Music: Rickie Lee Jones

Having released her new ‘American Songbook’ album Pieces of Treasure, it is a perfect time to reflect on the career (so far) of one of America’s best singer-songwriters.

01 July 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

You may have missed Rickie Lee’s performance at the Acoustic Tent at Glastonbury 2023. You likely also missed Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, Glen Tilbrook, Martyn Stephenson, Glen Hansard and The Unthanks and many others.

Of course the BBC cannot be expected to record or broadcast every act appearing at Glastonbury on iPlayer, but it is a shame that so many great acts are bypassed every year.

So, in lieu of that performance, I set out to find some live recordings, new and old as well as some information on her latest album, Pieces of Treasure, a collection of ten covers of songs from the Great American Songbook. The album was produced by Russ Titelman, who co-produced Jones’ 1979 self-titled debut album and its follow-up Pirates (1981).

RLJ, like so many other performers, was written-off in some quarters as a one-hit wonder. And that song, Chuck E’s in Love (1979) was a massive hit. It came out of nowhere and flew up the charts and remains a mainstay of feel-good R&B music.

Wikipedia reports: 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”.[15] 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 her first-ever performances in the spring/summer of 1979, Jones appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, the cover image showed Jones posing in a crouched stance, wearing a black bra and a white beret.[16]

It was a fun moment, one that would also introduce Tom Waits to the world along with a host of other musicians who were thankful to enjoy the spotlight.

And then the world of music moved on. Perhaps the obviously talented RLJ had enjoyed her 15 minutes?

But wait. The follow-up album, Pirates, was released three years later.

“Rickie Lee Jones’ Pirates arrives like a cloudburst in the desert of Eighties formula pop music and recycled heavy-metal rock. Explosively passionate and exhilaratingly eccentric, this freeform, piano-based song cycle compares with Van Morrison‘s Astral WeeksBruce Springsteen‘s The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, and Joni Mitchell‘s Court and Spark in the bravura way it weaves autobiography and personal myth into a flexible musical setting that conjures a lifetime’s worth of character and incident.” (Wikipedia)

‘Jones relocated to New York City after her split from Tom Waits and soon set up home with a fellow musician, Sal Bernardi from New Jersey, whom she had met in Venice, California, in the mid-1970s, writing in their apartment in Greenwich Village. Bernardi, who had been referenced in the lyrics to “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” from her debut, was to become a frequent collaborator with Jones, and they composed the epic eight-minute suite “Traces of the Western Slopes” together. Elsewhere, the music on Pirates is often cinematic, with influences ranging from Leonard Bernstein to Bruce Springsteen and Laura Nyro. The album is more musically ambitious than its predecessor and explores elements of jazzR&Bbeboppop and Broadway, with multiple changes in tempo and mood within most songs. (Wikipedia)

It was, and remains, an astonishing achievement. Not just for a relative ‘newcomer,’ but by any artist at all. From the ominous piano intro of ‘We Belong Together, it is clear Chuck E has moved on.

I say this was no game of chicken
You were aiming your best friend
That you wear like a switchblade on a chain around your neck
I think you picked this up in Mexico from your dad
Now it’s daddy on the booze
And Brando on the ice
Now it’s Dean in the doorway
With one more way he can’t play this scene twice
So you drug her down every drag of this forbidden fit of love
And you told her to stand tall when you kissed her
But that’s not what you were thinking…
How could Natalie Wood not get sucked
Into a scene so custom tucked?
But now look who shows up
In the same place
In this case
I think it’s better
To face it

The album does not let up for an instant. Every note, every lyric, every vocal, is dead-on. It is a revelatory mix of balls, brass knuckles, babydoll nighties and midnight at the corner of Bad Luck Avenue and Hopeless Dreams Might Come True Blvd.

Skeletons (Rickie Lee Jones)

She was pregnant in May
Now they’re on their way
Dashing thru the snow
To St. John’s, here we go

Well, it could be a boy
But it’s okay if he’s girl
Oh, these things that grow out of
The things that we give

We should move to the west side
They still believe in things
That give a kid half a chance

When he pulled off the road
Step in a waltz of red moon-beams
Said he fit an APB
A robbery nearby

And he go for his wallet
And they thought he was going for a gun
And the cops blew Bird away

Some kids like watching Saturday cartoons
Some girls listen to records all day in their rooms
But what do birds leave behind, of the wings that they came with
If a son’s in a tree building model planes?


The songs lost none of their power in concert. Indeed, one of the single best moments of any concert I have ever heard featured her solo rendering of Skeletons at Massy Hall in Toronto.

The massive band quietly left the stage, leaving RLJ alone at the piano, and for reasons unknown, there was a literal hush as she began to play the delicate opening chords. And then, as the words pierced the silent air, it became clear that something profound was happening.

