Chuck E. Weiss, blues musician, club owner, and oversized Los Angeles character who was immortalized in Rickie Lee Jones’ breakout hit “Chuck E.’s in Love,” died on July 20 at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles . He was 76.
His brother Byron said the cause was kidney failure.
Mr. Weiss was a voracious musicologist, encyclopedia of obscure jazz and early R&B artists, drummer, songwriter, and widely recognized villain who moved from his Denver home to his friend, singer-songwriter Tom., In the mid-1970s Los Angeles Landed Waiting.
At the Troubadour, the venerable West Hollywood folk club where Mr. Weiss worked as a dishwasher for a while, they met another young singer-songwriter, a former runaway named Rickie Lee Jones. Mr. Waits and Ms. Jones became one item, and the three became inseparable as they wandered Hollywood, stealing lawn trinkets and joking people at music industry parties (like shaking hands with dip on the palms of their hands).
“Sometimes it seems like we’re real romantic dreamers stuck in the wrong time zone,” Ms. Jones told Rolling Stone in 1979, describing Mr. Weiss and Mr. Waits as their family at the time.
They stayed at the Tropicana Motel, a shabby 1940s bohemian on Santa Monica Boulevard. “It was a normal DMZ,” Mr. Weiss told LA Weekly in 1981, “except they were all tan and good-looking.”
In the fall of 1977, Mr. Weiss called his pals in Los Angeles on a trip home to Denver, and when Mr. Waits hung up the phone, he announced to Ms. Jones, “Chuck E. is in love! ”
Two years later, Ms. Jones’ fanciful riff to that explanation had – “What’s her name? (Though the last line of the song suggests otherwise, it wasn’t Ms. Jones that Mr. Weiss fell in love with; it was a distant cousin of his.)
The song was a hit single, the opening track of Ms. Jones’ debut album “Rickie Lee Jones” and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1980. (“What a Fool Believes,” performed by the Doobie Brothers, took the honor.)
In a July 21 essay in the Los Angeles Times, Ms. Jones wrote that when she first met Mr. Waits and Mr. Weiss, she could not tell them apart. “They were two of the most charismatic characters Hollywood has seen in decades,” she wrote, “and without them the entire street of Santa Monica Boulevard would have collapsed.”
In a telephone interview later, she said of Mr. Weiss: “It was nonsense in him, he was our trickster. He was an exciting guy and a disaster for a while, as exciting people often are. “
Charles Edward Weiss was born in Denver on March 18, 1945. His father Leo was in the salvage business; his mother, Jeannette (Rollnick) Weiss, owned a hat shop, Hollywood Millinery. Chuck graduated from East High School and attended Mesa Junior College, now Colorado Mesa, in Grand Junction.
His brother is his only immediate survivor.
In his early 20s, Mr. Weiss met Chuck Morris, now a music organizer, when Mr. Morris was a co-owner of Tulagi, a music club in Boulder, Colorado. When blues performers like Lightnin ‘Hopkins and John Lee Hooker came through, they often traveled alone, and it was up to Mr. Morris to find them a local band. He would ask Mr. Weiss to fill in as the drummer.
In 1973, Mr. Morris opened a nightclub called Ebbets Field in Denver (he was born in Brooklyn), which attracted artists such as Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Mr. Waits. Mr. Weiss also took part there.
At that time, as Mr Weiss recalled in 2014, he was trying to record his own music and had a habit of asking performers to play with him. That’s how he met Mr. Waits. “And I think what happened was that I saw Waits doing some finger poppin things in Ebbets Fields one night,” he said, “and I went to see him after the show. I was wearing a pair of platform shoes and a chinchilla coat and slipped on the ice in the street outside because I was so high and asked if he wanted to take me on. He looked at me like I was out of space, man. “
Still, he said, they quickly became friends.
Mr. Waits, interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1999, described Mr. Weiss as “a human, a liar, a monkey, and a pathological vaudevilian.”
Mr. Waits and Mr. Weiss ended up working together on a number of things, in one case they co-wrote the lyrics to “Spare Parts (A Nocturnal Emission),” a barroom lament on Mr. Waits’ album “Nighthawks at the Diner ”, published in 1975. Mr. Waits produced two albums for Mr. Weiss; the first, “Extremely Cool”, in 1999, was described in a review as “a silly, eclectic mix of loosely played blues and boogie-woogie”.
Although his songwriting was unique – “Anthem for Lost Souls” was told from the perspective of a neighbor’s cat – Mr. Weiss was best known for his live performances. Gravelly, scruffy and long-winded, he was a blues man with a borcht-belt humor.
For much of the 1980s, Mr. Weiss played at a Los Angeles club called Central, accompanied by his band The Goddamn Liars. He later encouraged his friend Johnny Depp to buy the house with him and others. They turned it into the Viper Room, the celebrity-speckled nightclub from the ’90s.
He has been asked many times how he felt about his star turn in Ms. Jones’ hit. “Yeah, I was stunned,” he told The Associated Press in 2007. “Little did we know we’d both be known for it for the rest of our lives.”
But the rest of her life would no longer be intertwined.
“When ‘Chuck E.’s in Love’ disappeared from the sky and disappeared into the ‘I hate that song’ desert, which it still hasn’t really recovered from, he and I became estranged and we all became different from everyone else Cut.” Ms. Jones wrote about Mr. Weiss in her article for the Los Angeles Times. “Wait left, the short Camelot on our street corner is over. I had made fictions out of us, made heroes out of very unheroic people. But I’m glad I did. “
Later on the phone, she said, “Two of the three of us became very successful musicians, but Chuck wasn’t, and he knew a lot of people.” She added, “We think being the most famous is an asset, but I’m not sure. Chuck did everything right. “