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Music – Singer / Songwriter / Rock n Roll / Blues / Ballads – Tom Waits – L E’s Stories Special – “A Diamond Who Wants To Stay Coal…..With A Voice Like The Sand In The Sandwich” – Salute To The Genius Of Tom Waits

When it comes to great American songwriters, Bone Daddy, the original Sportsphile, has his favorites which include Hank Williams, Paul Simon, Kris Kristofferson, Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson, Don Henley & Glenn Frey, James Brown, Merle Haggard, Eddie Holland + Lamont Dozier + Brian Holland (MoTown), Dolly Parton, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Sly Stone, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Al Green, James Taylor, Prince, Randy Newman, Smokey Robinson, Neil Young and Van Morrison…..but his favorite since the 1978 has been Tom Waits…..as a result of seeing him live at Austin City Limits.  Bone Daddy describes him as the true poet laureate of music for those folks who haven’t had a very good hand to play in life…..for there is no songwriter who has ever brought more emotion and tears simply through his words in his music.  So, here’s the story of Tom Waits, the man whose voice sounds like “the sand in the sandwich”….but it is rich and it is rare….and his writing looks like the sound of his voice: messy, garbled, disjointed and beautiful….as he is truly one of the finest “word merchants” to ever grace a stage….as evidenced by the videos in this story.                                                                                                    


Music – 1978 – Austin City Limits – Tom Waits Live In Concert


Thomas Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, composer and actor.  His lyrics often focus on the underbelly of society….and are delivered in his trademark deep, gravelly voice.  He worked primarily in jazz during the 1970’s……but his music since the 1980’s has reflected greater influence from blues, rock, vaudeville and experimental genres.


Music & Biography – 1971 To 2021 – Tom Waits Biography – “Tales from a Cracked Jukebox” (Subt. Español)                                                                                           


Waits was born and raised in a middle-class family in Pomona, California….. and soon after moved to Whittier…..who as a teenager inspired by the work of Bob Dylan and the Beat Generation began singing on the San Diego folk music circuit.  He relocated to Los Angeles in 1972….where he worked as a songwriter before signing a recording contract with Asylum Records.  His first albums were the jazz-oriented Closing Time in 1973…..and The Heart of Saturday Night in 1974…..which reflected his lyrical interest in nightlife, poverty and the underbelly of society. He repeatedly toured the United States, Europe and Japan….while attracting greater critical recognition and commercial success with his albums Small Change in 1976….Blue Valentine in 1978…..and Heartattack and Vine in 1980…..then he produced the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s film One from the Heart in 1981….and subsequently made cameo appearances in several Coppola films.


Music – 1972 – Tom Waits – “Red Shoes” + “Burma Shave”                                           


In 1980, Waits married Kathleen Brennan….then split from his manager and Asylum Records…..and moved to New York City.  With his wife’s influence and encouragement….plus her frequent collaboration, he pursued a more experimental and eclectic musical aesthetic influenced by the work of Harry Partch and Captain Beefheart….which was reflected in a series of albums released by Island Records, including Swordfishtrombones in 1983…..Rain Dogs in 1985….and Franks Wild Years in 1987.  He continued to appear in films such as starring in Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law in 1986….and also made theatrical appearances….such as with theater director Robert Wilson…. when he produced the musicals The Black Rider and Alice….which was first performed in Hamburg, New York.  Having returned to California in the 1990’s, his albums Bone Machine in 1992….The Black Rider in 1993….and Mule Variations in 1999 earned him increasing critical acclaim and multiple Grammy Awards…..then in the late 1990’s, he switched to the record label ANTI-…..which released Blood Money and Alice in 2002….Real Gone in 2004 …..and Bad as Me in2011).



Music & Talk Shows – 1983 To 2015 – Late Night With David Letterman Special – “Tom Waits Collection”                                                                                           


Despite a lack of mainstream commercial success, Waits has influenced many musicians….while gaining an international cult following…..which led to  several biographies being written about him.  In 2015, he was ranked at # 55 on Rolling Stone‘s “100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time”…..and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.



Music & Awards Shows – 2011 – Neil Young Inducts Tom Waits Into The Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame – With Tom Singing “Make It Rain” + “Rain Dogs”                 


Tom’s father, Jesse Frank Waits, was a Texas native of Scots-Irish descent…. while his mother, Alma Fern, hailed from Oregon and had Norwegian ancestry…..as she was a regular church-goer….who managed the household.  Jesse taught Spanish at a local school and was an alcoholic…..as Waits later related that his father was “a tough one, always an outsider”.  Waits described having a “very middle-class” upbringing and “a pretty normal childhood” He attended Jordan Elementary School….where he learned to play the bugle and guitar….while his father taught him to play the ukulele.    He later recalled that it was an uncle’s raspy, gravelly voice that inspired the manner in which he later sang.



Music & Talk Shows -2012 – Tonight With Jimmy Fallon – With Tom Waits


In 1959, his parents separated and his father moved away from the family home, which was a traumatic experience for 10-year-old Waits.  Alma took her children and relocated to Chula Vista….which was a middle-class suburb of San Diego.  In nearby Southeast San Diego, Waits attended O’Farrell Community School….where he formed a band, The Systems….which he later described the group as “white kids trying to get that Motown sound”…..as he developed a love of R&B and soul singers like Ray Charles, James Brown, and Wilson Pickett….as well as country music…..and Roy Orbison…..then Bob Dylan later became a strong influence…..with Waits placing transcripts of Dylan’s lyrics on his bedroom walls.  He was an avid watcher of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Twilight Zone.  By the time he was studying at Hilltop High School….that is when he later described himself as “kind of an amateur juvenile delinquent”…..who was interested in “malicious mischief” and breaking the law…..and later as a “rebel against the rebels”…..for he eschewed the hippie subculture which was growing in popularity…..and was instead inspired by the 1950’s “Beat generation”…..and having a love of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.  In 1968, at age 18, he dropped out of high school….and then worked at Napoleone’s pizza restaurant in National City, California….and while both there and at a local diner developed an interest in the lives of the patrons….as he would  write down phrases and snippets of dialogue he overheard.  He worked in the forestry service as a fireman for three years…..and served with the Coast Guard.  He enrolled at Chula Vista’s Southwestern Community College to study photography…..and for a time considering a career in the field.  He continued pursuing his musical interests….and he began taking piano lessons…..as he frequently visited folk music venues around San Diego….and became drawn into the city’s folk music scene.  In 1969, he got hired as an occasional doorman for the Heritage coffeehouse….which held regular performances from folk musicians….then he began to sing at the Heritage…. as his set initially consisted largely of covers of Dylan and Red Sovine’s “Big Joe and Phantom 309”.  In time, he performed his own material as well…. which were often parodies of country songs or bittersweet ballads influenced by his relationships with girlfriends…..as these included early songs “Ol’ 55” and “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You”.  As his reputation spread, he played at other San Diego venues…..while supporting acts like Tim Buckley, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and his friend Jack Tempchin.  Aware that San Diego offered little opportunity for career progression, Waits began traveling into Los Angeles to play at The Troubadour Club. 



Music – 2013 – The Rolling Stones Live In Concert – With Tom Waits – “Little Red Rooster”                                                                                                                         


In the autumn of 1971, at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, Waits came to the attention of Herb Cohen….who signed him to a publishing contract and a recording contract.  The recordings that were produced under that recording agreement were eventually released in the early 1990’s as The Early Years, Volume One and The Early Years, Volume Two.  Quitting his job at Napoleone’s to concentrate on his songwriting career, in early 1972 Waits moved to an apartment in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, a poor neighborhood known for its Hispanic and bohemian communities.  He continued performing at the Troubadour and there met David Geffen….who gave Waits a recording contract with his Asylum Records….as Jerry Yester was chosen to produce his 1st album…. with the recording sessions taking place in Hollywood’s Sunset Sound studios.  The resulting album, Closing Time, was released in March 1973…..albeit attracted little attention and did not sell well.  Biographer Barney Hoskyns noted that Closing Time was “broadly in step with the singer-songwriter school of the early 1970’s”….while Waits had wanted to create a piano-led jazz album although Yester had pushed its sound in a more folk-oriented direction.  An Eagles cover of its opening track, “Ol’ 55”, on their album On the Border, brought Waits further money and recognition….although he regarded their version as “a little antiseptic”.



