did, I thought, fine and don’t think I actually said I was quitting.
Regarding Thee Precisions, I told him from the start that Thee Precisions was my priority. In my mind, I was helping Jeffrey like Jeffrey helped Phreddie at the start, to get his thing off the ground. So saying I quit to focus on Thee Precisions is a bit exaggerated.
He was getting tougher to work with but he never had any direct arguments or confrontations with me that I remember. Like I said, I was left more or less on my own. I remember he kept wanting the tempos faster, particularly on “Black Train,” and that is a hard part to maintain steady and constant for a non-pro drummer. I thought he was really running down Brad way too much, when Brad was doing his best.
As for developing exponentially, again I always thought it was his band and he was several levels above us to start with.
Maybe his expectations of what his music could be developed exponentially or clarity in terms of where he wanted to take it did.
Maybe people were telling him he was writing great songs that needed stronger musicians playing them.
Maybe he was thinking or people were saying that he should get musicians who had a punkier or hipper or more street-cred image than Brad and I (especially me). Maybe a couple of really tall blond white guys behind him didn’t fit the image he had in mind.
Maybe he used the early band as a calling card, to get a reputation so people in general and serious musicians would know who he and the Gun Club was and he could approach Terry (Graham) and Rob (Ritter) about playing with him. I wouldn’t put that past Jeffrey, and I don’t mean that negatively in any way when I say it. It’s the hustle.
Maybe some of the above, maybe all of the above to varying degrees. Again, it was always his band to me.
Ryan: Had you played bass in any bands prior to the Creeping Ritual/Gun Club?
Don: Yeah, Thee Precisions, and a rehearsal studio band maybe five to seven years before with college friends that was given up due to, “Oh, man, I’ll never get good enough” syndrome. So the punk era/scene was a welcome chance to get up there.
Ryan: How often were you practicing in the Gun Club (once a week? once a month?)? Dunning looks back fondly; that had to have been a blast. What are some things that stick out – that are crystallized in your memory?
Don: At least once a week, and I’m more inclined to say twice when schedules could swing it. We were working, good fun work, but we had to learn the songs starting from scratch and we were all basically baby musicians. It was a blast, get together and learn songs with a couple of six-packs of Mickey’s Big Mouths. That was the basic thing I remember, laughs, Mickey’s Big Mouths, talking about what you were hearing, who you had seen, and fun working up the music at Program Rehearsal Studios.
One thing—I don’t know when Jeffrey started into his heroin haze but it wasn’t when we were working up songs then. Maybe he was trying it other places, and I’m far from the smartest at picking up telltale signs, but the four of us were certainly not sitting around shooting up or nodding out. When Jeffrey came in with “She’s Like Heroin To Me,” I took it like a strong metaphor/song image and nothing more. It was Mickey’s Big Mouth in rehearsals and we had to work to get the songs down.
That whole time was so intense and fun because you had rehearsals, there were all sorts of clubs all over everywhere, it was still the two-sets-a-night era so you could race around town and catch different bands. Or if you were tired, you could pass on a show because you knew the same band would be playing somewhere else within a couple weeks, and I never did much of the backstage hang and post-gig party routine.
Ryan: Can you briefly explain the importance of Claude Bessy and Slash to the scene?
Don: Very easy. It gave the scene in geographically dispersed L.A. a central meeting ground. That was the fundamental thing. All the people isolated off in all the corners of
the region could read about what stuff was happening, where stuff was happening, and when you could go find it if that appealed to you. The world became less isolated and Slash facilitated it reaching a sense of self-affirmation, of ultimately saying this is who I am, as opposed to simply reacting and saying I’m not what you want me to be or think I should be.
And Claude was the figurehead of Slash, he embodied the whole I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Plus he was a great writer and funnier than shit in person, and not particularly full of himself in his own inimitable style, of course.
Ryan: Did you catch Jeffrey’s first band, the Red Lights?
Don: Nope, this is the first I’ve ever heard of them.
Ryan: What are you up to now, Don? I see you’re in Spain—I would have never guessed it!
Don: I would never have guessed it 12 years ago, either, but I found a city I really liked in Valencia and wanted to get out of the U.S., because the negativity and aggressiveness of the Newt Gingrinch/Rush Limbaugh era was not something I wanted to be around. Now, of course, that attitude semi-hidden before is out in full flower.
I am still writing, trying to land book deals, including one for an oral history on the first wave of bars that opened up in the old city of Valencia at the end of the Franco era and sparked a whole nightlife scene. I am still a terminal night person so that was a big appeal, but I caught the end of a cycle. The move hasn’t worked out quite like I planned but that’s down to me and so it goes. I’m also doing some Spanish-English translations, too, the basic hustle in a second language.
Ryan: Anything you’d like to add?
Don: Yeah, the big thing is the enormous distinction in my mind between the Jeffrey I knew and JEFFREY LEE PIERCE of the GUN CLUB, if you know what I mean. The mythologizing of who Jeffrey was is something I never understood, even when it was first going on back in the ‘80s. I remember being really surprised at how good Fire Of Love was when it came out. I didn’t think he could deliver something that strong.
The one time I saw the band after leaving the group must have been after the record came out and they opened for somebody at the Starwood. Jeffrey was pulling this onstage Iggy-esque shit that struck both my girlfriend and I as totally bogus, where you’re going “Oh, c’mon Jeffrey, give me a break, would you? What is this shit?” I remember he stopped a couple of songs, “No that’s wrong,” and I was sitting up in the Starwood balcony thinking, “Man, if you had pulled that shit on me when I was in the band, I would have walked on your ass.” I have this thing about respecting musicians.
So the two of could never understand when he became this cult hero figure in France and then I guess the U.K. It was like, “I can’t believe they’re buying this,” because by that time the mythologizing process of JEFFREY LEE PIERCE, junkie-blues sage with modern day hellhounds on his trail was in full swing. Sorry, but that doesn’t jibe at all with the Jeffrey I knew.
Don Waller once remarked to me when we talking about Jeffrey, “But, Jeffrey, you don’t have to live the lyrics to your favorite songs,” which I always thought went pretty deep to the core of the matter.
Again, I’m not saying anything of this to be negative about Jeffrey, and none of it comes out of any resentment over the band, just to relate to you what I can remember. It was basically a blast and a really good time, and then Jeffrey took things into a whole other zone on any number of levels.
Gun Club Oral History, Part Four (Pastoral Hide and Seek to 1996)
Interviews by Ryan Leach
Pastoral Hide and Seek (1990)
Kid Congo Powers: Making Pastoral Hide and Seek was really not the most focused of records. I just showed up, did my thing, and left. I had very little to do with what was going on. It was really Jeffrey and Romi’s trip. Jeffrey really wanted to play his guitar more. They were together a lot and they could play together. There were a few moments on the record that were good, but by and large it wasn’t an energized masterpiece like Mother Juno or The Las Vegas Story might have been for me, personally.
Romi Mori: Jeffrey wasn’t drinking during this time. We didn’t really have the edge during Pastoral Hide and Seek that we had during the Mother Juno period. All the energy and ideas came from Jeffrey being drunk, so without alcohol it must have been confusing. Obviously he was depressed. The drink supported him. I can’t really compare this period to the first three albums. I think “Temptation and I” is a fantastic song. Jeffrey couldn’t quite come up with an idea. “I Hear Your Heart Singing” is a very, very old song. It was written for The Las Vegas Story or maybe before. We would work the songs out together. I wrote the guitar solos on that song. I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I think that last solo is by Jeffrey, but those first two are mine.
