Tom Waits? He stole my whole act, man!

Tim Buckley was gone. Killed by a complicated plot made to look like a suicide. I was sitting in Tim’s former keyboardist, John Herron’s apartment, who was currently on the road with Wolfman Jack in Canada. I watched over his collection of antiques and musical instruments in a two story apartment above a garage on a shady tree lined residential street in Sherman Oaks. By default I also watched over his newest girlfriend, young and fresh from Albuquerque, who was staying in John’s master bachelor bedroom. Tonight there was a scruffy looking fellow sitting on John’s bed. The girlfriend had picked him up at a club or a rehearsal studio. He knew John. So she was no doubt considered fair game by this stranger. I had seen his motorcycle outside at the foot of the stairs when I got back from doing a session in Hollywood, so I was not completely taken by surprise. He began to explain himself as I was sizing him up to throw him off the side of the balcony. He said a few things that made me hesitate from launching him into the dry San Fernando Valley night air. He was from New Orleans, and he was a drummer. Claiming to be a drummer born and raised in New Orleans can be a dangerous claim. It would be like some stranger going to Camp Lejeune and claiming to be a special forces soldier. You had better be able to back up your claim. Chuck E. was a colorful character and his voice was authentic. He knew what Second Line rhythms were. He was a blues singer as well as an accomplished drummer, and no doubt a real ladies’ man to boot. As per usual I ended up listening to his story. He told me about meeting this young folk singer upon arriving in LA. “He was a folk singer, man!… From the Valley!” Chuck E. growled, whiskey words through strands of dark unkempt long hair hanging over his pale racially mixed hound dog face that resembled the blacktop on Highway 41, at Clarksdale, Mississippi, the Crossroads, midway between Memphis and New Orleans; weathered, worn, cracked, finely laced wrinkles from late nights of alcohol and cigarettes even at his young age.  But his voice was what entranced. He had the greatest low rumble flow of New Orleans patois, with impeccable timing of phraseology seasoned with down home gumbo bittersweet wisdom. He was for real, trying to get his place in the sun playing his music. But he was going off about some kid who had befriended him. “Maaannn, When I met him, he was sangin’ “Five Hunert Mailes, Five Hundert Mile… He didn’t know shit. Played goddam folk music. Next time I saw him, he was talking like ME! Mutherfucker copped my whole act, man.” Chuck E. Weiss and the Goddam Liars became one of the greatest bar bands in LA and the beautiful, sweet and talented Rickie Lee Jones wrote the huge hit song;”Chuck E.’s in Love”.  The folk singer became Tom Waits.

excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2015 all rights reserved

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