Rickie Lee Jones. Picture by Gus Bennett.

When OffBeat requested me to write down the April cowl story on Rickie Lee Jones for his or her French Quarter Fest subject, she was scheduled to look for the primary time ever on the two greatest festivals in her adopted hometown of New Orleans: French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest. Properly, everyone knows how that turned out.

Rickie Lee Jones. Picture by Gus Bennett

To replace the unique story for the brand new irregular of COVID-19, I interviewed Rickie Lee Jones once more, this time through Zoom. The day earlier than we talked, I watched one of many Fb reveals she’s been livestreaming from her Marigny lounge, and it was her most intimate efficiency but. Whereas a river of tiny hearts floated up the display screen from followers world wide, Jones wove collectively songs on guitar and piano with passages from her upcoming memoir, The Final Probability Texaco, and off-the-cuff recollections, just like the time she and Tom Waits and Chuck E. Weiss stopped at a visitors gentle in Los Angeles, and each automotive round them was blasting “Chuck E.’s In Love” on their radios. (“We simply checked out one another and laughed!”)

Jones invitations followers to affix her once more on Sunday, June 28, when she’ll livestream one other episode of “From My Dwelling Room” on her Fb web page at 1 p.m. CDT. Extra livestream dates will likely be posted right here as she provides them, and are more likely to proceed for a while; the pandemic lockdown jettisoned almost all of her 2020 tour dates. (Three Texas reveals in late August are nonetheless on her schedule as of this writing.) However whereas she shares that destiny with each different touring musician, reasonably than rail towards it, Jones has been embracing the lockdown as a inventive boon.

“In a manner, it is a dream come true,” says Jones. “For years, I’d joke that I’d reasonably play from my home for the entire vast world, than to should journey to every metropolis. As a result of it’s onerous to be 65 years outdated touring world wide, staying in inns, going by airports, and coping with all of the drama that’s always occurring in a efficiency.”

Now it’s simply Rickie Lee Jones and the livestream digital camera, which she generally makes use of to share different hidden skills. “One of many issues I understand how to do is draw and write on the identical time,” says Jones, with a be aware of pleasure. In a single current advert hoc video, she demonstrated these abilities whereas sprawled on her flooring with a spiral pocket book and her playful pup, Jazzy Jones. She was clearly having a ball, as had been these of us watching her.

Rickie Lee Jones. Picture by Gus Bennett

Nonetheless, because the weeks drag on, the pandemic has taken its toll. “I feel the impact is cumulative,” says Jones. “In order that lastly I simply start to overlook doing the common factor of going to get a espresso and sitting and watching individuals. However the lack of individuals, the lack of locations to go, that is small potatoes in comparison with all the opposite horrible issues which might be occurring.”

When Jones and I spoke in early June, the protests that erupted in Minneapolis within the wake of George Floyd’s homicide by cop had unfold to New Orleans and lots of of cities worldwide, and had been weighing closely on her coronary heart.

“I awoke at this time simply crying,” Jones says, with a break in her voice. “My coronary heart hurts a lot. One other Black man murdered by the police. If you see that man together with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, together with his fingers in his pockets, that’s what I used to be struck by. Keep in mind on the finish of Psycho? When Anthony Perkins says, ‘I wouldn’t damage a fly? You see how calm I’m? I’m not even gonna swat that fly.’ And after I see that policeman together with his fingers in his pockets, he’s going, ‘I’m not offended, see? I wouldn’t damage anyone, I’ve my fingers in my pockets.’ As he kills the man. And he is aware of he’s being filmed. It’s so catastrophic. I’d reasonably see him foaming on the mouth than having his fingers in his pockets.”

An acutely observant avenue poet who holds up a mirror to the world round her, Rickie Lee Jones first wrote about police focusing on black males on her second album, Pirates (1981). “Skeletons” tells the just about unbearably unhappy story of a black man stopped by cops whereas driving his pregnant spouse to the hospital to have her child: 

When he pulled off the highway/
Step in a waltz of purple moonbeams/
Mentioned he match an APB/A theft close by/
And he go for his pockets/
And so they thought he was going for a gun/
And the cops blew Hen away.