Lucky Jim (1994)
Romi Mori: It was awful and depressing making Lucky Jim. It was bad. Because of where we were, the junk situation was quite easy for Jeffrey; Holland has drugs everywhere. Without realizing he was on drugs, we were recording and the rhythm was completely gone. He couldn’t play in time—it was so hard to play with him. He was insisting that he was right and that we were wrong. I had to play some of the guitar bits; he was quite happy letting me play some of the guitar parts. It was very sad.
Terry Graham: Years and years passed before I talked to Jeff again, but when I did, there was no bad feeling at all. We kind of shook hands and that was cool. And that was the last time I saw him. It must have been a year before he died. To me, I felt that all this water was well under the bridge. And the point is, Jeff, is that you and me and a select group of other people stood our ground when disco was ruling the planet like a dinosaur and to me that counts more than anything that happened subsequently. The fact that we had the guts to be something different in the face of a hideous culture—or lack of culture. And that’s always been my attitude ever since then, about anybody and anything concerned with that scene.
Keith Morris: We actually checked Jeffrey into a rehab/hospital down in Marina Del Rey against his will. Mike Martt (guitar player of Tex and the Horseheads) and I had to take him down. He was already dying. Our friend Sal who ran the Viper Room said, “Hey, look, I’ve got a doctor in Beverly Hills. I’ll pay for the visit.” We took Jeffrey to this doctor and he gave Jeffrey three months. This was a couple of months before he died. He wanted to go back to Japan because he had fallen in love with a nurse over there. He thought he could go back over there and she would take care of him. One of the problems was that he had been kicked out of the country by the U.S. Consulate. So we checked him into this hospital/rehab and the doctor there said, “Don’t believe what the doctor in Beverly Hills told you about having only three months to live. I can get him over to UCLA Hospital and we can cut him open and have a transplant and give him a new organ. He’ll be all right. I’ll supervise the operation and let the students work on him and we’ll get him back in shape.” And we were totally into that. Jeffrey was angry because the money used to get him into rehab was money that he would have used to fly back to Japan.
Kid Congo Powers: Jeffrey came back to Los Angeles and some people had convinced him to make a concert to play the hits with Mike Martt from Tex and the Horseheads and a couple other guys. It seemed like a fun thing to do and maybe a good time to do it. Jeffrey wasn’t too fucked up at first. We did this show at the Viper Room, and it was really, really good. It was really fun and great. Then a couple months later we did another one and it was really terrible. I was getting fucked up again. I think that was the last thing we did. I don’t think he played any shows after that. Certainly, I didn’t. Some people said that was really great and amazing, because a lot of people hadn’t seen it. But if you had seen it, it wasn’t so great. It was really quite sad and horrible. Jeffrey looked bad. After that he had gone to his father’s to dry out.
Jacqui Pierce: He had been in rehab at least three times or more trying to clean up his act. A lot of people make him out to be this tormented artist who just drank himself to death, but he could have committed suicide. He could have gone a lot earlier had he chosen to leave this Earth because of all the pain. He didn’t want to die. He wanted to live.
Pleasant Gehman: They played their last show at my Ringling Sisters’ benefit—this was when I had that group the Ringling Sisters. We used to put on these charity benefits for thirteen years every Christmas. Henry Rollins, X, Concrete Blonde, 7 Year Bitch, Babes in Toyland—all these amazing people would play on them—even River Phoenix played on one once with Flea. It was all for the kids. We gave every cent to charity. So Jeffrey’s last show was at the Ringling Sisters’ benefit. He looked terrible. I’ve known so many people who are dead now—Exene’s sister Muriel (passed away in 1980), Rik L. Rick (singer of F-Word; passed away in 2000), Lance Loud (singer of the Mumps; passed away in 2001)—I can’t even think of it now how many there are. It wasn’t the first time it happened to me and it definitely wasn’t the last time either. It was a closure experience, writing his obituary. It’s because you know the person and you know aspects of them that someone who just got assigned to do it wouldn’t know. I remember one fun thing about Jeffrey no one would believe: Jeff, Tex, Levi (Dexter), Belinda (Carlisle), I and a bunch of other people went to see E.T. and we are all sitting in the theater on Hollywood Boulevard and Jeffrey was just bawling during the beginning part where E.T. was getting chased. After that movie was when he announced that Tex was in a band that he had put together for her called Tex and the Horseheads.
Kid Congo Powers: I was talking to Jeffrey again. He said that he was sobering up again at his father’s and that he was trying to finish up that book he was writing for Henry Rollins. We had been talking about doing another project and we’ll call it the Gun Club. And Jeffrey would come to New York, so I started looking for people, and people said, “Of course, I would love to do something with Jeffrey Lee Pierce.” I told him when he got his stuff together to come out here and we’ll do something. He had been writing—a lot of crazy passages, like where Isaac Hayes is calling him on a radio tower, and we were just hysterically laughing over the phone. And he assured me that he was doing well. I was already hearing from other people that Jeffrey was really sick and it was really, really bad. I would call Jeffrey and he would say, “They are crazy,” and that it’s not that bad. And I would say, “I saw you. It’s really bad.” He would say, “I’m getting my shit together. I’m in Utah and I’m going to meetings and I’m taking it easy.” And I believe that’s what he was doing there. But then one day his body said, “No more.” That’s when he died. It was a shocking ending. Some people were not shocked at all, and really thinking about it later, I shouldn’t have been shocked. This person was in very, very poor health and expired. It was still kind of shocking to me. Part of it was that I was in denial that he would die. It was the end of my collaborator; the person who taught me how to play guitar; the person who for years I had done stuff with and can only communicate in a certain way with—a brother. That was the end of an era. And it has been very sad. I went through a lot of stuff over it. So it’s good, all of these reissues and re-interest and circular amount of time—ten years of him dying and twenty years of being a band. It’s good and I’m actually able to talk about it in hindsight. I’m really proud of it and appreciative of it. And I appreciate that people recognize Jeffrey as kind of a visionary and a great songwriter. And for as self-destructive as he was, he was a million times more creative. That’s the thing I always like to point out.
Jeffrey Lee Pierce (June 27, 1958 — March 31, 1996)
Gun Club Oral History, Part Three (Las Vegas Story to Mother Juno)
Interviews by Ryan Leach
The Las Vegas Story (1984)
Kid Congo Powers: I had remained really close friends with Jeffrey this whole period. Patricia, I hadn’t met, but I had known from the Bags. It was different because Jeffrey was playing guitar and was further along with his songwriting. We both had had a lot of experience and that was also a difference—we had started with no experience and then when we reconvened we had a lot of experience. That was a new dynamic and we were not interested in doing what we had done before and we were interested in a lot of literature—William Burroughs and Beat writers. We were also listening to a lot of jazz. A lot of different things happened. It was great.
Terry Graham: I rejoined the Gun Club and we did The Las Vegas Story. And of course that recording session was pretty good—that was the first “real” recording session that really felt like one, in a good studio. I don’t really like the songs on that record except “Walkin’ with the Beast.” It was a great sound, at least a professional sound.
