Who is Chuck E., and Who Was He REALLY in Love With?

Rickie Lee Jones in concert in 1980
Photo Credit
David Redfern/Redferns

If you were a rock radio listener at the end of the '70s - or indeed, a dedicated Billboard chart-watcher - you'll no doubt remember "Chuck E.'s in Love," the hit debut single by legendary singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones.

Written by Jones herself and co-produced by Russ Titelman and Lenny Waronker, “Chuck E.’s in Love” was famously written about Chuck E. Weiss, a fixture of the L.A. music scene as a songwriter, drummer and disc jockey. At the time, Jones was in a relationship with Tom Waits, a mutual friend of Weiss; the three of them used to hang out at the Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles until one day Chuck E. up and vanished. Thanks to a phone call from Weiss to Waits, the mystery of his disappearance was solved: Weiss had, in fact, decided to move to Denver because he’d fallen in love.

That said, it’s important to offer the reminder that, although Chuck E. was indeed in love, he was not, in fact, “in love with the little girl singing this song.” He did, however, have a friendship with Jones, albeit one which was a bit off and on.

Weiss died in the summer of 2021, just over 42 years after the song that bore his name reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. His loss prompted Jones to write a tribute to her old friend:

When "Chuck E.’s in Love" came out in ’79, Weiss was catapulted to fame far above his mentor’s. He began to imagine having a music career of his own, which he really had not considered before and had no right to. He could not sing, he did not play an instrument. But he could make up a rhyme along the lines of Waits, and eventually so many musicians in town wanted to play with him because if Waits liked him, he must be good, and because, well, he was Chuck E.

When ‘Chuck E.’s in Love’ passed from the heavens and faded into the "I hate that song" desert, from which it still has not really recovered, he and I became estranged, and everyone fell away from everyone...Waits left, the brief Camelot of our street corner jive ended. I had made fiction of us, made heroes of very unheroic people. But I’m glad I did.

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