Music – 1975 – Tom Waits – Live at the Troubadour, West Hollywood


To promote his debut, Waits and a three-piece band embarked on a U.S. tour, largely on the East Coast, where he was the supporting act for more established artists…..like Tom Rush at Washington D.C.’s The Cellar Door…..Danny O’Keefe at Massachusetts’s Club Passim…..Charlie Rich at New York City’s Max’s Kansas City….Martha Reeves and the Vandellas in East Lansing, Michigan….and John P. Hammond in San Francisco.  Waits returned to Los Angeles in June, feeling demoralized about his career.  That month, he was the cover star of free music magazine, Music World.  He began composing songs for his 2nd album…..and attended the Venice Poetry Workshop to try out this new material in front of an audience.  Although Waits was eager to record this new material, Cohen instead convinced him to take over as a support act for Frank Zappa’s the Mothers of Invention after previous support act Kathy Dalton pulled out due to the hostility from Zappa’s fans.  Waits joined Zappa’s tour in Ontario, but like Dalton found the audiences hostile…..while on stage he was jeered at and pelted with fruit.  Although he liked the Mothers of Invention’s band members, he found Zappa himself intimidating.                                                                                                              


Music & Talk Shows – 1979 – Reeling In The Years In Australia – Interview With Tom Waits


Waits moved from Silver Lake to Echo Park….while spending much of his time in downtown Los Angeles…..when in early 1974, he continued to perform around the West Coast…..and getting as far as Denver.  For Waits’ 2nd album, Geffen wanted a more jazz-oriented producer, selecting Bones Howe for the job.  Howe recounts his 1st encounter with the young artist: “I told him I thought his music and lyrics had a Kerouac quality to them, and he was blown away that I knew who Jack Kerouac was. I told him I also played jazz drums and he went wild. Then I told him that when I was working for Norman Granz. Norman had found these tapes of Kerouac reading his poetry from The Beat Generation in a hotel room. I told Waits I’d make him a copy. That sealed it.”  Recording sessions for The Heart of Saturday Night took place at Wally Heider Studio Number 3, Cahuenga Boulevard in April and May…..with Waits conceptualizing the album as a sequence of songs about U.S. nightlife.  The album was far more widely reviewed than Closing Time had been….which reflected Waits’ growing notability on the American music scene.  Waits himself was later dismissive of the album, describing it as “very ill-formed, but I was trying”.  After seeing the video below, I found this comment that I felt was worth adding to this story…..as it speaks to what Bones Howe and Tom Waits really had in common….as follows “aww I hope they meet again. I’ve been listening to Tom Waits’ music for 21+ years, and for much of that I hadn’t heard his Asylum era music. I started with Rain Dogs and Bone Machine as a teenager and gradually experienced Tom Wait’s music in inverse chronology. I’m reaching for something interesting and profound to say about that— I suppose I imagine his Asylum music in a more ‘mature’ atmosphere. Smokey bars, awkward sex, dangerous looks—while his post-Asylum albums give me more fantasy-escapism. Cowboys, Drifters, freaks, . Dangerous in a different way, but maybe he’s just less horny.”  Tom and Bones should really do another album together….cuz after all these years, to come full circle might be very cool.



Music + Interview – 2000 – Special – Music Producer Bones Howe Talks About Working With Tom Waits


After recording The Heart of Saturday Night, Waits reluctantly agreed to tour with Zappa again….but once more faced strong audience hostility….but  the kudos of having supported Zappa’s tour nevertheless bolstered his image in the music industry and helped his career.  In October 1974, he first performed as the headline act before touring the East Coast…..when  in New York City he met and befriended the singer Bette Midler….with whom he had a sporadic affair.  Back in Los Angeles, Cohen suggested Waits produce a live album…..and to this end, he performed two live shows at the Record Plant Studio in front of an audience…..while showcasing the songs of his new album….which was again produced and engineered by Howe (as all his future Asylum releases would be)….as the recording was released as Nighthawks at the Diner in October 1975.


Music – 1975 – Tom Waits Nighthawks At The Diner Album – “Opening Intro”



Music – 1975 – Soundstage Live In Chicago – With Tom Waits + Mose Allison


He followed this with a week’s residency at the Reno Sweeney in New York City…..and in December appeared on the PBS concert show Soundstage…. then from March to May 1976, he toured the U.S., telling interviewers that the experience was tough….and that he was drinking too much alcohol.  In May, he embarked on his first tour of Europe….while performing in London, Amsterdam,  Brussels, and Copenhagen.  On his return to Los Angeles, he joined his friend Chuck E. Weiss by moving into the Tropicana motel in West Hollywood…..which was a place that already had an established reputation in rock music circles…..as visitors noted that his two-room apartment there was heavily cluttered.  He was living in what biographer Hoskyns later called a “pastiche of poverty”…..as Waits told the LA Times that “You almost have to create situations in order to write about them, so I live in a constant state of self-imposed poverty”.                                                                                                                                                                                                            


Music – 1977 – Rockpalast Live In Koln, Germany – Tom Waits


In July 1976, he recorded the album Small Change…..which was again produced by Howe…..for in later years, he described it as a seminal episode in his development as a songwriter….and referring to it as the point when he became “completely confident in the craft”.  On release, the album was critically well received….and was his 1st release to break into the Billboard Top 100 Album List….while peaking at # 89.  Later, biographer Patrick Humphries called Small Change Waits’ “masterpiece”…..as he received growing press attention…..while being profiled in NewsweekTimeVogue, and The New Yorker….plus, he had begun to develop a cult following.  He went on tour to promote the new album…..as he was backed by the Nocturnal Emissions (Frank Vicari, Chip White and Fitz Jenkins).  In reference to his song “Pasties and a G-String”, a female stripper came onstage during his performances.  He began 1977 by touring Japan for the first time.


 Music – 1979 – Tom Waits Live In Sydney Australia – “Do The Hokey Pokey”“Pasties And a G String”                                                                                        


Back in Los Angeles, he encountered various problems…..when one female fan, recently escaped from a mental health institution in Illinois, began stalking him and lurking outside his Tropicana apartment….then in May 1977, Waits and close friend Chuck E. Weiss were arrested for fighting with police officers in a coffee shop…..as they were charged with two counts of disturbing the peace….but were acquitted after the defense produced eight witnesses who refuted the police officers’ account of the incident….after  which Waits sued the Los Angeles Police Department…..and five years later was awarded $7,500 in damages.


Music – 1976 – Tom Waits – “Small Change”


Music – 1976 – Tom Waits Live At Denmark DR TV Studio – “Warm Beer Cold Women”                                                                                                                      


In July and August 1977, he recorded his 4th studio album, Foreign Affairs…. when Bob Alcivar had been employed as its arranger….as the album included a duet with Bette Midler, “I Never Talk to Strangers”…..with whom he was still in an intermittent relationship…..when she appeared with him at the Troubadour to sing the song…..and the next day he repaid the favor by performing at a gay rights benefit at the Hollywood Bowl that Midler was involved with.  Foreign Affairs was not as well received by critics as its predecessor….and unlike Small Change, failed to make the Billboard Top 100 album chart.  That year, he began a relationship with the singer-songwriter  Rickie Lee Jones….as their work and styles influenced each other.  In October 1977, he returned to touring with the Nocturnal Emissions….and it was on this tour that he first began using props onstage, in this case a street lamp…..and albeit he found the tour exhausting…..he again embarked on his 2nd tour of Japan in March of 1978.


 Music – 1977 – Tom Waits + Bette Midler – “I Never Talk To Strangers”


 Music – 2004 – Tom Waits – “Dead And Lonely”                                                                  


During these years, Waits sought to broaden his career beyond music by involving himself in other projects…..as he became friends with the actor and director Sylvester Stallone….and made his 1st cinematic appearance as a cameo part in Stallone’s Paradise Alley in 1978….when he appeared as a drunk piano player.  With Paul Hampton, Waits also began writing a movie musical, although this project never came to fruition.  Another of the projects he began at this time was a book about entertainers of the past whom he admired.


