Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones performing in 2007
Background information Birth name Rickie Lee Jones Born November 8, 1954 Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Origin Los Angeles and Hollywood, California, US Genres Rock, R&B, singer-songwriter, jazz Occupations Singer-songwriter Years active since 1978 Labels Warner Bros. (1979–1989; 1997–2000)
New West (2006-09)
Website Music sampleRickie Lee Jones, Chuck E.'s in Love (Warner Bros., 1979)
Rickie Lee Jones (born November 8, 1954) is an American vocalist, musician, songwriter, and producer. Over the course of a three-decade career, Jones has recorded in various musical styles including rock, R&B, blues, pop, soul, and jazz standards.
Rickie Lee Jones was born on the north side of Chicago to Bettye and Richard Jones. Her paternal grandfather, Frank Jones, the son a West Virginia dry goods store owner, lost a leg as a young boy, playing by the railroad tracks. This handicap would become an asset on stage, when Frank 'Peg Leg Jones' became a Vaudevillian of some notoriety, A singer/dancer/comedian, Peg Leg Jones routine consisted of playing the ukelele, singing songs like 'Bye Bye Blackbird' and 'The Sunny Side of the Street', danced the soft shoe, and telling stories in a Civil War costume. His wife, Myrtle Lee, a chorus girl, had been adopted into a Virginia family, and while her ethnic origin is unknown, Frank was Welsh and Irish. The family traveled the Vaudeville circuit with their four children, making Chicago their home when not on the road. Richard Loris, the third child, returned to Chicago after four years in the army in WW II. There he met Rickie Lee's mother, Bettye Glen. Rickie was the third child, named after her father and grandmother, spending her early childhood in Chicago. Her elder brother and sister spent formative years in catholic boarding schools, before their father moved the family to Phoenix in 1960.
Rickie grew up in the wide open spaces of Arizona, a powerful imagery that would haunt much of her writing throughout her life. Her early childhood was spent in the company of imaginary friends. Her elder sister was married at the age of 15, while her elder brother was severely hurt in a motorcycle accident at the age of 16. The young Rickie Lee struggled socially, the itinerant outside, the family moving and changing schools every year or two. Luckily she was a gifted student, though teachers reported that she 'daydreamed' all day. It was hard enough being new, but having a name like 'Rickie' put her on the defensive in each new school. Like a boy named Sue, perhaps, Rickie got tough or died and her sense of self was indisputable. This uniqueness of character would eventually find a home on stage. By 1966, her father had become a violent alcoholic. Bettye, on the other hand, had an intrinsic strength that carried the family no matter what befell them, perhaps due largely to her own childhood spent in orphanages with her three brothers. She vowed her children would never know poverty and would have a chance to do everything she could not. Richard, it seemed, provided the dreams and Betty provided the food. She often worked two shifts at her waitress jobs and made sure her children wanted for nothing. By the age of twelve, Rickie Lee had studied ballet and tap, acting, modeling, and was an AAU swimmer. When she ran away from home in 1969, she enrolled in Little Theater in Phoenix.
Jones started playing publicly at the age of 21, with Easy Money — a 9-piece country rock band based in Los Angeles as well as seen often jamming at the legendary Taurus Tavern in Santa Monica with Blues/Soul legend Sam Taylor & his band, A Band Called Sam. She had a brief job with a Top 40 band, and a gig at Art Leboe's on Sunset Strip with Little Caesar and the Romans.
At the age of 22 she met Alfred Johnson, an aspiring black singer/songwriter who shared a love of the music of Laura Nyro and lyrics of Little Feat. He heard Rickie sing and insisted she come over to his apartment, which was littered with headless dolls and thousands of dollars in recording equipment. The two hit it off right away. They wrote a song the day after they met, and soon began working clubs together as a duet. The early songs saw Jones fleshing out a style of her own, moving out of the black sound and into her own "'father's daughter' sound, less vibrato and more of my tone, the way he sang, it just seemed to come naturally to me, when I sang jazz."
Nick Mathe, ex-school teacher and a neighbor, took an interest in her music, helped her get publicity photos, and booked her at some local showcase clubs. She was signed within six months of this first show. It was clear she was unique and unaffected, unpressured to join the "New Wave" or belong to the Hotel California-Linda Ronstadt sound that permeated the radio at the time. Jones' voice was distinctively different, and she did not seem to be afraid of that; people loved her or hated her right away. She was instantly identifiable. When she met Lowell George in 1977, she was already singing jazz standards ("Makin' Whoopee", "Lush Life", "My Funny Valentine", "Something Cool") in local Venice jazz dives. These songs would find their way to her performances in the pop success of her first hit, and her persona would be established as a risk taker—mixing the jazz singer and singer/songwriter genres in a time when it had not been done.
