Tom Waits
Tom Waits-01
Background information
Birth name Thomas Alan Waits
Born December 7, 1949 (age 63)

Pomona, California, United States

Genres Rock, experimental
Occupations Singer-songwriter, musician, actor, composer
Instruments Volcals, piano, guitar
Years active 1972–present
Labels Asylum records, Island Records, ANTI-
Website Official website

Thomas Alan "Tom" Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor. Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding "like 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." With this trademark growl, his incorporation of pre-rock music styles such as blues, jazz, and vaudeville, and experimental tendencies verging on industrial music, Waits has built up a distinctive musical persona. He has worked as a composer for movies and musical plays and has acted in supporting roles in films, including Paradise Alley and Bram Stoker's Dracula; he also starred in the 1986 film Down by Law. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his soundtrack work on One from the Heart. Lyrically, Waits' songs frequently present atmospheric portrayals of grotesque, often seedy characters and places—although he has also shown a penchant for more conventional ballads. He has a cult following and has influenced subsequent songwriters despite having little radio or music video support. His songs are best-known through cover versions by more commercial artists: "Jersey Girl", performed by Bruce Springsteen, "Ol' '55", performed by the Eagles, and "Downtown Train", performed by Rod Stewart. Although Waits' albums have met with mixed commercial success in his native United States, they have occasionally achieved gold album sales status in other countries. He has been nominated for a number of major music awards and has won Grammy Awards for two albums, Bone Machine and Mule Variations. In 2011, Waits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Waits lives in Sonoma County, California with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, and three children.

Origins and musical beginnings[edit]

Waits was born at Park Avenue Hospital in Pomona, California, the son of Alma Fern (née Johnson) McMurray and Jesse Frank Waits, both schoolteachers. His father was of Irish descent and his mother was of Norwegian ancestry. After Waits' parents divorced in 1960, he lived with his mother in Whittier, and then moved to National City, in San Diego County, near the Mexico–United States border. Waits, who taught himself how to play the piano on a neighbor's instrument, often took trips to Mexico with his father, who taught Spanish; he would later say that he found his love of music during these trips through a Mexican ballad that was "probably a Ranchera, you know, on the car radio with my dad." By 1965, while attending Hilltop High School within the Sweetwater Union High School District, Chula Vista, Waits was playing in an R&B/soul band called The Systems and had begun his first job at Napoleone Pizza House in National City (about which he would later sing on "I Can't Wait to Get Off Work (And See My Baby on Montgomery Avenue)" from Small Change and "The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone's Pizza House)" on The Heart of Saturday Night). He later admitted that he was not a fan of the 1960s music scene, stating, "I wasn't thrilled by Blue Cheer, so I found an alternative, even if it was Bing Crosby." Five years later, he was working as a doorman at the Heritage nightclub in San Diego—where artists of every genre performed—when he did his first paid gig for $6. A fan of Bob Dylan, Lord Buckley, Jack Kerouac, Louis Armstrong, Howlin' Wolf, and Charles Bukowski, Waits began developing his own idiosyncratic musical style. After serving with the United States Coast Guard, he took his newly formed act to Monday nights at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, where musicians would line up all day for the opportunity to perform on stage that night. In 1971, Waits moved to the Echo Park neighborhood of L.A. (at the time, also home to musicians Glenn Frey of the Eagles, J. D. Souther, Jackson Browne, and Frank Zappa) and signed with Herb Cohen at the age of 21. From August to December 1971, Waits made a series of demo recordings for Cohen's Bizarre/Straight label, including many songs for which he would later become known. These early tracks were released twenty years later on The Early Years, Volume One and Volume Two.

Discography and filmography[edit]

Main article: Tom Waits discography

Year Film Role Notes
1978 Paradise Alley Mumbles
1981 Wolfen Drunken Bar Owner uncredited
1982 One from the Heart Trumpet player uncredited
1983 The Outsiders Buck Merrill
Rumble Fish Benny
1984 The Stone Boy Petrified man at carnival uncredited
The Cotton Club Irving Stark
1986 Down by Law Zach
1987 Ironweed Rudy
1988 Greasy Lake Narrator video
Candy Mountain Al Silk
1989 Bearskin: An Urban Fairytale Silva
Cold Feet Kenny
Mystery Train Radio D.J. (voice)
1990 The Two Jakes Plainclothes Policeman uncredited
1991 At Play in the Fields of the Lord Wolf
The Fisher King Disabled Veteran uncredited
Queens Logic Monte
1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula R.M. Renfield
1993 Short Cuts Earl Piggot
1995 Coffee and Cigarettes III Tom short film
1999 Mystery Men Doc Heller
2003 Coffee and Cigarettes Tom
2005 Domino Wanderer
2005 The Tiger and the Snow (film) Himself
2006 Wristcutters: A Love Story Kneller
2009 The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Mr. Nick
2010 The Book of Eli Engineer
2011 The Monster of Nix Virgil short film
Twixt Narrator
2012 Seven Psychopaths Zachariah
2014 Pinocchio pre-production


  • 1973: Closing Time touring
  • 1974–1975: The Heart of Saturday Night touring
  • 1975–1976: Small Change touring
  • 1977: Foreign Affairs touring
  • 1978–1979: Blue Valentine touring
  • 1980–1982: Heartattack and Vine touring
  • 1985: Rain Dogs touring
  • 1987: Big Time touring
  • 1999: Get Behind the Mule Tour
  • 2004: Real Gone Tour
  • 2006: The Orphans Tour
  • 2008: Glitter and Doom Tour

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