Chuck E. Weiss, Musician Who, in Love, Inspired a Hit Song, Dies at 76
Chuck E. Weiss, blues musician, club owner, and Los Angeles character immortalized in Rickie Lee Jones’ hit song, “Chuck E.’s in Love,” died July 20 at Cedars Hospital -Sinai from Los Angeles. He was 76 years old.
His brother, Byron, said the cause was kidney failure.
Mr. Weiss was a voracious musicologist, an encyclopedia of obscure jazz and early R&B artists, a widely recognized drummer, songwriter and rascal who in the mid-1970s came to Los Angeles from his native Denver with his friend the singer-songwriter Tom. Waits.
At the Troubadour, the venerable West Hollywood folk club, where Mr. Weiss worked for a time as a dishwasher, they met another young singer-songwriter, a former runaway named Rickie Lee Jones. Mr. Waits and Ms. Jones became an object and the three became inseparable as they strolled through Hollywood, stealing lawn ornaments and pranking people at music industry parties (like shaking hands with dip on their palms).
“Sometimes it seems like we’re real romantic dreamers stuck in the wrong time zone,” Ms. Jones told Rolling Stone in 1979, describing Mr. Weiss and Mr. Waits as family at the time.
They lived at the Tropicana Motel, a seedy 1940s bohemian on Santa Monica Boulevard. “It was a regular DMZ,” Mr. Weiss told LA Weekly in 1981, “except everyone had a tan and look at pleasant.”
In the fall of 1977, on a trip back to Denver, Mr. Weiss called his buddies back to Los Angeles, and when Mr. Waits hung up, he announced to Ms. Jones, “Chuck E. is in love! “
Two years later, Mrs. Jones’ whimsical riff on that statement – “What’s her name? / Is she there? / Oh, god, I think he even combed his hair. »- had made her a star. (Although the song’s last line suggests otherwise, it wasn’t Mrs. Jones that Mr. Weiss had fallen in love with; it was one of his distant cousins.)
The song was a hit single, the opening track for Ms. Jones’ debut album, “Rickie Lee Jones,” and a 1980 Grammy nominee for Song of the Year. (“What a Fool Believes,” performed by the Doobie brothers, won the honor.)
In a July 21 Los Angeles Times essay, Ms Jones wrote that when she first met Mr Waits and Mr Weiss, she couldn’t tell them apart. “They were two of the most charismatic characters Hollywood has seen in decades, and without them I think the whole street of Santa Monica Boulevard would have collapsed.”
In a phone interview since then, she said of Mr. Weiss: “There was mischief in him, he was our trickster. He was an exciting guy, and a disaster for a while, as exciting people often are. “
Charles Edward Weiss was born in Denver on March 18, 1945. His father, Leo, worked in the rescue industry; his mother, Jeannette (Rollnick) Weiss, owned a hat store, Hollywood Millinery. Chuck graduated from East High School and attended Mesa Junior College, now Colorado Mesa, in Grand Junction.
Her brother is her only immediate survivor.
In his early twenties, Mr. Weiss met Chuck Morris, now a music promoter, when Mr. Morris was part owner of Tulagi, a music club in Boulder, Colorado. When blues artists like Lightnin ‘Hopkins and John Lee Hooker arrived, they often traveled alone, and it was up to Mr. Morris to find them a local band. He would ask Mr. Weiss to replace the drummer.
In 1973, Mr. Morris opened a nightclub in Denver called Ebbets Field (he was born in Brooklyn), which attracted artists like Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Mr. Waits. Mr. Weiss also fulfilled his function.
Back then, as Mr. Weiss recalled in 2014, he was trying to record his own music and used to have performers perform with him. This is how he met Mr. Waits. “And I think what happened was I saw Waits doing finger stuff at Ebbets Fields one night,” he said, “and I went to see him after the show. I was wearing wedge shoes and a chinchilla coat, and I was sliding on the ice in the street outside because I was so stoned, and I asked him if he wanted to do a recording with me. looked like I came from outer space, man.
Nonetheless, he said, they became quick friends.
Mr. Waits, interviewed by The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1999, described Mr. Weiss as “a pathological mensch, liar, monkey and vaudevillian.”
Mr. Waits and Mr. Weiss ended up collaborating on a number of things. released in 1975. Mr. Waits produced two albums for Mr. Weiss; the first, “Extremely Cool”, in 1999, was described in a review as “an eclectic and awkward mix of blues and boogie-woogie played freely”.
Although his songwriting is singular – “Anthem for Lost Souls” was told from a neighbor’s cat’s perspective – Mr. Weiss was best known for his live performances. With a gravel voice, unkempt hair and a long patter, he was a bluesman with a Borcht-belted sense of humor.
For much of the 1980s, Mr. Weiss performed at a Los Angeles club called Central, accompanied by his band, The Goddamn Liars. He then encouraged his friend Johnny Depp to buy the place with him and others. They turned it into Viper Room, the celebrity-studded ’90s nightclub.
He was often asked what he thought of his role as a star in the Ms. Jones hit. “Yeah, I was flabbergasted,” he told The Associated Press in 2007. “We didn’t realize that, overall, we would both be known for it for the rest of our lives. “
But the rest of their life would no longer be linked.
“When ‘Chuck E.’s in Love’ rose from the sky and passed out in the ‘I hate this song’ desert, which he still hasn’t really recovered from, he and I became estranged, and all the world has moved away from everyone. ”Ms. Jones referred to Mr. Weiss in her Los Angeles Times essay. “Wait on the left, the brief Camelot of our jive around the corner has ended. I had made us a fiction, made us heroes of very unheroic people. But I’m glad I did. .
Later on the phone she said, “Two of the three of us went on to become successful musicians, but not Chuck, and he knew a lot of people.” She added: “We think being famous is winning, but I’m not sure. Chuck did well.
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