Kid Congo Powers: The Las Vegas Story was the biggest thing we had done. We had a big budget for us and support from the record label. We actually got a producer-producer, not just a friend. We actually wanted John Cale (bassist of the Velvet Underground, solo artist, producer) to produce the record but he wasn’t available or wanted too much money, so we ended up talking to Jeff Erich (producer) and it sounded like it would be good. He brought a touch of professionalism to us. I look at that time as one of the strongest times. We had vision and a good handle on musicianship and we weren’t too fucked up. We were at a point where drugs and alcohol were still working in our favor, if that’s possible—right before it dampens the creative process, which it eventually always does. People talk about Jeffrey being so difficult and a fuckup, but when it came time, especially for recording, he was right there.
Terry Graham: I remember that last European tour—kind of hard to forget because I left towards the end of it. I went over there with my girlfriend Amy. They didn’t like her coming too much, and I don’t really blame them now—I could see why they wouldn’t. I don’t think I would have either, unless I liked the person and she seemed to add to the mix. And Amy was very quiet and friendly, took no drugs, so they had no excuse not to like her—you couldn’t help but like her. But at the same time, it’s a band and you want to do your tour. So we go over there and immediately it was, “We’re gonna stay here. We’re not gonna go back to the U.S.” So I knew my time with the Gun Club was over, ‘cause there was no way I was going to move to London. It had no attraction to me whatsoever. Then after five weeks of touring, someone broke into the van outside of a club in Manchester—no crime England—and not only stole my camera, which, who cares? They stole all the video tapes. I had about fifteen hours worth of taped interviews and every show we did. While we played, Amy taped us—all of it gone. That was the final straw for me. That was the end of it. I was really upset. Now I don’t regret leaving, but I do regret that I didn’t just finish the tour, just for the experience. The animosity I felt was very real.
Kid Congo Powers: Our concerts were really big and good, but then we kept booking shows, which was both good and bad because people got burned out. People started fighting and we all got horrible to be around. Being that close together is hard on a long-term basis and we were pretty volatile people. That ended up in a complete disaster. Terry left the tour and we kept going with a pick-up drummer, which was an awful thing to do. Prior to that, we were so on. We were so tight, but when Terry left we could only do the most basic songs. It was really soul crushing. So we ended the tour and just decided we would end doing the band. There was too much drugs, alcohol and fighting.
Romi Mori: I was in school bands and would play with mates. We would cover the Runaways and things like that. I did bits and pieces but was never really serious. I was a big fan of the Gun Club and went to see them play. Some people say, “I introduced you to Jeffrey,” but I’m quite sure I was at the show with friends and Jeffrey came up to me and started talking. He was really nice. He said, “We’re going to a night club. Do you want to go?” And I said, “Yeah,” and we all went. I didn’t really mention that I played guitar or bass, and then when I went to Jeffrey’s hotel room, I just picked up his guitar and started playing along to the records he was playing—I can’t remember which ones they were—and he was really impressed. He was like, “Wow, you should do something.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “You should play with me.” And that evening we started. He was just about to start his solo albums.
Solo Years (1985/1986)
Romi Mori: I did his solo tour, but I didn’t play on the albums. It was really miserable in America. The tours were disorganized. America is so big and we would have to drive for hours a day in August, when it was so hot. Lots of gigs would get cancelled and we didn’t make money. It was just going really downhill. And in the end, the tour manager nicked some money and disappeared, which wasn’t very nice.
Mother Juno (1987)
Kid Congo Powers: So the Gun Club kind of ended for a couple years. We pursued other things. I stayed in touch with Jeffrey and would see him when he would play his shows and we all ended up staying in Europe: Jeffrey, Patricia and I. I played in a band with Patricia for a while. Jeffrey did his solo thing with Romi and Nick (Sanderson). So when both of our things imploded or reached their logical end, Jeffrey and I decided to hatch a new plan. He had gotten together with Romi, who was a guitarist and a bass player, and Nick was up for whatever with drumming. Every time Jeffrey and I do something, it has to be called the Gun Club, so we decided to record an album. I had been living in Berlin and recording with Nick Cave, so we came to Berlin, which had a cheap studio. We made that album, Mother Juno, with Robin Guthrie from the Cocteau Twins. Guthrie produced that record.
Romi Mori: Jeffrey really, really didn’t want to talk about the Gun Club for a couple years. He wasn’t very happy with his experience. Then Kid and Jeffrey started talking again, and probably they just started talking about doing it again with different people. So then I joined as a bass player and Nick joined as the drummer. They did a short tour in the UK while I was ill in Japan, so Barry Adamson played bass instead.
Kid Congo Powers: The songwriting on that record went back to L.A. Strangely enough, it was a very international album, recorded in Berlin with a British producer, but a lot of stuff like “Yellow Eyes” and “Lupita Screams” are very L.A. Jeffrey was saying he was thinking of things he heard from out of the garage in El Monte. We were on that tip.
Romi Mori: We were talking about recording and I remember Peter Hook of New Order wanted to produce Mother Juno. When I met Jeffrey, he was really into Bob Dylan. He was playing Bob Dylan every day and I got really sick of it. I was really into Cocteau Twins, so I introduced him to the Cocteau Twins’ Treasure, and he really, really fell in love with it; he had never heard anything like that in his life. So he listened to it almost every day. Then when we were in L.A. we were taking a walk along the Sunset Strip and we bumped into Robin and Liz from the Cocteau Twins. It was just so weird because we were just talking about them. We became friends, and then Robin really wanted to produce Mother Juno, so we chose Robin over Peter Hook. I think we did the right thing.
Kid Congo Powers: There were a lot of extremes going on at the time of Mother Juno. There was extreme partying, and extreme sobriety. Sometimes you didn’t know what to believe. And sometimes the energy was really, really manic, which might have fueled a lot of good creativity, but I’m not sure if that was a good way to be. At that time I wasn’t hanging around Jeffrey a lot. I was living in Berlin, so we would get together to record and play, and then I would go back to Berlin. After the Mother Juno tour, I got straight and Jeffrey would go back and forth. I ducked out of all of that. I then moved back to California. I changed my life. This was a point where my involvement with Jeffrey was strictly about music. And then I would hear people freaking out about Jeffrey to get straight and sober. You would hear one thing and see another. He was my good friend of a million years at this point. We would be talking and it would be fun. You can’t force someone to get straight—you can’t lock them up and make them do it. He would really go between those extremes. And also he was becoming very physically ill with Hepatitis C and liver damage. There was a lot of stuff going on in my own life: friends dying of AIDS. Being a gay artist at my age, it happened a lot. In the ’80s it happened on a crazy level and in the mid-’90s there was another weird wave of it. It was horrible. So it was hard to keep track on what was going on with Jeffrey.
Romi Mori: Jeffrey had “The Breaking Hands” months and months before we started recording Mother Juno. He told Robin, “I have this song and maybe we could work on it.” Ad Robin came up with all the bells, and Jeffrey was really, really in love with it. Jeffrey would write guitar bits, then he would write with Nick on drums, and then I’d play bass and Kid would play guitar and finally Jeffrey would finish his vocals; so it was rather awkward really. So we would never really be together writing. The Mother Juno tour was brilliant. We had loads of people coming to see us. We did quite a lot of touring in Europe. It was the best moment. Jeffrey was really into it—he was all over the place on stage. He was brilliant.