As I Iooked out over the crowd I could see that all eyes were on her, silently mesmerized by the power of the song and the words and the tale she was singing. Indeed, it was such an extraordinary moment that even the band members could be seen standing along the edge of the stage. They were as transfixed as we were, even though they must have heard this song every night of the tour.

It seemed like a lifetime passed before anyone dared even move, speak or even clap at the end of the song

If only this piece of lovely perfection could live forever, we thought. If only we could stay in this cocoon of beauty for a moment longer before returning to the imperfect real world.


James Porteous | Clipper Media News

Ricki Lee Jones was born the third of four children to Richard and Bettye Jones, on the north side of Chicago, Illinois, on November 8, 1954.[7] She was named after her father, who was a singer, songwriter, painter, and trumpet player. Her mother, Bettye, was raised in orphanages around Mansfield, Ohio.[8] She has a brother, Daniel, and two sisters, Janet Adele and Pamela Jo.[9] Her paternal grandfather, Frank “Peg Leg” Jones, and her grandmother, Myrtle Lee, were vaudevillians based in Chicago.[10] A singer, dancer and comedian, Peg Leg Jones’ routine consisted of singing and accompanying himself on ukulele, soft shoe dance, acrobatics, and comedy.[10

Rickie Lee Jones – Live Dominion Theatre London – 9th Sept. 1979. Re-rendered and improved audio/video of her debut concert appearance at the Dominion Theatre London on 9th Sept. 1979.

A crying shame that BBC2 only aired this live once and now lies in some vault or perhaps even deleted. With the version already available by others which has terrible audio/video I have employed the tools of both Adobe Premier Pro and Audition to improve upon it as best I can with single band compression, noise reduction etc.

As this is possibly the only concert footage of that year worth the effort me thinks. I saw her at her debut concert in December 1979 in Hamburg and by accident ended up at her after-concert party in a bar called Wintergarten in Rothenbaum Hamburg.

All her crew were Scottish and although a private party, the fact I had just come from the concert and it was freezing -15c outside I was invited in with a smile and introduced to the lady. A superb surprise end to an evening that had already been great.

Featuring: Neil Larsen (keys), Reggie McBride (bass), Buzz Feiten (guitar), David Ii (sax), Art Rodriguez (drums), Steve Leshner (percussion).

Rickie Lee Jones – Flying Cowboys (Live on The Arsenio Hall Show) Rickie Lee Jones performing “Flying Cowboys” on The Arsenio Hall Show along with an interview from 1989.

Flying Cowboys (Rickie Lee Jones)

Down there by the river is a man
Whose horn is twisted into shapes
Unknown to the wicked and the wise
And he bears the look of an animal
Who’s seen things no animal should ever see
He has been driven beyond all towns
And all the systems until now though it is
Long past too far he keeps going

Because it’s a desert
Because it’s a desert

We come to the river
We’ll walk away from all this now
We come to the water
We’ll walk away from all this now

She first saw him he was standing in the doorway
Illuminated from behind by a light
Though imaginary posses chased them
To these distant adobes
Standing on the cliffs today
I thought I saw you below
My shadow growing smaller

It’s a desert because
Because it’s a desert
They’ll be asking me about you forever
I guess

We come to the river
We’ll walk away from all this now
We come to the water
We’ll walk away from all this now

Long coats on the prairie
Lying in the dust
Who can I turn to ?
Who can I trust?
Were you walking on the water?
Playing in the sun?
But the world is turning faster
Then it did when I was young

When I was young
When I was young

Oh, when I was young I was a wild, wild one

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One weekend night on primetime television, a then-unknown singer and vital part of the burgeoning Los Angeles jazz pop scene skyrocketed to fame overnight after a now iconic performance on Saturday Night Live. The year was 1979, the song “Chuck E’s in Love, and the singer, donning her trademark red beret, was the soon to be pronounced “Duchess of Coolsville” (Time), Rickie Lee Jones.

Rickie Lee Jones: The Jazz Side of Life is the first ever no-holds-barred account of the life of one of rock’s hardest working women in her own words. With candor and lyricism Rickie Lee Jones takes us on the journey of her exceptional life: from her nomadic childhood as the granddaughter of vaudevillian performers, to her father’s abandonment of the family and her years as a teenage runaway, her beginnings at LA’s Troubador club, to her tumultuous (and private) relationship with Tom Waits, her battle with drugs, motherhood as a touring artist, and longevity as a woman in rock and roll.

Including never-before-told stories and accounts of the music business as she’s lived it, and illustrated with stunning personal photos, this is an indispensable chronicle of one of rock’s strongest women, an innovative music icon who was listed at number 30 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Women in Rock & Roll”, has graced the cover of Rolling Stone twice, and who has been a major influence on contemporary popular music.

