Chuck E. Weiss Biography

c. 1952, Denver, Colorado, USA. Cult singer-drummer Weiss may be best known for being either the subject matter or inspiration for other artist’s songs (both Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits have penned past ‘tributes’ to Weiss). Despite issuing several albums over the years, it was a non-musical endeavour that brought Weiss the most recognition. He helped co-found (along with actor Johnny Depp) what has become one of the most popular nightlife hangouts in all of Los Angeles, California, the Viper Room.

Born in the early 50s, Weiss became interested in music at an early age, owing to his father’s extensive record collection. By the age of 10, Weiss was sneaking into local music clubs to check out national acts that would stop by for one night stands, especially the Ebbett’s Field blues club. While most budding teenaged Americans of the 60s turned to the British Invasion for inspiration, Weiss immersed himself in blues and country. After a stint playing drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins, Weiss was invited to tour the country with the blues legend. His resume of artists he backed quickly became quite impressive, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Roger Miller, Dr. John, and Spencer Davis.

During a break from the road in 1972, Weiss sat in with an up-and-coming artist playing Ebbett’s Field, Tom Waits. Waits and Weiss hit it off, and when Weiss relocated to Waits’ home-town of Hollywood shortly thereafter, the duo became very good friends. It was not long before the creative juices began to flow, as Weiss helped co-write the track ‘Spare Parts’ with Waits on his 1975 release, Nighthawks At The Diner. By the mid-70s, Weiss had taken up residence in the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, as he landed a regular Monday night gig at a nearby Hollywood nightclub, the Central. Despite receiving some recognition for his songwriting collaboration with Waits, Weiss was in no rush to pursue the expected album-tour cycle that most artists follow throughout their career. Instead, he quietly kept demoing originals and playing out locally.

In 1979 interest in Weiss perked up once more, as he served as inspiration for a hit penned by friend Rickie Lee Jones, ‘Chuck E.’s In Love’. Select Records decided to issue a stack of Weiss demos in 1981, titled The Other Side Of Town, but the move did not sit well with Weiss. Dissatisfied with the product, he demanded that the album be taken off the market place, and it sunk from sight shortly after its release. Weiss returned to playing regularly at the Central, but this time with a newly assembled band, the G-d Damn Liars. Weiss and his band continued to play regularly at the venue, until its future was put in doubt during the early 90s owing to financial problems. Instead of turning his back on his long-time favourite club, Weiss teamed up with friend Johnny Depp to rebuild the Central as the Viper Room. Weiss seemed destined to become one of rock’s best-kept secrets, until old friend Waits convinced Weiss that he should share his talent with the rest of the world, and offered to produce an album for him. The resulting release, 1999’s Extremely Cool, was a critical success. The follow-up Old Souls & Wolf Tickets, released three years later, was another quality album.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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