Rickie Lee Jones is a true American original. This can be said of her music—she burst onto the scene with a self-titled debut thirty years ago and never looked back. And it can be said of her style—an idiosyncratic mash-up of vintage dresses, hipster hats, lace gloves and funky platforms.
Since her auspicious debut—which nabbed her five Grammy nominations and the Best New Artist prize in 1979—Jones has released 14 albums (four of them in the Billboard Top 10), was nominated for additional Grammys in 1988, 1989 and 2000, twice appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, and is ranked #30 in VH1's Greatest Women of Rock n Roll.
"I grew up encouraged to act, sing, write, draw—all things creative," Jones said of her artistic inclinations. "My father sang and wrote, my uncle played guitar quite well, and they would look at the scrapbooks of my grandfather, Peg Leg Jones, on the Vaudeville stages. Singing was something I could do all by myself, and I loved singing. My voice was unusual, so that was a challenge. But it was natural for me to sing. Still is."
In celebration of her 30th anniversary, the California-born troubadour just released a new DVD, Rickie Lee Jones, Live in Stockholm, and is touring through the end of the year, playing only songs from her first two albums, Rickie Lee Jones and Pirates.
"So many people cite Pirates as being important to them—Pirates and Flying Cowboys—and the first record was a big record culturally," explained Jones. "I decided to perform them as written. Just this year, I think."
Jones also recorded a song called The Weight for an upcoming CD to benefit Victoria Williams' MS charity, Sweet Relief, and is working on music for a children's book. "I haven't told anyone about [it]; I'm just writing the music," she said. "And I recently did an interview for a film about women leading us to a better world. I am most interested in discussing the role of women in creating a better world. Or, if you want to go to the negative side of it, of talking to women about the role of men in our lives, from dictating our appearance, our sexuality, our beauty, what we can and can't wear, where we can and can't go, and…you get the picture."
Indeed we do. When we caught her show at City Winery last week, we were treated to the picture of Jones at her finest, regaling the audience with hilarious anecdotes and handily dispatching a heckler with a few well-chosen words. (Note to self: Do not annoy Rickie Lee Jones.) Decked out floral velvet pants and layered t-shirts accessorized with rainbow striped arm warmers and a jaunty checkerboard fedora, Jones was, as always, the picture of eclectic chic.
So, Rickie Lee…
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I was in a hurry to take my dog to the vet so I missed breakfast.
What are you currently reading?
I am reading The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin. I have read it a few times; it's a lovely book, the last in a trilogy about a wizard who must chase some terrible shadows to the wall of death and back again. She is an eloquent writer. The Earthsea trilogy seems to be the impetus for all the Harry Potter stories... but that's another story.
What's your favorite getaway spot?
The stable where my horse is. But if you are talking vacation, I think I love Kona Village best. I have been going there for 25 years. I love to hear the birds wake up in the morning, and the staff has grown older with me, so it's quite wonderful.
What did you do last weekend and what are your plans for this weekend?
I don't measure my week that way. I don't work five days and then rest, so a weekend is much the same as a week. Except I tend to go work with my horse every weekend. Last weekend I had just returned from Israel, so I rested a lot, played guitar and started to use Twitter. This weekend I am going to stay and take care of my dog, she just had some surgery. I may go swimming, because it's going to be hot.
Tell me about your pet(s).
Juliette is my dog, she has lived with me since 2001 when my daughter brought her home on New Year's Eve. She is a blond pit bull and looks like she's part Lab. She loves me a lot and wants to go everywhere with me. She loves the studio, the microphone I sing at, she senses this energy and just gets very excited. And the stage; I let her come onstage once. That was too much for her. She likes to be with the horses. She is very kind and friendly, though some people are afraid of her because her head is a little big. (I mean that literally.) My horse is Ella. Cinder Ella. So named because when she arrived she was named Wicked Stepchild. So I had to fix that right away. I call her Ella, and I have had her now for six or seven years. She is a Rocky Mountain Saddle Horse, a gaited horse, very nice to ride. She came to me very skittish and pregnant, and it has been a long time gaining her trust. We have been making real progress lately. She is not too tall, and since I was hurt by a horse when I was a young cowgirl, she is quite extraordinary for bringing me back to a place of confidence and absolute trust myself. I guess we are healing each other.
