Hello. Great to have your company today. Do you remember where you were when you first heard this song?
It was 1979 and that song changed singer Rickie Lee Jones’ life forever. Few artists can lay claim to being as individual and eclectic as she is. Rickie Lee Jones has always had a restless creative spirit and overriding desire to remain authentic and true to herself. Today with a new jazz album to share a very spiritual Rickie Lee Jones joins me in a rather no holds barred conversation. Ricky Lee Jones, you just seem to be getting better and better. Is there a reason for that?
Well, I think that the popularity pendulum swings far away and then comes back. You’ve just made a great record that followed a really great book. So that may have something to do with it. But it feels like it’s also a kind of spiritual thing of sometimes you’re far away and sometimes you’re close.
Let’s talk about this record. You’ve really come back to your roots here, haven’t you?
Yeah, I guess you know, I have a lot of roots. But I’ve come back to what I do most naturally. Wood as far as singing those which is jazz singing. I started out as a jazz singer. Yeah, I guess roots. Sure.
Just in case you found me just before UK things were running low I was losing guys what? My bridges then I met you. And now you’re here. And now. Just know, no more damage or fear. I found my way. Okay, just you found me just in time. You changed my lovely day.
I would say that my greatest strength is singing. That’s how I’d feel. But in fact, people record my songs. Probably more than they play me on the radio. As a stylist. I think I’ve had a lot of impact on how people sing. I love to sing.
Youwere determined to be a singer?
I had aspirations. My girlfriend and I would sit and write songs all day after school. And so yes, it was definitely a big hope.
So when you sat with your girlfriend and wrote songs after school, who are your influences at that time?
Neil Young was probably the biggest influences on us and then Cat Stevens and then Elton John might have come in a little bit. Then I discovered Lauren Niro. And that kind of shifted all that focus stuff away. I was constantly being educated because there was so much diverse music. As the 60s ended, all these new voices showed up. And you could go in any direction you wanted to Rod Stewart, who led by David Bowie and all this stuff, which didn’t particularly speak to me. But it was all there to influence you become part of you.
I never felt compelled to sit down and start trying to write a song. What was it in you that you said to yourself? Oh, I think I’ll try and do this too?
My dad’s a musician. His father was a musician. You know, I was the only one of all the kids who sang that saying all the time so I don’t know how to answer your question. And except to say that that’s just who I was at a very young age.
And who taught you the craft of song writing?
Song writing I taught myself, but singing, my father helped me a lot.
So your parents promoted your profession as a singer?
There was no, I’m not sure they promoted it. You know, when I was eight, or nine, and my dad, who was often away, it was a big way that he could relate to me. So we had that between us for a little while. But I think the main thing that they gave me was support to be an artist of any kind. I think a lot of parents think that’s just play, and you have to quit doing the things you love, and do something you don’t love. And that being a grown up is and my parents definitely did not do that with me. But
there are times where you questioned that decision to go forward in that profession.
Well, I only spent a year and a half really seriously trying to go forward in it and I knew it’s really hard. I mean, there were other things happening I was homeless I was the kind of girl that just couldn’t get a job and hold it. So I think you know, life was leading me to this stage in a weird way. But you know, I questioned everything because my choices if something didn’t happen in the music field whether writing for other people or anything my choices were bad whatever they were as to not refer or a waitress I wasn’t going to be a very happy person.
This seemed like the only path towards a possible happy life, and one that went out into the world and made other people happy. What a great job. So lucky. I mean, you know, I was a high school dropout. I was in the six or nine months before I got started. I was homeless. I was sleeping on people’s couches. But it was an amazing drop down to the very bottom and rise up to the very top in the year 15 months, some people struggle all their lives to get a hit out 12 or 15 months when you were discovered with that song easy money. That’s right. That’s right. And it was loud. George, the founder of the band, little feet. Who came upon that. Can you tell us the story of that?