Movie Clips & Music – 1978 – Scene From Movie “Paradise Alley” – With Sylvester Stallone + Tom Waits


 Music – 1971 – Tom Waits – “Hope I Don’t Fall In Love With You”


In July 1978, Waits began the recording sessions for his album Blue Valentine…..when part way through the sessions, he replaced his musicians in order to create a less jazz-oriented sound…..and for the album, he switched from a piano to an electric guitar as his main instrument…..then for the album’s back cover, he used a picture of himself and Jones leaning against his car, a 1964 Ford Thunderbird….which was taken by Elliot Gilbert. From the album, Waits’ 1st single was released….which was a cover of “Somewhere”….but it failed to chart…..then for his Blue Valentine tour, Waits assembled a new band….plus, he also had a gas station built for use as a set during his performances….which is featured in the Austin City Limits video at the start of this post…..and his support act on the tour was Leon Redbone.  In April, he embarked on a European tour……and while there making television appearances and press interviews….for in Austria he was the subject of a short documentary.  From there, he flew to Australia for his first tour of that country before returning to Los Angeles in May.


 Music – 1978 – Tom Waits – “Somewhere”



Music – 1975 – Tom Waits Live – “Ol 55″                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Waits was dissatisfied with Elektra-Asylum, whom he felt had lost interest in him as an artist in favor of their more commercially successful acts like the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, and Queen….as Rickie Lee Jones’ musical career was taking off…..especially after an appearance on Saturday Night Live…..when she sang her single “Chuck E.’s In Love”….which reached # 4 in the singles chart…..and was straining her relationship with Waits….plus, their relationship was further damaged by Jones’ heroin addiction.  Waits joined Jones for the first leg of her European tour….but then ended his relationship with her…..as her grief at the breakup was channeled into the 1981 album Pirates.  In September, Waits moved to Crenshaw Boulevard to be closer to his father….then decided to relocate to New York City…..where he initially lived in the Chelsea Hotel before renting an apartment on West 26th Street.  On arriving in the city, he told a reporter that he “just needed a new urban landscape. I’ve always wanted to live here. It’s a good working atmosphere for me” In the city, he contemplated writing a Broadway  musical to be based on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.


Music – 1978 – Rickie Lee Jones + Tom Waits Duet – “Rainbow Sleeves”


Music – 1979 – Rickie Lee Jones On Saturday Night Live – “Chuck E’s In Love”   


The film director Francis Ford Coppola then asked Waits to return to Los Angeles to write a soundtrack for his forthcoming film, One from the Heart, which was to be set in Las Vegas…..as Waits was excited but conflicted by the prospect….as Coppola wanted him to create music akin to his early work…. which was a genre that he was trying to leave behind….and therefore he characterized the project as an artistic “step backwards” for him…..however, he returned to Los Angeles to work on the soundtrack in a room set aside for that purpose in Coppola’s Hollywood studios…..as this style of working was new to Waits….when he later recalled that he was “so insecure when I started… I was sweating buckets”…..regardless, Waits was nominated for the 1982 Academy Award for Original Music Score.


 Music – 1980 – Tom Waits + Crystal Gayle – “One From The Heart”


Music – 1980 – Tom Waits + Crystal Gayle – “Take Me Home”                                        


Waits still contractually owed Elektra-Asylum a further album….so took a break from Coppola’s project to write an album that he initially called White Spades…..then he recorded the album in June….and it was released in September as Heartattack and Vine.  The album was more guitar-based and had, according to Humphries, “a harder, R&B edge” than any of its predecessors…..as it again broke into the Top 100 Album Chart….while peaking at # 96…..and reviews were generally good.  Hoskyns called it “one of Waits’ pinnacle achievements” as an album.  One of its tracks, “Jersey Girl”, was subsequently covered by Bruce Springsteen….as Waits was grateful, both for the revenue that the cover brought him and because he felt appreciated by a songwriter whom he admired…..and as evidenced by the video below….when two great saints meet, the experience is humbling.


 Music – 1981 – Tom Waits + Bruce Springsteen – “Jersey Girl”


Music – 1981 – Tom Waits – “Heartattack And Vine                                                         


“A whip and a chair. The Bible. The Book of Revelations. She grew up Catholic, you know, blood and liquor and guilt. She pulverises me so that I don’t just write the same song over and over again. Which is what a lot of people do, including myself.”…..says Tom Waits on what his wife brought to his creative process.  For me, I love that this soft-spoken woman is the genius behind Waits’s musical renaissance….for she seems to be perfect for him…. albeit on the surface she is the polar opposite of him…..but she clearly has his dry strange sense of humor and intelligence….as his music moved leaps and bounds post their union….and with all the millions of photos taken of Tom, how did someone miss taking a picture of the smile on his face when Kathleen tells the interviewer below how they met….for she is not only pretty, but smart and witty…..and like Tom says, “she knows me, and loves me anyway”                                                                                                                       


Music & Talk Shows – 1981 – Interview With Kathleen Brennan On Husband Tom Waits


An assistant story editor on One from the Heart was Kathleen Brennan, a young Irish-American woman….who Waits later described encountering her as “love at first sight”…..as they were engaged to be married within a week of meeting.  In August, they married at a 24-hour wedding chapel on  Manchester Boulevard in Watts….which was before honeymooning in Tralee, a town in County Kerry, Ireland, where Brennan had family.  Returning to Los Angeles, the couple moved into a Union Avenue apartment.  Hoskyns noted that with Brennan, “Waits had found the stabilizing, nurturing companion he’d always wanted”….in addition to her bringing him “a sense of emotional security he had never known before”…..while at the same time, many of his old friends felt cut off after his marriage.  Kathleen shunned the media and refused all interview requests.


Music & Talk Shows – 1981 – The Late Late Show In Ireland – With Tom Waits Singing “On The Nickel” + “The Piano’s Been Drinking Not Me”                                 


Recording of Waits’ One from the Heart soundtrack began in October 1980 and continued until September 1981…..with a number of the tracks being  recorded as duets with Crystal Gayle….whereas, Waits had initially planned to duet with Midler, although she proved unavailable.  The film was released in 1982, to largely poor reviews.  Waits makes a small cameo in it, playing a trumpet in a crowd scene.  Waits’ soundtrack album, also titled One from the Heart, was released by Columbia Records in 1982.  Waits had misgivings about the album….as he thought it was over-produced….however, Humphries thought that working with Coppola was an important move in Waits’ career…..as it “led directly to Waits moving from cult (i.e. largely unknown) artiste to center-stage.”


Music – 1981 – Original Soundtrack From “One from the Heart” – Written By Tom Waits – Performed By Waits + Crystal Gayle


Newly married and with his Elektra-Asylum contract completed, Waits decided that it was time to artistically reinvent himself….as he wanted to move away from using Howe as his producer….albeit the two parted on good terms.  With his wife’s help, he began the process of firing Cohen as his manager…..while he and Kathleen took on managerial responsibilities themselves…..and that is when he came to believe that Cohen had been swindling him out of a great deal of his earnings…..while later relating that “I thought I was a millionaire and it turned out I had, like, twenty bucks.”  Waits credited Kathleen with introducing him to much new music, most notably the work of Captain Beefheart…..who was a key influence on the direction in which he wanted to take his music.  He later noted that “once you’ve heard Beefheart it’s hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee or blood.”  He also came under the influence of Harry Partch, a composer who created his own instruments out of everyday materials.  Waits began to use images rather than moods or characters as the basis for his songs.


Documentary – 1970 To 1983 – Tom Waits “Under The Influence Of Captain Beefheart”                                                                                                                              


Waits wrote the songs which would be included on the album  Swordfishtrombones during a two-week trip to Ireland…..when he recorded it at Sunset Sound studios….and produced the album himself….while his wife Kathleen often attended the sessions and gave him advice…..as the album abandoned the jazz sound characteristic of his earlier work…..for it was his 1st album not to feature a saxophone.  When the album was finished, he took it to Asylum, but they declined to release it….. which is why Waits wanted to leave the label….cuz in his view, “They liked dropping my name in terms of me being a ‘prestige’ artist, but when it came down to it they didn’t invest a whole lot in me in terms of faith”.



