If you asked me who my favorite songwriter was, I couldnt give you a straight answer. But in the top 3 most definitely is Tom Waits. If you have never heard of him, dont be surprised.
Tom Waits isnt exactly the music industrys darling, but he is admired by most of its artists. People dont necessarily go into a music store and ask for him. Hes like a secret, spread from boyfriend to girlfriend, older sibling to younger sibling, eccentric teacher to student, and weird friend to a kid with a little need for excitement in their life. Going into internet message boards about him, you find these stories all the time. Talking to other people who like Tom Waits in the real world, they all have similar things to say as well. “My boss played him at work in the back, we all got into him after awhile,” or “My brother was visiting from college, and had his CD in his bag.” In fact, it may seem that Toms success doesnt come from conventional means at all.
My story is no different. I was perfectly complacent with what I thought was original and exciting music. I was visiting my brother and as we were sleepwalking through the morning after a night out watching a rockabilly band, he just happened to switch on the stereo for some background music. (For the men in my family, background music meant loud as you can) I could have sworn a rooster was crowing in the song as mad percussion started filling the room, I was intrigued, but not until I heard Tom Waits voice in all its madness hack its way into the room. “Who was this?” I had to know. My brother explained it was a new album by this dude called Tom Waits, and he knew I would appreciate it because no one else seemed to, and didnt the rooster sound cool in the song, and how about that voice huh?
How about the voice indeed. Its been his voice that has kept me coming back album after album. From the unique genre-less music he creates these days, to the bluesy and jazzy stuff from the 70s. It seems that every writer who covers him describes it as scratchy, gravelly, or sand paper-ish. Yeah I guess so, but the truth is, its a great voice, perfect for what he does. His songs, whether they belong in a genre or not, often define mankind. The heartbroken guy, the traveler, the one who does things different. Its not the type of man we like to admit we are sometimes, but its the ones who make the most intriguing songs and stories.
So for the last few years since I heard his album “Mule Variations” in my brothers apartment in 2000, whenever I had a bad day, I would go buy a Tom Waits album. Didnt matter what the theme of the album was (he has several), I knew there would be songs on it I could identify with, in that awesome voice.
You may have heard him in one way or another. His songs have been covered and made into hits by several people. Bruce Springsteen covered “Jersey Girl”, Rod Stewart did “Downtown Train” , and The Ramones did “Dont Wanna Grow Up” just to name a few. He was nominated for a Grammy with country singer Crystal Gayle for the soundtrack of the Coppola film “One From The Heart”. He won a Grammy for Mule Variations. And his songs have been heard most recetly in Shrek 2 (“Little Drop of poison”, Captain Hook is playing the piano) and the animated movie Robots (“Underground”, when they reveal the villains lair.)
Im not sure what I wanted out of this post, Tom Waits was mentioned in Capt. Ds blog last week, and I felt like paying tribute to the man. Whenever I play a song onstage I am not sure anyone will like, I think about Tom Waits, he wouldnt care, he would play it and say thats the way it came to me and that was the end of the story.
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