The Gun Club "The Birth, The Death, The Ghost" (1983)

For the second Drop Date of Record Store Day 2021, scheduled for July 17th, an obscure live album from the Gun Club – the early punk rock band led by the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce – will be reissued in a limited run of 1,800 red-colored vinyl copies. The Birth, The Death, The Ghost was previously released in 1983 and 1989 in the U.K. only.

This album was recorded in 1980, before the recording of the Gun Club’s 1981 debut album Fire Of Love. The early lineup included guitarist Kid Congo Powers (aka Brian Tristan), who later played with the Cramps and with Nick Cave. Bass player Rob Ritter and drummer Terry Graham, who both played on Fire Of Love, had previously played with the notorious Los Angeles punk band The Bags (aka The Alice Bag Band). The 13 live tracks were recorded at four different L.A. club shows during that year. These early recordings were sourced from tapes recorded by Graham’s sister Lois, so the sound has a consistently muddy bootleg-like quality. Still, it’s fortunate that such a live document exists from this early period and early lineup of the band.

Among the 13 tracks are four songs from Fire Of Love and one (“Walking With The Beast”) which was later recorded for the 1984 album The Las Vegas Story. Pierce and company were playing “psychobilly” and “punk-blues” long before those terms were even coined. Pierce drew inspiration from blues, folk, and country genres before other punk rockers began to venture into that territory. It takes some time for the listener to acclimate to the album’s poor sound quality – and besides, an off-the-wall cover of Bo Diddley’s “Gunslinger” song is a decidedly odd set-opener, even for this band. But beneath the album's muddiness is a potent, rowdy set of deranged rockabilly tunes, showing that Pierce already knew what type of unique sound he was aiming for at this early stage. An intense cover of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” is loaded with wild guitar stylings, effectively setting the tone for the remaining numbers. The early performance of “Walking With The Beast” has a strong Iggy Pop vibe, while “Bad Mood” and “Going Down The Red River” furiously scurry through Rolling Stones territory. The Powers-penned “Not That Much” is also an exciting example of early punk rock energy, although it almost sounds like it belongs in a different punk band’s set. It would be great if the Record Store Day reissue of the album managed to clean up the sound a bit. But even if it doesn’t, The Birth, The Death, The Ghost is a welcome glimpse at the early days of the Gun Club, and one the band’s admirers will want to own.

6/16/2021 Update: In related news, there was a 7-inch single released on the other 2021 Record Store Day Drop Date on June 12th, titled Ruby Sessions. This single contained early versions of two songs recorded in 1981 for the Fire Of Love album but which eventually turned up in different form on Miami in 1982. The band's lineup then consisted of Pierce, Ritter, Graham, and guitarist Ward Dotson. These versions of "Fire Of Love" (the song) and "Bad Indian" were rawer than the two Chris Stein-produced versions on Miami, basically presented with less reverb and slightly faster tempos.

The Gun Club “The Birth, The Death, The Ghost” (ABC LP 1) 1983

Track Listing:

1. Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger
2. Railroad Bill
3. Seven Miles With The Devil
4. Preachin’ Blues
5. Goodbye Johnny
6. Black Train
7. Walking With The Beast
8. Bad Mood
9. Not That Much
10. Going Down The Red River
11. Willie Brown
12. Field Holler
13. Sex Beat

The Gun Club - Ruby Sessions

The Gun Club "Ruby Sessions" (single) (Minky MKY4500) 2021

Track Listing:

a. Fire Of Love
b. Bad Indian