Tom Waits

~ Person

Legal name: Thomas Alan Waits


Thomas Alan Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American musician, composer, songwriter, and actor. His lyrics often focus on the underbelly of society and are delivered in his trademark deep, gravelly voice. He began in the folk scene during the 1970s, but his music since the 1980s has reflected the influence of such diverse genres as rock, country, Delta blues, opera, vaudeville, cabaret, funk, hip hop and experimental techniques verging on industrial music. Per The Wall Street Journal, Waits “has composed a body of work that’s at least comparable to any songwriter’s in pop today. A keen, sensitive and sympathetic chronicler of the adrift and downtrodden, Mr. Waits creates three-dimensional characters who, even in their confusion and despair, are capable of insight and startling points of view. Their stories are accompanied by music that’s unlike any other in pop history.”

Waits was born and raised in a middle-class family in California. Inspired by the work of Bob Dylan and the Beat Generation, he began singing on the San Diego folk 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 jazzy Closing Time (1973), The Heart of Saturday Night (1974) and Nighthawks at the Diner (1975), which reflected his lyrical interest in poverty, criminality and nightlife. He repeatedly toured the United States, Europe and Japan, and found greater critical and commercial success with Small Change (1976), Blue Valentine (1978) and Heartattack and Vine (1980). During this period, Waits entered the world of film, acting in Paradise Alley (1978), where he met a young story editor named Kathleen Brennan. He composed the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart (1982) and made cameos in several subsequent Coppola films.

In 1980, Waits married Brennan, split from his manager and record label, and moved to New York City. With Brennan's encouragement and frequent collaboration, he pursued a more eclectic and experimental sound influenced by Harry Partch and Captain Beefheart, as heard on the loose trilogy Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985) and Franks Wild Years (1987). Waits starred in Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law (1986), lent his voice to his Mystery Train (1989), composed the soundtrack for his Night on Earth (1991) and appeared in his Coffee and Cigarettes (2003). He collaborated with Robert Wilson and William S. Burroughs on the "cowboy opera" The Black Rider (1990), the songs for which were released on the album of the same name. Waits and Wilson collaborated again on Alice (1992) and Woyzeck (2000). Bone Machine (1992) and Mule Variations (1999) won Grammys for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Contemporary Folk Album, respectively. In 2002, the songs from Alice and Wozzeck were recorded and released on the albums Alice and Blood Money. Waits went on to release Real Gone (2004), the compilation Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (2006), the live album Glitter and Doom Live (2009) and Bad as Me (2011).

Waits has influenced many artists and gained an international cult following. His songs have been covered by Bruce Springsteen, Tori Amos and the Ramones and he has written songs for Johnny Cash and Norah Jones, among others. In 2006, Waits and Brennan were ranked fourth on Paste's list of the hundred greatest living songwriters. In 2011, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Introducing him, Neil Young said "This next man is indescribable, and I'm here to describe him. He's sort of a performer, singer, actor, magician, spirit guide, changeling... I think it's great that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has recognized this immense talent. Could have been the Motion Picture Hall of Fame, could have been the Blues Hall of Fame, could have been the Performance Artist Hall of Fame, but it was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that recognized the great Tom Waits." In accepting the award, Waits said "They say that I have no hits and that I'm difficult to work with. And they say that like it's a bad thing!"

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1973Closing TimeTom Waits3.8514
1974The Heart of Saturday NightTom Waits311
1976Small ChangeTom Waits412
1977Foreign AffairsTom Waits3.657
1978Blue ValentineTom Waits3.6510
1980Heartattack and VineTom Waits310
1983SwordfishtrombonesTom Waits4.5515
1985Rain DogsTom Waits4.1520
1987Franks Wild YearsTom Waits4.2513
1992Bone MachineTom Waits4.8510
1993The Black RiderTom Waits2.58
1999Mule VariationsTom Waits4.69
2002Blood MoneyTom Waits3.511
2002AliceTom Waits3.57
2004Real GoneTom Waits4.359
2006Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & BastardsTom Waits12
2011Bad as MeTom Waits513

Album + Compilation

1981Bounced ChecksTom Waits1
1984Asylum YearsTom Waits5
1984Anthology of Tom WaitsTom Waits2
1991The Early Years, Volume 1Tom Waits2.54
1992The Early Years, Volume 2Tom Waits24
1998Beautiful Maladies: The Island YearsTom Waits3
2001Used Songs: 1973–1980Tom Waits2
The Early YearsTom Waits1

Album + Soundtrack

1982One From the HeartTom Waits and Crystal Gayle16
1991Night on EarthTom Waits3.53

Album + Live

1975Nighthawks at the DinerTom Waits3.310
1988Big TimeTom Waits26
2009Glitter and Doom: LiveTom Waits36
2016Live in Boston @ Paradise Theater 1977Tom Waits2


1978SomewhereTom Waits1
1985Downtown TrainTom Waits1
1985In the NeighborhoodTom Waits1
198816 Shells From a Thirty‐Ought‐SixTom Waits1
1992Goin' Out WestTom Waits1
1993Heartattack and VineTom Waits1
1999Hold OnTom Waits1
2011Bad As MeTom Waits1

Single + Live

2022Table Top Joe (Live)Tom Waits1


2009LiveTom Waits1
2022Grave Diggers: Tom WaitsTom Waits1

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