- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007


He’s a singer-songwriter, bebop hipster, poet of spoken-word jazz and — for better or worse — the living, breathing embodiment of Rickie Lee Jones’ most famous song, “Chuck E’s in Love.”

If there has been any downside to that latter distinction (and one could make a strong case that it has taken more attention than it should have from his own music) Chuck E. Weiss doesn’t dwell on it.

“When I first heard it, she played it for me,” Mr. Weiss recalls of the 1979 song that memorialized him in the greasy spoons and hipster hangouts of Hollywood that have been his haunts for more than 30 years. “Yeah, I was flabbergasted.”

Then he adds with a knowing chuckle, “Little did we know that all in all, we would both be known for that for the rest of our lives.”

Both Mr. Weiss and Miss Jones have been vague about the song’s origin, with Mr. Weiss claiming he never asked her what inspired it. At the time, she was a frequent companion of Mr. Weiss and Tom Waits, who were both living at West Hollywood’s fabled Tropicana Hotel, home during those years to numerous writers and musicians.

Although the song ends with the words, “Chuck E’s in love with me,” both Mr. Weiss and Miss Jones have said they were never romantically involved. Mr. Weiss says one legend about the song’s origin may be true: that Mr. Waits told Miss Jones offhandedly one day, “Did you hear? Chuck E’s in love.”

Not that he’s complaining about the end result. It has been quite a ride these 50-odd years (Mr. Weiss is cagey about his age) and he recounts some of it in his just-released album, “23rd & Stout.”

The recording cuts across a colorful lyrical landscape that includes musty old saloons, 4 a.m. prank phone calls and hopeless searches for the junky “antique” dealers who once dominated the suburban boulevards of Los Angeles before strip malls replaced them.

For Mr. Weiss, who once went decades between albums, it is his third in recent years.

“I feel like I’ve got a biological time clock I’m runnin’ against. I should get as much out there as I can,” Mr. Weiss, who cuts the “g” off all spoken words that end in that letter, says in a gravelly growl that is indicative of too many late nights spent fishing Old Gold cigarettes out of a crumpled pack.

Sitting in the back of an old coffee shop just off Hollywood Boulevard, dressed in embroidered jeans and an unbuttoned dress shirt pulled over a white undershirt, his dark eyes hidden behind wraparound shades, Mr. Weiss manages to look, without trying, like a character who just leaped out of a Tom Waits song.

But then that shouldn’t be surprising. In “I Wish I Was in New Orleans,” Mr. Weiss’ old friend sings: “Deal the cards, roll the dice, if it ain’t that old Chuck E. Weiss.”

“I find that quite honorable. Sometimes totally misconstrued,” says Mr. Weiss, laughing, of the hipster reputation such songs have given him.

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