In 1977 she was noticed by rock journalist/attorney Stann Findelle who wrote about her in Performance Magazine and also helped her with some of her publishing. It was in 1978 that her faithful jack-of-all-trades on Westminster Avenue in Venice, offered to manage her, and in a few months had Bonnie Shiftman photographing her, Owen Sloan as her attorney, and major labels coming to see her three showcase performances, culminating in her being signed by Warner Bros. Records after a bidding war between three labels. The showcases were 30 minutes long, including "Easy Money", "The Moon Is Made of Gold", "Chuck E.'s In Love", "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as well as a few racy cover tunes. Warner Bros. knew Jones was "the real thing" and obtained a spot for her on Saturday Night Live the week of her release. They had also filmed what came to be an early music video — a twelve-minute, three-song movie, in which Jones was depicted as kind of girl next door street character. With Time magazine dubbing her "the Duchess of Coolsville" in its review of her first show, Jones' image was solidified. Saturday Night Live portrayed her amidst garbage cans. Five months later she sold out two shows at Carnegie Hall.
Jones met Tom Waits at The Troubadour, where they hung out on the sidewalk and sang. During the mid-1970s, Jones also met her long-time collaborator Sal Bernardi, who inspired her "Weasel and the White Boys", and later, "Tigers", (with the Blue Nile) "Flying Cowboys," and "Stewart's Coat". Her definitive harp playing became associated with her early work. She wrote horn charts, including the harmonica. Her arrangements à la Miles Davis of Sal's harmonica created the haunting "Traces of the Western Slopes," and in 2003, had Sal playing two harmonicas simultaneously on "Tree on Allenford." In 1978 Dr. John, another future collaborator, appeared in her life. He was sent by legendary jazz producer Tommy Li Puma to check out Miss Jones for his label. Li Puma would eventually produce Dr. John and Rickie singing "Makin' Whoopee", which won them both Grammy Awards for best jazz duet.
During this period, songwriter Tom Waits was Rickie's romantic interest. The two met at the Troubadour during a three-song guest spot she had at a friend's (Ivan Ulz). Tom and Rickie were inseparable after her record came out. Waits, who had released three records by the time Rickie Lee Jones debuted, was with her as she toured Europe and America in the summer of 1979.
She went back to LA and he followed. Sometime in November 1979, Francis Ford Coppola asked Rickie Lee to collaborate with Waits on his upcoming film, One from the Heart, but she balked, citing the recent breakup. Francis responded that it would be perfect for the film, since the two characters are separated, and he asked her to reconsider. She refused. Waits called in November, but Jones did not return his call. A month later, Waits met his wife, a secretary at Zoetrope. They never spoke to each other again.
Early success: 1978–82
By 1977, Jones was performing original material at the Ala Carte club in Hollywood with Alfred Johnson, with whom she had composed "Weasel and the White Boys Cool" and "Company". She was noticed there by rock journalist/attorney Stann Findelle, who wrote about her in Performance Magazine and advised her in her career for a short time. Jones' success on the club scene soon translated into songwriting kudos, when her friend Ivan Ulz introduced Lowell George of Little Feat to Jones' composition "Easy Money" by singing it to him over the telephone. George included the song on his album Thanks, I'll Eat it Here in 1978. It became the only single for George's first solo attempt, and final record before his death. The announcement of George's death was recorded on the same Rolling Stone cover featuring Rickie Lee Jones crouching in a black bra and white beret - an issue that would become the largest selling issue in the magazine's history up to that time. Her appearance - as an unknown (her debut record had been released less than a month before) - on Saturday Night Live television show on April 7, 1979 sparked an overnight sensation. She performed "Chuck E's in Love" and "Coolsville".
A four-song demo of material was circulated around the L.A. music scene in 1978, with Emmylou Harris later recalling that she had heard an early version of "The Last Chance Texaco" on the demo tape. The recordings came to the attention of Lenny Waronker, producer and executive at Warner Bros. Records. Jones was signed to the label, and work commenced on her debut album, co-produced by Waronker and Russ Titelman. Jones was courted by the major labels, and chose Waronker because of his work with Randy Newman, and because, she said, she had a vision of standing in his office the moment she saw his name on the back of Newman's Sail Away album.