Sure. There’s about 22 I think when I met Ivan Oles in Venice, I’d been in LA and had some weird things happen and got dropped off in Venice, where I met Ivan and Alfred Johnson. And a couple of people who started to get me work in music, suddenly they’re missing is when I can get a job singing background. And now for 10. I want to write songs with you. And Ivan said, I want to show you some things about the craft of song writing. And I just soaked up everything I could for these three or four months that I was with those folks and made me feel like a professional. And then what happened was, I just ran out of money. I’d had a job for a little while and unemployment and I ran out of everything. So I was crashing with my old boyfriend. When a next door neighbour, I had a long time said I want to be your manager. I believe in you. And I’m gonna get you photos and I’m gonna end produce you to a lawyer. And we’re gonna make a tape and send it to the record companies. And that’s exactly what he did. And the photograph on the cover of pieces of treasure, the new record is from that photo session that Nick Matthay arranged my very first photo session,
there was a Joe leaning on the back door. A couple of jails have eyes on a couple of bills. So stay there was waiting to get their hands on some money. The flip down this time was step one step backward. Lose the shoulder strap. She couldn’t see the knees got we oh, she that almost eliminate.
Is that how Lowell George got onto that song and used it on his solo album?
In that couple of months where I told you where I was crashing with my old boyfriend again. I called Ivan and said, I’m thinking of just going back home to my mom’s because nothing’s happened. He said, Give me a day, or call you back at the payphone. And he called back and he said, All right. I called lol. And he’s coming over. He wants to hear easy money cuz I’ve insane somebody easy money to him over the phone. And the next day, my life changed the next day.
Lowell came over with a Sony reel to reel and recorded me singing easy money. And he came back a month later he had made it his Christingle that’s how it happened.
Bam, bam, there was a dude who was leaning on our back door coupled with a couple bills, I was thinking they were waiting, get your hands on some amazing money. So they once said, Jake has his time, one step one step back, one, loosen the shoulder strap she couldn’t speak her knees get weak to get almost tears that he must be jumping out of your skin with excitement.
Super cool. Really, for something like that to happen in your life to be changed up so much. How do you remain super cool. Because
you have to remain super cool you have when your destiny meets you you have to meet it as if it was meant to be there. So if you go it goes, Oh, I’m at the wrong door.
I’ve been waiting for you. That’s awesome advice. So your advice to anybody listening would be to remain super cool at any time, no matter what. You betcha. Wait till you’re all alone. And how just a little bit. But know that you’re meant to be there. So So Don, how too much because you were always supposed to be there. It was just an accident that you weren’t.
Have you always been so spiritual.
I’m not sure. I don’t know who I was before. You know, I change every few years. But I was not always confident. Except when it came to music. I was totally confident and knew exactly what I wanted to do. But as a girl or person having to sit with other people and talk natural confidence. And obviously that
changed over time. Yeah. It was 1979 when your debut album Rickie Lee Jones won the Grammy for the Best New Artist. You can’t tell me you were super cool. Still, then when you picked up the Grammy award.
I was super cool. Watch it. See it on the internet. It was the coolest thing. Oh my god. So when did the exciting moments happen? You know, if they called and said, You’re nominated for six Grammys. I thought, good. I shouldn’t be. And then I said I’m not gonna go to the Grammys ceremony. I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe they should pit us against each other and say this guy won, but this guy didn’t. I don’t want to keep my feet on the ground. If I go to this ceremony, then I’m participating in this glamour thing that I really don’t believe in. And at the last minute, the ceremony probably started and I said I want to go so. Ricky, why are you doing this go to the ceremony? Maybe it was fear of losing Don’t know why they’re not my people don’t get me wrong. I never felt all around them. So barber gear came and picked me up in a limo and we hurried over to the ceremony. We got in, they sat me in a chair and they announced my category. And then came up and got it. I was like, still out of read from running in. I wore what I thought was the coolest outfit ever, which is street clothes, looking good. I wore my leather jacket, and a boa and I had to cut crease. And so there were some people that thought I should have dressed up glamorously. But that’s not who musicians are, we’re weirdos. And you have dressers, you know, put you in costume. And have you looked like somebody that you’re not? How will I ever believe anything you sing? You have to be who you are all the time, then at the after party, which is why everybody goes anyway, Bob Dylan came up to me and if there was ever a moment where I went that was it. You know, when he came up and said, You are a real poet. Don’t ever stop what you’re doing. So that was the kind of thing that is the years have gone by. I go to Scott Look at that. That’s a beautiful flower that never dies. What a kind thing for him to say. That night it was it was pretty wonderful.
Chucky using love One Song of the Year at the Grammys in 1980. It really does sound like a mix of so many familiar styles, and then again, like nothing that anybody’s ever heard before, doesn’t it? Hang in as Ricky Lee Jones tells us more about it.
Thanks for being here. And please excuse my croaky voice again full of a cold. I’m so excited to be having this frank and honest chat with the super cool singer and songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, who’s about to share the backstory of her biggest hit. Jackie’s in love.
That song is about a friend named chalky. White was one of the hangers on Santa Monica Boulevard of Tom Wade, she was his good friend and confidant. And really, if I thought about it, a guiding light for him. He had a special affinity for what weights did back then this was, you know, 7778 79 and chose a friend of theirs on the periphery. So I saw an envelope with his name on it that said Charles E. Weiss and Charles he was Chuck E. Because you know, checking is usually c ch u c k Y Yeah. And so making it the E opened up a whole other story check. He was never in love with me. It was just kind of inspired by different conversations people were having and behaviours that are already seeing but that vowel went on to be a trend and music and culture for I’d say most of the ages. People found themselves tone II and Sheila E and she II it was just using the ears that I use sound. It was a phenomenon.
And how did he feel about having that song written about him? I bet he didn’t remain super cool. No,
he did not remain super cool. I think it was really hard. hard on him, you know, it was such a big hit. And he had nothing to do with it too but he had to reap the attention. And you know people always make fun of you for a girl makes you famous anyway, but I think it was hard on him. And then he got a gig in LA because he was Chuck E. I think it was a blessing and a curse for him throughout his life.
You were the it girl of the 80s through the 70s It was all happening for you. But for the 80s you were this trendsetter? Your beautiful big smile and your long blonde hair and your spandex one piece and your Lacy, elbow length gloves and heels. You were really out there doing it, weren’t you?
Yes, I was. I think one reason is because I didn’t dress like everybody else. So people notice how I dressed and they liked it. So they went out and dress like it and then in a short time it was everywhere.
Again, you remain super cool about that you’re trendsetting for an entire generation in terms not only of the music they’re listening to but how they’re dressing.
Yeah, you get it what are you going to do you know, you have to find some way to contain yourself and if you have a big impact or no impact, you can’t cry about it and you can’t run around and go now I might go
down the Street.
You had it together and kept a lid on it all for yourself? Is that how you managed to survive it?
That’s exactly right. Because otherwise she’ll get puffed up since so much attention and I did get a little puffed up. But it would be impossible not to but you want to keep your feet on the ground and stay a human being. If success Congress on a big scale like that, there is no map for how to act and how to have a live so it’s too easy to go I’m better than other people. I’m more important than other people. And so when great things happen is not to say don’t congratulate yourself but you got to keep your feet on the ground.
I absolutely hear you. Time Magazine actually called you the ‘Duchess of Coolesville’. I love that!
There’s a new article down in cut where they call me the pirate queen. I think I might like that even more.
But when Time Magazine did name you the Duchess of Coolesville, what happened then in 1985, when you abdicated and moved yourself off to France. Yeah.
