Tom Waits

Tom Waits Biography

A SUCCESSFUL musician, movie star, and film composer, Tom Waits has never had a commercial hit; some of his songs are best-known for being covered by other people. He has a huge fan base, but doesn't tour. His razor-sharp wit and lyrical prowess have put him in a category by himself. Just what that category is remains unclear. He has an obsession with shoes. When he took his son to Graceland, the tot suggested to a gift shop full of tourists that they dig up the King and make a necklace out of his teeth. His dad seemed pleased.

Although the details of Waits' story seem to change from interview to interview, the contours of his life spill somewhat consistently from an anecdote of his birth--he was born in the back of a taxi just outside the hospital. While still a youngster, he taught himself to play piano at a neighbor's house, and he kept a pad of paper by his bed so he could jot down the lyrics he thought of in the middle of the night. While most teenagers were listening to the Beach Boys, Waits grooved to Bing Crosby, Cole Porter, and Bob Dylan. He seemed to be short on life goals--other than perhaps buying into a restaurant. His reading material was "limited to menus and magazines."

A slew of odd jobs--including pizza tossing at Napoleone's Pizza House in San Diego (he later wrote a song about it)--landed him as the doorman at an L.A. club called the Heritage. One night, he started writing down people's conversations as they sat around the bar. "When I put them together," Waits said, "I found some music hiding in there." Playing at the Troubadour, he was noticed by Herb Cohen, who managed Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Cohen offered him a contract, and in 1972, Waits cut his first album, Closing Time, a low-key critical success which introduced his habit of singing about the down and out. It included "Ol' 55," which was covered by The Eagles. On tour with the Mothers, Waits was reviled by the audiences. He returned to L.A. and recorded The Heart of Saturday Night, which, again, the critics loved but no one bought. His music was becoming livelier, and finally he recorded his first "live" album (he invited a bunch of friends into the studio to hear him record it), Nighthawks at the Diner, which no one, including the critics, liked.

In 1976, he went back on tour, faced more hostile audiences, drank, and found it hard to write--no privacy. Roger McGuinn, Joan Baez, and Kinky Friedman (Bob Dylan's entourage) dealt the final blow during a tour stop in New Orleans. They took the stage unannounced just as Waits was scheduled to begin his set. Waits had had enough--he took off to Europe. After gigs in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, he spent two weeks in London writing songs. The result was Small Change, a breakthrough album that chronicled the terrible year he'd had and established him as a major singer and songwriter. His voice had changed--you can hear where all that whisky and smoke went to. Perhaps this album was what cemented his early reputation as a drunk, although Waits says that, really, it commemorates the moment when he realized that being a drunk was not all it's cracked up to be. "You know, I was really starting to believe that there was something amusing and wonderfully American about a drunk," he has said. "I ended up telling myself to cut that shit out." In any case, his star rose quickly, and critics and audiences alike loved the maudlin, loungey sentiments that Waits uncovered.

In 1978, as he was cranking out an album a year, Waits started working in film--both as an actor and composer--beginning with Paradise Alley with Sylvester Stallone. He won an Oscar nomination for the soundtrack to One From the Heart, the film through which he met his wife, Kathleen Brennan, who was a script editor on the project. "She can lie down on nails, stick a knitting needle through her lip and still drink coffee, so I knew she was the girl for me," said Waits. The couple has collaborated on many projects since then, including the opera Frank's Wild Years, which was performed at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in 1986, and released as an album in 1987.

In 1986, Waits collaborated with director Jim Jarmusch for the first time in Down by Law. He's since done two more films with Jarmusch (Mystery Train, Night on Earth), and the two formed a group called The Sons of Lee Marvin, whose sole purpose was to sit around and watch Lee Marvin films. He also began to work with Robert Wilson, artistic director of the Thalia Theatre in Germany. With William S. Burroughs writing the libretto, Waits doing the music, and Wilson directing, they put together The Black Rider, which was released as an album in 1993 (Waits' last release). Waits and Wilson have since put together a stage version of Alice in Wonderland, called Alice, but no album release date has been set.

These days, no one's exactly sure what Waits is up to--besides defending the ownership of his music. He won a lawsuit against Frito-Lay for using an impersonator to mimic his voice for a commercial without his permission, and won a lawsuit against his former record label, Third Story Music, for selling some of his tunes. Waits' rhetorical question, "If Michael Jackson wants to work for Pepsi, why doesn't he just get himself a suit and an office in their headquarters?" seems to sum up his belief that art should not be used to peddle products.

The one complaint Waits' fans have is that he doesn't tour (it seems he'd rather spend time with his family). In early 1996, however, he performed a benefit concert in San Francisco, for a friend arrested on trumped-up drug charges. The show sold out in forty-five minutes, and during the performance, someone called out: "Hey Tom, where you been?" Waits shot right back: "Where you been? You still working out at the airport?"

Tom Waits Bio from Discogs

Born December 7th. 1949, in Pomona, California. Tom Waits first album, "Closing Time", was released in 1973. A contemporary artist, Waits is mostly known for his lyrical and poetical songwriting and raspy gravelly voice.

Tom Waits has gathered a large cult following over the years from around the globe, mainly because he's spun his own world in music far apart from anything else present. This has led him to being considered a major inspiration to modern-day generation of musicians. His own inspiration is rooted in early blues and alternative rock with influences like Howlin' Wolf and Jack Kerouac. TomĀ“s presence live on stage are also quite legendary, as Waits are much a storyteller as a musician giving many long monologues with witty and sarcastic humor. Apart from music, Waits also has a strong presence in movies. He has appeared in works by Francis Ford Coppola, Jim Jarmusch and Robert Altman.

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