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    Waits, Tom (7th December 1949-Present)

    Here is a singer-songwriter, pianist, multi-musician, composer and actor born Thomas Alan Waits in Pomona, California, to a family where his parents were both schoolteachers and his father taught Spanish. In 1960 they divorced and Tom went to live in Whittier, California, with his mother and later in National City.


    He took several trips to Mexico with his father and he has since said that these journeys had a strong influence on him with regard to music due to hearing Mexican Ranchera style playing on the radio in the car.


    In the mid 1960s he had started performing with The Systems who played R&B and soul music and also held a job in National City at the Napoleone Pizza House, which he later referred to in his “I Can’t Wait to Get Off Work (And See My Baby on Montgomery Avenue” and “Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone’s Pizza House)”.  Not enamoured with the music in the 1960s he has since said “I wasn’t thrilled by Blue Cheer, so I found an alternative, even if it was Bing Crosby”.


    He went on to work in San Diego’s Heritage nightclub as a doorman, which was a hub for a wide variety of acts and where he managed to land his first gig.  This served as the beginning of him creating his own style and sound.


    He became a member of the United States Coast Guard and after completing his service with them he began performing in Los Angeles at The Troubadour on a Monday night.


    He relocated to Echo Park in Los Angeles in 1971 and when he was 21 he signed a contract with Herb Cohen who owned the Bizarre/Straight record label.  He recorded several demos which would later become songs that he was known for, with some not being released for another 20 years.


    In 1972 he moved label to Asylum Records and his debut Closing Time, produced by Jerry Yester, was released in 1973.  Although it did get some good reviews he didn’t get noticed until a few other artists decided to record some of its songs.


    In 1973 Tim Buckley recorded a cover of Tom’s song “Martha” which was the first time a popular artist recorded one his songs. Meatloaf recorded the song in 1996 for his Welcome to the Neighborhood.  The following year, in 1974, The Eagles recorded his “Ol’ ‘55” and  he released his The Heart of Saturday Night which received some acclaim and was popular with his fans who gave him a cult following.  By now he was also acting as the opener on several tours with popular artists of the day.


    In 1975 he moved to Santa Monica Boulevard and that year saw the release of his Nighthawks at the Diner which, although not a live album as such, was recorded with him talking to an audience who were present in the studio.


    Consistently touring during this time he began to drink heavily and suffer other downsides from being on the road and living in hotels.  This led to him releasing his Small Change in 1976 which contained songs that referred to his fight with alcohol such as “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (in Lowell)” and “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)”.  This album brought him commercial success and saw him entering the Billboard Top 100 Albums chart, which would be the only time he would achieve this until 23 years later in 1999.  He was suddenly in the limelight with articles being written about him in major magazines and many interviews.


    On the back of his successful album release he formed The Nocturnal Emissions which would become his regular touring band and then embarked on an extensive tour of Europe and the United States which lasted until May 1977.


    In 1977 he released Foreign Affairs which featured the spoken/orchestral track “Potter’s Field” and a duet with Bette Midler on “I Never Talk to Strangers”.  The following year Blue Valentine was issued, which included his version of “Somewhere” from West Side Story.  The cover included a picture of Rickie Lee Jones who was possibly his girlfriend at the time.


    Also in 1978 he made his movie debut when he appeared as the pianist known as Mumbles in Paradise Alley.  He also composed two songs for the soundtrack.


    Moving into the 1980s his Heartattack and Vine appeared on the shelves in 1980 and produced “Jersey Girl” which Bruce Springsteen performed on stage in his concerts.  The title song was later used by Levis in a commercial without permission and Tom took out a successful lawsuit against them.  The same year he wrote music and worked with Crystal Gayle for One from the Heart at the request of Francis Ford Coppola who he started a long collaboration with.  This music earned him an Academy Award nomination for Original Song Score. While working on the film he gave a cameo performance as a trumpet player and met up with the screenwriter Kathleen Brennan who he married that August.  Kathleen has since introduced him to the work of Captain Beefheart and appeared as a co-songwriter on many album tracks.


    He left Asylum Records and in 1981 they released Bounced Checks which was a “Best Of” type compilation.  Tom continued with his acting career and once again played a pianist when he appeared in 1981’s Wolfen and had a song included on the soundtrack.


    Continuing to work with Francis Ford Coppola he gave cameo performances in 1983’s The Outsiders and Rumble Fish.  The following year he wrote two songs for the documentary film Streetwise, gave a further cameo appearance in The Cotton Club and later took on the much larger role of R.M. Renfield in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.


    In 1983, having now changed to Island Records, he released his Swordfishtrombones where he performs on a wide variety of more unusual instruments he was not used to performing.  He also changed his songwriting to incorporate and experiment with earlier and lesser used styles of music.


    In 1985 he received the accolade of having his Rain Dogs gain much critical acclaim and even though it only reached No. 188 on the Billboard Album Chart it was ranked as No.21 on the Rolling Stone list of 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s.  Much later Rolling Stone would include it as No. 387 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  The album included “Downtown Train” which was later recorded by Rod Stewart and provided him with a chart hit and Tori Amos included her version of “Time” on her 2001 Strange Little Girls.


    1986 came along and Tom found himself performing the lead role in the Off-Broadway musical Franks Wild Years, which was directed by Gary Sinise.  That same year he had two songs included in the soundtrack, as well as taking the lead role, in Down by Law by Jim Jarmusch.


