Chuck E. Weiss, a musician and—with close friends Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits—prankish presence in Los Angeles music circles who inspired Jones' biggest hit, has died. He was 76. His family said the cause was kidney failure, the New York Times reports. Weiss was a songwriter, drummer, club owner, disc jockey, expert on blues and R&B, musician, frontman, and all-around musical character. He added bits of other types of music, such as zydeco, as well as poetry, to his own rock 'n' roll. Weiss could turn "a club room into an instant party," Bruce Haring writes in Deadline. "He was a thrilling guy, and a disaster for a time," Jones said, "as thrilling people often are." For 11 years, Weiss and his band, the Goddamn Liars, played The Central nightclub weekly. When the Sunset Strip club faded, he talked Johnny Depp into helping, and the place morphed into the successful Viper Room.
Weiss grew up in Denver. Through a promoter, he met and often drummed with musicians such as blues giants Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Dr. John. He also met and became friends with Waits, and the two moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. They met Rickie Lee Jones, a young singer-songwriter; she and Waits became a couple. The trio lived at the Tropicana Motel, a less-than-elegant punk motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, and became a fixture at Hollywood clubs and industry parties. "It seems sometimes like we're real romantic dreamers who got stuck in the wrong time zone," Jones said in 1979, per Rolling Stone. At one point, Weiss vanished, resurfacing in a call to Waits. He said he'd moved back to Denver to pursue a romance with a distant cousin. After hanging up, Waits told Jones, "Chuck E.'s in love!" The resulting song reached No. 4 and launched Jones' debut album. After Weiss' death, a former publicist pleaded on social media, "Please let people know he was so much more than the title of a song." (Read more obituary stories.)