“This is the Las Vegas Story, the story of a couple of great…”
Part 5 in the 5-part mini-series ‘Classic releases in the month of June 1984‘.
Today I want to focus on the best album by The Gun Club, The Las Vegas Story, which was released in June 1984.
The Gun Club
Jeffrey Lee Pierce was a teenager in Los Angeles and chairman of the Blondie fan club. His fandom was huge, in fact he even dyed his hair blond as a tribute to Blondie’s Debby Harry. He wanted to make music himself, so he formed the band The Creeping Ritual in 1979, with, amongst others, guitar player Brian Tristan (later known as Kid Congo Powers). A year later the band name was changed to The Gun Club. After some line-up changes the band was ready to record their first album. However, first Kid Congo Powers left and joined The Cramps and made heads turn with his powerful playing.
The Gun Club’s debut album, Fire Of Love, was released in August 1981, received good reviews and sold moderately well. Unfortunately, it was clear from the start that Pierce really loved liquor and various other stimulants. Throughout the entire band’s career, their shows were either make or break, depending on how Pierce reacted to all the substances running through his veins.
But, due to the exciting mix of punk, blues, rockabilly and country the band caught the eye of Blondie guitar player Chris Stein, who signed the band to his label Animal Records in April 1982. That very same year the band recorded second album Miami, with Debbie Harry providing background vocals. The album was released in September 1982, but was heavily criticized for its very ill production.
In April 1983 the EP Death Party was released. The many hours on the road, the endless supply of drugs and booze, had wrecked Pierce. Things were so bad that Debbie Harry personally intervened and took him to rehab and made sure he stayed there as well. After leaving, Pierce, only 26 years old at the time, did look a whole lot better, healthy even. The band’s line-up was changed once again and eventually settled on Pierce, the return of Kid Congo Powers, drummer Terry Graham and bass player Patricia Morrison. The band felt reborn and went to work on the new album fresh and energized.
The Las Vegas Story
The third album by The Gun Club, The Las Vegas Story, was released in June 1984. A lot of different dates are mentioned, of which June 15th and 25th seem the most legit, but I haven’t found any confirmation on both. The month of June is definitely correct.
The band’s sound had become more melodic and had moved away a little from its punk roots, resulting in a kind of alternative rock. The album was dedicated to Debbie Harry “for her love, help and encouragement”.
After the intro in The Las Vegas Story the album starts off with the fantastic drum beat to Walking With the Beast. Feedback and divine singing immediately sets the tone and level for the rest of the album. And, the band keeps it up. The great Eternally Is Here is followed by A Stranger In Our Town, the unsettling story about a (necrophiliac?) serial killer: “There’s a stranger in our town / pulls out a punks spinal cord / piss and blood on the sidewalk of hearts”.
The best The Gun Club ever recorded, My Dreams, closes the first side of the vinyl album. The beautiful music almost detonates with the paranoid lyrics, “You can’t take my dreams / You can’t take my dreams / You can’t take and steal from this body…”. The anger, sorrow and fear come together in the last sentence that keeps on being repeated until the end of the song: “They were supposed to be MY DREAMS”. Beautiful!
Time for the B-side then. Two covers that smoothly transition from one into the other. The short instrumental The Master Plan turns into My Man Is Gone Now, originally a part of the George Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess. The Gun Club turns it into a heart wrenching blues: impressive! Bad America is bout what the title suggests. America is bad and is to blame for all that is wrong with the world and Pierce’s life. Moonlight Motel is sung from the viewpoint of a prostitute: “Low rates and color T.V. / Money on the bed, left there for me and / One of these days I’ll kill you while you sleep…”. Even more seamy side on the album’s closing Give Up The Sun: “Oh, don’t you leave me here / There’s ghosts and rooms of pain / There’s a storm out on the sea tonight / And bodies filled with pain / Palm wind across the sea tonight / Black with whirling pain / Alone against the docks tonight / Nobody knows my name”.
In short, an album filled with anger, sorrow, loneliness, desperation, pain and hopelessness. Happy? No. Beautiful? Yes, and then some!
All songs written by Jeffrey Lee Pierce, unless stated otherwise.
- The Las Vegas Story
- Walkin’ With The Beast
- Eternally Is Here
- The Stranger In Our Town
- My Dreams
- The Master Plan (Leon Thomas, Pharoah Sanders)
- My Man’s Gone Now (DuBose Heyward, George Gershwin)
- Bad America
- Moonlight Motel
- Give Up The Sun
- Jeffrey Lee Pierce – vocals, guitar, percussion and piano on The Master Plan
- Kid Congo Powers – guitar, maracas
- Patricia Morrison – bass, background vocals, maracas
- Terry Graham – drums
- Help provided by:
- Mustang Dave Alvin – guitar on Eternally Is Here and The Stranger In Our Town
- The Synanon Reeds (Lois Graham and Phast Phreddie Patterson) – percussion on The Master Plan
After The Las Vegas Story
Following a tour through the US and Europe, which saw drummer Graham leave yet again, The Gun Club fell apart in January 1985. Pierce started a solo career and formed The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Quartet and released the album Wildweed in 1985.
In 1986 Pierce decided to re-form The Gun Club. Kid Congo Powers was on board. A couple of albums followed: Mother Juno (1987), Pastoral Hide and Seek (1990), Divinity (1991) and Lucky Jim (1993). During that time, band members came and went continuously and Pierce slipped into his substance abuse ever more, making his health deteriorate at an alarming pace. He suffered from liver cirrhosis, hepatitis and was Hiv-positive.
1995 saw yet another incarnation of the band, which played a show in December of that year. It would be their last. On March 25th, 1996, Pierce was found unconscious at his father’s house. He went into a coma and subsequently died of a brain hemorrhage on March 31st, 1996. Pierce was just 37 years old.
What’s your opinion on The Las Vegas Story? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Gun Club’s superb The Las Vegas Story. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
The Gun Club – 1984 image: cvltnation.com
The Gun Club – Fire Of Love, Miami, Death Party image: discogs.com/apoplife.nl
The Gun Club – The Las Vegas Story image: thequietus.com
The Gun Club – The Las Vegas Story – back cover image: discogs.com
Jeffrey Lee Pierce image: stereogum.com