Rickie Lee Jones Remembers the Late Chuck E. Weiss, Los Angeles Music Legend and ‘Svengali to Tom Waits’

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Rock Cellar Magazine

Reports circulated on social media beginning Tuesday afternoon that Chuck E. Weiss, celebrated (and, perhaps, underappreciated) singer/songwriter/vocalist who was a fixture on the Los Angeles music scene with his band the Goddamn Liars for decades, has passed away at the age of 76.

Among the notable moments in the life and career of Chuck E. Weiss included his affiliation with the Viper Room alongside friend/musical colleague/Viper Room co-founder Johnny Depp and being the inspiration behind the title of “Chuck E.’s In Love,” which became a No. 4 hit for Rickie Lee Jones in 1979.

Jones penned a remembrance piece that was published by the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday afternoon, which noted that Weiss passed after “an extended battle with cancer.” Jones’ heartfelt piece reflected on how she first met Weiss — whom she deems Tom Waits’ “sidekick”:

An excerpt from the full piece:

But there was a love there, something between them, a symbiotic relationship like the fish who cleans the shark. When I met them, and it was them I met, not him, or him, Chuck was the wiser of the two, and given the chance might have been the kinder, but he had already found his way to barbiturates and fooled himself into thinking it was a better way to go than heroin. It certainly did not shake up the A&R guys the way skag did, but the damage was every bit as bad — addicting, debilitating and a sad substitute for respect and love.

Still, he was a Svengali to Waits, and everyone who knew him. While Chuck’s music might have seemed derivative, what he passed on to others was as authentic as it got, at least for people who never experienced the real thing. The music he played live was the music he loved. And for the white kids lining up outside the Central on Sunset Blvd., this was as close to the Black clubs of Cleveland and Memphis as they were ever gonna get.

here is to chuck e weiss, long ago and far away … we shine so bright.

Posted by Rickie Lee Jones on Thursday, July 22, 2021

The official Facebook page for Kinky Friedman, one of Weiss’ longtime musical pals and colleagues, shared the following late Tuesday evening:

Kinky’s dear pal and L.A. music legend Chuck E. Weiss has passed away. Kinky rarely made a trip to L.A. without meeting Chuck E. for lunch at Cantor’s Deli and they’d just recently finished writing a song together titled appropriately enough “See You Down The Highway”. RIP Chuck E. #chuckeweiss #kinkyfriedman #tomwaits #rickieleejones

Kinky’s dear pal and L.A. music legend Chuck E. Weiss has passed away. Kinky rarely made a trip to L.A. without meeting…

Posted by Kinky Friedman on Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Paul Body, a friend of Weiss’s and himself a staple of the Los Angeles scene at the Troubadour, sent out a lengthy remembrance post on Wednesday, recalling his friendship with Weiss:

Once again, I have to say something that I never wanted to say …..that True Blue Rock and Roll Viking, Chuck E. Weiss has been booked to play the party at the Top of The Stairs. He had been ill for a bit. Saw him a few weeks ago, wrote him a little note, told that I love him and that we’d see other further down the line. Met him in ’74 or ’75. I think it was at a Big Joe Turner Show where Don Heffington was playing drums. This during a time when all the hip cats were building UP their record collections becauser they had to money to go back and get all of the stuff that we couldn’t get when were kids. There were some fearsome games of trying to outdo the other guy. One night at the Troub, I thought I am going to get the winning hand. So I meantioned We Wanna Boogie by Sonny Burgess. I thought he was going to say that he didn’t know about Sonny Burgess. Instead it went like this, Chuck E. mentioned Sonny’s red hair, red suit and his red Caddy. I was silenced. From then on, we were as tight ad Parisian girls Levis. Had quite adventures. Man, we saw Mink Deville together, we saw Link Wray together and it went on and and on. One time he was doing a radio show and he played You Talk About Love by Barbara George. That floored me. Only a little friction over a certain girl screwed Things for a minute. I doubted him when he said he knew Muddy Waters. So Muddy was playing the Roxy and we went to see him. After the show we go UPstairs and we walk into Muddy’s dressing room, Muddy saw us and said,”If it ain’t that Big head Chuck E. Weiss”. WOW. He did know Muddy. He was called Big Head ever since that day by me, Grosse Tete came later. Missed some of the stuff at Viper Room because I was hearing that factory whistle blowing. Caught the Piano Bar gigs. He was still cooking. Grosse Tete was Rock and Roll through and through. Once we were listening to Down The Road Apiece and he said in that voice of his….”Body, I just wish that kept going”. Man, was he right. Of course, all of us who knew him are heartbroken. the Point called me and I could hear it in his voice. Grosse Tete might b e gone, he night be at some coffee shop far, far away but he will always be here with us. The last day I saw him, I waas driving away from the hospital and I was listening to You Can’t Catch Me that song about a flying car. Well I guess Grosse Tere has hitched a ride on that flying car. All I can say is, A plus, Grosse Tete, thanks for the knowledge, like Paris, the only time I will think about you, is when I breath. Love you, man.

Once again, I have to say something that I never wanted to say …..that True Blue Rock and Roll Viking, Chuck E. Weiss…

Posted by Paul Body on Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Poet/author Michael Lally remembered his friend with a post on Wednesday as well:

Hip folks who lived in the LA area in the late 20th Century knew him as the uniquely cool frontman of Chuck E. Weiss and The Goddam Liars—the house band for the LA club The Central before it became the infamous Viper Room. A much wider audience knew him only as a name in the Ricky Lee Jones hit “Chuck E.’s In Love.”
I knew him from seeing him at The Central and in passing at other venues and events around LA. He was one of those icons of cool that you (i.e. me) secretly wish would acknowledge you and when they do makes you feel like you won something. In other words I dug him and hoped he dug me.
You can read about his many talents and accomplishments and famous accomplices and connections to our cultural history, but from the first moment I saw him, not knowing any of that, I knew I was in the presence of a force of nature. Oh, and finding out he was ten years younger than me was a shock, as my first impression was that he was around in some deeply vital way long before I was.
Condolences to his family, friends, and fans.

Vintage Los Angeles, a Facebook community dedicated to “documenting the history of Los Angeles told by the people who lived it,” shared this:

In honor of Chuck E. Weiss’s unfortunate passing…Ricki Lee Jones was inspired to write “Chuck E’s In Love” after hanging out with Chuck at the seedy Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles. Weiss had called the room where Ricki and Tom Waits were living in. When Waits took the call, Weiss explained that he was in Denver, and that he had moved there because he had fallen in love with a girl. When Waits hung up he announced to Jones, “Chuck E.’s in love”.  Jones liked the sound of the sentence and wrote a song around it.

In honor of Chuck E. Weiss’s unfortunate passing… Ricki Lee Jones was inspired to write “Chuck E’s In Love” after…

Posted by Vintage Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Weiss’ most recent album was 2014’s Red Beans & Weiss, which listed Depp and Tom Waits as executive producers.

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