Greater than 10 years earlier than the present BLM protests, Rickie Lee Jones additionally recorded “The Gospel of Carlos, Norman and Smith” on Balm in Gilead (2009), a heartbreaking music that would have been written yesterday: 

Didn’t you hear?/
Black is a legal/
White is a criminal offense/
Poison is the pen/
Writing down this kids’s nursery rhyme/
Didn’t you see him standing subsequent to me?/
The seeds of change have grown/
We don’t have to cover anymore.

“Virtually all of my work appears to have relevance about 10 years later,” says Jones, who can cite quite a few examples. “It’s uncanny! And if individuals wish to inform a narrative about what’s occurring [today], that’s a great music to make use of.” So good, in reality, that Jones posted the YouTube audio of “The Gospel of Carlos, Norman and Smith” on her Fb web page with a be aware saying she hopes “somebody could make a compelling video, utilizing out there images, so that folks would possibly lastly hear the music.”

The music positively calls for a listening to, particularly in a world the place “it’s onerous to maintain making an attempt to do the precise factor,” says Jones. “As a result of we’re so pressed upon. And also you gotta push it a bit additional than you’re comfy with.” Hopefully, some digitally-savvy fan will reply her name and make a BLM montage utilizing “The Gospel” because the soundtrack. In the meantime, Jones is wanting past a nonetheless unsure future to a number of 2021 benchmarks on her personal horizon.

Pirates has its 40th anniversary in 2021 so we’ll be celebrating that,” says Jones. “I’m additionally hoping to have a file of latest materials by subsequent spring, which ought to be a good time.” In early April, 2021, Grove Atlantic will launch The Final Probability Texaco, which will likely be out there for pre-order on Amazon as of July 1, 2020. And when she’s lastly in a position to hit the highway once more, Jones needs to include parts of her livestream reveals and “inform the tales of the e-book in a theatrical setting.” 

And oh, the tales she has to inform! Rewind to mid-February 2020, when Jones and I acquired collectively for a vigorous in-person interview shortly earlier than the ultimate weekend of Mardi Gras.

Pre-Pandemic Flashback

Dr. John first manifested as Rickie Lee Jones’ private gris-gris man in the summertime of 1978, when she was a scorching younger singer on the Los Angeles membership scene and legendary producer Tommy LiPuma dispatched his pal Mac Rebennack to see what all of the fuss was about.

“Mac and I went to a bungalow and he began taking part in bizarre music, issues that didn’t belong, and I stored singing,” Jones remembers over espresso in a Bywater cafe close to her residence in New Orleans, the place she’s lived for the previous few years. She’s simply biked over to affix me, and appears comfortable and relaxed in a dishevelled orange sweater and denims embellished with a bit hand-stitched embroidery. “He stated I handed the audition,” she provides, with a sly smile.

Thus was born a lifelong friendship {and professional} relationship, which started with Mac’s taking part in on her 1979 self-titled debut; snagged a Grammy for his or her “Makin’ Whoopee” duo on Dr. John’s LiPuma-produced In a Sentimental Temper; and culminated with Jones singing background vocals on “I Stroll On Gilded Splinters” on Mac’s remaining, as but unreleased, album, shortly earlier than his demise. However years earlier than they bodily met in Los Angeles, the Evening Tripper’s debut album Gris-Gris forged its spell on a younger runaway in 1968.

“I used to be 14 years outdated after I ran away,” remembers Jones. “It’s an extended story, however I used to be gonna meet up with all these hippies and acquired a journey to this home in Ontario the place everybody was smoking pot and listening to Gris-Gris and searching on the cowl artwork. What is that this!? It’s scary! And ‘I Stroll on Gilded Splinters’ was scary, as a result of I assumed he was singing ‘Did I homicide?, did I homicide?, did I homicide?’”

Jones breaks into music to reveal what “‘ti Alberta” seemed like when she first heard the traces that 50 years later she “put her actual spooky factor on,” as producer Shane Theriot places it, whereas laying down tracks for “Gilded Splinters” on Mac’s final album. “Did he homicide!? What did he imply!?” puzzled the teenage Jones, who reveals all of the furry particulars of that loopy Ontario afternoon in her forthcoming memoir, The Final Probability Texaco. “In order that was actually scary.”

