Born in Chicago in 1954, the third of four children, Rickie Lee Jones was the tragic heir to a family of gipsies and entertainers.
Her grandfather, Peg Leg Jones, was a famous one-legged vaudeville dancer. His wife, a chorus girl, was killed in a car accident, and he surrendered Rickie’s father, Richard, to an orphanage.
Her mother was also given up by her parents and left to rot in a draconian children’s home.
When Jones was seven she discovered a talent for singing and began writing her own songs. Meanwhile, the Joneses bounced between California, Arizona and Washington. Wherever they went, Jones was teased for her exotic looks and ways.
One day at the age of 10 she had a striking premonition of her older brother Danny being in a motorcycle accident. Terrifyingly, her vision came true. Danny was nearly killed when his bike was sideswiped by a car. He fell into a coma, lost a leg and suffered permanent neurological damage.
The accident devastated the family and Jones was sent to live with an aunt.
From the age of 14, she became an habitual runaway, eventually winding up in Southern California in 1973, playing folk gigs at beach cafes and working as a singing waitress at a novelty restaurant.
Just as her musical career was beginning, Jones met the man who would become her lover, mentor and muse.
At the time, Tom Waits was a respected but still struggling singer-songwriter, who had released half a dozen albums of beat-jazz balladry while living out his Bukowski fantasy at the tarnished end of Hollywood.
By 1978 she had become a hot word-of-mouth commodity in LA. Several labels dangled deals and she eventually signed with Warner Brothers, conjuring herself as the beret-wearing duchess of coolsville.
Released in March 1979, her self-titled debut LP was a dazzling debut. Propelled by the breezy pop of Top 5 chart hit Chuck E.’s In Love (inspired by her friend Chuck E. Weiss) the album sold two million copies in the US.
Seemingly overnight, Rickie Lee Jones was a star. She was everywhere. Pouting on the cover of Rolling Stone, dancing across TV screens on Saturday Night Live, earning multiple Grammy nominations . . .
Her bank account swelled and she moved into the swanky Chateau Marmont. It was to be a classic case of too much too soon . . .
She started taking heroin on the sly, getting high for a month or two at a time then kicking it. Confessing her escalating habit to Waits shattered their relationship. Waits married Kathleen Brennan a few months later and Jones took up with writer and poet Sal Bernardi.
In the summer of 1980, she and Bernardi decamped to New York where she spent six months watching TV cop shows, reading Rimbaud, writing songs and falling deeper and deeper into heroin.
Amid her chemical descent, Jones returned to LA to record Pirates – an eight-song LP of lost love and spiritual unrest.
After a period weaning herself off drugs, Jones undertook a lengthy tour in support of Pirates. On the road, she lost herself in drink before finally sobering up, moving to Paris and recording jazzy, poetic The Magazine, She also married guitarist Pascal Nabat-Meyer and became a mother.
She has continually poked holes in her 1970s singer-songwriter reputation with albums like 1997’s trip-hop experiment Ghostyhead, the 2003 political polemic The Evening of My Best Day and 2007’s spiritual concept piece The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard.