Last Thursday, Rickie Lee Jones played the UC Theater Taube Family Music Room in Berkeley; so we’re doing a brief retrospective on the career of one of the greats of American music. Over the many decades of her stellar musical career, American singer Rickie Lee Jones has worn many hats. Among other things, she’s a vocalist, a musician, a songwriter, a producer, an actor and a narrator; and that’s not all – she’s created music in several genres, including rock, pop, blues, soul, jazz, and R&B. She’s a two-time Grammy winner, she’s been listed as the 30th among VH1’s 100 Greatest Women in Rock & Roll, and she’s had her album Pirates grab the 49th position on the list of the 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women.
The start of it all was in 1970’s LA when a 19-year-old Jones used to play her musical pieces in the city’s bars and coffee houses, before meeting songwriter Alfred Johnson, with whom she collaborated and co-wrote “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” and “Company.” These tracks later appeared on her self-titled debut album, which became an instant hit upon its release in 1979 thanks to the popularity of the jazz-laced “Chuck E.’s in Love”, which went on to win the 4th spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
Jones then went on to enjoy a string of accolades and wins, among which was the Grammy award for the Best New Artist. Interestingly, Jones almost didn’t attend the 1980 ceremony where she eventually went on to receive the award. During the period from 1979 to 1982, Jones toured extensively and successfully, growing her audience across the US and Canada, before moving back to California and setting up camp in San Francisco. Some years later, she moved to Paris, where she experienced another renaissance, leading to a second Grammy, this time in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Collaboration.
The 90s saw an interesting change of pace for Rickie, seeing the creation of Pop Pop, an album of covers of numbers from genres like jazz and pop. There’s a kind of inspiration that truly mature artists get from covering songs, finding a place for their own voice by bringing their skills to songs written by others; and Rickie hit a rich seam of interpretive creativity, releasing a second album of covers, It’s Like This, in 2000. The record included covers of tracks by popular legendary artists like the Gershwin brothers, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, and Steely Dan, among others.
Jones has also been featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine (in its most popular edition to that date), and has had her music licensed for a number of television series and movies such as House M.D., Thirtysomething, Frankie and Johnny, When a Man Loves a Woman, Jerry Maguire, and Friends with Money.
She’s a classic, and she’s not stopping. The UC show was part of a tour taking in Pasadena, New Orleans, and Boston; one for the fans, and one for anyone who wants to discover just how deep, and how vibrantly alive, the roots of American music are.