Born on November 8, 1954, in Chicago, IL; married Pascal Nabet-Meyer (divorced); children: Charlotte Rose. Addresses: Record company--Warner Brothers, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 9150. Website--Rickie Lee Jones Official Website: http://www.rickieleejones.com.
The story of Rickie Lee Jones is a classic rock 'n' roll fable, a story that describes the ups and downs of the rock life and how it can contain the seeds of both failure 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 experienced the downside of success, and has arrived at a second, more lasting and valuable stage of rock stardom---that of the survivor. "Same old story," wrote Jay Cocks in Time. "A unique gift, a fresh voice, a knack for psychic immolation."
When Jones broke onto the scene with her surprising and successful 1979 debut album, she seemed to signal a fresh direction for rock. But uncertainty and self-destruction crowded close. An equivocal second album was followed by an enterprising third accompanied by diminishing commercial returns. Jones seemed to lunge toward the flash point, but was eventually able to pull back, consolidating and reconsidering her work. With her personal turmoil put in perspective, Jones was able to produce a new life and a new record.
That new record was 1989's Flying Cowboys, a work that signaled Jones's return to fame and, more important, to a more stable plateau from which to develop a new artistic stance. Cocks wrote, "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."
Moved Around as a Child
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 in the last one. Jones's mother was a waitress and her father was a waiter. He came from a family of vaudevillians, and was also an amateur musician who wrote and sang songs for his children. 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 returned home, instead beginning a hippie road life and finally settling down in Los Angeles, where she fell in with friends Tom Waits and with Chuck E. Weiss, a local musician who became the inspiration for Jones's first hit single. According to Interview 's Dewey Nicks, "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 that 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 Brothers. Warner's executive Lenny Waronker, producer of Randy Newman among others, heard Jones performing at L.A.'s Troubador and signed her, with the stipulation that he would produce her first record. The result was an album that slowly grew upon the public. Jazzy, hip, and uncontrived, Rickie Lee Jones provided a breath of fresh air in the disco-saturated atmosphere of the late 1970s. "Jones's sound, gracefully old-time, never turns antique," wrote Cocks in 1979. "She likes Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye and Laura Nyro, but she also talks of Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan with respect. ... 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 produced three albums over the next five years, but with diminishing success. Nicks wrote that "she became a regular at the Physician's Desk Reference Cafe. Excess took a toll, turning her chimerical songs into bulletins from the abyss."
Personal and Professional Rebirth
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, and in 1988 Jones had her first child, daughter Charlotte Rose. Having regained some control over 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," wrote David Gates in Newsweek. He added, "Jones's singing is as wild and free as ever---from childlike piping to sluttish slurring, sometimes in overdubbed girl-group harmonies." Of her return, Cocks wrote, "Now she's back, looking like her old self: the most gifted woman on the scene."
In 1990, Jones continued her comeback when she won a Grammy for her remake of "Making Whoopee" with Dr. John. The following year she released Pop Pop, an eclectic album on which she covered songs as divergent as Jimi Hendrix's "Up From the Skies" to "I Won't Grow Up" from Peter Pan. Each of the songs was embellished by quietly orchestrated arrangements, featuring well-know jazz performers Charlie Haden, Joe Henderson, and Robben Ford.
In 1993 Jones delved into much more personal territory, writing and co-writing songs about her own life on Traffic From Paradise. The subject for the title cut came from a short story she had written about receiving an abortion in Washington State when she was 18, while "The Albatross" investigated the legacy that dysfunctional parents leave to their children. The heavy emotions of the album were further complicated by the fact that Jones was in the midst of a two-year divorce with Pascal Nabet-Meyer, whom she had married in 1985. "The self-produced Traffic From Paradise," wrote Timothy White in Billboard, "is ... a near-perfect record about human imperfection."
In 1997 Jones released Naked Songs, a concert album featuring her vocals against a simple backdrop of guitar and piano. Ghostyhead, on the other hand, dived head first into trip hop and other contemporary styles, successfully marrying her approach to that of a younger generation of musicians. Neither of these efforts, however, prepared fans for 2000's Like It Is. While the album, like Pop Pop, included only covers, it also found Jones re-defining herself as an artist by leaving her own stamp on well-known songs like the Beatles' "For No One" and Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids." "Recorded with a sense of informal joy and spontaneity, the record centers around Jones's remarkable voice--alternatively fragile and sassy, playful and heartbroken, jazzy and blue, wizened and childlike," wrote George H. Lewis in Popular Music and Society, "as she explores the subtleties and nuances of these seemingly unrelated songs." Jones followed with Live at Red Rocks in 2001 and The Evening of My Best Day in 2003.
With 13 albums and 26 years in the music business, Jones has molded her artistic presence by taking chances. She has likewise proven apt at transforming personal demons into songs with soaring melodies and searing lyrics, offering a musical vision that digs much deeper than the typical pop song. Jones, like Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell, is a living testament to the transforming powers of music. "From the beginning of her career, when she won a Grammy as the best new artist of 1979," Lewis wrote, "this unique and adventurous free spirit has, quite definitely, done it her way."
by David Collins and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr
Rickie Lee Jones's Career
Began working as a waitress and club singer in Los Angeles, 1977; signed recording contract with Warner Bros., 1978; released debut album, Rickie Lee Jones, 1979; recorded three additional albums in early 1980s; took five-year hiatus from recording industry, 1984-88; recorded critically acclaimed comeback LP Flying Cowboys, 1989; released Pop Pop, 1991, and Traffic From Paradise, 1993; charted on Billboard with Naked Songs, 1995, Ghostyhead, 1997, and It's Like This, 2000; released The Evening of My Best Day, 2003, and the career retrospective Duchess of Coolsville, 2005.
Rickie Lee Jones's Awards
Grammy Award, Best New Artist, 1979; Grammy Award, Best Jazz Vocal Performance for Duo or Group, for "Makin' Whoopee!," 1990.
- Selected discography
- 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.
- Pop Pop Geffen, 1991.
- Traffic From Paradise Geffen, 1993.
- Naked Songs Reprise, 1995.
- Ghostyhead Warner Bros., 1997.
- It's Like This Artemis, 2000.
- Live at Red Rocks Artemis, 2001.
- The Evening of My Best Day V2, 2003.
- Duchess of Coolsville: An Anthology Rhino, 2005.
- Billboard, August 21, 1993.
- Interview, November 1989.
- Newsweek, October 16, 1989.
- Popular Music and Society, December 2003.
- Rolling Stone, May 31, 1979.
- Time, May 21, 1979; October 23, 1989.
- "Rickie Lee Jones," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (June 10, 2005).