Rickie Lee Jones was released in March 1979 and became a hit, buoyed by the success of the jazz-flavored single "Chuck E.'s In Love" (#4 Billboard Hot 100, 1979) and its accompanying video. The album, which included guest appearances by Dr. John, Randy Newman, and Michael McDonald, went to US #3 on the Billboard 200 and produced another US Top 40 hit with "Young Blood" (#40) in late 1979.
Following a successful world tour, the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, Jones secured five nominations at the Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female, Song of the Year ("Chuck E.'s in Love"), and Best New Artist, which she won at the January 1980 ceremony. She was also voted Best Jazz Singer by Playboy magazine's critic and reader polls. Jones was covered by Time magazine on her very first professional show, in Boston, and they dubbed her "The Duchess of Coolsville."
After moving to New York City, Jones spent the majority of 1981 working on a follow-up album, written and recorded partly in reaction to the break-up of her relationship with Tom Waits sometime between late 1979 and early 1980. The songs were written between September 1979 and June 1981 - when the last lyrics to "Traces of the Western Slope" and the last bass on "A Lucky Guy" were put down. The recording sessions finally yielded Pirates in July 1981.
Rolling Stone remained fervent supporters of Jones, with a second cover feature in 1981; the magazine also included a glowing five-star assessment of Pirates, which became a commercially successful follow-up by reaching US #5 on the Billboard 200. A single, "A Lucky Guy", became the only Billboard Hot 100 hit from the album, peaking at #64, but "Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)" and "Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking" became minor Top 40 hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. More importantly, historically, is the fact that in America "Woody and Dutch..." became a kind of commercial mainstay. The finger snaps and jive talk beat were imitated in advertisements for McDonald's, Dr. Pepper, and others. Jones' quirky fashion as well became quickly edified as well, her skin-tight lycra pant suit, elbow length fingerless gloves, the famous red beret and the red high heels showed up in some capacity everywhere. Pat Benetar can be seen in Rickie Lee suits. Jones career suffered from a lack of guidance after her mentor Bob Regher died in 1986, and her signature vocal sound was imitated by so many, few people born after 1990 seem to know who she is. Aside from being the first video star (her 11 minute WB short film was so successful in promoting her image that a year later MTV came into being), her influence on pop and jazz was prominent in the early years of her career.
Voted best jazz singer two year in a row by audiences and critics (Playboy and Rolling Stone polls, 1980, 1981), her insistence on covering jazz in a career that clearly was a pop career might have damaged her marketability, but it certainly opened the door for a wider scope of music from pop singers in general. Obscure jazz standards began to show up on the sudden rush of established pop singers to cover jazz standards (the obscure Billy Barnes ballad "Something Cool," for instance, had a rise in popularity after Jones introduced it in concert to rock audiences on her debut tour). Jones' impact on pop music may be rarely measured by the rock media, she was associated with no movement (punk, new wave, country rock) to bring her milage when her own work was ebbing, but there is no doubt that her appearance turned the tide of pop music from disco to singer songwriter.
Another lengthy and successful tour into 1982 followed, before Jones moved back to California, settling in San Francisco. A partial tour memento, the EP Girl at Her Volcano, was issued originally as a 10" record in 1983, featuring a mix of live and studio cover versions of jazz and pop standards, as well as one Jones original, "Hey, Bub," which was recorded for Pirates. Jones then relocated to Paris.
Period of transition: 1983–89
The remainder of the 1980s found Jones falling out of favor commercially and pursuing a more complex and experimental sound.
Jones settled in France and recorded new material, some of which was released on her third full-length solo album, The Magazine, in September 1984. The Magazine found Jones combining the melodic, jazz-inspired sound of her debut with the complex structures of Pirates, with a more synth-driven sound, owed to working closely with composer James Newton Howard on the album. Alongside the more commercially appealing material, Jones included a three-song suite, subtitled "Rorschachs", exploring multi-tracked vocals and synth patterns. Only the upbeat "The Real End" made it into the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984, peaking at #82.
She began to pursue jazz standards, recording "The Moon Is Made of Gold", which was written by her father, and "Autumn Leaves" for Rob Wasserman's album Duets in 1985. Jones took a four-year break from her recording schedule, largely attributed to the deaths of her mentor Bob Regher and her father, Richard Loris Jones that same year.