To why I think that I just couldn’t cope anymore with the changing tides of it. I had a wonderful tour in Australia. They were like, you’re like the Beatles here but when I got home, broke up with my boyfriend and just turned 30 I had made the magazine which and done a really wonderful theatrical tour did something very different by wrote a bit of theatre around the songs and it was very personal stuff. And very different. You know, they were putting me with theatres, and I was trying to do this theatre so there’s a huge gap between Mike Creativity and the people that I reluctantly add around me to help see my vision. And I think it was so disappointing. And I had had a little mice time in France, that I decided to go there. I confess that I married somebody that I did not know. And who didn’t speak any English. And I went, yeah. All right. And we went to France. And I think that was my way of just breaking everything down into its simplest possible thing where I got to deal with buying bread, they’re mean and they don’t understand what I’m saying. And that’s what I need right now because I don’t want to be as the queen of the world. So I went there and lived there for a few years and then I got pregnant and came back to America and started to record again
I love my career and I love success. I’d love to get a blue ribbon once in a while. But I don’t want to become somebody who’s constantly sucking at the tips of fame and celebrity. Because you’ll die from dead you’ll never been fed. And you’ll die from starvation. You have to have a friend and a little bit of family and people who maybe like your music, but they don’t love it and they keep your feet on the ground. You know,
when you did start making music again in 1989, the one that you released was flying cowboys, and that was produced by steely Dan’s Walter Becker. The first single from that one was satellites. And that shot straight to number one, so you couldn’t put a foot wrong. You’ve managed to have your time out. When you came back. You hit the top again, and 10 years afterwards in 1999 You got another nod for flying cowboys in the Grammys. Did I you did why flying cowboys?
I think because pirates the magically was out on the water so I took them out to the place where there was no water at all. I grew up in the desert anyways. So in the dreamscape, that this stuff comes from it, it made some kind of sense, every title I’ve come up with almost every title is just another term for heaven. Whether it’s traffic from Paradise or Flying Cowboys, even Pirates, the Other Side of Desire – there are all kinds of secret titles for the other world the other place.
Wow you really go deep don’t you no one could ever accuse you of living on the surface could they?
You’ve collaborated with so many big names people like Randy Newman. Walter Becker, as we mentioned, Quincy Jones, Tori Amos, even Ben Harper. What was that like in 2012?
Well, I was there was a really hard time in my life. The IRS should take in all my money and I was really in a bad place. But I still had some ideas and and I had this friend named Sheldon, who had been a bass player and he had created a a recording studio. So I started going over to Sheldon to work and Sheldon was the only person going here so great. For some reason, all that praise you’re talking about it fallen all the way. And there was nobody going here really great except Sheldon. So I went over to Sheldon Ted and he always say something so kind that I thought I’m going to record here and he said, Well, you know, Ben Harper, he’s made a record here. And I’m betcha he’d love to work with you should I ask him? And even though I thought Ben Harper was like one of the best looking guys ever. Now he’s just gonna make me nervous. At that point, it was quite the opposite to where I am now. I bet exactly the opposite. But I said I’ll give it a try. And I met him is so gorgeous and so kind and incredibly talented. I didn’t even know how talented he was yet. He just said, okay, you know, I’ll do whatever however we want to do it. I said, Okay, don’t come to live leave. Like catch 22 girdle 30 or whatever his name was. Show I’d record and then I’d leave and then come in and listen and maybe put a guitar down or do any and that was how we’ve made that record.
I was so shy I was it was just a bad time in my life. And I couldn’t bear to be seen or listened to.
We go through all sorts of phases through our lives, don’t we? I have to ask you, though, you despite all of that were you still super cool?