Music – 1985 – Tom Waits Live – “Swordfishtrombones”


 Music – 1985 – Tom Waits Live On The Tube – “16 Shells From A 30.6” + “Cemetery Polka”                                                                                                                


Chris Blackwell of Island Records learned of Waits’ dissatisfaction and approached him, offering to release Swordfishtrombones….as Island had a reputation for signing more experimental acts such as King Crimson, Roxy Music and Sparks…..then Waits did not tour to promote the album….which was partly because Kathleen was pregnant.  Although not enthusiastic regarding the new trend for music videos….nevertheless, he appeared in one for the song “In the Neighborhood”….which was co-directed by Haskell Wexler and Michael A. Russ….plus, Russ designed the Swordfishtrombones album cover….which featuried an image of Waits with Lee Kolima, a circus strongman, and Angelo Rossito, a dwarf.  According to David Smay,  Swordfishtrombones was “the record where Tom Waits radically reinvented himself and reshaped the musical landscape.”  The album was critically well received…..as the New Musical Express named it album of the year.


Music – 1983 – Tom Waits Music Video – “In The Neighborhood”   

It always speaks volumes when another legendary artist cuts a video to pay a musical tribute to another songwriting genius’s work…..as Peter Gabriel does in the video below…..where he covers Tom Waits “In The Neighborhood”….as he comments on what an incredible lyricist and word merchant that Waits is.        



Music – 2010 – Peter Gabriel – “In The Neighborhood”                                             


In 1983, Waits appeared in three more Coppola films: in Rumble Fish he played Benny….who was a philosopher running a billboard store….then in The Outsiders he was Buck Merrill, a one-line role…..and in The Cotton Club he again made a cameo appearance….while this time as the eponymous club’s maître’d.  He later stated that “Coppola is actually the only film director in Hollywood that has a conscience… most of them are egomaniacs and money-grabbing bastards” In September, Brennan gave birth to their daughter, Kellesimone….as Waits was determined to keep his family life separate from his public image….and to spend as much time possible with his daughter.  With Brennan and their child, Waits moved to New York City to be closer to Brennan’s parents and Island’s U.S. office.  They settled into a loft apartment in Little Spain….which was near to Union Square…..but Waits found New York City life frustrating….albeit it allowed him to meet many new musicians and artists.  He befriended John Lurie of The Lounge Lizards …..and the duo began sharing a music studio in the Westbeth artist community building in Greenwich Village.  He began networking in the city’s arts scene….when while at a party Jean-Michel Basquiat held for Lurie, he met the filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.


 Music – 1983 – Tom Waits – “Telephone Call From Istanbul”


Music – 1987 – Tom Waits – “Just The Right Bullets”


Waits recorded his eighth studio album, Rain Dogs, at the RCA Studios in mid 1985…..as he called the album “kind of an interaction between Appalachia and Nigeria”…..when Keith Richards (Rolling Stones fame) played on several tracks….which he later acknowledged Waits’ encouragement of his first solo album, Talk is Cheap.  The filmmaker Jean-Baptiste Mondino directed a music video of the Rain Dogs track “Downtown Train”…..as the song was subsequently covered by Patty Smyth in 1987…. and later by Rod Stewart….where it reached the top five in 1990.  In 1985,  Rolling Stone magazine named Waits its “Songwriter of the Year”…..and in 2003 it would rank Rain Dogs among the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  In September 1985, his son Casey was born…..then Waits assembled a band and went on tour….while kicking it off in Scotland in October before proceeding around Europe and then the US…..as he changed the set list for each performance….as most of the songs he chose were from his two Island albums.


Music – 1985 – Tom Waits Live – “Rain Dogs”



Music – 1985 – Tom Waits Music Video – “Downtown Train”


Music – 1985 – Tom Waits Music Video – “Clap Hands”                                                    


Returning to the U.S., he travelled to New Orleans to appear in Jarmusch’s film, Down by Law…..as Jarmusch wrote the screenplay with Waits and Lurie in mind….when they played two of the three main roles….with Roberto Benigni as the third.  The film opened and closed with Waits songs taken from Rain Dogs Jarmusch noted that “Tom and I have a kindred aesthetic. An interest in unambitious people, marginal people.”  The pair developed a friendship…..as Waits called Jarmusch “Dr Sullen”…..while Jarmusch called Waits “The Prince of Melancholy”.  The following video is Waits performing the song “Time” from his 1985 Rain Dogs album….which provides unquestionable evidence of his song writing ability as a “word merchant” …..as the following lyrics are a testament of his genius as a lyricist, as follows:

Well the smart money’s on Harlow and the moon is in the street                  And the shadow boys are breaking all the laws                                                    And you’re east of East Saint Louis and the wind is making speeches          And the rain sounds like a round of applause                                                    And Napoleon is weeping in a carnival saloon                                                  His invisible fiancee’s in the mirror                                                                    And the band is going home, it’s raining hammers, it’s raining nails 

And it’s true there’s nothing left for him down here                                            And it’s time time time, and it’s time time time                                                    And it’s time time time that you love                                                                      And it’s time time time                                                                                           

And they all pretend they’re orphans and their memory’s like a train          You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away                                                      And the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget            That history puts a saint in every dream                                                                Well she said she’d stick around until the bandages came off                        But these mama’s boys just don’t know when to quit                                          And Mathilda asks the sailors “Are those dreams or are those prayers?”        So close your eyes, son, and this won’t hurt a bit                                                                                                                                                                                    Oh it’s time time time, and it’s time time time                                                      And it’s time time time that you love                                                                    And it’s time time time                                       

Well things are pretty lousy for a calendar girl                                                      The boys just dive right off the cars and splash into the street                            And when they’re on a roll she pulls a razor from her boot                                And a thousand pigeons fall around her feet                                                        So put a candle in the window and a kiss upon his lips                                        As the dish outside the window fills with rain                                                        Just like a stranger with the weeds in your heart                                                  And pay the fiddler off ’til I come back again

Oh it’s time time time, and it’s time time time                                                      And it’s time time time that you love                                                                      And it’s time time time                                                                                          And it’s time time time, and it’s time time time                                                    And it’s time time time that you love                                                                      And it’s time time time


 Music – 1985 – Tome Waits – “Time”


 Music – 2004 – Tom Waits – “The Sins Of My Father”                                                      


Waits had devised the idea of a musical play, Franks Wild Years…..which would be loosely based on the eponymous song from Swordfishtrombones…. when in late 1985, he reached an agreement that the play would be performed by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago’s Briar Street Theater for a three-month stretch from June 1986…..and during the show, Waits starred as the central character, Frank…..as reviews were generally positive…..then he considered a run in New York City….but decided against it.  The songs from the show were recorded at Universal Recording Studios for his ninth studio album, Franks Wild Years….which were released by Island a year later, in 1987…..then after its release, Waits toured North America and Europe….which was his last full tour for two decades.  Two of these performances were recorded and used as the basis for a concert film directed by Chris Blum, Big Time.



Music – 1988 – Tom Waits Live – “Hang On St. Cristopher”                                       



Music – 1987 – Tom Waits Live – “Temptation”                                                            


Waits had also continued interacting and working with other artists he admired…..for he was a great fan of The Pogues and went on a Chicago pub crawl with them in 1986.  The following year, he appeared as a master of ceremonies on several dates of Elvis Costello’s “Wheel of Fortune” tour.  In September 1987, he joined singers like Springsteen, Costello, and K. D. Lang by appearing in a “Black and White Night” at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel to celebrate the life of singer-songwriter Roy Orbison, of whom Waits was a fan.  1988 saw Waits contribute a cover of the song “Heigh Ho” in Hal Willner’s Disney-themed album, Stay Awake.                                                                


 Music – 1988 – From Disney Themed Album Stay Alive – Tom Waits – “Heigh Ho (The Dwarfs Marching Song)                                                                                        


At rehearsals for the movie Ironweed, Jack Nicholson….who was Tom Waits co-star, said of him that “he looked like any moment he might break at the waist or his head fall off his shoulders on to the floor.  I once saw a small-town idiot walking across the park, totally drunk, but he was holding an ice-cream, staggering, but also concentrating on not allowing the ice-cream to fall.  I felt there was something similar to Tom.”  No matter how this man Tom Waits looked….the words that he put to music could make you cry and not really know exactly why…..but the truth is that his words have a way of bringing out long forgotten and hidden away memories….and yet, it makes you feel like you have just been healed by his words in his song….as “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)” is a perfect example of what I mean.                                                                                                        

Music – 1976 – Tom Waits – “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)”


In fall 1986, Waits took a small part in Candy Mountain, a film by Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer, as millionaire golf enthusiast Al Silk.  He then starred in Hector Babenco’s Ironweed, as Rudy the Kraut, a more substantial role.  Hoskyns noted that Babenco’s film put Waits “on the mainstream Hollywood map as a character actor” In fall 1987, Waits and his family left New York and returned to Los Angeles….while settling on Union Avenue.  In summer 1988, he appeared as a hitman in Robert Dornhelm’s film Cold Feet, filmed in Gallatin National Fores…..and that year he also provided his voice for Jarmusch’s film Mystery Train.