Jones returned to the United States in 1987 after a tour of Israel and Norway, and the imminent birth of her daughter brought her home to California. In September 1988, work began on her fourth solo album following another Grammy nomination for her Wasserman collaboration "Autumn Leaves". With songs dating from the mid-1980s, Jones teamed up with Steely Dan's Walter Becker to craft Flying Cowboys, which was released on the Geffen Records label in September 1989. Jones also included some writing collaborations with her husband Pascal Nabet Meyer. "The Horses", co-written with Becker, was featured in the movie Jerry Maguire and became an Australian #1 hit single for Daryl Braithwaite in 1991. The album made the US Top 40, reaching #39 on the Billboard 200, with the college radio hit "Satellites" making it to #23 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Jones ended the decade on a high note with her duet with Dr. John, a cover of "Makin' Whoopee", winning her second Grammy Award, this time in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Collaboration.
Experimentation and change: 1990–2001
Following a tour with Lyle Lovett, Jones enlisted David Was to helm her idiosyncratic album of covers, Pop Pop, ranging from jazz and blues standards to Tin Pan Alley to Jimi Hendrix's "Up from the Skies". The album, released in September 1991, was a hit on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums (#8, 1991), but became her least commercially successful record yet, reaching #121 on the Billboard 200.
Soon after, The Orb issued "Little Fluffy Clouds", featuring a sampled Jones interview. However, Jones objected to the unauthorized use of her voice and pursued the issue in the legal system. In 1992 she toured extensively with Rob Wasserman, with whom she had collaborated in the mid-1980s.
Her swan song for Geffen Records was Traffic From Paradise, released in September 1993. The album was slightly more successful than its predecessor, reaching #111 on the Billboard 200, and was notable for its collaboration with Leo Kottke, its musical diversity, and a cover of David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel", which was slated to be the title track for the Oscar-winning film Boys Don't Cry, when Bowie's publishing pulled the plug by asking for too much money from the little independent movie.
A number of television and movies had licensed her work in these years, including Thirtysomething, Frankie and Johnny, When a Man Loves a Woman, Jerry Maguire, Friends with Money and the French film Subway. Jones sang a duet with Lyle Lovett on "North Dakota" for his Joshua Judges Ruth CD.
Jones' first solo shows in 1994 paved the way for her "unplugged" acoustic album Naked Songs, released in September 1995 through a one-off deal with Reprise Records. The album, which reached US #121 on the Billboard 200, featured acoustic re-workings of Jones classics and album material, but no new songs.
Emphasizing her experimentation and change, Jones embraced electronic music for Ghostyhead, released on Warner Bros. Records in June 1997. The album, a collaboration with Rick Boston (both are credited with production and with twenty-one instruments in common), found Jones employing beats, loops, and electronic rhythms, and also showcased Jones' connection with the trip-hop movement of the mid-to-late 1990s. Despite some positive reviews, it did not meet with commercial success, peaking at US #159 on the Billboard 200. There are critics who consider this her best record, and who believe that it had large impact on electronic singer-songwriter music that would emerge 10 years later.
1990 - 1996 seemed to be Jones' lowest professional ebb. Everything she recorded was met with extreme skepticism and even harsh criticism. Her live shows, on the other hand, were lauded as a return to form. She had not really been on a stage in America (at least the eastern half) in eight years when she toured for Flying Cowboys.
Jones' second album of cover versions, It's Like This, was released on the independent record label Artemis Records in September 2000. The album included cover versions of material by artists including The Beatles, Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, and the Gershwin brothers. The album made it onto three Billboard charts — #148 on the Billboard 200, #10 on Top Internet Albums, and #42 on Top Independent Albums. The album also secured Jones another Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
After starting up her official website, Artemis issued an archival Jones release, Live at Red Rocks, in November 2001, featuring material recorded during the Flying Cowboys era tour of 1989-1990, including a Lyle Lovett duet.
Artistic renaissance: 2002 and beyond
After Ghostyhead, Jones largely retired from public view and admitted that she had battled writers' block. She spent much of her time at her home in Olympia, Washington, tending her garden and bringing up her now-teenage daughter Charlotte.
Released on the independent V2 in October 2003, The Evening Of My Best Day featured influences from jazz, Celtic folk, blues, R&B, rock, and gospel, and spawned a successful and lengthy spurt of touring. The album peaked at US #189 on the Billboard 200. The CD helped to swing her career away from an apparent middle-of the-road perception, a posture she seemed furiously bent on avoiding. She invited punk bass icon Mike Watt (the Minutemen, Iggy Pop) to perform on "It Takes You There", while "Ugly Man" was a direct aim at the George Bush 'regime' evoking, with an anthem-like Hugh Masekela arrangement, what she termed 'the Black Panther horns', and calling for 'revolution, everywhere that you're not looking, revolution.'