However Rickie Lee Jones has all the time thrown warning to the wind. So removed from hexing her off, that preliminary gris-gris encounter with Mac was simply the primary throw of the black cat bones that finally led the Duchess of Coolsville to New Orleans, first to stay out the fantasy and the second time for actual.

In 1981, amped on the meteoric success of her debut album, which earned her a Greatest New Artist Grammy and despatched the only “Chuck E.’s In Love” hovering to Billboard’s Prime 10, Jones dove headfirst into the seamy aspect of the Quarter with a tribe of swashbuckling outlaws who styled themselves as pirates on decrease Decatur Avenue. Vivid characters like “Cunt-finger Louie” got here to life on her second album, Pirates, which she recorded whereas commuting backwards and forwards from her condo in New York’s East Village to the loft she shared along with her pirate krewe on Decatur, the place she stayed on and off for 3 years.

“It was an enormous loft constructing and it smelled like New Orleans,” remembers Jones. “It had that outdated decaying water scent that I like, such as you walked into the pirate journey at Disneyland. And within the rest room, should you climbed up on the sink, you may look out the window and see the Mississippi River. The roof was product of tin or aluminum siding, so when it rained, it was very romantic. It wasn’t a romantic time in my life, however it was a really romantic place.”

It was additionally only a few blocks from the place James Booker had a daily weekly gig within the Quarter. “Mac instructed me about him, so I walked down there and launched myself and began coming at any time when he performed, and we turned mates” says Jones. “The humorous factor is, I didn’t know on the time he was taking medication, and I used to be taking medication too then,” she provides with fun. “I additionally turned mates with Johnny Thomassie, who was Tom Waits’ drummer the 12 months we broke up. And Jerry Jumonville, the saxophonist who simply handed away; he labored with me on the Pirates tour and was an actual calliope of goofiness.”

Rickie Lee Jones performing with James Booker

Taking part in with Mac, Booker and different New Orleans musicians like Thomassie and Jumonville was rooted in seeds planted manner again in her childhood. Jones was first schooled in New Orleans music by her father, Richard Jones, a train-hopping singer and actor who inherited the showbiz genes of Jones’ vaudevillian grandparents, Peg Leg Jones and Myrtle Lee.

“Louis Armstrong was an enormous affect on my dad, who lived right here for some time,” remembers Jones. “I’ve an image of him in a high hat with a tuxedo on and a cane, he adopted this entire different persona when he got here down right here. He’d all the time been infatuated with New Orleans music, and he taught me ‘St. James Infirmary’ after I was a bit lady. That infirmary music was so heartbreaking to me. I put it on a file I did simply earlier than I moved right here referred to as Balm In Gilead.”

However regardless of her deep New Orleans connections—“not a lot to gamers as to a love of New Orleans music and reminiscences of those who convened on this place”—after the success of Pirates, Rickie Lee Jones adopted her muse to Paris and ultimately returned to California, the place she had a rollercoaster relationship with the music enterprise that continued for a few years.

New Orleans

As a lifelong improviser, Jones adopted her inner inventive compass wherever it led her, from profitable forays into jazz requirements like “Makin’ Whoopee” to experiments with digital music, to an eclectic catalog of covers that showcase the voice of one of many world’s nice interpretive singers. Working on the crossroads of blues, rock, jazz and people, she additionally continued writing vivid tone poems about individuals within the streets round her, and collaborated with a variety of artists from Steely Dan to Leo Kottke to Lyle Lovett. She additionally took lengthy breaks from the enterprise to recharge, getting back from semi-retirement with Duchess of Coolsville, a three-disc anthology. However at a sure level of hit-or-miss success she’d had sufficient.

“What introduced me right here the primary time [in 1981] was to be a part of a distinct scene than the one I used to be having to stay in rock and roll,” says Jones. “And that’s what introduced me right here the following time as properly. After I returned about six or seven years in the past, I used to be accomplished with L.A. I used to be virtually accomplished with music. I used to be accomplished. I simply needed to exit. I used to be pondering of Florida, as a result of I prefer to be close to animals, and so they acquired lots of animals there. However I had one pal right here [in New Orleans], and I opted for the human as an alternative of the animals. I made a very large option to attempt to be a human another time. And it was a fantastic selection, because it turned out.”

