Tom Waits

Biography

Tom Waits (born 7.12.1949)

Tom Waits is an American singer and songwriter as well as a composer and actor.

Tom Waits: Childhood & Early Music Career

Tom Waits was born in Pomona, California. His mother was Alma Johnson McMurray and his father was Jesse Frank Waits and both parents were school teachers. They divorced in 1960 and Tom went to live with his mother in Whittier, California, then later to National City, San Diego County. Waits would often take trips to Mexico with his father (a Spanish teacher) and he taught himself to play music on a neighbour's piano.

Tom Waits attended Hilltop High School and during that time played in a soul band named The System. He later worked as a doorman at the Heritage nightclub (now the Liar's Club). This was where he performed his first gig, for $25. He was a fan of artists such as Bob Dylan, Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Sinatra but soon learned to develop his own style.

Tom Waits: Music & Film Career

Tom Waits moved to Echo Park, Los Angeles in 1971. The neighbourhood was home to Frank Zappa and Jackson Browne. He would queue with other musicians to play at The Troubadour club. At the age of 21, he signed with Herb Cohen and recorded a string of demo tapes for Herb's Bizarre/Straight label.

The following year, he signed to Asylum Records and his debut album Closing Time was released in 1973. It was produced by Jerry Yester of Lovin' Spoonful. It was not until Tim Buckley covered 'Martha', on his Sefronia album that Closing Time garnered any serious attention. Similarly, the Eagles covered 'Ol' 55' on On the Border.

Waits toured with the likes of Martha and the Vandellas and Charlie Rich and released his second album The Heart of Saturday Night. This was followed by the double album Nighthawks at the Diner in 1975. He also sang backing vocals on Bonnie Raitt's 'Sweet and Shiny Eyes'.

In 1976, Tom Waits released Small Change, which had a far more downbeat edge to his previous albums. He performed 'The Piano Has Been Drinking' on The Old Grey Whistle Test. This was followed on stylistically with 1977's Foreign Affairs, which featured a duet with Bette Midler and 1978's Blue Valentine, which opens with a Leonard Bernstein song - 'Somewhere' - from West Side Story.

Two years later, Waits made his film debut in Paradise Alley, which starred Sylvester Stallone. He played a pianist, Mumbles and performed two original compositions.

1980's Heartattack and Vine was Waits' last release for Asylum Records. That year, he also worked with Crystal Gayle on the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola's One From The Heart.

When he left Asylum, Tom Waits had a number of small film roles, in films such as Wolfen (a 1981 horror film starring Albert Finney). He also had a string of roles in Francis Ford Coppola's films, such as The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, The Cotton Club and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

1983 saw Waits release Swordfishtrombones, on which he played a number of instruments that were new to him, such as the waterphone and the bassoon. His new musical style was compared to Kurt Weill as well as Dr. John and Captain Beefheart. Two years later he released Rain Dogs, which featured Robert Quine (of Richard Hell's band The Voidoids) and Keith Richards on guitar. The album contained 'Downtown Train' which later became a hit for Rod Stewart. The video for Waits' version featured a cameo from Jake La Motta. Waits followed this with a lead role in the Jim Jarmusch film Down By Law, as well as an appearance on The Rolling Stones' 'Sleep Tonight'.

Wait's acting career developed further when he landed a supporting role alongside Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep in Ironweed.

The 1990s continued to be a prolific time for Tom Waits. He collaborated with William S. Burroughs and Robert Wilson on the theatrical show The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets. Waits then worked with the photographer Sylvia Plachy, supplying a short album to accompany her book Sylvia Plachy's Unguided Tour. He also started a lengthy period of collaboration with the band Primus, especially the singer Les Claypool.

Waits supplied the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's 1991 movie Night on Earth. His film work continued when he had a cameo in Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King, followed by a role in Hector Babenco's At Play in the Fields of the Lord, which also featured John Malkovich, Kathy Bates and Kevin Bacon.

1992's Bone Machine broke the five year wait for a Tom Waits studio album. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album. The following year, he released The Black Rider as well as appearing in Robert Altman's Short Cuts and Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere in California as well as composing the music for the animated feature Bunny with Kathleen Brennan.

In 1998, Tom Waits left Island Records and signed to Epitaph. The next year, he released Mule Variations, earning himself another Grammy in the process.

2002 saw Tom Waits release two albums; Alice, followed by Blood Money. Then, in 2004, he released Real Gone, which featured the singer beatboxing for the first time. He then contributed a cover of Daniel Johnston's 'King Kong' to the tribute compilation The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered. November 2006 was marked by the release of the three disc compilation set, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. Waits' song 'Way Down In The Hole' was used as the theme tune for the HBO series The Wire. In 2008, Waits appeared on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's album Raising Sand. It was covered by Steve Earl and The Blind Boys of Alabama. Scarlett Johansson's debut 2008 album, Anywhere I Lay My Head contained 10 Tom Waits covers.

Tom Waits: Personal Life

Tom Waits had a relationship with the musician Rickie Lee Jones in the late 1970s.

Waits went on to marry Kathleen Brennan in 1980.

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