A Tribute to
Tom Waits Tour Dates
A Tribute to
Celebrating the Music of Tom Waits
Tom Waits is one of the truly great and unique artists. To pay tribute to the character and musical genius of the esteemed singer-songwriter we have curated a list of singers and musicians that share your love and passion for the work of Tom Waits.
Honouring this legend is a stellar line-up of Guest Vocalists –
Hugo Race (The Wreckery)
Rob Snarski (The Blackeyed Susans)
Peter Fenton (Crow)
Backing them is the The Swordfishtrombones Band
Performing – Goin Out West, Downtown Train, Way Down In the Hole, Clap Hands, I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You, Hold On and many more
Join us in paying homage to the one and only Tom Waits – his music, his style and his legacy.
About Tom Waits
Over the last 50 years Tom Waits has trailblazed a career as singer, songwriter and actor. His music is largely based in pre-rock Americana and vaudeville encompassing genres like blues, jazz, beat poetry, country, cabaret and carnival music incorporating experimental rhythms, instrumentation and arrangements and fortifying it with lyrics comprised of an individual and indelible dark humorous drama. Waits’ has forged a unique musical style and personality that has often been imitated but is distinctly Tom Waits. To quote the man himself about his music “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” Waits has won two Grammys and is a member of the 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was included in Rolling Stone’s 2010 list of the 100 Greatest Singers as well as Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.
Tom Waits was born Thomas Alan Waits in Pomona California on December 7, 1949. Growing up in San Diego in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Waits was exposed to a wide variety of music thanks to Border Radio’s Golden Era. HE listened to everything from Mariachi music to R&B crooners to show tunes and early rock & roll. Waits taught himself piano and guitar in his teens and began singing and gigging in San Diego’s emerging folk scene. While still an adolescent, Waits left home and headed to Los Angeles, where he lived out of his car.
Waits described his early career as singing in “spit ‘n’ sawdust” bars. Influenced by beat generation literary figures like William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg, the traditional American music of Stephen Foster and George Gershwin and blues singers like Howlin’ Wolf and Captain Beefheart, Waits’ style blurred generations and boundaries but was fundamentally out of vogue with the rock ‘n roll pretentions of the time. Waits worked several odd jobs including stints as a bouncer in a club, selling ice cream and even working for the US Coastguard. When Waits was a bouncer, his wage was $8 an hour, when he began singing at the same club, he earned $6 an hour. Eventually Waits’ persistence secured him work as a songwriter before singing a recording contract with Asylum Records.
In 1973, Tom Waits’ debut album Closing Time was released. Allmusic.com describe the album as a “minor-key masterpiece filled with songs of late-night loneliness.” The album included the song “Ol’ 55” which was covered by the Eagles on their first album, On The Border. It became a minor hit, and gave Waits’ his first real income from music when the Eagles’ record went multi-platinum. Waits supported his debut record with shows that ranged everywhere from opening theatre shows for the likes of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention to headlining small seedy bars and old abandoned jazz clubs all across America. Waits’ diverse live show experience eventually developed notoriety as Waits would not only sing and play his songs but tell outrageous self-mythologized stories of debauchery. Waits’ shows became so well known a decision was made to stage a show at the Record Plant recording studio with a live audience, complete with bar room tables and chairs, and capture the unique energy of the performance. This resulted in 1975’s double live LP Nighthawks at the Diner. Backed by a jazz band, the recordings of Waits’ between song beatnik banter promoted his unique persona to the masses.
Tom Waits continued his jazz and blues inspired trip for his subsequent records. Small Change was released in 1976 and reached 89 in the charts, it remained Waits’ highest charting album while contracted to Asylum. The album contained “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)” which became a live favourite of Waits’ and was covered by Rod Stewart, The Pogues, The Dubliners and more. The song is based on the Australian bush ballad, Waltzing Matilda, written by A.B. “Banjo” Patterson. Waits had become familiar with the song after hearing it performed by Harry Belafonte on his album, Streets Have I Walked. Waits’ follow up album was 1977’s Foreign Affairs, which contained a duet with Bette Midler, “I Never Talk to Strangers”. At this time Waits’ star was beginning to grow and finding himself performing in larger venues, Waits pivoted his style and introduced electric guitar and keyboards and moved towards a harder edged sound which was first heard on 1978’s Blue Valentine. Writing in Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies, Robert Christgau noted “Waits keeps getting weirder and good for him.”