Slowing right down to scent the candy olive and keep away from the potholes gave Jones an opportunity to re-enter the human race on her personal phrases in New Orleans and grow to be a part of a neighborhood.

“For an individual like me, who’s solitary and reclusive by nature, it was a sport changer,” says Jones, who initially put down roots in Bywater. “All over the place I went, individuals stated good morning, hiya, the way you doing? And everyone, the child on the bicycle, seems to be you within the eye. It’s the other of Los Angeles, the place individuals look away, and even your pals measure your value by your success. I made a good selection coming right here. I’ve come out. I really feel like Boo Radley,” she provides with a chuckle. “I lastly got here out.”

Jones reveals off the McCree-created costume. Picture: Cree McCree

Jones is so deeply embedded locally that the primary time I met her she purchased one in all my Cree-ations on the annual Carnival Costume Bazaar: a one-of-a-kind child doll bustier with a child doll pussy, which she proudly sported at that 12 months’s St. Anne’s Ball. And I used to be solely mildly stunned when she confirmed up with our mutual pal Lexie Montgomery at a tiny throws assembly for my ‘tit Rex krewe, which parades with shoebox floats. Jones was only a couple floats forward of me on this 12 months’s parade, proudly pulling “Jesus Was the First Zombie” by Marigny streets crowded with ‘tit Rex followers. She had a ball however was a bit trepidatious at first.

“Rising up as a Catholic, it’s onerous to say stuff like that, despite the fact that it’s humorous,” she explains. “You are feeling such as you’re bringing poopy footwear into the church. So we get on the market and we’re pulling a float that claims ‘Jesus was the primary zombie,’ and I see all these kids and I’m pondering possibly that’s a factor they’re gonna should take care of. However then I assumed in the event that they’re residing in New Orleans, they’re already seen rather more offensive issues than that,” she provides with fun. “No large factor.”



Although she’s been on a inventive roll for the previous couple of years, writing and releasing two new albums and occurring tour with a small combo, Jones took her time circling again to music when she first arrived. “The way in which you discover your manner into New Orleans is, you gotta go sluggish, and I had tons and many hours to simply stroll about and drive my bike round,” she says. “Nowhere to go, no one to do it with.”

Jones started venturing out extra on the native music scene after she first bonded with Lexie Montgomery on Halloween 2014. “It was like we had been runaway sisters,” says Montgomery, who took Jones to see most of the nice New Orleans musicians who ended up taking part in on The Different Facet of Want (2015), her first album as an area resident: James Singleton, Jon Cleary, Shane Theriot and David Torkanowsky amongst them.

In contrast to Pirates, which mines her French Quarter experiences however was recorded with a stellar roster of New York session musicians, Want is New Orleans to the bone from the opening observe, “Jimmy Choos,” which places a jazzy new spin on the outdated Quarter con “the place’d you get dem footwear?” It additionally travels to Acadiana with the stunning Cajun waltz “Valtz de Mon Pere,” whereas Zachary Richard performs accordion on “J’ai Connais Pas,” a Fat Domino tribute that would have been recorded by Cosimo.

Whereas Want was a breakthrough, Jones didn’t absolutely embrace the most recent chapter of her life till Montgomery took her to see the vibraphonist and percussionist Mike Dillon at Cafe Istanbul, the place he was taking part in a gig with James Singleton.

Picture: Gus Bennett

“Mike Dillon modified my life,” Jones says flatly. “Onstage, he’s probably the most beneficiant musician I’ve ever labored with. And Mike introduced not solely a beneficiant coronary heart however the proficiency to execute anyplace I wish to go. I’m an actual improv artist, and with Mike I don’t have any concern. He’s so keen, and having that assist from one particular person has helped me elevate my head up and discover somebody to like and stay in a city and be a part of the world once more. And that factor Mike and I’ve received’t get used up. Musicians who’ve been round in any respect would by no means combine romance in the event that they’ve discovered that factor—as a result of as fantastic as romance is, romance will get used up.”