Renewed interest in Jones led to the three-disc anthology Duchess of Coolsville: An Anthology, released through reissue specialists Rhino in June 2005. A lavish package, the alphabetically arranged release featured album songs, live material, covers, and demos, and featured essays by Jones as well as various collaborators, as well as tributes from artists including Randy Newman, Walter Becker, Quincy Jones, and Tori Amos.
Also in 2005, Jones was invited to take part in her boyfriend and collaborator Lee Cantelon's music version of his book The Words, a book of the words of Christ, set into simple chapters and themes. Cantelon's idea was to have various artists recite the text over primal rock music, but Jones elected to try something that had never been done, to improvise her own impression of the texts, melody and lyric, in stream of consciousness sessions, rather than read Jesus' words. The sessions were recorded at an artist's loft on Exposition Boulevard in Culver City. When Cantelon could no longer finish the project, Jones picked it up as her own record and hired Rob Schnaf to finish the production at Sunset Sound in 2007, and the result was The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, released on the independent New West Records in February 2007. It included "Circle in the Sand," recorded for the soundtrack to the film Friends With Money (2006), for which Jones also cut "Hillbilly Song." The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard debuted at #158 on the Billboard 200 and #12 on the Top Independent Albums tally. Writer Ann Powers included this on her list of Grammy-worthy CDs for 2007.
For her next project, Jones opted to finish half-written songs dating back as far as 1986 ("Wild Girl") as well as include new ones (the 2008-penned "The Gospel of Carlos, Norman and Smith," "Bonfires"). Working closely with long-time collaborator David Kalish, with whom Jones first worked on 1981's Pirates, Jones released Balm in Gilead on the Fantasy label in November 2009. The album also included a new recording of "The Moon Is Made Of Gold," a song written by her father Richard Loris Jones in 1954. Ben Harper, Victoria Williams, Jon Brion, Alison Krauss and the late Vic Chesnutt all made contributions to the album.
In May 2010 Jones performed at the Sydney Opera House as part of the VIVID festival.
In 2001, Jones was the organizer of the web community "Furniture for the People", which is involved in gardening, social activism, bootleg exchange and left wing politics. She has produced records (including Leo Kottke's Peculiaroso), and provided a voiceover for Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, in which she played the Blue Fairy (Known as the Good Fairy or Fairy Godmother in the film). Jones also enjoys gardening.
- Rickie Lee Jones - (1979) US #3, UK #18
- Pirates - (1981) US #5, UK #37
- Girl at Her Volcano (EP) - (1983) US #39, UK #51
- The Magazine - (1984) US #44, UK #40
- Flying Cowboys - (1989) US #39, UK #50
- Pop Pop - (1991) US #121
- Traffic from Paradise - (1993) US #111
- Naked Songs - Live And Acoustic - (1995) US #121
- Ghostyhead - (1997) US #159
- It's Like This - (2000) US #148, UK #185
- Live at Red Rocks - (2001)
- The Evening of My Best Day - (2003) US #189
- Rickie Lee Jones: Duchess of Coolsville - (2005)
- The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard - February 2007 US #158
- Balm in Gilead - November 2009
Year Title Chart positions Album US Hot 100 US Modern Rock US Mainstream Rock UK Singles Chart 1979 "Chuck E.'s In Love" 4 - - 18 Rickie Lee Jones "Young Blood" 40 - - - 1981 "A Lucky Guy" 64 - - - Pirates "Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)" - - 40 - "Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking" - - 31 - 1984 "The Real End" 82 - - - The Magazine 1989 "Satellites" - 23 - - Flying Cowboys 2009 "Old Enough" - - - - Balm in Gilead
- WFUV: City Folk Live VII (2004) - "Mink Coat at the Bus Stop"
- Little Fluffy Clouds (1990–93) - Spoken word sampled by British ambient-house group, The Orb, charting three times on the UK Singles Chart: number 87(1990), number 95(1991), and number 10(1993).
- ^ http://www.au.timeout.com/sydney/music/events/17276/rickie-lee-jones
- ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 289. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Official Website
- Rickie Lee Jones @ The Tivoli, Brisbane 31st May 2010 (Live Review) - LifeMusicMedia.com
Grammy Award for Best New Artist 1950s
Bobby Darin (1959)
1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
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