- A Lucky Guy
- Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)
- We Belong Together
- Weasel And The White Boys Cool
Rickie Lee Jones (born November 8, 1954) is an American vocalist, musician, songwriter and producer.
Over the course of a career that spans over three decades, Jones has recorded in various musical styles including rock, R&B, blues, pop, soul, and jazz standards. Her songwriting has been characterized as “a blend of bravado and vulnerability [that] wavers on indefinable borders”. She is also known for her unique singing style, especially in live performances. One concert reviewer, describing her rendering of “We Belong Together”, states she “reached her apex, skating from swells into near screams into breathy whispers, from pointillist staccato scats into brassy, trumpetlike bursts”.
Rickie Lee Jones was born the third of four children to Bettye and Richard Jones, on the north side of Chicago, Illinois on November 8, 1954. Her paternal grandfather, Frank “Peg Leg” Jones, and her grandmother, Myrtle Lee, a dancer, were vaudevillians based in Chicago. A singer, dancer and comedian, Peg Leg Jones’s routine consisted of playing the ukulele, singing ballads, and telling stories. Jones’s father, one of four children, was a WWII veteran. A singer, songwriter, painter, and trumpet player, her father worked as a waiter. Her mother, Bettye, was raised in orphanages in Ohio with her three brothers until she was old enough to leave. Bettye and Richard met in a drugstore coffee shop.
The family moved to Arizona in 1959, and the landscape provided imagery (“Last Chance Texaco”, “Flying Cowboys”) for her early music. She grew up riding horses, studying dance, and practicing swimming with her AAU coach before and after school. When she was 10 years old the family moved to Olympia, Washington, where her father abandoned them. Jones dropped out of school in the 11th grade, took the GED test and enrolled in college in Tacoma. She moved to Huntington Beach, California, on her 18th birthday, and then to Venice, California, where she met boyfriend Mark Vaughan, who supported her during her formative years. She worked at odd jobs and enrolled in Santa Monica College, studying anthropology and music.
At the age of 21, Jones began to play in clubs in Venice. She met Alfred Johnson, a piano player and songwriter. Together they wrote “Weasel and the White Boys Cool”, which would later appear on Jones’s debut album. By 1977, Jones was performing original material at the Ala Carte Club in Hollywood with Johnson. She was noticed there by rock journalist and attorney Stann Findelle, who wrote about her in Performance Magazine and advised her in her career for a short time.
Nick Mathe, a neighbor, took an interest in Jones’s music and helped her get publicity photos with Bonnie Shiftman who was then at A&M, and in their off hours the three of them shot Jones’s first photos. Jones played music in showcases, worked with cover bands in clubs, and sat in with Venice jazz bands. In early 1978, through the efforts of her friend Ivan Ulz, she came to the attention of Dr. John and Little Feat‘s Lowell George. Ulz introduced Lowell George to Jones’s composition “Easy Money” by singing it to him over the telephone. George recorded her song for his first solo record, Thanks, I’ll Eat it Here in 1978. It became the only single for George’s final record before his death. Jones also met Tom Waits and Chuck E. Weiss, who figure prominently in her early career.
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, and Tommy LiPuma. Jones was courted by the major labels, and after a bidding war, Jones 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. Waronker signed Jones to Warner Brothers Records for a five-record deal. Work commenced on her debut album, co-produced by Waronker and Russ Titelman.
In 1977, Jones met Tom Waits at The Troubadour after an Ivan Ulz show in which she had sung a few of her songs and one of her father’s called “The Moon is Made of Gold”. The two were lovers at the outset of her career, creating a lifelong association with one another. After Waits and Jones broke up, Jones became involved with her friend Sal Bernardi, who inspired the song “Weasel and the White Boys Cool”. He remained a personal and musical partner for decades.
Francis Ford Coppola asked Jones to collaborate with Waits on his upcoming film One from the Heart, but she balked, citing the recent breakup. Coppola responded that it would be perfect for the film, since the two main characters in the film are separated, and he asked her to reconsider. Jones still refused the job, a decision she later admitted to regretting. It was then that Waits met his future wife, and Jones began work on Pirates, a record that included “We Belong Together” and “A Lucky Guy”, both inspired by Waits. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Randy Newman, the Brecker Brothers and Steve Gadd were a few of the musicians who performed on the 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“, which hit No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and featured an accompanying music video. The album, which included guest appearances by Dr. John, Randy Newman, and Michael McDonald, went to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and produced another Top 40 hit with “Young Blood” (No. 40) in late 1979. Her appearance – as an unknown (one month after her debut record had been released) – on Saturday Night Live on April 7, 1979, sparked an overnight sensation. She performed “Chuck E.’s in Love” and “Coolsville”. Jones was covered by Time magazine on her very first professional show, in Boston, and they dubbed her “The Duchess of Coolsville”. Touring after the album’s release, she played Carnegie Hall on July 22, 1979. Members of her group included native New York guitarist Buzz Feiten, who was featured on the album and would appear in her recorded works for over a decade.
Following a successful world tour, Jones appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The announcement of Lowell George’s death appeared in 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.
Jones secured four nominations at the 22nd Annual Grammy Awards; Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for “Chuck E.’s in Love”, Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female for “Last Chance Texaco”, as well as Best New Artist, which she won. Before the ceremony, Jones told her mentor Bob Regher that she would not attend. Changing her mind at the last minute, the two raced to the event just in time for her to walk up and collect her ‘Best New Artist’ trophy, in her leather jacket and boa, signature beret and gloves. In her acceptance speech, she thanked her lawyers and her accountant, which earned laughter and applause from the audience.
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 a fervent supporter 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 No. 5 on the Billboard 200. A single, “A Lucky Guy”, became the only Billboard Hot 100 hit from the album, peaking at No. 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.
Voted Best Jazz Singer two years in a row by audiences and critics (Playboy magazine’s critic and reader polls, and Rolling Stone polls, 1980, 1981), Jones’ 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 mileage 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.
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 No. 1 hit single for Daryl Braithwaite in 1991. The album made the US Top 40, reaching No. 39 on the Billboard 200, with the college radio hit “Satellites” making it to No. 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.
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, peaking at No. 8, but became her least commercially successful record yet, reaching No. 121 on the Billboard 200.
Soon after, The Orb issued “Little Fluffy Clouds“, featuring a sampled Jones interview. However, Jones’ record company 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 No. 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 originally planned to be the title track for the Oscar-winning film Boys Don’t Cry.
A number of television and movies had licensed her work in these years, including House M.D., 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 1992 album Joshua Judges Ruth.
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 No. 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 Reprise 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 critical acclaim, it did not meet with commercial success, peaking at No. 159 on the Billboard 200.
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 – No. 148 on the Billboard 200, No. 10 on Top Internet Albums, and No. 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.
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 No. 189 on the Billboard 200. 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 No. 158 on the Billboard 200 and No. 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.
On September 18, 2012, Jones released The Devil You Know on Concorde Records. The Devil You Know includes a collection of covers produced by famed musician Ben Harper.
Her single “Saturday Afternoons in the Park 1963” appeared in an emotional scene of the television series House MD. The episode was titled “Paternity”
In 2015, Rickie Lee Jones founded her own label and released her 13th studio album, The Other Side Of Desire. It is her first album completely made of original self-penned material since 2003.
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.