Super cool. Let’s see, which I don’t know call was even in my language anymore. I was just trying to get from one place to the other. And, you know, when it comes to playing music and standing on a stage, I used to do a thing where I always had a drink wondering before I played, but I don’t usually drink ever. So it was a real false thing. And if I’m saying I’m real, how can I possibly be real? If I’m taking a drink before it plays? So I did this thing in San Francisco, bout that time where I put the first time in my life went out on stage without having a drink. And you don’t know how tough My childhood was, you know, moving around so much, but I stood in front of all those people. And I let the feeling of love wash over me. And before I always kept that thing between them and me, so they couldn’t hurt me. But I took a chance and it was good. That’s when I started change. Being so cool. I don’t know if it’s some other thing began to happen where an exchange of love and accountability began to happen by showing up on stage. And now, you know, I like looking at them. I like that they’ve come to be loved by me. And I think that’s what artists don’t realize is they think they’re there to get the audience to love them. But we’re there to give them they pay and travel a long way. So the chill look at them and love them with all your mind, the way that she’s saying the things that you do now, and once I realized that when this isn’t about me is about them, then. I love this job. It’s kind of like being chosen.
And so the Duchess of Coolesville found a new way of being. Don’t go anywhere. Ricky Lee’s journey isn’t over yet. This is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kate.
It’s a beautiful day.
Welcome back. We’ve been hearing how Rickie Lee Jones found a new way that didn’t require her to wear the mask of a looseness any longer. In 2015, a film called The Other Side of desire documented the making of the album by the same name. It featured Ricky dedicating the song Jimmy choose to the famous shoe brand and was her first album of originals in years. Oh, she didn’t go with me.
In 2019, Ricky released a single of the Paul Rogers Simon cook some bad company off her album kicks, which included cover versions of many other songs.
It was an unusual cover record.
How did you choose which ones to include?
Or should here’s what I feel like doing right now. So that’s what we’re gonna do. We hadn’t tried a few other things. I worked so hard on a tune called gum bug gum. It just didn’t work out. I seem to be better at Rock even though I love so from the 1960s That stuff is already been done perfectly. So I think the rock stuff was better. We also did why does this keep on shining? We did. Quicksilver girl just had an odd collection of songs that that I grew up with things like bad companies, you know, things people wouldn’t have expected that I love and wanted to sing.
And of course, now your latest release is all about jazz is called pieces of treasure. And it’s a reunion with your lifelong friend and the legendary producer Russ Teittleman, who actually co-produced your albums in the ICS. And that very first album, which is on it?
Yeah. The first time I’m checking and the next one Pirates.
.Yeah, that’s right. How’d you come full circle back to Ross?
I think after I did Kicks to be honest, I just went I’m just dying here. I can’t find something I adore anymore. I’m Indian. And that was truly how I felt. How I got the idea to call rest I don’t know. But I thought I think I shouldn’t produce, I should just sing. Because I don’t want to hold these instruments anymore. I want to open up my arms and sing to the crowd. And the only way that’s going to happen is if I I’m seeing jazz, because in the stuff I write, the musicians are very dependent on me playing it. So I was thinking that and then when I met up with res, he said, you have to do a jazz record before you do anything else, we must do the jazz. And I thought this is right, because I’m getting older. Jazz is a very complicated story. So I should do it now, where my voice has aged out. Oddly enough, in the course of making the record, I found a new way to sing. My talked about that pendulum. And it just felt like the pendulum is coming right here, right in front of me again. I feel powerful, and people are acknowledging my work. So what is it that we seek? Do we seek the stranger to say I see you? Or do we seek the lover to say, I’ll stay? What is it that we want? When we do this work for an audience? Why do we go? I go home and so MP? Well, partly because we put up a big wall so people get in with good or bad? Yes. So if you take that wall down and take in the good, somebody’s gonna slap you. They’re gonna say terrible thing. You’re gonna hear it, read it. Are you prepared to let all the people especially that internet stuff? So I just think about why do I do What do I do? I love singing but what is it I seek if I want acknowledgement? If I want an award? What do I want? You know, why do I want somebody I don’t know. And probably wouldn’t like to say here’s an award. I say you can have it you know? I don’t know why you know, maybe they’re the only guys giving awards I always said they’re here group definitely good record. Good job. But I thought it feels like they’re saying you’re worse something your career in life will be remembered.