Kid Congo Powers: The first Mother Juno tour was really great. I felt like people were like, “Wow, the Gun Club is amazing!” And then by the second and third legs, Jeffrey started getting messy again and it got worse and worse. People were getting really fed up with seeing the Gun Club. They would wonder whether it would be good or whether Jeffrey would end up mumbling and walking off stage just to fuck everything up, to fuck with people. That was always a good card with the Gun Club, fucking with people, but there’s a way to do it well and a way to do it poorly. I could see the audience dwindling and the band losing interest and the focus leaving. Finally, I decided to do my own thing and I couldn’t be a part of it anymore. That was before they made the Lucky Jim record. I was already living in Los Angeles by this time and they were still living in London. I would rather go out on a good note.
Romi Mori: At the end of the Mother Juno tour, Jeffrey was very ill without realizing he had a very serious illness. So he went back to L.A. after the tour and went to the hospital and found out he had cirrhosis of the liver. He had to stop drinking and it was obviously very hard for him, being a serious drinker. So, he did successfully and he tried desperately to find a hobby. He tried everything. He was always like, “Let’s go shopping, let’s go shopping!” And I said, “You must be joking!” And he would say, “Oh, no! Let’s go!” He tried it, but I don’t think he liked it. He was okay for about two years. He didn’t drink at all. So we didn’t drink around him. We were trying very hard for his health.
Gun Club Oral History, Part Two (Fire of Love and Miami)
Interviews by Ryan Leach
Fire of Love (1981)
Terry Graham: We only had a couple thousand dollars to do the record and we had time booked in one studio. Every song was a first take. We just went in there and laid it down, then came back and threw a couple more things on the first session—which was about half the songs—and then we went to another studio with Noah Shark and did the same thing. We just laid it down and ran because we just didn’t have the money to do much more than that. Whatever sound there was on there was really dependent on the room and its acoustics. There wasn’t a whole lot we could do to tweak or manipulate it, but you can tell. Half the songs have a much more faint/clear sound, and the other half are a little bit muddier. And that’s the different studio—that’s all it is. It was really fun to do, but it was so fast; we were just in and out. We were really happy with the way it sounded, considering the time and money involved. For what we were doing and at the time we were doing it, we didn’t really know what “sound good” meant. So, we just kind of left it and let go.
Ward Dotson: We made Fire of Love and everyone in the band went, “Wow! We done good! It sounds really good. I wonder what other people are going to think.” And immediately we went from this ass-wipe band to being on the front cover of New York Rocker. Boston, Minneapolis, Austin—all the college towns of the early ’80s ate it up. It was nice to get recognized. Here, in Los Angeles, people in the scene had already seen us and didn’t like us. They’re dumb out here or just less erudite. Once you’ve seen some fat, drunk asshole insult you, you’re less likely to pause and notice how good that record is, and that record is pretty good. It is head and shoulders above all other records—I’m not saying this because I was in the band—it’s just a fact. I didn’t write the lyrics, I’m not bragging. Jeffrey’s lyric writing was head and shoulders above everyone who was around at the time. Robert Palmer wrote in The New York Times—The New York Times does not review rock records—and he reviewed the Gun Club record and the Dylan album—I think it was Street Legal—and he said, “In with the new out with the old.” Slash didn’t even promote it. They just did the basic send out—here’s a picture of the band and here’s the record. They pressed two thousand and sold them in two seconds.
Terry Graham: I don’t know what happened to the bass on Fire of Love. I don’t know why on the first two records that the bass wasn’t emphasized on the mix. It’s a shame because Rob was so incredibly good. This guy could take anything, hear it once, and not just play it again, but play variations of it and it worked perfectly. It would be exactly what the music needed. It has always pissed me off that it just isn’t there. And if it’s not there, then it’s never there. It’s not like you can take the master and play with it, because it’s just not there. I don’t know why. It wasn’t anyone’s fault—they weren’t trying to do it. A band like the Gun Club too, the bass should be a serious presence, particularly with Rob.
Ward Dotson: Jeffrey already knew Chris Stein. Jeffrey was president of the Blondie Fan Club a few years earlier. Some of my positive memories of Jeffrey are trying to get to sleep in a motel room, lethargic from a show or drunk or high or whatever, and just talking about ’60s records. He was such a music fan. He liked a lot of the same stuff I did. I remember going into record stores and him going, “Oh, you don’t have this record? Here, you should get this record,” and that was really cool. He was totally into Blondie. I can’t remember how the record went down, but Chris Stein had this little label, Animal, which was just a vanity label; it really just was Chrysalis. He got to make the worst Iggy Pop record, a James White album, and the Gun Club record. Chris was really sick at the time. He had come down with that virus he had. That record, which should have been done in a week, took two and a half to three months. Chris had to keep going back to the hospital. We would get to meet Iggy. He showed up during the middle of the recording sessions with Chris Stein and that was positive. That record—I wish I still had the tape—I had just a rough mix after we were done with everything; I just had the engineer set the faders up, pop in a cassette, and run me off the whole album so I could have something to take home. That version was ten times better than the mixed version. The mixed version, the ball knob they turned down to two. They removed the rock ‘n’ roll from it. The record doesn’t sound cohesive. That band was a live band. It wasn’t an overdub, studio thing. I don’t know what those other records sound like, I seriously have never heard one note off of The Las Vegas Story, but with those records, I wish someone would go back and remix or re-master them. But Chris Stein was a great guy, a total pro. He had us step it up a notch, get a little bit more professional, and worry about things being in tune. I don’t know if he was the right guy to make the second album, but it was a positive experience.
Terry Graham: We really hated that recording session for Miami, or at least the band did. It was a horrible tiny little room. We didn’t like it. It was non-motivating, uninspired, and not fun at all to make that record. Jeff, of course, was thrilled because he was working with Chris Stein and Deborah Harry comes in and does some things in the studio and Clem Burke (drummer of Blondie) is dropping by. Jeff’s beginning to feel like he’s one of the stars—he’s hobnobbing with the stars. And that’s fine, I don’t blame him for that, it was just kind of getting to his head a little bit. But for the rest of us it was dreadful. I think had he not been so star-struck, he would have also felt it was dreadful. To be in this shitty little studio, of all the studios in New York, and try to create something completely from the board—you just don’t want to do that. You want a room with something in it. When I recorded with The Cramps, we recorded in a huge room at A&M in L.A., because we could get natural reverb, get some stuff in the board, and play with it a little bit and have fun with that, get creative.
Ward Dotson: Rob was just like, “Ahhh! I just want to make this record and get the hell out of this band.” We were all happy that he stuck around. He was out of the band before the record came out. Jeffrey was pissed off at him. I was pissed off at him. I liked going to sound check—most people loathe going to sound check—and Terry and I were like, “Yeah, we get to play with Rob for an hour without Jeffrey, and just screw around.” I was bummed at Rob. He was a great guy to have in a band. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t cause any problems, other than being strung out. But even then, he wouldn’t snap at anybody. I remember playing shows with him and seeing him almost nodding out, almost asleep—and he would play the bass really low—and catch him leaning up against the SVT amp and him playing perfectly. Yeah, he quit. He was in that band 45 Grave. Those were his friends. I remember running into Rob later and him saying, “Man, I didn’t really realize it when I was in the band that we were kind of popular and that we were making money. All I could think was I can’t stand being around Jeffrey. Even though 45 Grave is only popular in L.A., those are my friends and I’d rather hang out with them.” That’s how I felt too. All the contracts were signed in Jeffrey’s name. He got all the publishing. We were really around to promote his solo career. It wasn’t a band. It was really obvious of that. Jeffrey was constantly so hard to be around, and only an idiot would have stuck that out. I look at the other people who stuck it out only because they’re idiots. That’s fairly judgmental, but it’s the truth. I even know that Terry went back for more and quit in the middle of a tour. Nobody quits in the middle of a tour, and that happened in that band with several people. We went to Europe for a mini-tour; we played like five shows in London, Paris and Dresden. I was really excited. I remember going up to the tour manager and him saying, “Ward, just shut up. Just don’t say anything. Do you know how many people would like to be in your shoes? You’re on tour, making money, not working, having girls throw themselves at you—all the rock star stuff—so just shut up or you’re not going to be in the band much longer.” Basically what happened was we did one more tour of the States and halfway into it I was like, “I might end up murdering this guy. I can’t take it.”