Music – 1986 – Tom Waits – “Big Rock Candy Mountain” (A Hobo’s Vision Of Utopia)”                                                                                                                                  


Movie Clip – 1986 – From Movie “Ironweed” – Starring Jack Nicholson + Tom Waits


Movie Clips – 1988 – Official Trailer From Movie “Cold Feet” – Starring Tom Waits


Although Waits had provided a voice-over for a 1981 television advert for Butcher’s Blend dog food….the truth is that he hated when musicians allowed companies to use their songs in advertising….while saying that “artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs” In 1988, he brought a lawsuit against Frito-Lay for using an actor imitating his voice to advertise their Salsa Rio Doritos….which came to court in April 1990….and Waits won the case in 1992…..when he received a $2.6 million settlement…. which was a sum larger than his earnings from all of his previous albums combined.  This earned him and Brennan a reputation as tireless adversaries.


 Music – 1987 – Tom Waits – “In The Cold Cold Ground”


Music – 1985 – Tom Waits Live – “Gun Street Girl”


 Music – 1981 – Tom Waits Live At The Montreal Jazz Festival


In 1989, Waits began planning a collaboration with Robert Wilson, a theater director he had known throughout the 1980’s.  Their project was a “cowboy opera” titled The Black Rider…..as it was to be based around a German folk tale….which was that of the Freischütz.  In 2004, Waits related that “Wilson is my teacher. There’s nobody that’s affected me that much as an artist”……as   Waits was scheduled to write the music for the play…..and at the suggestion of Allen Ginsberg…..that is when Waits and Wilson approached the Beat poet William S. Burroughs to write the play.  To do this, they flew to Kansas to meet with Burroughs…..who agreed to join their project…..then Waits went to Hamburg in May 1989 to work on the project….and was later joined there by Burroughs.  The Black Rider debuted in Hamburg’s Thalia in March 1990…..and on completing its run at the Thalia, the play went on an international tour….with a 2nd run of performances occurring in the mid-2000’s.                                                                                                                                


 Music – 1990 – Tom Waits – “The Black Rider”


 Music – 1990 – Tom Waits – “Lucky Day Overture”                                                        


In June 1989, Waits travelled to London to appear in Ann Guedes’ film Bearskin: An Urban Fairytale…..then he proceeded to Ireland….where he was joined by Brennan and spent time with her family…..then in December, he began a stint as Curly, a mobster’s son, at the Los Angeles Theater Center production of Thomas Babe’s play Demon Wine Over the next four years, he made seven film appearances….albeit he nevertheless repeatedly told press that he did not see himself as an actor…. but only as someone who did some acting.  He made a brief appearance as a plainclothes cop in The Two Jakes in 1990…..and then a disabled war veteran in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King in 1991.  He had a cameo in Steve Rash’ Queens Logic in 1991….and then played a pilot-for-hire in Héctor Babenco’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord He appeared as Renfield in Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula…..plus he also starred as Earl Piggot, an alcoholic limousine driver, in Robert Altman’s  Short Cuts.  Hoskyns stated that this “may be the best performance Waits ever gave as an actor.”



Movie Clips – 1991 – From Movie “The Fisher Kings” – Starring Jeff Bridges + Robin Williams + Tom Waits – Scene A Moral Traffic Light”


Movie Clips – 1993 – From Movie “Shortcuts” – With Lily Tomlin + Tom Waits


In the early 1990’s, Waits and his family moved to the outskirts of Sonoma, but after a bypass road was built nearby they moved again, relocating to a secluded house near Valley Ford.  In 1992, Waits gave up drinking alcohol and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Between 1991 and 1993, much of Waits’ early work was assembled and released as the multi-volume Tom Waits: The Early Years. Waits was angered at this, describing many of his early demos as “baby pictures” that he would not want released.  In April 1992, Waits released the soundtrack album to Jarmusch’s Night on Earth…..which was largely an instrumental….which had been recorded at the Prairie Sun studio in Cotati.  In the early 1990’s he took part in several charitable causes….as in 1990 he contributed a song to the HIV/AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Blue …..and later appeared at a Wiltern Theater fundraising show for the victims of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.


Music – 1992 – Tom Waits – “The Early Years: Vol. 1” [full album]



Music – 1993 – Tom Waits – “The Early Years: Vol. 2” [full album]


In August 1992, Waits released his tenth studio album, Bone Machine…..as the album was recorded in an old storage room at Prairie Sun…..cuz Waits described wanting to explore “more machinery sounds” with the album.  Eight of the album tracks were co-written by Brennan….which reflected the growing impact over his work…..and the album cover was co-designed by Waits and Jesse Dylan.  Jarmusch filmed a video for the album song “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”…..when music critic Steve Huey calls it “perhaps Tom Waits’s most cohesive album… a morbid, sinister nightmare, one that applied the quirks of his experimental ’80s classics to stunningly evocative—and often harrowing—effect… Waits’ most affecting and powerful recording, even if it isn’t his most accessible.”  The album won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album….which brought about a response to the news when Waits told Jarmusch “alternative to what?!”


Music – 1992 – Tom Waits – “Goin’ Out West”


 Music – 1992 – Tom Waits – “Earth Died Screaming”


 Music – 2008 – Tom Waits Live In Italy – “Dirt In The Ground” 


Waits next appeared in Jarmusch’s film Coffee and Cigarettes, where he was filmed having a conversation with the rock singer Iggy Pop.  Waits decided that he wanted to record an album of the songs written for The Black Rider play, doing so at Los Angeles’ Sunset Sound Factory.  The album, The Black Rider, was released in the fall of 1993.  Waits and Wilson decided to collaborate again, this time on an operatic treatment about the novelist Lewis Carroll’s relationship Alice Liddell, who had provided the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass Again scheduled to premier at the Thalia, they began working on the project in Hamburg in early 1992.  Waits characterized the songs he wrote for the play as “adult songs for children, or children’s songs for adults”.  In his lyrics, Waits drew on his increasing interest in freak shows and the physically deformed.  He thought the play itself was about “repression, mental illness and obsessive, compulsive disorders”.   Alice premiered at the Thalia in December 1992.


Music – 1992 – Tom Waits + Iggy Pop – “Coffee And Cigarettes”

In early 1993, Brennan was pregnant with Waits’ 3rd child, Sullivan….so, he decided to reduce his workload to spend more time with his children….as this isolation spawned rumors that he was seriously ill or had separated from his wife.  For three years, he turned down all offers to perform gigs or appear in movies….however, he made several cameos and guest appearances on  albums by musicians he admired….when the English musician Gavin Bryars visited him in California….and Waits added vocals for a re-release of Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet….which was then nominated for the 1993 Mercury Music Award.  In February 1996, he held a benefit performance to raise funds for the legal defense of his friend Don Hyde….. who had been charged with distributing LSD.  He also contributed two songs to the soundtrack album of the film Dead Man Walking, released that year, while he then contributed another song the 1997 film The End of Violence.  In 1998, Island released Beautiful Maladies, a compilation of 23 Waits tracks from his five albums with the company….when he had been allowed to select the tracks himself.  That year, Waits also produced and funded Weiss’ album, Extremely Cool, as a favor to his old friend.