Then they create this bullshit thing called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame like that. There is no musicians who had anything to do with the rocket raw, there was Seymour Stein, you know, nothing to do with music. And then they induct year after year, man after man after man after man, who many of them were far inferior to girl, or that girl or that girl. So it’s so askew to a certain kind of music nominated and supported by a certain kind of guy. So if I’m not inducted, you may I’m going to hell. And I liked that Joni Mitchell, and I don’t want to be in your thing. But it was evil of them to say you’re not invited to be in our thing, because you’re not a rock and roll. What are you talking about? You’ve inducted Louis Armstrong, and not invite one of the premier folk rock goddesses. So I just thought there are six of those. So what is it that I want?
Did you find the answer?
I’m gonna give you the answer. Now, in the last six months since I’ve started doing these interviews, that journalists have said, the most remarkable, loving sintered things to me that I could have ever hoped to have heard that tell me. We heard you. You mattered. And you mattered to my kid. And when I saw you, I went out to find out about jazz. Everything I hoped to have done. People are starting to say you did that. And that’s every Grammy and every award and every wig and every great dress and everything and go on. Hey, look at me. That’s everything. So it’s coming to me now the question I asked my chauffeurs Will you let it in? Will you go ahead and say I did a good job? Or are you going to keep that wall up? There? We’ll see. I’m not sure.
Your voice is holding up it’s better today than it was years ago. It seems it shameful to tell the story still so and while you tell it so well. What’s your favourite track? Rickie Lee Jones from pieces of treasure is that one?
Well, personally, I quite loved the last track which is I mean, I love Justin time. That’s my favourite one. But I also like the very last track which is all in the game. Because that’s a tune that people have kind of thrown away. And I knew that it’s a heart broken person telling that story. It’s a man say I think it’s somebody saying I know you’re broken hearted right now and you think he’s gone. But he’ll come back and that’s where the heartbreak is because we don’t know he’ll come back. But in this text he says sometimes he won’t call but soon he’ll be here and soon he’ll be there is where I find the perfect balance of pain and hope. And I went there aren’t that many songs that can hit that thing? And he’ll kiss you and he’ll touch your fingers like wow, how did people miss that song? So I did it extremely slow. So that you hear heartache and also all the beauty of her waiting so I think in that one is a true little piece of treasure.
Just to finish up tell me about the book.
So the memoir came out in 2021 I guess so during COVID. I had worked on it quite sincerely for seven to 10 years. It’s a story of my childhood. My wild childhood. Not so unlike a lot of Australian childhoods traveling the desert And growing up with my, my itinerant family, all the things that happened there, and then finding finding my way to LA to Venice, and all the adventures before I got famous, which are many and wonderful. And then about three quarters of the way to the book, fame comes. So I was telling the story of all the family by learning how to write a book as opposed to a song or a poem, and that I really love writing and I hope I have the time and inclination to write more stories about my life. I love to sing, but I am getting older. To some point it might be terribly difficult for me. So if I could tell stories in other ways that would be the greatest possible thing that could happen. Thank you. So
so much. Rickie Lee Jones, thank you for your wonderful questions was just fabulous. hearing your stories next time. Look forward by now. Ricky Lee Jones. This memoir is called Last Chance Texaco chronicles of an American Trooper Dora. She has come a long way hasn’t she from that young girl who found fame and fortune with Chucky back in 1979. What an amazing story she tells. Thanks for being here with me today. I really hope you’ve enjoyed the episode. As I always tell you if there’s someone special you’d like to hear from, just send me a message through the web site, a breath of fresh air.com.au and I’ll do my best to get that person onto the show for you. Till we meet again same time next week. Have fun, won’t you? I’ll see you then. Bye now.