This being a fashion-related site, please describe one of your favorite outfits, circle 1975 and a current favorite outfit.
I could tell you a favorite outfit circa 1979 when I came out. 1975 sucked as far as I am concerned. So in '79 I wore a dress I had made out of vintage material in a style more or less from the Forties, with a beret and gloves. I had three dresses made that year, and one of them I can still get into. Well, when I am six or seven pounds lighter. But we will just pretend like I am! I changed that by summer and wore a Spandex catsuit with long lace gloves, a sheer full length coat—could have been a dress, even—so that the light shined through it to Spandex beneath. I thought that was pretty sexy. I wore red high heels and red beret. And sometimes a red scarf, and that was the bomb.
What is your most treasured item of clothing/jewelry that you own?
I still have the little red jacket I wore on the Tom Waits cover of his CD, Blue Valentine.
What's the first concert you ever attended and the last concert you attended?
The first concert was either Simon and Garfunkel or Peter & Gordon. I think Simon and Garfunkel were the second concert. So Peter & Gordon. I threw my hat up on the stage and one of them put it on and then threw it back. Some surfers took it and wouldn't give it back to me. Surfers wore striped shirts. Mean teens. I was 12, maybe. Almost 13? The last concert I went to see was Matisyahu the day after my show in Tel Aviv. About 10 days ago, I think. He played at a little club there. They gave me a chair and table to sit at and I shared my table with a girl who asked if she could sit down and then spent the entire show talking on her cell phone to her boyfriend who was standing in front of her. The entire show. Not even talking about the music. It was a good concert. Well, he's charismatic and wonderful. Twelve and now I am 56. Where does the time go?
For what will you be arrested (hypothetically speaking)?
Locking the DA into the courtroom and making him listen to my side.
What is your favorite work of art of all time?
Toulouse-Lautrec. It is a drawing on brown paper of two loves. Might be called Lovers. And the girl is kind of talking or fixing her hair and the boy is just ... looking. It's a beautiful picture. Stunning; it says so much. I love them. I love the boy especially. I wonder what did he see? Was he the boy? The love and sweetness, it's all there. He is infatuated, you can feel it.
If you found $15,000 in a brown paper bag, how would you spend it?
I would try to triple it. Then i would triple that. Then I would pay my tax bill.
What's the one beauty/grooming product you can't live without?
I buy a very expensive cream from Epione in Beverly Hills, and I think it really helps. I use the body creme and the night creme, and I think my face is looking pretty good. For my age, yes, but in general, too. I just can't believe how much it costs. If I were to say one I buy at the store, I would say Perricone makes some great cremes for wrinkles.
How do you relax/recharge when you're on the road?
I watch a movie. I zone out utterly and watch a movie. After a show, before a show, if I need to not think, if I am nervous. Otherwise, to relax, I swim. I love to swim.
Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.
Ah! Shoes! I love shoes! I bought some boots in Buenos Airies and they are my favorite shoes. Leather boots, chunky, but groovy. I have weathered them well, at the stable and on the stage. But right now, I am digging these platforms. I can't wear heels, they hurt my feet, but I can wear a gentler slope and I like the height. So I bought a few pair this spring and the ones I bought at Anthropology I like a lot. They lace up my feet to my ankle, navy blue—and I like navy blue this year. The weight of them is perfect, they don't hurt my feet after hours at the airport.
What one thing would improve your life?
I would have people in and out of my house who keep me on track writing and working. OK, I would write and work on ideas more.
What keeps you awake at night?
Worry about my child, or something I should not have drunk so late, like coffee.
What's your earliest memory?
I believe it is the sound of water, a river going by. It must have sounded like being in my mother. I still love that sound most of all. Airplanes, rivers, vacuums, they have this same droning sound I love.
What never fails to make you cry?
Great triumph. It breaks my heart. When athletes succeed. When someone tried and makes it. I just break down.
When are you happiest?
When on my way somewhere…to a city to do a show. After the show. Sometimes when I have a good book and a cup of tea I feel kind of happy. It's a thing that happens on different wavelengths, and different times. Seeing a hawk or a hummingbird. Looking in my horse's eye.