Rickie Lee Jones is an American singer-songwriter, musician and producer who covered many genres such as R&B, pop, soul and jazz. Once a mainstream star, she has become a cult favorite as years pass. She is best known for the now-oldies classic song “Chuck E.’s In Love.” Born in Chicago but raised in Arizona, her first success began as a songwriter, penning “Easy Money” together with friend Ivan Ulz for artist Lowell George. Her other success as a recording artist came with “Chuck E.’s In Love” in the late 70s music era, and her eponymous debut album gave her commercial triumph and critical praises. Her follow up album Pirates, was also successful as well. She was once touted as the successor of Joni Mitchell at the height of her career. She continues to perform and release records, and her latest, Balm in Gilead, was issued in 2009
Early life and career
Rickie Lee Jones is an American pop and classic rock singer-songwriter born in Chicago, Illinois on November 8, 1954. Her family was lined in show business and the arts. Jones’ paternal grandparents were both vaudeville stars in Chicago. Her father, on the other hand, was a World War II veteran who was also a singer-songwriter, trumpetist and painter.
Throughout her formative years Jones experienced moving from state to state. When she was very young, her family moved to Arizona, and then to Washington when she was ten. It was also the time when her father left the family. When she was 18, she moved to California, where the foundations of her musical career eventually started. She worked as a waitress in Los Angeles while occasionally performing at several local clubs, honing her musical talents in the process. She also met fellow unconventional spirit Tom Waits with whom she eventually had a relationship.
Jones’ first success as a songwriter came when her friend Ivan Ulz sang one her compositions “Easy Money” over the phone to ex-Little Feat member Lowell George. George, in turn, included the song on his own album Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here; the song was also released as one of George’s final singles before his death in 1979.
Jones’ first flush of success as singer-songwriter
Jones’ four-song demo got an approval from Warner Bros. label, which eventually worked for her eponymous debut album.
Rickie Lee Jones was released on Warner in February 1979. Her self-penned song “Chuck E.’s in Love” became the album’s lead single. It eventually peaked at #4 on the Billboard pop chart, and the single’s success helped the album to chart as high as #3 on the Billboard 200. Jones’ flexible vocals, and her gender-bending tendencies were the ones that helped her first single and album to score a huge success. Her name was eventually linked to Joni Mitchell, to whom Jones was touted as her successor.
Her second album Pirates was released in 1981. Although the album’s singles “Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking,” “A Lucky Guy” and the title track never charted on the Hot 100, Pirates nevertheless peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200. In her album, Jones employed longer and more complex song structures, while her lyrics touched on a variety of subjects that also included death.
Jones later career: experimentation and change
Like Joni Mitchell, Jones also underwent musical experimentation that earned her mark as an artist who refused to be classified by one genre. Two years after the release of Pirates, in 1983 Jones released her Girl at Her Volcano, and EP that contained a combination of live jazz standards and studio recordings from her earlier sessions. She followed it up with her third album The Magazine (1984) whose sound was driven by electronically-laced rock music.
Jones retreated from the limelight for a while to raise her own family. In 1989 she came back and released another album Flying Cowboys, which was produced by Walter Becker (Steely Dan). Two years later she released another LP Pop Pop, where Jones covered several songs from Tin Pan Alley to Jimi Hendrix to jazz and blues standards.
She released her 1993 album Traffic in Paradise. It was followed by her acoustic tour, which resulted into a live album Naked Songs: Live and Acoustic (1995). It was followed by Ghostyhead (1997), her last album in this decade.
Jones in the 21st century
Jones entered the new millennium with It’s Like This, a collection of standards. 2003 saw Jones returning to her original material with The Evening of My Best Day, where she expressed her dissatisfaction towards American politics.
This is also the period where compilation albums began to be released. In 2005 the Rhino label released Duchess of Coolsville: An Anthology which chronicled Jones’ career in three decades. In 2010 another “best-of” compilation Original Album Series was released by Warner.
In 2007 Jones issued another album The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, a beautiful collection of songs based on the book The Word which was written by Lee Cantelon, who also co-produced the album.
Jones explored her deeply personal and spiritual side in Balm in Gilead (2009). In 2012 she returned to doing covers again with Devil You Know, produced by Ben Harper. In 2015 she released her latest album The Other Side of Desire.
Jones so far has won two Grammy Award trophies: one for Best New Artist in 1980 and Best Jazz Vocal Collaboration in 1990. She was also inducted into VH1’s 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll in 1999.