At the end of the tour, with like three or four shows left, a roadie came up and said, “Hey, I just heard Jeff on the phone booking a flight out of here and going home.” He wasn’t even going to tell the band. He was going to ditch us. So I went in there and said, “Hey, motherfucker, you’re finishing this tour. Don’t pull this shit. It’s bullshit.” So we finished the tour and that was it. He never called me. I just heard there was a new Gun Club record out and I wasn’t on it. Everything was handled in the absolute worst fashion. I think back on it now, and Jeffrey was twenty-three or twenty-four and I was twenty-two, and that’s how kids act. I can’t complain about anything. I don’t work, I live in paradise, and I can do whatever I want.
Kid Congo Powers: One day, Jeffrey’s band quit on him going on an Australian tour. Terry and Jim Duckworth (guitarist who briefly played with the band after Ward’s departure) had decided at the airport not to go on this Australian tour. And so Patricia Morrison (Rob Ritter’s replacement on bass) and Jeffrey ended up in Australia. I get a phone call from Jeffrey asking if I could come to Australia tomorrow. I had already fallen out of the Cramps and Jeffrey had been living with me at the time, so I said, “Well, I’m not doing anything else. Sure, I’ll come to Australia.” It was a really fun and crazy tour. People reacted really well to it, and it was decided that I would stay.
Gun Club Oral History, Part One (The Early Years)
In 2005, I put together an oral history of the Gun Club. It took approximately nine months to finish. With the exceptions of Patricia Morrison and Dee Pop, I interviewed all of the living members of the band. Looking back on it, I think the piece has held up all right, considering I was all of twenty-three when I finished it. This first part goes over the origins of the band up until the release of Fire of Love (1981). The rest will follow shortly.
This piece originally ran in Razorcake magazine (www.razorcake.org)
Interviews by Ryan Leach
Jacqui Pierce: My uncle Fred was a jazz musician, so we grew up with music. My mom collected 45s—mostly R&B and soul. Jeffrey was ten years old and started taking lessons to learn how to play guitar, and he stuck with it. A lot of people don’t do that, but he really loved it. He practiced a lot in his room. He would play “Stairway to Heaven” over and over again. We knew he had a love for music and was set on learning how to play.
Kid Congo Powers: I met Jeffrey in 1978. We were in line to see Pere Ubu and I had seen Jeffrey around a lot. We were always in line—this was during the punk explosion—and there were a lot of shows in Los Angeles that you had to go to. And on this particular night I was like, “Who is this guy anyway?” He was wearing a white trench coat with white girl’s cowboy boots and a polka dot shirt. We started talking and got drunk. That first day he said, “You should be in a band with me,” and I had never played in a band before. I had always been a music fan. I was like, “Well, okay, whatever,” and he said that I should be the singer. I told him definitely not. And he said, “You could be the guitar player.” I told him, “I don’t play guitar.” And he said, “Oh, that’s not a problem, I can show you some things.” And it happened really spontaneously. It wasn’t too long afterwards that we actually started playing around with some people and making a really terrible, terrible noise.
Terry Graham: I started college here in Denton, Texas, but it was basically a seed store with a few cows—it was hideous. I had to go to Los Angeles. My cousin lived out there and I thought film school would be cool. But then you go to UCLA and USC and you realize you’re not going to get in just by walking in; it’s a little different than that. The next thing I know, I go to Kim Fowley’s New Wave Night at the Whiskey and the rest is history.
Keith Morris: Jeffrey and I were living in Inglewood, right in the middle of the Bloods and the Crips, but they never messed with us. There were probably only six white people in the neighborhood and we looked like a couple of freaks anyway. I walked around the neighborhood and I didn’t care. The gang members, if they think you’re insane, they won’t mess with you. And Jeffrey looked like a freak, too. He had bleached blonde hair.
Kid Congo Powers: Jeffrey and I really hit it off because we had both traveled a lot—to Europe, around the United States, Jamaica—and he was writing for Slash magazine. He was really into reggae and we both had that in common. We were only nineteen or twenty at the time and a lot of people we knew hadn’t done that. We were also interested in New York music. I was running a Ramones fan club and Jeffrey was doing a Blondie one.
Jacqui Pierce: Jeffrey was already hanging out at music spots because he was doing interviews. I think that’s what drove him to be a musician, to actually get a band together, because he was interviewing people so much. And, he was around the scene. I’m sure he must have thought, “I can do that.” So he eventually formed his first band, the Red Lights. At the time, he was influenced by Blondie, Talking Heads, Television—big time Television fan, Tom Verlaine—some Bowie and Lou Reed.
Pleasant Gehman: Jeffrey was the one who started me in music. He kept telling me I should have a band. I kept saying, “I don’t want a band,” and he goes, “Well, you would make a great singer.” And I would go, “I don’t know how to sing.” So he would tell me this every time he saw me. And then finally one day he said, “You should have a band and you should be the singer.” And I said, “I don’t want that. I don’t want to put one together,” and he said, “I already put one together for you.” We were called the Cyclones—this was before the Gun Club. Jeffrey played guitar and so did Johnny Nation. There was a guy named John on standup bass and Brad Dunning, who is now a really famous interior decorator, on drums and I was singing. We used to rehearse at Jeffrey’s mother’s house in Pacoima. We were horrible. There was no PA, so I was singing out of a guitar amp and basically screaming above the noise. A lot of people didn’t know how to play what they were playing, just like I didn’t know what I was doing. Jeffrey knew how to play, but Johnny Nation was just starting—he was really sucky—I mean, he went on to play with Lydia Lunch and the Reptiles and all these other things. Anyway, our first and only gig was at the one and only punk night at Gizzari’s. We were opening for the Last and the Go Go’s. I had been going out with the drummer and we broke up and weren’t talking to each other, even though we were rehearsing in a room that was six feet by ten feet. So he would say to Jeffrey, “Tell the singer that she’s not singing in tune.” And I would say, “Tell the drummer that he’s not keeping time.” And for some reason before the show everyone got really drunk. I can’t remember why but Johnny Nation and Jeffrey got into a fistfight and Brad joined in. It was terrible! We sounded like a train wreck, there was a fight on stage, and everyone could hardly stand up. We were so horrible that Black Flag—God only knows why—was in the audience and thought it was amazing, that it was the most punk rock thing they had ever seen, and asked us to open up for them. But that was the only time we ever played because no one wanted to be together anymore. We were trying to be a pop-rockabilly band and we became the most crazy punk rock band—Jeffrey threw up in a bucket on the side of the stage. The whole thing was out of control. I think it was kind of concurrent with the Red Lights, but they only played a few gigs—maybe two or three.
Keith Morris: I had compiled a list of band names. Jeffrey was playing in the original incarnation of the Gun Club called the Creeping Ritual. And he wasn’t really that excited with the name, so I came up with the name. We swapped the name of the Gun Club for the music that would become “Group Sex.” And if you listen to that song, you could also sing “It’s A Small World After All” along with it, and that’s where Jeffrey got it.