 Music – 1992 – Tom Waits – “Night On Earth” (Full Album)


After his contract with Island expired, Waits decided not to try to renew it, particularly as Blackwell had resigned from the company….and he signed to a smaller record label, Anti-….which had recently launched as an offshoot of the punk-label Epitaph Records….when he described the company as “a friendly place” The president of Anti-, Andy Kaulkin, said the label was “blown away that Tom would even consider us. We are huge fans.”  Waits himself praised the label: “Epitaph is a label run by and for artists and musicians, where it feels much more like a partnership than a plantation… We shook on the deal over a coffee in a truck stop. I know it’s going to be an adventure.”  In March 1999, Anti- released his album Mule Variations which  Waits had been recording the tracks at Prairie Sun since June 1998….as the tracks often dealt with themes involving rural life in the United States….and were influenced by the early blues recordings made by Alan Lomax….to which  Waits coined the term “surrural” (“surreal” and “rural”) to describe the album’s contents.  On its release, Mule Variations reached # 30 on the U.S. Billboard 200….which represented the highest showing of a Waits album.  The album was critically well received….while being named “Album of the Year” by Mojo magazine….and was given a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.  On the Grammy’s categorization of the album as folk music, Waits noted: “That’s not a bad thing to be called if you’ve got t be in some kind of category.”


 Music – 1998 – Tom Waits – “Mule Variations” (Full Album)


Also in March 1999, Waits gave his first live show in three years at Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas as part of the South by Southwest festival.  He subsequently appeared in an episode of VH1’s Storytellers television show, where he performed several tracks.  In the later part of the year he embarked on the Mule Variations tour, primarily in the U.S. but also featuring dates in Berlin.  In October, he performed at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit gig.  That year, he also appeared in the Kinka Usher film Mystery Men, a comic book spoof, where he played Dr A. Heller, an eccentric inventor living in an abandoned amusement park.  In 2000, Waits produced Wicked Grin, the 2001 album of his friend John Hammond; the album contained several covers of Waits songs.


Music – 1999 – Tom Waits Live At The Paramount, Austin, TX – “9th And Henepin”


Music – 1999 – Tom Waits Live In Florence – “Innocent When You Dream” + “Big In Japan”


Music – 1999 – Tom Waits – VH1 Storytellers – Tells a Story + “Hold On”                


Also in 2000, Waits began writing songs for Wilson’s production of the Georg Büchner play Woyzeck…..which was scheduled to start at the Betty Nansen Theater in Copenhagen in November…..as he initially worked on the songs at home before traveling to Copenhagen for rehearsals in October.  Waits stated that he liked the play because it was “a proletariat story… about a poor soldier who is manipulated by the government” He decided to then record the songs he had written for both Alice and Woyzeck, placing them on separate albums.  For these recordings, he brought in a range of jazz and avant-garde musicians from San Francisco.  The two albums, titled Alice and Blood Money were released simultaneously in May 2002.   Alice entered the U.S. album chart at # 32 and Blood Money at # 33, his highest charting positions at that time.  Waits described Alice as being “more metaphysical or something, maybe more water, more feminine”, while Blood Money was “more earthbound, more carnival, more the slaving meat-wheel that we’re all on”.  Of the two, Alice was better received by critics.


Music – 2002 – Tom Waits – “Alice”



 Music – 2002 – Tom Waits – “God’s Away On Business”    


In May 2001, Waits accepted a Founders Award at the 18th annual American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Pop Music Awards in a ceremony at Los Angeles’ Beverly Hilton Hotel.  That same month, he joined singers Randy Newman and Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart in launching a $40 million lawsuit against mp3.com for copyright infringement.  In September 2002, he appeared at a hearing on accounting practices within the music industry in California….and there, he expressed satisfaction with Anti but declared that more broadly, “the record companies are like cartels. It’s a nightmare to be trapped in one.”  In September 2003, Waits performed at the Healing the Divide fundraiser in New York City….and contributed a track to that year’s release of the album, Tribute to the Ramones.  This latter track earned him a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Vocal Rock Performance”.


Music – 2003 – Tom Waits – “Return of Jacky and Judy (Tribute To The Ramones)”


In 2004, Waits’ 15th studio album, Real Gone, was released….which Waits had recorded it in an abandoned schoolhouse in Locke….as Hoskyns called the album Waits’ “roughest, most unkempt music to date”….when it incorporated Waits beatboxing….which was a technique he had picked up from his growing interest in hip hop.  Humphries characterised it as “the most overtly political album of Waits’ career” It featured three highly political songs expressing Waits’ anger at the presidency of George W. Bush and the Iraq War….when he stated that “I’m not a politician. I keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to put my foot in it. But at a certain point, saying absolutely nothing is a political statement of its own.”  Real Gone received largely good reviews….and it made the Billboard Top 30….as well as the Top 10 in several European album charts….which also earned him a nomination for Best International Male Solo Artist at the 2005 Brit Awards. In October 2004, he launched a tour in Vancouver before heading to Europe ….where his shows were sell-outs….when his only London gig saw 78,000 applications for around 3,700 available tickets.


Music – 2004 – Tom Waits – “Top Of The Hill”


Music – 2004 – Tom Waits – “Hoist That Rag”



Music – 2004 – Tom Waits – “How’s It Gonna End?”



After several years of making no film appearances, he played a gun-toting Seventh-day Adventist in Tony Scott’s 2005 film Domino. That year, he also appeared in Benigni’s film The Tiger and the Snow, for which Waits had travelled to Italy.  He followed this with a performance as an angel  posing as a tramp in the 2007 film Wristcutters: A Love Story.  In the summer of 2006, Waits embarked of a short tour of southern and Midwest states, titled Orphans His son Casey played with him in the band accompanying him on the tour.  In November 2006, he issued Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, a 54-song three-disc box set of rarities, unreleased tracks, and new compositions.  Waits described its contents as “songs that fell behind the stove while making dinner”Orphans made the top ten in several European charts.  That year, he also made another guest appearance on the Sparklehorse album Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain.



Music – 2006 – Tom Waits Live On Orphans Tour – “Day After Tomorrow” 



Music – 2006 – Tom Waits Live On Orphans Tour – “You Can Never Hold Back Spring”


Music – 2006 – Tom Waits Live On Orphans Tour – “Bottom Of The World”       


In January 2008, Waits performed at a benefit for Bet Tzedek Legal Services—The House of Justice, a nonprofit poverty law center, in Los Angeles.  In 2008 Waits embarked on his Glitter and Doom Tour…..while starting in the U.S. and then moving to Europe…..as both of his sons played with him on the tour.  At the June concert in El Paso, Texas, he was awarded the key to the city.  Waits continued acting, appearing as Mr Nick in Terry Gilliam’s 2009 film The Imaginarium of Doctor ParnassusWaits found himself in a situation similar to his earlier one with Frito Lay in 2000 when Audi approached  him, asking to use “Innocent When You Dream” from Franks Wild Years for a commercial broadcast in Spain….when Waits declined….but the commercial ultimately featured music very similar to that song….so, Waits undertook legal action….and a Spanish court recognized that there had been a violation of Waits’ moral rights in addition to the infringement of copyright.  The production company, Tandem Campany Guasch, was ordered to pay compensation to Waits through his Spanish publisher…..as Waits later joked that they got the name of the song wrong, thinking it was called “Innocent When You Scheme”.  In 2005, Waits sued Adam Opel AG, claiming that, after having failed to sign him to sing in their Scandinavian commercials, they had hired a sound-alike singer. In 2007, the suit was settled, and Waits gave the sum to charity.  In 2010, Waits was reported to be working on a new stage musical with director and long-time collaborator Robert Wilson and playwright Martin McDonagh.  In early 2011, Waits completed a set of 23 poems titled Seeds on Hard Ground, which were inspired by Michael O’Brien’s portraits of the homeless in his book, Hard Ground, which included the poems alongside the portraits. In anticipation of the book release, Waits and ANTI- printed limited edition chapbooks of the poems to raise money for Redwood Empire Food Bank, a homeless referral and family support service in Sonoma County, California. As of January 26, 2011, four editions, each limited to 1,000 copies, sold out, raising $90,000 for the food bank.  One of our favorite Tom Waits songs here at ImaSportsphile speaks to the poor and down-trodden that Waits has supported over the years, “One The Nickel” as seen below….for this song has some of the most poignant words ever put to music….and is worth listening to over and over.    


