Thomas Alan Waits, (born December 7, 1949) is an American composer, singer, musician and actor.
Born in Pomona, California), Waits' recording career began in 1971, after he relocated to Los Angeles and signed with Herb Cohen, manager of Frank Zappa, among others. After numerous abortive recording sessions, his first record, the melancholic, country-tinged Closing Time (1973) received warm reviews, but he first gained national attention when his "Ol' 55" was recorded by The Eagles in 1974. The Heart of Saturday Night showed his roots as a nightclub singer, half speaking and half crooning ballads, often with a soft jazz background. The 1975 album Nighthawks at the Diner, recorded in a studio but with a small audience to capture the ambience of a live show, captures this phase of his career, including the lengthy spoken interludes between songs that punctuated his live act.
Small Change (1976) featuring famed drummer Shelly Manne, was jazzier still, and songs such as "The Piano Has Been Drinking" and "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" cemented his hard living reputation, with a lyrical style pitched somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Charles Bukowski. Foreign Affairs (1977) and Blue Valentine (1978) were in a similar vein, but showed further refinement of his artistic voice.
1980 saw the commencement of a long working relationship with Francis Ford Coppola, who asked him to provide music for his film One From The Heart. Waits would also act in Coppola's Rumblefish, The Outsiders, The Cotton Club and Dracula (as the insane Renfield), and work with such directors as Jim Jarmusch and Robert Altman. With his wife, he wrote and performed in Big Time, a slightly surreal concert movie.
He married Kathleen Brennan in August 1980, whom he had met on the set of One From The Heart. His wife is regularly credited as co-author of many songs on his later released albums, and is often cited by Waits as a major influence on his work.
After he left Asylum Records for Island Records in 1983, his music became less mainstream. His trio of albums from the mid-1980s, Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Frank's Wild Years, all featured eclectic instrumentation to some extent (Waits' self described "Junkyard Orchestra"), often marrying soul music horn sections to avant-garde percussion reminiscent of Harry Partch's, or the distorted guitar of Marc Ribot. He also gradually altered his singing style, sounding less like the late-night crooner of the 70s, instead adopting a gravelly voice reminiscent of Howling Wolf and Captain Beefheart. The last of these albums, an off-broadway musical co-written with his wife and the later collaboration with William S. Burroughs on The Black Rider both demonstrated the increasing interest in theatre, which has resulted in a somewhat successful acting career as well as soundtrack work.
In the popular perception, however, he and his work remain mostly characterised by his rocky voice, his strong personality and theatrical presence on stage and the "late night smoky bars" humour of his texts ("I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy."), Waits has been reported as having bipolar disorder.
In essence, however, and despite his songs having been covered by such famous stars such Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart, Waits remains a cult performer, steadfastly outside the mainstream.
1973 Closing Time
1974 Heart of Saturday Night
1975 Nighthawks at the Diner (recorded live for small audience)
1976 Small Change
1977 Foreign Affairs
1978 Blue Valentine
1980 Heartattack and Vine
1982 One From the Heart (movie soundtrack)
1985 Rain Dogs
1987 Frank's Wild Years
1988 Big Time (live CD, movie and video release)
1991 Night on Earth (movie soundtrack)
1992 Bone Machine (Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album)
1993 The Black Rider (collaboration with William S. Burroughs)
1999 Mule Variations (Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album)
2002 Blood Money
1991 The Early Years, Volume One
1993 The Early Years, Volume Two
1991 Sailing the Seas of Cheese, by Primus: Waits does character vocals on Tommy The Cat
1993 Jesus Blood Never Failed Me, by Gavin Bryars: Waits appears as guest singer
1995 Temptation, Holly Cole
1995 Step Right Up, various artists
2000 New Coat of Paint, various artists
1978 Movie debut as 'Mumbles' in Paradise Alley.
1980 Worked with Francis Ford Coppola on the soundtrack to One From The Heart.
1982 Soundtrack of One From The Heart. Nominated for an Academy Award for best original score.
Played petrified man in carnival in The Stone Boy.
1983 Played Buck Merrill in The Outsiders.
Played Bennie the pool hall owner in Rumble Fish.
1984 Played Irving Stark in The Cotton Club.
1986 Starred as Zack in Down by Law.
1987 Played Rudy The Kraut in Ironweed.
Played Al Silk in Candy Mountain.
1989 Played the 'Punch & Judy Man' in Bearskin: An Urban Fairytale.
Starred as Kenny the Hitman in Cold Feet.
Voice of the radio DJ in Mystery Train. Composer on Sea of Love
1990 Played a plainclothes policeman in The Two Jakes.
1991 Played Wolf in At Play in the Fields of the Lord.
Played a disabled Veteran beggar in The Fisher King.
Wrote the score of Night on Earth (With Kathleen Brennan).
Played Monte in Queens Logic.
1992 Composer (With Kathleen Brennan) on American Heart.
Played R.M. Renfield in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
1993 Appeared in conversation with Iggy Pop in Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere In America.
Played Earl Piggott in Short Cuts.
1996 Composer on soundtrack of Dead Man Walking.
Composer on soundtrack of The End of Violence.
1999 Mystery Men -- played an inventor who specialized in non-lethal weapons.