Waits started the 1980s with Heartattack and Vine. The album contained the song “Jersey Girl” – later performed and popularised by Bruce Springsteen, who included the song on his Live 1975-85 box set. Heartattack and Vine was Waits’ most commercially successful album since Small Change and his final album for Asylum. In 1981 Waits scored the Francis Ford Coppola film, One from the Heart. The soundtrack album of the same name featured duets between Waits and Crystal Gayle and marked the end of a decade of collaborations between Waits and producer Bones Howe. Allmusic.com declare “One from the Heart is a welcome addition to any soundtrack library to be sure, but also an essential one to the shelf of any Waits or Gayle fan.” While on the set of One from the Heart, Waits met actress and writer Katheleen Brennan. The two began a relationship and married shortly after.
In 1983 Waits signed to Island Records and released the self produced, Swordfishtrombones. The first in a trilogy of experimental releases, Swordfishtrombones marked the start of the sound most associated with Waits today. Waits abandoned the strings and piano arrangements that had adorned many of his previous albums and embraced what he has referred to as his “junkyard orchestral deviation”. Influenced by experimental composer Harry Partch and blues rock iconoclast Captain Beefheart, Waits incorporated instruments like marimbas, kettle drums, trombones and muted trumpets alongside found objects like trashcan lids. The shift in sound and style was totally radical. The drastic shift meant Waits struggled to release the album, with it being released 13 months after it had been recorded. The album peaked at 164 on the Billboard Charts but was ranked at number 2 on NME’s “Albums of the Year” list for 1983. In 1989, Spin magazine declared the record as “the second greatest album of all time.” Both Q Magazine, Slant Magazine and Pitchfork included Swordfishtrombones on their best albums of the 1980s lists. William Ruhlmann of Allmusic.com wrote “Artistically, Swordfishtrombones marked an evolution of which Waits had not seemed capable… and in career terms it reinvented him.”
In 1985, Waits continued the musical style of Swordfishtrombones with the album Rain Dogs. Rain Dogs was a loose concept album about “the urban dispossessed of New York City.” Again, Waits’ self produced the album and expanded on the experimental recording techniques he employed on Swordfishtrombones, later explaining, “if we couldn’t get the right sound out of the drum set we’d get a chest of drawers in the bathroom and bang it real hard with a two-by-four.” The album marked the first time Waits’ collaborated with experimental guitarist Marc Ribot and the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards who plays on three of the albums tracks. Waits explained why he brought Richards in to the recording session, “”There was something in there that I thought he would understand… He’s very spontaneous, he moves like some kind of animal. I was trying to explain ‘Big Black Mariah’ and finally I started to move in a certain way and he said, ‘Oh, why didn’t you do that to begin with? Now I know what you’re talking about.’ It’s like animal instinct.” Rain Dogs contained “Downtown Train” another Waits song later covered by Rod Stewart. Rain Dogs peaked at number 29 on the UK charts and 188 in the US. NME listed it as the album of the year. Rolling Stone included it on it’s 2012 list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
Waits concluded this “trilogy” with Franks Wild Years. Franks Wild Years was largely a collaboration between Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan. Once again Waits uses eccentric instrumentation including marimba, baritone horn and pump organ. Franks Wild Years peaked at 115 on the US Billboard charts and NME again included it in their top 10 albums of 1987.
Tom Waits followed up his 1980s reinvention with 1992’s Bone Machine. Bone Machine took the stylistic hallmarks of Waits’ Island records and delved deeper and darker into that sound. Again many of the songs were cowritten with his wife Kathleen Brennan except “That Feel” which was co-written with Keith Richards. ‘Hollywood’ Steve Huey of Allmusic.com described Bone Machine as “perhaps Tom Waits’ most cohesive album” and “Waits’ most affecting and powerful recording, even if it isn’t his most accessible.” Bone Machine won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album – to which Waits allegedly responded “Alternative to what?!” Bone Machine has been included on lists of the best albums of the 90s by both Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. 1992 also saw the release of Waits’ score for Jim Jarmusch’s film Night on Earth.