Kid Congo Powers: A lot of people say “blues” and “country” when they thing of the Gun Club, but it was more soul and reggae in the beginning.
Terry Graham: I had known Jeff since day one, since he started hanging out. It wasn’t like we were close personal friends, but he was one of the people in the scene, and he was constantly blabbing, and I was constantly listening for some reason. So I knew of him and I knew about his first band, the Red Lights. I had seen the Gun Club somewhere, but I didn’t really pay much attention. And then I talked to Jeff, and he said, “Well, we might need some new people.” Rob Ritter and I went to the Hong Kong Cafe and saw him. I thought it was pretty cool. It was raw and different. It appealed to me because it was really scary, a little slimy, and there were some roots music in there, which was interesting.
Alice Bag: I kinda envied Rob Ritter because he was so smart. One day I was in Rob’s apartment waiting for him to get ready to go somewhere. I started looking through his bookshelf. He had the French philosophers with the text in French. I told him I didn’t know he could read French and he told me he had taught himself. I had taken two years of French in high school and thought I was pretty smart because I could order food and ask for directions in French, but Rob burst my bubble.
Jacqui Pierce: Phast Phreddie was a music historian. Phast Phreddie really loved jazz and the Beat scene, not the Warhol scene, but the Beat scene from way back in the ’50s. Phreddie worked at Rhino (Records), so it was so convenient. Jeffrey and Phreddie would meet up and chat, and play some great records.
Pleasant Gehman: Phast Phreddie was the big maven for everybody. He did stuff for me, Jeffrey, and the Cramps. First of all, the Runaways first show ever was in his living room in Glendale. He had all these crazy records. We would always come over from a club or a night when there was nothing to do and we would go to Phreddie’s house or Phil and Dave Alvin’s house from the Blasters and everybody would bring over their records. And Phreddie has this unbelievable, expensive collection of records from every genre and he was always turning people onto the blues. I’m sure he played some stuff for Lux and Ivy that turned into later Cramps songs, covers I mean. He was a huge influence of everybody. He had really crazy jazz and blues records—all that kind of stuff.
Terry Graham: We did a show pretty early on where Jeffrey came out with a huge bible and he had his Colonel Sanders outfit on. And he slammed his bible down on the stage and started beating it with a chain. Jeff wasn’t the most graceful guy on the planet Earth, but it worked. I thought, “That’s pretty cool: Colonel Sanders and the Gun Club.” Some people got the point, but doing that kind of stuff and drawing on images and references from way back in American roots music wasn’t something that registered quickly with “punk rock.” And I was, and still am, a big fan of any and all new music, but this was something that was so different, and because I’m from Texas, it had great appeal.
Kid Congo Powers: I was in the Gun Club for about a year and a half. We had been playing and trying to figure out what we were doing. By the time we had written “Sex Beat” and “For the Love of Ivy”—not all of the songs off the first record, but a good deal of them. “For the Love of Ivy” was just a stupid, simple riff I came up with. Jeffrey redid some of the lyrics to make it a more blues-based song. We were all big fans of the move, For the Love of Ivy by Sydney Poitier, and it had a double meaning with Ivy from the Cramps. Then the Cramps asked me to join them and Jeffrey was like, “Are you crazy? Of course, join them.” They were huge rock stars to us. At the time, the Gun Club hadn’t recorded anything. They were a band playing to a handful of people.
Pleasant Gehman: Kid Congo was in a band with Jeffrey. That’s when Kid was living in Disgraceland (Pleasant’s house which, from 1978 to 1988, harbored numerous punk bands, musicians, and zine kids), and it was called the Creeping Ritual. Then he played in the Gun Club and that was when the Cramps drafted him. Kid and I had been living in New York in 1979, and Lux and Ivy were like our parents. We were always at Cramps gigs. It was a logical progression. Kid was in both the Gun Club and the Cramps for a while and then the Cramps started touring so he went with them.
Ward Dotson: Punk rock happened. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was close enough. The Ramones—it was faster and smart and stupid at the same time, if that makes sense. It was simple. Louis Armstrong was asked once, “What is good music?” It was a terrible question, but he was so cool, he said, “Well, if you hear and song and start tapping your toe, that’s good music.” It’s not brain surgery. So punk rock was the closest thing and I liked bands like the Raspberries, the Who, and Badfinger. I was also really getting into rockabilly—the Johnny Burnett Trio and the more pedestrian stuff. And then bands like the Cramps, the Blasters and X were already going, and I was into bands in that direction. So it makes perfect sense that I end up at a Billy Zoom rockabilly show—he did these shows once a year outside of X with DJ Bonebrake and two other rockabilly dudes—and I went to that and saw Jeff Pierce and said, “Hey, are you still looking for a guitar player?” I didn’t say, “I want to be in your band.” I just said, “Are you still looking for a guitar player?” Next day I’m in the Gun Club. Rob and Terry, when I joined the Gun Club, I went, “Fuck, man, you guys are great! That is a kick-ass rhythm section.” I’m playing along to Buddy Holly records in my living room one day, and the next day I’m in a shitty rehearsal room in Hollywood with a loud-ass rhythm section. These guys had been playing together for three or four years at this point. Being the bass player, you have to lock with the drummer—you have to know each other. And after being in the band for a very short while at the end of rehearsal, I went to Terry and said, “You’re better than X.” Because I don’t think John and DJ locked the way Rob and Terry did. They were sexier, they had their shit together, and they wrote great songs, but they didn’t lock like Rob and Terry did.
Terry Graham: Rob, Ward and I were a tight unit; we understood each other really well. We had to be able to do that in order to play behind Jeff. If Jeff wasn’t drinking a little bit—and he didn’t drink that much at first—he would still get on stage and push the envelope and put himself right on the edge. If we weren’t this tight unit, we couldn’t have played very well behind him. If we played a tight show, it was because the three of us back there were making sure that happened.
Ward Dotson: Nine months after I joined the band, Tito Larriva from the Plugz, said, “Hey, I have this label, Fatima Records, and I’m putting out half albums. They’re not really EPs, they’re the same size as 33 1/3, only you guys would have one side.” And another band was supposed to have the other side—I can’t remember who. So we went into the studio one night after hours, like midnight to four or something, with this guy and we recorded five or six songs. And Tito produced it, if you could call it producing; it was just putting mics in front of amps and pushing record. And that came out pretty good. And Jeffrey’s connection to Slash led him into that office. I think he had a crush on some girl that worked there, too. And he would go down there and play that tape, and it was like half of Fire of Love; whatever five or six songs—I don’t remember which ones they were. And Bob Biggs heard it, roaming through the halls and Jeffrey said, “That’s my band.” And the Fatima thing fell through somehow. It just went belly up and they decided not to do it, and Slash said, “Yeah, we’ll do it. Let’s record another five or six songs.” I had been in the band for a year, but nine months between me joining and that first recording, I was like, “I don’t think I could do this.” And Jeffrey, Terry and Rob felt the same way. Terry and I were going to form some other band. We would play shows and get booed right off the stage. It was like these punk rockers—if we opened for a punk band—going, “Fuck you! Get off!” It just wasn’t fun and being around Jeffrey was tough, but we just sort of kept doing it. And there was good chemistry in Rob, Terry and I and Jeffrey had that indefatigable spirit, a relentless self-promoter: “I’m going to do this no matter what.” Dump a bucket of shit on his head and he would just wipe it off. Whereas I’m able to take no for an answer, and Rob and Terry are that way too, so we kind of needed Jeffrey, as much as we hated him. I was watching some Beatles documentary the other day and John Lennon just said, “Yeah, we’re the best fucking band in the world!” And that’s what carried them and that’s kind of what carried the Gun Club.
