Born November 8, 1954, in Chicago, Ill.; married Pascal Nabet-Meyer (a musician); children: Charlotte Rose. Addresses: Residence-- Ojai, Calif. Record company-- Geffen Records, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90069-6197.
The story of Rickie Lee Jones is a classic rock 'n' roll fable, a story with a moral of its own that shows, in all of its extremes, the ups and downs of the rock life and the way that rock 'n' roll contains within itself the seeds of destruction and regeneration. In the years since her smash debut album, Rickie Lee Jones, which contained her trademark hit single "Chuck E.'s In Love," Jones has endured the downside of success, the kick in the head fame saves for you after its first magical kiss, and arrived at the second, more lasting and valuable stage of rock stardom--that of the survivor. "Same old story," writes Jay Cocks in Time. "A unique gift, a fresh voice, a knack for psychic immolation. When Rickie Lee Jones broke onto the scene with her surprising and successful 1979 debut album, she seemed to signal a fresh trail for rock. But uncertainty and self-destruction crowded close. An equivocal second album was followed by an enterprising third and diminishing commercial returns. Confusion enveloped, and Jones seemed to lunge toward the flash point. Then she pulled back, in a two-step away from the brink, consolidating and reconsidering her work. With personal turmoil put in perspective, Jones produced a new life and a new record.
That new record was 1989's Flying Cowboys, a work that signalled the return of Rickie Lee Jones to fame, but also, more importantly, to a more mature, even plateau from which she can commit to a long-term artistic stance. Cocks continues: "Even the casual listener who knows Jones mostly from her 1979 hit single, 'Chuck E.'s in Love,' will recognize the smoky snap of her voice in the opening moments of the fine first track, "The Horses." But just as quickly, the changes will be obvious. The jazz inflections and beat intonations are still intact, but all the mannerisms have been pared away. Jones isn't hiding behind artifice anymore. Her lyrics may be enigmatic, her music an eccentric mixture of rock, electrified hipster jazz and reggae, but she makes it all flow by the sheer force of her feeling."
The saga of Jones's early childhood would sound strangely familiar to many artists. Born in Chicago, Jones was uprooted and dragged to a new home as soon as she had gotten settled down in the last one. Her father was primarily a waiter, but, coming from a family of vaudevillians himself, the elder Jones was also an amateur musician who wrote and sang songs for his children. Jones's mother was a waitress. The couple had a stormy relationship and once broke up, only to reunite again. The family moved almost every year, Jones told Rolling Stone, mostly back and forth from Chicago to Phoenix. "All of us were so much trouble that my parents would say 'Well, let's try it someplace else.'"
In 1969, while living with her father, Jones went off with some friends to a rock concert in California. She never came back, instead living a hippie road life and finally settling down, sort of, in Los Angeles, where she fell in with friends Tom Waits and Chuck E. Weiss, a local musician who became the inspiration for Jones's first hit single. What happened next, according to Interview 's Dewey Nicks, was "Rickie Lee Jones made her public debut as a model. She was the silent after-hours siren slouched seductively on a chrome-laden auto on the dust jacket of Tom Waits's Blue Valentine. A few months later she stepped out of the shadows and up to the mike for her own vinyl solo, and she carved out a niche in Coolsville with her hit single, 'Chuck E.'s in Love.'"
It wasn't quite that easy, however. Jones struggled for a few years, singing in L.A. bars, living in a dilapidated section of town which was peopled with many of the characters she later incorporated into her songs. At the insistence of her manager, Nick Mathe, Jones cut a demo tape that soon attracted the attention of several record companies, including Warner Bros. Warners' executive Lenny Waronker, producer of Randy Newman, among others, had heard Jones performing at L.A.'s Troubador and signed Jones with the stipulation that he was to produce her first record. The result was an album, perplexing at first, which slowly grew upon the public. Jazzy, hip, decidedly uncontrived, the first LP was a fresh breath of air in the disco-saturated atmosphere of the late 1970s. "Jones's sound, gracefully old-time, never turns antique," wrote Time 's Jay Cocks in 1979. "She likes Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye and Laura Nyro, but she also talks of Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan with respect, performs a stops-out version of an old Louis Prima tune to close out her concerts. Her songs have their origins in, and owe a friendly debt to, the work of such all-night-joint bards as Tom Waits."
After a successful first LP honeymoon, which included a spot on television's Saturday Night Live, Jones continued to produce (three albums over the next five years), but with diminishing success. Part of the problem was Jones's sudden slide back down the spiral of success. "Her sudden success could have made her a kept songbird in a gilded sound booth, but royalties slipped through her fingers like quicksilver, and platinum success fueled her desire for the forbidden fruit of the Golden Triangle," wrote Dewey Nicks in Interview. "She became a regular at the Physician's Desk Reference Cafe. Excess took a toll, turning her chimerical songs into bulletins from the abyss."
Jones's salvation finally came with a long turn inward. She dropped out of the music scene for nearly five years in the mid-1980s. While traveling in Tahiti, she met French musician Pascal Nabet-Meyer. The two never parted, and in 1988 Jones had her first child, daughter Charlotte Rose. Having regained control of her personal life, Jones was ready to regain control of her musical life as well. The result was Flying Cowboys, produced by Walter Becker (formerly of Steely Dan) and Jones's most critically acclaimed LP since her debut. "The music on Flying Cowboys is spare but not starved," writes David Gates in Newsweek. "Guitars, tastefully deployed synthesizers (I don't like them either) for supplementary texture and color. Muscular, rocking rhythms. Jones's singing is as wild and free as ever--from childlike piping to sluttish slurring, sometimes in overdubbed girl-group harmonies. And her unscrutinized metaphors tell all we need to know." Writes Time 's Jay Cocks of Jones's return to the work she was born to do: "Now she's back, looking like her old self: the most gifted woman on the scene."
by David Collins
Rickie Lee Jones's Career
Began working as a waitress and club singer in Los Angeles, where she met musician Tom Waits, 1977; signed recording contract with Warner Bros., 1978; released debut album, Rickie Lee Jones , 1979 (hit single "Chuck E.'s in Love" went to number four on charts); recorded three additional albums in early 1980s; took five-year hiatus from recording industry, 1984-88; recorded critically acclaimed comeback LP Flying Cowboys, 1989.
- Selective Works
- Rickie Lee Jones Warner Bros., 1979.
- Pirates Warner Bros., 1981.
- Girl at Her Volcano Warner Bros., 1983.
- The Magazine Warner Bros., 1984.
- Flying Cowboys Geffen, 1989.
- Interview, November, 1989.
- Newsweek, October 16, 1989.
- Rolling Stone, May 31, 1979.
- Time, May 21, 1979; October 23, 1989.