Tom Waits

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About Tom Waits

Tom Waits went from quintessential cult artist to national treasure over the course of a long career full of wildly innovative left turns. His evolutionary process rivals that of The Beatles for artistic distance traveled. Born December 7, 1949 in Pomona, CA, Waits started out in the early ’70s as a piano-based balladeer somewhat in sync with the era’s singer/songwriter scene but differentiated by his raspy tones, the jazzy tinge to his tunes, and a persona with a beatnik/film-noir vibe. His first few albums achieved no commercial traction, though the Eagles’ cover of his 1973 track “Ol’ 55” boosted his bank account and profile. Waits’ increasingly quirky sound started gaining attention with 1976’s Small Change, but a major sea change came with his early-’80s move from Asylum Records to Island. On a game-changing trio of albums, Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank’s Wild Years, Waits combined a dizzying array of influences, including Brecht/Weill, Harry Partch, Ennio Morricone, brass-band music, and more, twisting it all into an unprecedented amalgam and employing a similarly sui generis compositional style to match. Critics were gobsmacked, and his audience grew. Along the way, mainstream covers of his tunes by Bruce Springsteen (“Jersey Girl”) and Rod Stewart (“Downtown Train”) helped advance his cause. In the ’90s, Waits’ sound grew deeper and darker on albums like Bone Machine and Mule Variations, his audience still expanding. In the 21st century, his output slowed but intensified, and his legend grew until he was ultimately celebrated as a true genius of American music.

Whittier, CA, United States
December 7, 1949
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