Rickie Lee Jones – Traces of Western Slopes

We go down round
The far side of the tracks
Lolitas playing dominoes and poker
Behind their daddy’s shacks
Vacant-eyes, glue-face boys
On a pearl splashing glass
If they give us any flack
If they come up on our ass
We’ll just give ’em the go-by
The Cadillac pass

Take me now
From the blue and pale room I’d follow
Through the faces and the traces of
Treasure I keep hearing inside me
Madmen throw their voices
From pretty boys
And from the best ones
You pick up connections
As they hand you your directions
To the Western Slope

I lied to my angel so I could take you downtown
I’d lie to anybody if there was nobody else around
And I know what people say about me
But I lied to my angel and now he can’t find me

I’m sorry
I saw him
I saw him
I could hear them
I could hear them

E. A. Poe
And Johnny Johnson
If you dial in
They’re calling from the Western Slope
Who’s the thin thread of light
That keeps you strangled in the scenery
That follows my voice — can you see me?
Then follow my voice

Who raised this banner?
That no one hears — The Jack
Beneath the axis
Digging under the current
Someone’s trying to get back
But who’s qualified to retrieve
The soul’s enduring song?
From the grottos of her eyes
And the clashing stars

E. A. Poe
And Johnny Johnson
If you dial in
They’re calling from the Western Slope
Who’s the thin thread of light
That keeps you strangled in the scenery
That follows my voice — can you see me?
Then follow my voice — see me?

Running From Mercy (Rickie Lee Jones / Leo Kottke)

Running From Mercy
Oh sacred patience with my soul abide
There’s a rainbow above me that the storm clouds hide
And kind words will never die
Cuz the magic in kindness springs from the love, love, love
Little acts of kindness and little words of love
Make our earthly home heaven above
And there is no sorrow heaven cannot heal
Abide within, no cross, no crown

Running from mercy, hidden and coy
Swimming upstream down oceans of joy
Die in the arms of a natural life
Waking our happiness drowning in light
Waking our happiness drowning in light

Little acts of kindness, little words of love
Make our earthly home like heaven above
And there is no sorrow heaven cannot heal
Abide within, no cross, no crown
This thing was not born with wings

Slow to stop our ways sing (chorus)
You, you wake up!, come on boy, come on little boy
Don’t you stop her, don’t you stop her
There’s that door
I’ve got that door
I know where that door is
Just follow me and you wake up
Come on with me

Wild Girl (Rickie Lee Jones)

Wild girl, you must have been a terror when you were young
Or your mamma must have let you run, let you run free
But it wasn’t very nice eating, eating all that sugar and spice
What they want a girl to be

And all the things a child learns on their way from hope to here
The innocence, the fury, the racism, the rage and fear
I don’t remember tell me again the part no one wants to hear

Well, that’s so many people’s story, a lot of heartache but not much glory
But glory, the truth be told tomorrow you are twenty one years old
I say happy birthday tomorrow to you
The only game in town

You can live your life with regret about the things you think you did wrong
Or over what someone would not give
Or you can be grateful when you open your eyes
The story you write, you live

Well, it’s hard to be older and poor, I don’t dig it that much anymore
But everyday of my life I’m so proud, so proud I became his wife
Because I got to raise Charlotte and Charlotte’s learning
The only game in town

Wild girl in a red dress, come on, speak up, say yes
This thing that makes you beautiful never comes out of a jar, yeah
You are a beautiful girl, you’re reaching out from your beautiful world
That is the daughter you are

Walk right and the real world knows it
‘Cause you bring it back down into the real world
Walk right up the real world knows it
You’ll bring it back down into the real world

Say take me back, baby
I just wanna make a dream come true
I came here to love somebody
I just wanna make my dreams come true

And I’m trying because trying is the only game
The only game, the only game in town

Just in Time (Jule Styne, Betty Comden, Adolph Green)

Pieces of Treasure (The Duchess of Coolsville) is the fifteenth studio album by American singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones. It was released on April 28, 2023, by BMG/Modern Recordings. The album consists of ten covers of songs from the Great American Songbook. The album was produced by Russ Titelman, who co-produced Jones’ 1979 self-titled debut album and its follow-up Pirates (1981).

Rickie Lee Jones “Show Biz Kids” Steely Dan cover – Birdland Jazz NYC 04/06/23. The amazing Rickie Lee Jones performing the Steely Dan classic “Show Biz Kids” At Birdland Jazz NYC 04/06/23

28 Feb 2023

Rickie Lee Jones – The Kate (Live, Full Episode). April 12, 2017. Produced by CPTV (Connecticut Public Television), The Kate is filmed in front of a live audience at the exquisite Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, a historic, 250-seat theater, known as The Kate, in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. The series is distributed nationally by American Public Television (APT).

Rickie Lee Jones Interviews Fred Migliore from FM Odyssey Radio. Fred Migliore’s 32nd anniversary of hosting FM Odyssey happens on April 7th 2023. Fred has interviewed over 300 musicians over the past 4 decades. But now it’s time for Rickie Lee Jones to interview him!

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