Its been just over 30 years since Tom Waits made his recording debut. In that time his music has taken adventurous twists and turns, from confessional country-blues and jazz-flavoured lounge to primal rock andavant-garde musical theatre. By turns tender and poignant, strange and twisted, his songs have tended to explore the dark underbelly of society as he has givenhis voice to a litany of characters and tales on the fringe and in the fray.
Waits has drawn from a deep well of song idioms; folk, blues, country, jazzballads, polkas, waltzes, cabaret, swing, popular ballads and a category whichby now can only be described as Waitsian. The tools of his trade have includedsuch instruments and objects as the marimba; trombone; brake drum; metalaunglongs; banjo; bell plate; bullhorn; conga; accordion; optigon; mellotron;maracas; pump organ; basstarda; chamberlain; harmonium; viola; sticks; chairsand musical saw as well as the regular old guitar, bass, piano and drums. Thereis also, of course, his trademark gravelly voice.
In the early-Seventies Tom Waits worked as a doorman at the Heritage in SanDiego, a nightclub where artists of every genre performed. An avid fan of suchauthors, songwriters, musicians and performers as Hoagy Carmichael, LordBuckley, Bob Dylan, Stephen Foster, Raymond Chandler and Marty Robbins, Waitsbegan developing his own idiosyncratic musical style, combining songs withmonologues. He took his newly formed act to Monday nights at the Troubadour inLA, where musicians from all over stood in line all day to get the opportunityto perform on-stage that night. Shortly thereafter, Waits was signed to AsylumRecords. He was 21 years old.
Waits first formal recording, Closing Time, was released in 1973. Among thetracks was Ol 55, a song later covered by his labelmates The Eagles for theirOn the Border album.
Waits began touring and opening in America for such artists as Charlie Rich,Martha & The Vandellas and Frank Zappa. As the decade unfolded, Waitsgained increasing critical respect and a loyal cult audience with hissubsequent albums The Heart of Saturday Night (1974); Nighthawks at the Diner(1975); Small Change (1976); Foreign Affairs (1977); Blue Valentine (1978) andHeartattack and Vine (1980). It was an incredibly prolific period for Waits,establishing his reputation as a visionary songwriter.