Music – 1980 – Tom Waits – “On The Nickel”


In March 2011, Waits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Neil Young….as he defines the genius of Tom Waits better than anyone has ever done.  In accepting the award, he stated: “They say I have no hits and that I’m difficult to work with… like it’s a bad thing.”


Music – 2011 – Neil Young Inducts Tom Waits into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame



On February 24, 2011, it was announced via Waits’ official website that he had begun work on his next studio album.  Waits said through his website that on August 23 he would “set the record straight” in regards to rumors of a new release.  On August 23, the title of the new album was revealed to be Bad as Me…..and the lead single and title track started being offered via Amazon.com and other sites.  The album was released on October 24.


 Music – 2011 – Tom Waits – “Bad As Me”


In 2012, Waits had a supporting role in the crime comedy film, Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, where he played a retired serial killer.  In 2013, Waits’ cover of “Shenandoah,” recorded with Keith Richards, was included on the compilation album Son of Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.  The album was released February 19 on ANTI-.  On May 5, 2013, Waits joined the Rolling Stones on stage at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California to duet with Mick Jagger on the song “Little Red Rooster”.  The same year, the songs “Hold On” and “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” were sung by the character Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) in The Walking Dead episodes “I Ain’t a Judas” and “Infected”, respectively.  On October 27, 2013, Waits performed at the 27th annual Bridge School Benefit concert in Mountain View California. Rolling Stone called it a “triumph”.


 Music – 2913 – Tom Waits + Keith Richards – “Shenandoah”


Music – 2014 – Tom Waits Bridge School Benefit – “Lucky Day” + “Tom Traubert’s Blues”



Music – 2014 – Tom Waits Bridge School Benefit – “Chicago”


Over the years, Waits made six regular appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, and on May 14, 2015 he sang “Take One Last Look” on the show’s 5th to last broadcast….when he was accompanied by Larry Taylor on upright bass and Gabriel Donohue on piano accordion….with the horn section of the CBS Orchestra.  In the fall of 2015, Waits’ work was featured in several songs adapted for stage performance in Chicago Shakespeare theater’s production of The Tempest 


Music – 2015 – David Letterman’s 5th To Last Show With Tom Waits – “Take One Last Look”


In 2018, Waits had a feature role in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a western anthology film by the Coen Brothers, which was released on Netflix.  His character, The Prospector in the “All Gold Canyon” story, digs for gold in a valley in the Old West.


Movie Clips – 2018 – From Movie The Balad Of Buster Scrugs – Tom Waits In Scene Of All Gold Canyon


Hoskyns described the “core sound” of Waits’ early work as being that of a “Beat verse/jazz-trio” There were jazz elements in Waits’ early work.  During his Blue Valentine tour, Waits began experimenting more with sounds derived from the blues, with Humphries arguing that Waits had “always been indebted” to the blues.  In later life, he preferred to be thought of as a blues singer, although accepted the label of a folk singer.  Waits has made use of blues, jazz, vaudeville and experimental throughout his career…. as he described his voice as being “the sand in the sandwich”.  In 2008, he modelled some of his early vocal mannerisms after Richard Buckley…..and he was usually reticent to discuss the specifics of his song-writing with journalists.  His work was influenced by his voracious reading and by conversations that he overheard in diners….with a major influence being the Beat writer Jack Kerouac……albeit other writers who inspired him included Charles Bukowski, Nelson Algren, John Rechy, and Hubert Selby Jr….plus, he was also inspired by the comedian Lenny Bruce…..while musically, he was influenced by Randy Newman, and Dr. John….and he regarded James Brown as one of his musical heroes….as well as being a great fan of the Rolling Stones.  He has praised Dylan, noting that “for a songwriter, Dylan is as essential as a hammer and nails and saw are to a carpenter”…..as well as the country musician Merle Haggard…..while relating: “Want to learn how to write songs? Listen to Merle Haggard.”  As of 1982, Waits’ musical style shifted…..as Hoskyns noted that this new style “was fashioned out of diverse and disparate ingredients”.  This new style was influenced by Captain Beefheart and Harry Partch…..while noting that he had a “gravelly timbre” to his voice…..when Humphries characterized Waits’ voice as one that “sounds like it was hauled through Hades in a dredger”.  His voice was described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding as though “it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car”…..as Rolling Stone also noted his “rusted plow-blade voice” One of Waits’ own favorite descriptions of his vocal style was that of “Louis Armstrong and Ethel Merman meeting in Hell”  Humphries cited him, alongside Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, and Randy Newman, as a number of U.S. singers who followed Dylan in breaking away from conventional styles of popular music and singing with their distinctive  voices.



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence – Part 3



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence Of Hoagy Carmichael + Lord Buckley – Part 5



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence Of Lord Buckley + Ken Nordine – Part 6



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence Of Ken Nordine + Charles Bukowski – Part 7



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence Of Charles Bukowski – Part 8



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence Of Captain Beefheart + Keith Richards (Rolling Stones) – Part 11



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence Of Harry Partch – Part 13



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence Of Harry Partch + Kurt Weill + Lotte Lenya – Part 14



Music & Documentary – 2020 – Tom Waits Under The Influence Of Kurt Weill  – Part 15


Humphries described “Waitsworld” as a place of “the ricocheted romantics bent out of shape by a broad who should have known better; the twisted psychotics; the loners; the losers”.  By Blue Valentine, violent death had become a recurrent lyrical theme in his work….when he wrote the song “Sweet Little Bullet” from that album…..which is about a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide by jumping from a high window along the Hollywood Bowl.  In his later work, being an orphan also became a recurring theme.  Many of his songs make reference to fictional locations that he has invented, such as the eponymous term in his songs “Burma Shave” and “Georgia Lee”…..which reflect an “abiding concern for runaways and kids in danger”.   Andy Gill expressed the view that throughout Waits’ oeuvre, “the theme of lowlife redemption, of escape, is ever-present”.

Music – 1979 – Tom Waits – “A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun” 


Music – 1977 – Tom Waits –“Burma Shave” With Lyrics


 Music – 1978 – Tom Waits – “Georgia Lee”



Waits tended to wear all-black.  Humphries noted that “on stage, Waits is a consummate performer, a raconteur of the recherché, and a genuine wit.”  Waits has stated that a performance should be “a spectacle and entertaining” It was on his 1977 tour for Foreign Affairs that he started employing props as part of his routine; one recurring prop was a megaphone through which he would shout at the audience.  During interviews, he deflected questions about his personal life…..and refused to sanction any biography.  When Barney Hoskyns was researching his unauthorized 2009 biography, Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits, Waits and his wife asked people not to talk to him.  Hoskyns believed that it was Brennan who was responsible for the “wall of inaccessibility” surrounding Waits….as he was determined to keep a distance between his public persona and his personal life.  According to Hoskyns, Waits hid behind his persona, noting that “Tom Waits is as much of a character created for his fans as it is a real man” In Hoskyns’ view, Waits’ self-image was in part “a self-protective device, a screen to deflect attention” A few music journalists have gone so far as to suggest that Waits was a “poseur” Hoskyns regarded Waits’ “persona of the skid-row boho/hobo, a young man out of time and place” as an “ongoing experiment in performance art” He added that Waits had adopted a “self-appointed role as the bard of the streets” Mick Brown, a music journalist from Sounds who interviewed Waits in the mid-1970’s, noted that “he had immersed himself in this character to the point where it wasn’t an act and had become an identity”.  Louie Lista, a friend of Waits’ during the 1970’s, stated that the singer’s general attitude was that of “I’m an outsider, but I’ll revel in being an outsider” In a similar manner to contemporaries like Bob Dylan and Neil Young….as Waits was known for cutting contact with figures he worked with in his past.  The following are some examples of what another friend from the past, Humphries called “Waitsisms”:

“There ain’t no Devil, there’s just God when he’s drunk.”
“I don’t have a drink problem, ‘cept when I can’t get a drink.”
“Everybody I like is either dead or not feeling very well.”
“I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention.”
“You have to keep busy, after all, no dog ever pissed on a moving car.”
“I don’t care who I have to step on on my way down.”