Larry Hardy Top Five
We had this on the site a couple of years ago. Thought I’d bring it back as Larry has impeccable taste.
Top 5 favorite records
1. The Cramps - Psychedelic Jungle
2. The Stooges - Funhouse
3. The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette
4. The Ramones - Leave Home
5. Velvet Underground - White Light / White Heat
Top 5 favorite labels, past or present
3. Island (mid 70’s) - Sparks, Roxy Music, Eno, White Noise, Ultravox (w/ John Foxx when they were good), ect
Top 5 labels that influenced In The Red
4. Amphetamine Reptile
5. Sub Pop
Top 5 underrated records
1. Sparks - Lil’ Beethoven
2. Scientists - You Get What You Deserve
3. The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette (better than anything the Clash could’ve ever thought of!)
4. The Monkees - their first five albums are all excellent. Better than the Beatles’ first five albums.
5. Every album by the Cheater Slicks. One of the best bands in North America for the last 20 years and most people are too stupid to get it.
Top 5 Sparks records
1. Kimono My House
4. Lil’ Beethoven
5. Hello Young Lovers
Top 5 LA-punk shows you attended in the late ’70s as an impressionable teenager:
1. The Cramps (opening for The Runaways) @ Whiskey 1978
2. The Germs, Middle Class, Black Flag, Redd Cross @ Hong Kong Cafe 1979
3. The Screamers @ Whiskey 1978
4. The Weirdos, The Dickies @ Golden Bear 1978
5. Iggy Pop @ Santa Monica Civic 1977 (first show I ever went to)….though he was better in ‘79 @ the Stardust Ballroom w/ Brian James (Damned) on guitar and Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) on bass.
Top 5 music scenes, past or present (i.e. Montreal in the 2000s, etc.)
1. NY / CBGBs late 70’s (Ramones, Suicide, Dead Boys, ect)
2. UK punk explosion late 70’s (Sex Pistols, Damned, Slits, X Ray Spex, Buzzcocks, ect)
3. LA punk explosion late 70’s (Germs, Weirdos, X, Screamers, ect)
4. British Invasion early-mid 60’s (Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks, Yardbirds, Pretty Things, ect)
5. US garage scene mid 60’s (Seeds, Electric Prunes, Sonics, ect)
Andrew Tolley Interview, Part Two
Ryan: Jumping back to your own bands: You released the Hasselhoff Experiment’s records through Kato, but signed to Flying Nun in 1998 for CD distribution. Can you talk a little about the cultural impact of Flying Nun and the state of the label when you joined up?
Andrew: I have to give credit to our manager, Angela Means. Her boyfriend was Brendan Moran—the drummer of Hasselhoff Experiment. Angela was a very good networker. She ended up working for Flying Nun. So it’s not all that surprising that we signed to the label. Nevertheless, if I try to look at it objectively, it’s not as if we were a million miles away from the label’s aesthetic. We were certainly different; maybe a little more rock. I don’t think we sat that comfortably amongst the old guard: the Clean, the Bats, the Chills, the Verlaines…
Ryan: You shared a similar ethos.
Andrew: Yes. But I remember we played a support slot for the Clean at the Kings Arms in Auckland. The venue was packed. However, the audience was there for the Clean. They didn’t run away when we played, but they left a huge semicircle in front of the stage.
The closest Flying Nun band we had a connection with was Solid Gold Hell. Matthew Heine, the guitarist of the group, engineered half of our second album, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1999). He understood where we were coming from. I saw the Hasselhoff Experiment as sort of operating in a vacuum.
Ryan: Your influences were pretty esoteric, too. You were really into Bantam Rooster.
Andrew: That was attributable to listening to the Norton and Crypt records I was importing. Hearing the Bassholes for the first time left an impression on me.
The Hasselhoff Experiment evolved out of a band called Sourpuss. We got our name from an Axel Grinders song. We did a bunch of covers; we were slimy and grungy. As the band was getting off of the ground, I was going through a rough patch. I was worn out and didn’t want to play in Sourpuss any longer. The other guys in the band were pissed off. They couldn’t understand why I was throwing away all the work we had invested. I left the group for six months. I then talked with Brendan again, who had drummed for Sourpuss. I asked him if he wanted to do a two-piece band. That was the Bantam Rooster influence coming through in Hasselhoff Experiment.
I couldn’t play guitar like Tom Potter. I wasn’t that good. But Brendan was a great drummer. He wasn’t just keeping the beat; he was putting on a lot of accents; he was the counter riff to my main riff. We built up a strong chemistry. There weren’t very many two-piece bands before us in New Zealand. There are some now. Prior to the Hasselhoff Experiment, the only two piece around was the Tall Dwarfs. And we didn’t have much in common with them. They were two guitarists and maybe a drum machine. The Chris Knox aesthetic might have influenced our band, though. We kept it simple and believed that we could do it. Like the Tall Dwarfs, we could pack all of our gear into a hatchback and play wherever we wanted to.
I don’t know whether we introduced a new lo-fi, trash aesthetic to general New Zealand. But we certainly presented something slightly different to the New Zealand landscape. I highly doubt we could’ve brought anything new to America. Brendan and Angela wanted to go to America, but there were plenty of bands doing similar things there. We couldn’t have done anything better than what the Hospitals, the Coachwhips, the Flat Duo Jets or the Bassholes were doing. We probably would’ve been perceived as a poor version of these groups. Maybe we could’ve presented something New Zealand-inspired, coming through our filters; I’ve never seen any of those bands play live, so I can’t really say.
Roger Shepherd had left Flying Nun when we joined the label in 1998. There were all kinds of stories I heard regarding the state of the label at the time. That Shepherd had had some success bringing Flying Nun to Europe. The second-generation Flying Nun bands were pretty successful, groups like the Straightjacket Fits…
Ryan: The Chills had taken over for the Clean in regards to being the label’s big act.
Andrew: The Chills were very successful. It seemed like the beast grew larger than the management over at Flying Nun.
Ryan: I read that Roger Shepherd kind of found himself lost at sea when he moved to England to handle Flying Nun business there.
Andrew: Yeah. That original way of running Flying Nun had faded. The label used to record bands on a 4-track, then get the recordings pressed the next month. They’d take the finished albums and sell them to stores on Queen Street in Auckland and the main streets in Christchurch and Wellington. Flying Nun was a cottage industry in the early days. It was really charming. The Clean’s Boodle, Boodle, Boodle was recorded and distributed in that fashion and ended up breaking the New Zealand Top 20 chart. It was part of a brave new frontier. Later on, things started becoming a bit slicker. Bands were recording in relatively flashy Auckland studios. The whole template had changed for Flying Nun by the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Flying Nun was being distributed by a major label (Festival) when we joined up. There were all these hookups and politics of where you stood in terms of getting your record pressed. Flying Nun’s albums might not get pressed up for weeks because Kylie Minogue needed her then-recent album repressed. That might’ve taken precedence over a King Loser album. It was a weird time. Flying Nun was no longer an independent operation. There were a number of people running the ship. The two people closest to the original Flying Nun aesthetic at the label in the ’90s were Lesley Paris and Paul McKessar.