Tom Waits’ next major work was an album of music composed for the play The Black Rider. The play was a collaboration of Waits with director Robert Wilson and writer William S. Burroughs. It was the first of a trilogy of collaborations with Wilson (the others being for Wilson’s plays Alice and Woyzeck). Musically Waits was heavily inspired by Kurt Weill creating a distinctly Waits interpretation of cabaret songs deeply influenced by ‘30s Weimar-era Berlin. The resulting album compiling the music written for the play reached 130 in the charts, though was both praised and criticized for it’s noisy brooding soundscapes. Through the 90’s Waits appeared in several films including Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, Jim Jarmusch’s film Coffee and Cigarettes and Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Despite working consistently with high profile directors, Waits insisted he did not see himself as an actor. Following the birth of his third child, Waits opted to take a near three year break from public life.
After his record deal with Island expired, Waits, seeking greater creative and commercial control opted to sign with the smaller independent label Anti-, an offshoot of the punk rock record label, Epitaph Records. Waits said of the company, “Epitaph is a label run by and for artists and musicians, where it feels much more like a partnership than a plantation.” In 1999, Waits released his debut album for Anti-, the now classic record, Mule Variations. Mule Variations picks up where Bone Machine had left off and earned similar admiration and praise. The album reached number 30 on the Billboard 200, Tom Waits’ highest charting album until 2011’s Bad as Me. Mojo magazine named Mule Variations as Album of the Year and the record went on to win a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
Waits followed the Mule Variations in 2002 with two records released the same year, Alice and Blood Money. Both albums contained music from plays and works done in collaboration with Robert Wilson. Alice reached Number 32 on the charts, while Blood Money reached 33. Waits described Alice as being “more metaphysical or something, maybe more water, more feminine”, while Blood Money was “more earthbound, more carnival, more the slaving meat-wheel that we’re all on”. The play, Alice was about Alice Liddel, the muse and obsession of Lewis Carroll and the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Waits used a small chamber orchestra to record a series of love songs resulting in his most traditional instrumentation on a record since Blue Valentine. Blood Money was a loose adaptation of the play Woyzeck written by the German poet, Georg Büchner in 1837. The play had previously been made into a film by Werner Herzog in 1979 starring Klaus Kinski. Woyzeck tells the story of a German soldier who is progressively driven mad by medical experiments and the infidelity of his lover which leads to him murdering her. Thom Jurek summised both records as being “steeped in musical and lyrical traditions barely remembered by popular culture and hence very rarely evoked.” Alice was ranked 2 in Metacritic’s Top 30 albums of 2002, while Blood Money ranked 18 on the same list. In September of 2003 Waits covered the Ramones’ “The Return of Jacky and Judy” and earned a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Vocal Rock Performance”.
In 2004, Tom Waits released Real Gone. Recorded in an abandoned schoolhouse, Waits dropped keyboards and incorporated beatboxing into his already unorthodox style. The album was chosen by the editors of Harp Magazine as the best album of 2004. While commercially successful and critically acclaimed, Waits was unhappy with the album’s original mix and so Waits and Brennan oversaw a remix and remaster of the album in 2017. In 2006, Waits released the 3 disc, 54 song compilation album Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, a collection of rarities, unreleased tracks and new compositions. Waits described the album as being comprised of “songs that fell behind the stove while making dinner”. Thom Jurek raved of the compilation saying “Orphans is a major work that goes beyond the origins of the material and drags everything past and present with sound and texture into a present to be presented as something utterly new, beyond anything he has previously issued.” Orphans reached number 74 on the albums chart and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
In March 2011, Tom Waits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Neil Young. During his acceptance speech, Waits joked “They say I have no hits and that I’m difficult to work with… like it’s a bad thing.” In October the same year, Waits released Bad as Me. His first album of original material in seven years and his first release since Orphans. Waits said the album was heavily influenced by Captain Beefheart who had passed away earlier that year. Anti-‘s press release for the album described it as being “Like a good boxer, these songs are lean and mean, with strong hooks and tight running times.” Noel Murray of the A.V. Club concurred “for long-time fans it’s a fun reminder of Waits’ ability to be a badass when necessary.” Bad as Me reached number six on the charts and was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album. Mojo listed the album at number 9 of their Top 50 albums of 2011. Uncut ranked the album at 13.
In recent years, Waits has largely abstained from releasing new music and touring. He has remastered and reissued his first 6 Asylum era albums and continued with the odd acting gig, television appearance and occasionally making guest musical performances for his close collaborators and friends. However, while Waits himself may have largely retreated, his music and legend only continue to grow in popularity and as the world turns more towards a hyper commercial, totally digital age – a raw, earthy analogue artist who once declared “… the highest compliment our culture grants artists nowadays is to be in an ad… I have adamantly and repeatedly refused this dubious honour.” is in greate