Music – 2002 – Robert Lloyd Interview With Tom Waits – “We’re All Mad Here Conversation”


Troubadour-manager Robert Marchese related that Waits cultivated “the whole mystique of this really funky dude and all that Charles Bukowski crap” to give “his impression of how funky poor folk really are”….. whereas in reality Waits was “basically a middle-class, San Diego mom-and-pop-schoolteacher kid”.  Humphries thought that there was a “conservative element” to Waits’ persona….while stating that behind his public image, “Waits has always been more of a white-picket-fence kind of guy than you might imagine.”  Jarmusch described Waits as “a very contradictory character”…..as he stated that he is “potentially violent if he thinks someone is screwing with him, but he’s gentle and kind too” Herbert Hardesty, who worked with Waits on Blue Valentine, called him “a very pleasant human being, a very nice person”…..when Humphries referred to him as “an essentially reticent man… reflective and surprisingly shy” He had a sense of humor and enjoyed jokes.  


 Music & Talk Shows – 2005 – David Letterman Live With Tom Waits – “I’d Rather Have A Bottle In Front Of Me Than A Frontal Lobotamy”


Hoskyns suggested that Waits had an “on-off affair with alcohol, never quite able to shake it off” During the 1970’s, he was known as a heavy drinker and a smoker…..but avoided any drugs harder than cocaine.  He told one interviewer, “I discovered alcohol at an early age, and that guided me a lot.” Humphries suggested that Waits’ use of alcohol as opposed to illicit drugs marked him out as being different from many of his contemporaries on the 1970’s U.S. music scene.  During interviews, Waits would avoid questions about his personal life, go off on a tangent, and throw in trivia.  Humphries noted that Waits often supplied interviewers with “droll one-liners”, something he termed “Waitsisms”, observing that the singer was “dripping with wit and vinegar” Waits was known for getting irate with journalists…. who disliked touring…. but Hoskyns added that he had “a strong work ethic”…..plus, he had a hatred of the Internet.  When asked about his religious beliefs, he noted: “With the God stuff I don’t know. I don’t know what’s out there any more than anyone else”.


Movies & Music – 2020 – Special – Tom Waits:  The Acting Years


During his career, Waits has had little chart success, nor major commercial success.  Instead, he attracted a cult fan following.  Hoskyns referred to him as being “as important an American artist as anyone the twentieth century has produced”…..while Humphries described him as “one of America’s finest post-Dylan singer-songwriters”……and he noted that at the time of his emergence to public fame, Waits represented “a unique voice on the late Seventies pop radar”…..as he thought that Waits was, along with the painter Edward Hopper, “one of the two great depicters of American isolation”.  Hoskyns noted that by the end of the twentieth century, “Waits was an iconic alternative figure, not just to the fans who’d grown up with him but to subsequent generations of music geeks”…..while coming to be “universally acknowledged as an elder statesman of ‘alternative’ rock”.  The journalist Karen Schoemer of Newsweek stated that “to the postboomer generation, he’s more Dylan than Dylan. [His] melting-pot approach to Americana, his brilliant narratives and his hardiness against commercial trends have made him the ultimate icon for the alternative-minded.”  He was included among the 2010 list of Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Singers….as well as the 2015 Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.


 Music – 1999 – Tom Waits – “Take It With Me”


Music – 1999 – Tom Waits – “Chocolate Jesus”


 Music – 1979 – Tom Waits – “Kentucky Avenue”


 Music – 1999 – Tom Waits – “Come On Up To The House”


 Music – 1999 – Tom Waits – “The House Where Nobody Lives”


Many different musicians have covered his songs.  In 1995, Holly Cole released  an album of Waits’ covers, Temptations…..while in 2008 Scarlett Johansson did the same with her debut album, Anywhere I Lay My Head Bruce Springsteen had a commercial success with his cover of Waits’ “Jersey Girl”…..as did Rod Stewart with his covers of Waits tracks “Downtown Train” and “Tom Traubert’s Blues”……while Johnny Cash covered “Down There by the Train” on his 1994 album, American Recordings…..as he called Waits “a very special writer, my kind of writer” Willie Nelson included a cover of a Waits track on his album, It Always Will Be…..and The Ramones covered “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” on their final album, Adios Amigos…..while Bob Seger covered “Blind Love”,”New Coat of Paint” and “Downtown Train”…..and Norah Jones included a song Waits wrote for her, “Long Way Home” on her album Feels Like Home.  His tracks have also been selected for use in film. The director Julian Schnabel for instance chose two Waits tracks for inclusion in his award-winning 2008 film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  The 1995 film, Smoke, used “Innocent When You Dream” as the soundtrack to the closing sequence, “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story”….. which appeared at the end of the film during and after the closing credits.



Music – 2006 – Tom Waits – “Down By The Train”


Music – 1992 – Tom Waits Music Video – “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”


 Music – 1999 – Tom Waits – “Blind Love”


 Music – 1977 – Tom Waits Live – “New Coat Of Paint”


 Music – 1997 – Tom Waits – “You Are Innocent When You Dream”


 Music – 2005 – Tom Waits – “Long Way Home”


 Music – 1975 – Tom Waits – “The Heart Of Saturday Night”


 Music – 2011 – Tom Waits – “Satisfied”                                                                                                        


Tom Waits is my favorite artist now…..for I completely resonate deeply with his music, his voice and his lyrics.  He’s one of those guys who are totally at one with the creative element with no excuses or concerns about what’s going on around him….cuz he is totally uncompromising.  In our opinion here at ImaSportsphile, Waits is hands down one of the greatest musical geniuses in the past century…..for he is a true artist who is proficient and still growing…..as he is the Picasso of contemporary music.  Sometimes he cuts so close to the bone that it’s hard to bear.  Who else can write a whole novel in a song and slice your heart open with a rusty voice?  Tom Waits equals a diamond that wants to stay coal.  He is the most incredible lyricist I’ve ever heard….obtuse, yet cutting…..insightful as all hell…..plus a strangely beautiful way of phrasing things in what has to be the most uniquely original style…. for it’s not perfection, it’s imperfection what makes it so beautiful….. with the rusty voice and the missing notes…..which makes it feel alive and warm.  Of the many Tom Waits songs that I love….that fact remains that my favorite is “Kentucky Avenue” (with a close 2nd being On The Nickel)….cuz every time I hear it, I just dissolve back into a puddle of my own soul’s shut eyes…..and I gotta say in my own poor English…..there is no song out there that brings me to tears like this one…..as I don´t know exactly why….but the way he sings about his childhood is more intense to me than any love song could be…..so, whenever somebody asks me what my favorite song is or which one touches me the most, the answer is always “Kentucky Avenue”….. and I assume that most folks who are in a wheel chair can understand this song…..and find it a beautiful piece of music.  The song is definitely biographical about a friend he had as a youth.  I think many of us can identify with his emotion about his young friend as he describes the “antics” they can only dream of…..and how he wishes his friend weren’t hindered by the shackles of polio.  He even breaks down near the end…..as he can do nothing but continue on the piano chorus…..when he leaves out the line that he carved his initials on his arm with a rusty nail.  Tom’s heart is showing because in that moment it’s breaking.  This song always makes me wanna help someone out who might be having hard times.   Anyway you cut the pie, Tom Waits is a “word merchant extraordinaire”……while his songs and his music are simply not comparable to any other’s….there is and will always be just one Tom Waits.

All broken down by the side of the road                                                                I was never more alive or alone                                                                              I’ve worn the faces off all the cards                                                                        I’m gonna take it with me when I go                                                              Children are playing at the end of the day                                                          Strangers are singing on our lawn                                                                          It’s got to be more than flesh and bone                                                                  All that you’ve loved is all you own                                                                        In a land there’s a town                                                                                            And in that town there’s a house                                                                            And in that house there’s a woman                                                                        And in that woman there’s a heart I love                                                                I’m gonna take it with me when I go                                                                    I’m gonna take it with me when I go.   

So, here’s to you Tom Waits.  You deserve your place of honor here at ImaSportsphile…..as we are so privileged to provide this tribute to you, your music and your words…..as we hope they will be showcased here for all time.  



Music & Animation -1988 – Blank On Blank Presents – “Tom Waits On Everything And Nothing”

























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