Around the time they left, Flying Nun got absorbed by (Australian major label) Festival. Not taking anything away from those involved, but the new people at the label were further removed from the source and inspiration of the early days. Bands like Garageland, PanAm and D4—they definitely had a lot of crossover potential and were signed. The Hasselhoff Experiment sort of fell between the cracks. We weren’t connected with the first or second-wave Flying Nun acts. Even the bands we had something in common with, like King Loser and Solid Gold Hell, had those connections. Chris Heazlewood had played in Olla with Lesley Paris; Gary Sullivan from Solid Gold Hell had played in the Jean Paul Sartre Experience. They had a pedigree of sorts. We were from Wellington as well, and Wellington wasn’t really a Flying Nun town. People from Wellington love Flying Nun. However, not many bands from the town got signed by the label. In fact, it was only when we moved up north to Auckland that we got signed to Flying Nun, again largely through Angela’s connections.
Ryan: You jokingly refer to your time on Flying Nun (1998 to 2002) as your brief brush with success. You were also winning bNet awards. What did you walk away with from that experience?
Andrew: First,Brendan and I had to decide whether or not we should even try to play the game. We were on a major label and not doing things independently anymore. We thought we were too abrasive for radio, but then we got played on Radio Hauraki and promptly blew their speakers out; and walked out of the station with our tails between our legs. We played on TV. That actually helped us heaps. The shows we played on were actually reasonably receptive to what we were doing, and it did get our music out to a lot of people. We played on Mikey Havoc’s MTV show. That was awesome.
The second and third Hasselhoff Experiments records were recorded when we were signed to Flying Nun. They gave us money to record. So we decided to play the game. We went into Auckland studios and paid for engineers. But then it was like, “Realistically, how many records do you expect us to sell?” We knew we weren’t going to make the money back that they gave us. We’re still effectively paying back Flying Nun back ten years later. I get a statement every six months. It reads, “You have made three dollars. Your three dollars went to your $10,000 bill that went into recording your third album. You now owe us $9,370.” (laughs)
We didn’t really think it all the way through. We thought we’d take it where we could and maybe get some publishing deals worked out. That’s the way you make money now. Not through live shows or record sales, but through soundtracks and commercials. One of our songs got used in a commercial by a New Zealand clothing store. It was just a guitar riff from a song called “Shooting the Shit” off of our first album. It had a catchy, boogie riff. But we recorded that record live, and I kind of fucked it up. So here they are, using a riff that I fucked up on. And it’s on New Zealand national television. The caddy for Tiger Woods is a New Zealand guy. He was in the commercial, so it was kind of a higher profile commercial. I’d cringe when I’d see it; the guitar was so out of tune!
You do lose a bit of control when you sign to a major; we actually owe that money to Festival Records, not Flying Nun. You have to play the game and do interviews with people who might not get what you’re doing. Get your records reviewed by people who don’t really get what your point is. It felt like it clearly wasn’t the right landscape to be in. I really find the political side of the music industry distasteful. It might mean some opportunity for me, but I’m not interested anymore. My bullshit detector became a lot stronger through my experiences in the Hasselhoff Experiment. Even the artist grants you can get out here I’m suspicious of. I sleep better at night doing things independently. Even doing things for TV commercials, it’s kind of cool but it still doesn’t feel right.
Ryan: The Hasselhoff Experiment wound down in 2002.
Andrew: There was more to it than the bad experiences with Flying Nun and Festival. I started getting frustrated with playing the sort of white-boy rock we banged out. I really love that type of music; it had more to do with the audiences that became attracted to it. The Hasselhoff Experiment was loud. We played at fast tempos. We had a predominately male audience. In some of the smaller towns, shows would get rough. We played a show in Hamilton. We were on a detachable stage that had been pushed together. The stage had actually been pushed back about two feet by the end of the night, just off of the energy of the crowd. People just pogoing off of each other. The mixture was a mass of jocks and skinheads.
Ryan: Hamilton can get rough.
Andrew: It can. I could watch fights breaking out. In one regard, it’s hilarious. However, it’s also kind of scary. One guy had a singlet on and he pulled the classic Hulk Hogan move—just ripped it right off. I remember thinking, “What the fuck?” It was kind of depressing. We just became the soundtrack to violence. I love playing that kind of music, but once you take it to a certain level, things start getting weird. The audience is removed from you to an extent. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.
Ryan: You don’t have the direct means of communication you formerly had.
Andrew: Yeah. You could have a real bad gig; only five people show up. But those five people are there to watch you play. They stay for the whole things and they get it. That’s the point. I guess I prefer quality to punters to a quantity of punters. I’m sort of fearful of getting back to that critical mass situation again. Maybe I’ve just gotten older. I sort of sing more and scream less these days.
Ryan: With the Bloody Souls, your main project after the Hasselhoff Experiment, you took control of the means of production again, recording albums yourself at rehearsal spaces. It seemed like a reaction to the experiences you faced in Hasselhoff.
Andrew: Yeah. Things had gotten weird at the end of the Hasselhoff Experiment. I had broken up with my girlfriend of two years when I moved up to Auckland. I had to find a new place to live. I wasn’t happy with the third album (2002’s Out of the Sandpit and Onto the Drive). I had written only half of the songs for it; the other half I wrote in the studio. I pulled songs from old bands. It was a piecemeal effort. While I think some of those songs are quite good, at the time I didn’t like the whole process—especially the record label stuff going on. I also wasn’t a good version of myself, so I didn’t put my best foot forward. I didn’t feel like I was in control of my own band. Angela and Brendan had a clearer version of what they wanted to do with the band. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I was part of the conversation. Things got bad. There was bitterness on both sides. Angela and Brendan had gone off to the States. They wanted me to go along. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t see the point. My confidence was really down with the last record. So I left the band.
I still wanted to play music. So I kept on doing stuff. Playing music keeps me ticking, sane and confident. That’s why I started the Bloody Souls. Right away, we did a Datsuns tour. I don’t know if I was ready for it. I don’t know if we had gelled yet as a band. But it’s my baby. I’ve had four drummers and seven or eight bassists. With each lineup the chemistry changes. You adapt to it. That’s good. Sometimes it’s noisier, tighter or looser.
Ryan: It’s pretty amazing that you’ve kept such a high level of enthusiasm and commitment going for so long. You’ve got Perpetrator going, as well as four bands.
Andrew: If I wasn’t doing these things, I’d be lost. Before I got into music, I wasn’t really a confident person at all. I’m actually a more confident version of myself on stage. I really found myself through music. I also like finding out about new bands. I get a little annoyed when a band gets lip-serviced by everyone in town. I mean, there’s probably a band in Albuquerque, New Mexico who eats them up for breakfast; it’s just no one knows about them because they’re from Albuquerque. Same thing applies to New Zealand music. A lot of the best music doesn’t come from Auckland or Wellington. Quite often it comes from such “great” cultural centers as Timaru, Invercargill, Whanganui, Eketahuna, Masterton and Palmerston North. It comes from these small towns. A lot of people who come from the main cities, they get involved in the political context. They see how they can become a star. They can get delusional. But the small town provides people a vacuum to work in. They can develop their own sound. But New Zealand is a weird nation. There’s a shit load of good stuff that doesn’t get coverage. But a lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re a small country. There are only 4 million people here. There’s only so much you can sustain.