    A year later in 1987 he released his album Franks Wild Years subtitled with “Un Operachi Romantico in Two Acts”.  The song “Way Down in the Hole” from this album has since been used for HBO’s TV show “The Wire” where it has been sung by Tom himself and four other versions by different artists.  He took on the character of Rudy the Kraut and performed “Big Rock Candy Mountain” in the movie Ironweed.  He also performed “Once More Before I Go” in Candy Mountain by Robert Franks. 


    Working with his wife, he co-wrote the music for 1988’s Big Time and the following year he made his last stage appearance in Demon Wine which brought him several good reviews.  Carrying on acting in movies in 1989 he was seen in roles in Mystery Train, Cold Feet and Bearskin: An Urban Fairytale.  He also provided music for the soundtrack of Sea of Love with his cover version of the song that shared the title.


    Into the 1990s and Tom was involved in writing the music for Robert Wilson on The Black Rider: The Casting of Magic Bullets which was a production based on Der Freischutz that premiered in Hamburg in 1990.  He also worked in collaboration on the book Sylvia Plachy’s Unguided Tour and recorded a cover version on “It’s All Right With Me” for the AIDS benefit compilation Red Hot + Blue.


    In 1991 he worked with Primus on their Sailing the Seas of Cheese and continued to work with them on later projects.  He also acted and contributed music to several movies including At Play in the Field of the Lord, The Fisher King, Night on Earth and Queens Logic.


    1992 saw him releasing Bone Machine which won him the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album.  That same year he worked in collaboration with Robert Wilson for the second time on his production of Alice which once again premiered in Hamburg.


    The next year he issued his The Black Rider, was a singer in Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me by Gavin Bryars and acted with Iggy Pop in a B&W film, Short Cuts and Coffee and Cigarettes; Somewhere in California.  It was around this time that Tom had a hand in re-developing The Viper Room nightclub with Johnny Depp and Chuck E. Weiss.


    In 1997 he and his wife wrote the music for the short animation Bunny, which they also performed.  It went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.


    Tom left Island Records in 1998 after they had put out the compilation Beautiful Maladies: The Island Years.  He joined Epitaph and released his Mule Variations in 1999 which reached No. 30 in the Billboard Album chart and won him a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 2000.


    He started to do work as a producer and co-produced Extremely Cool by his old friend Chuck E. Weiss.  He carried on acting at the same time and appeared in Mystery Men.


    The new millennium saw him no less busy, releasing both Alice and Blood Money in 2002 nearly a decade after they had been written.  In 2003 he could be heard performing “The Return of Jackie and Judy” on We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to The Ramones and he attended the 10th annual Independent Music Awards as a judge.


    2004 came along and his Real Gone made an appearance.  He also recorded a cover of “King Kong” for The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered and provided backing vocals for the Blind Boys of Alabama on the song “Go Tell It On The Mountain” which was the title song of their Grammy Award winning gospel album.


    He returned to acting after a break of several years and in 2005 appeared in Domino and La Tigre e la Neve.  Back to music in 2006 and his three-CD box set Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards was released with the video of “Lie To Me” being used to promote it.  He appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and sang two songs from this box set in 2007.  Later in 2007 he released his download single “Diamond in Your Mind”, performed with the Kronos Quartet at the Bridge School Benefit and appeared in Wristcutters: A Love Story.


    Moving into 2008 he made the announcement that as of June he would be visiting cities in the United States and Europe on his Glitter and Doom Tour.  His concert held in El Paso,Texas in June was met with the honour of being given the key to city.  The following year he performed the role of Mr. Nick in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.


    Now in the second decade of the 2000s he was seen in a major role in the 2010 The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington.  Going into 2011 he published his Seeds on Hard Ground which is a set of 23 poems that will be included in the book Hard Times by Michael O’Brien.  Money from the book will help raise funds for Redwood Empire Food Bank.  He also released the album and single Bad As Me and performed on two songs on Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town by Hank Williams III.


    In March 2011 his contribution to music was recognised when Neil Young inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


    He has also contributed backing vocals for other artists that include Teddy Edward’s “Little Man” and “I’m Not Your Fool Anymore”, Bonnie Raitt’s “Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes”, Thelonius Monster’s “Adios Lounge”, Ken Nordine’s “A Thousand Bing Bangs” and “The Movie”, The Replacements’ “Date to Church” and The Rolling Stone’s “Harlem Shuffle”.


    Many tributes to his work have been made through the years with the 1995 tribute album of cover versions Temptation being released by Holly Cole and a further collection of covers called Wicked Grin was released in 2001 by John Hammond.  Scarlett Johansson covered ten of his songs on her Anywhere I Lay My Head and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant recorded his “Trampled Rose” for their acclaimed Raising Sand.  Far too many other artists to mention have recorded his songs.


    In recognition for his contribution to music he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2011 and VH1 have named him “One of the Most Influential Artists of All Time”.



    1. http://www.tomwaits.com/press/read/8/Real_Gone_Biography/
    2. http://www.facebook.com/tomwaits
    3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Waits
    4. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/biography
    5. http://rockhall.com/inductees/tom-waits/
    6. http://www.npr.org/artists/15295750/tom-waits
    7. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001823/bio
    8. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001823/
    9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Viper_Room
    10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heartattack_and_Vine
    11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula_(1992_film)
    12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_E._Weiss
    13. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/credits
    14. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/credits/date-asc/100
    15. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/credits/date-asc/200
    16. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/credits/date-asc/300
    17. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/credits/date-asc/400
    18. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/credits/date-asc/500
    19. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/credits/date-asc/600
    20. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tom-waits-p5778/credits/date-asc/700








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