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Pop Music | Bonus Track

When the Gig Ended, His New Career Began

January 27, 2002|MARC WEINGARTEN

Story line: Los Angeles club legend records first album in his late 40s, and now follows it with a stellar effort that includes a 32-year-old track with cameos by blues legends Willie Dixon and Sunnyland Slim.

The goods: "Old Souls & Wolf Tickets," just out on Rykodisc/Slow River.

The hero: Singer-songwriter Chuck E. Weiss, a native of Colorado who began his career as a journeyman blues drummer, has been a fixture on the L.A. music scene since the late '70s, when he cavorted with buds Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones. It was Jones who made him a 15-minute celebrity in 1979 with her Top 40 hit, "Chuck E.'s in Love." From 1981 to 1997, Weiss and his band the G-d Damn Liars cooked up an electric blues tempest every Monday night at the Central, which is now the Viper Room.

The album: Weiss' 1999 full-length debut "Extremely Cool," which was bankrolled by Waits and then picked up by Rykodisc for distribution, received strong reviews and introduced this 40-year music veteran to a national audience. (Let's not count 1981's "The Other Side of Town," a collection of demo recordings.) "Old Souls" is an even more impressive showcase for Weiss' skewed talents, from the dada jump-blues of "Tony Did the Boogie Woogie" to the punch-drunk sea shanty stumble of "Anthem for Old Souls" and the bittersweet torch ballad "It Don't Happen Overnight." "I wanted this album to do a couple more things than the last one," he says, "so I pulled out some melodic tunes that you can hum along to."

The awful truth: It took a pink slip to jump-start Weiss' recording career. According to Weiss, his Central gig had become a crutch. "I was really bummed for a while when I lost the Central thing, but it forced me into recording. I resented [the club] for ending it, but it was a definite blessing in disguise."

Ain't entirely a C thang: Weiss credits Waits for helping get his act in gear. "He was really a mentor, telling me what I needed to do to get it done. It's kinda like Snoop and Dr. Dre!"

Road show: Weiss, who plays the Viper Room in West Hollywood on Thursday, hopes to take the G-d Damn Liars on the road. "It all depends on how well the album's received. If it does well, that's when the bookings come."

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Marc Weingarten is a regular contributor to Calendar.

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