24 Comments
May 6, 2021Liked by Ted Gioia

Very interesting piece although you neglected to mention the beautiful album of original material called ‘Traffic from Paradise’ and the incredible trip-hop album ‘Ghostyhead’: her tour for this record was one of the most electrifying evenings of theatre I have ever experienced!

Expand full comment
author

Thanks for the comment. I did include a track from Traffic from Paradise on my Qobuz playlist that accompanies the article. For some reason Ghostyhead doesn't seem to be available on Qobuz—in fact, it might not be on other streaming platforms either. Which is a shame.

Expand full comment

The appearance of the great Leo Kottke on that album was a great surprise and a continuing delight.

Expand full comment

First thing that came to mind as I read the article. I don't know Ghostyhead, but Traffic from Paradise is up there with her first and second albums.

Expand full comment

Terrific summary, Ted. I was recently talking to a band-mate of mine, one of NOLA's go-to bass players, James Singleton, about his sessions with Ricki Lee. Those are his tales to tell, not mine - so I'll just say that she's nothing if not consistent in her singular vision and determination, and how that challenges and impacts her collaborators.

Expand full comment

When you play for Ricki, you have to forget all the other stuff you've played and listen to her. For the drummer, he has to enhance what she's singing and not lose the groove. A Jazz player that can accompany a singer and goes where she goes without losing where he is.

Expand full comment
May 6, 2021Liked by Ted Gioia

Great piece, Ted. I'm writing an essay on Steely Dan that I frame with RLJ's touching and smart eulogy for Walter Becker in RS. I see her cover of "Show Biz Kids" makes your playlist. Good choice.

Expand full comment
author

Let me know when your Steely Dan essay runs. I'd like to read it.

Expand full comment
May 5, 2021Liked by Ted Gioia

I loved this piece Ted...wondering what you thought of her memoir. The singular nature of that first album (and I’d say Pirates, too) makes a lot more sense with her account of absorbing so much pre-WW2 popular music, vaudeville and Broadway (the reoccurring paeans to West Side Story were wonderful and for me surprising). Overall it’s a very impressive book and the first two thirds make for gripping reading. Sudden fame and addiction leave little room for music, and the last third gets fuzzy and loses focus.

Expand full comment
author

Her book is fascinating. I initially thought I would write a review of it—then I decided to do a survey of her music and career instead. But I learned a lot from her recounting of events. I wouldn’t have written this piece if she hadn’t published her memoir.

Expand full comment
May 4, 2021Liked by Ted Gioia

An exceptional piece of music writing, bravo.

Expand full comment
May 4, 2021Liked by Ted Gioia

Great write up. I remember when she appeared with her first album and was in love. Wonderful overview of her music and career! PS: Created an Apple Music playlist based on your list at https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/rickie-lee-jones-by-tedgioia/pl.u-ovZAgTZoAN

Expand full comment
May 7, 2021Liked by Ted Gioia

Saw her at the Academy of Music , phila in 1982.Woody and Dutch.

Expand full comment

I'm an uneducated music listener, but I've always loved her music. Thank you for this post. I'll be sharing this with my one other friend who I know is also a fan.

Expand full comment

Thanks to the Map you just made I discovered this gem of an article. Always loved RLJ, always will: she had IT, both as writer and as a singer.

"There would be no comeback for Rickie Lee Jones, but at least she wasn’t recycling old songs in Vegas casinos and on cruise trips for retirees." exactly, plus maybe she did not want a comeback, at least not in the sense we attribute to the word (sold out shows in big sized venues, the press making a vintage idol out of her, etc).

I imagine her in small theaters singing her songs and maybe a few standards, but not necessarily with jazz musicians backing her up... She brought the jazz element into pop in such a unique way. Last Chance Texaco is one of the greatest songs ever written/performed/recorded in my opinion.

Expand full comment

Yes, I found it today also- appreciate the map!

How would you compare her to Van Morrison? He seems to have followed a similar track of great jazz-influenced songs and unique vocal styling but then moving into standards and re-packaged stuff as he aged. He had a longer peak I suppose.

Expand full comment

I played for Ricki at the The Comeback Inn in Venice, Ca. in 1979. She came in dressed in 1930s clothes and sang standards. One day I ran into her on the Santa Monica mall. She was wearing a slip and sandals and told me that she was recoding an album for Warner Bros. and was looking for drummer. I told her to call Billy Higgins. Warner Bros. went with the drummer who played on the Bird soundtrack and the music didn't swing. Warner Bros. turned Ricki every way but loose and for a time she didn't know who she was and tried on different characters. I haven't seen her since that day on the mall. You're analyses of her musical decline mirrors her psychological state of mind. Last I heard, Ricki was living in New Orleans doing some club dates and recording a new album of standard-like material. The one cut that I heard sounded llke Ricki trying to be Ricki. She's not there yet, and she's not lost.

Expand full comment

Great article.

Im a fan of both RLJ and Porcaro (I play the drums). I read this story many years ago in Modern Drummer interview with Porcaro.

“RLJ’s biggest obstacles came from away from the piano and microphone “ sums it up for me. Not necessarily the choice of well established and proven studio musicians. Just my view. 😁

Expand full comment

One can be a "well established and proven studio musician," and not be the right person for that gig.

Expand full comment

This piece prompted me to read her memoir “Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour”. As the old saying goes, “she paid her dues”. Like many rock/blues singers that venture into jazz, she didn’t get much encouragement from the jazz critics.

Expand full comment

She was too locked into Lady Day to churn up much interest in the Jazz listeners. They'd already heard Lady Day.

Expand full comment

I come to this article (very well-written and analyzed) a year late. I agree completely with your lamenting the loss of Rickie Lee's voice in her second album. I actually went to high school and was best friends with Rickie's younger sister (Pamela Jo but just Pam in high school) and in the winter of 1980 taxied Rickie to and from a small sound studio at a local college where she was working on he second album "Pirates". Rickie played us some of the demo tracks in her kitchen one evening and asked what she should title the album. I voted for "Skeletons" - I loved the haunting poetry of the song. They went for the more uptempo "Pirates". Ah - memories from a bygone era of music.

Expand full comment

Great analysis of her career--and I was into it before I saw that you quoted from the interview I did with her for Vanity Fair!

Expand full comment

Great analysis of her career--and I was into it before I saw that you quoted from my Vanity Fair interview with her!

Expand full comment