The sensation is unquestionably mutual. Whereas Dillon was initially a bit star-struck by Jones—“I used to be like 14 when she was busting out with ‘Chuck E.’s In Love,’ and I used to be like wow, it’s the cool chick with the beret!”—they had been immediately in synch when he introduced his vibes to her home and he or she sat down on the piano.

“When Rickie and I began taking part in collectively, it was actually natural,” says Dillon. “She doesn’t do set lists, she simply begins taking part in and we observe her and simply go. And I like that; I’m ADD far and wide. Intuitive telepathic issues begin occurring. Like generally on stage, I’ll begin excited about ‘Coolsville,’ and the following factor you understand she goes into it. It’s like she picks up my ideas.”

That magic carried into Esplanade Studios, the place Jones recorded her newest album of covers, Kicks, with Dillon and her common touring band, guitarist Cliff Hines and bassist Robbie Mangano, together with the Naughty Professors Horn part and particular company, together with Misplaced Bayou Ramblers’ Louis and Andre Michot. Just like the title suggests, it’s an actual kick and everywhere in the map, from the finger-snapping “Houston” to an beautiful model of the Johnny Ray weeper “Cry” to an Andrews Sisters-style “Nagasaki” for the post-nuclear age (full with Trumpzilla within the accompanying video). 

“Rickie’s one of many nice songwriters and feminine voices and iconic singers of our time,” says Dillon. “And she or he’s not jaded from the enterprise. She nonetheless has lots of ardour for the songs. She’s intense and calls for that depth from the band, and that’s what I like about her.”

Whereas she could also be passionate on stage, in her on a regular basis life Jones is as informal because the neighbors on her Marigny block, who she greets by identify as she parks her bike by her home. She has a boyfriend of a 12 months’s standing with a backyard she helps have a tendency, and a younger French bulldog named Jazzy Jones, who barrels out to greet us when Jones opens the door to disclose the cluttered hallway of somebody nonetheless within the moving-in course of. (She solely just lately purchased the home after renting it for a 12 months). However the lounge is beautiful, center-pieced by a piano coated with a shiny purple fabric, which could have been performed by Albert Einstein.

Picture: Gus Bennett

“I acquired it from an outdated man throughout the road in L.A. who died, and he was a physicist with all types of memorabilia,” she explains. “One was an image of Albert Einstein standing within the doorway. So I all the time prefer to suppose Albert might need sat down right here and performed the keys.”

The wall behind the piano is hung with outdated household images of her vaudevillian grandparents Peg Leg Jones and Myrtle Lee, who bequeathed Jones the “Lee” in her identify, and different showbiz family from her extremely musical household like Aunt Bea, a jazz singer who “sang with the likes of Tommy Dorsey when he got here into city.”

However pleasure of place goes to a fantastic archival picture of Jones jamming with James Booker on the first-ever WWOZ fundraiser, held at Jimmy’s Membership. “To me, it’s the best rock motion image ever taken”, says Jones. “It reveals him up shut and the band’s proper at my toes from behind. It says every thing.”

Top-of-the-line issues about New Orleans, as others earlier than Jones have discovered—from Alex Chilton who went native, to Ray Davies who break up after being shot throughout a mugging—is that the majority locals deal with celebrities like anybody else.

I exchanged pleasantries with John Goodman whereas we each had been shopping for new glasses, and watched Trent Reznor check out new materials in entrance of a small crowd on the Buddha Stomach burger joint throughout from his then-uptown residence. Even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie didn’t trigger a lot of a stir once they briefly lived within the Quarter. (Nicolas Cage is one other story, however that’s solely of his personal making.) And Rickie Lee Jones clearly feels at residence in New Orleans, the place “the soul is being fed,” as Montgomery places it. Backed by Dillon and a band she loves, she expects to be taking part in out regionally an entire lot extra when the live-music lockdown lastly ends, which is nice information for all of us.

“Artists usually suppose they’ve come to be beloved by the viewers,” says Jones. “And so they suppose what in the event that they don’t love me, what if I do one thing incorrect? However they’re not wanting on the unimaginable magic of what’s occurring. Crucial factor is, all these individuals on the market: they paid cash, they employed babysitters, they drove throughout city, they went to excessive lengths to return and be beloved by you. All you must do is get up and provides them your love. All you gotta do is love them.”

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