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Tom Waits: Singer, Song Writer, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Updated on November 3, 2019
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Chris describes and reviews books, music, merchandise, even laws as a result of personal experience.

Tom Waits


About This Article

This article is a sampler of Tom Waits. I don't expect anybody to listen the whole song on each of the videos. Just listen to give yourself a chance to get to know the man and his music.

The volume may need to be adjusted for each video. One more thing, YouTube videos play better on the YouTube site. Click on the YouTube icon in the bottom right of the screen. Depending on how your browser is set up, a new browser window should open. If not, just use the back arrow to return to this page.

Getting to Know Tom Waits

The first time I heard Tom Waits or heard of Tom Waits was when I was on a break from my job on the midnight shift at a hospital. I was in one of the waiting rooms channel surfing and I heard this god-awful sound. It was Tom playing the piano and singing. I've been a fan ever since.

When you say you like Tom Waits, you get one of two responses. Either who? or why? That's why I've put this article together, so you can get to know this artist. He's a bit like brussels sprouts or tofu. It's an acquired taste.

Tom Waits, Craftsman

Tom Waits is a craftsman, a musician who doesn’t let conventional wisdom about song writing or performing bother him at all. Look at him on stage. He isn’t singing a song, he’s showing us the song, living it, feeling it. Listen to the crowd respond. Every word is a delicacy to them, a piece of something life sustaining. Here is the mindset behind the lyrics in Tom's own words,

“I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

Tom Waits - On The Nickel

He’s been at this a long time. He already had an R&B band while in high school in 1965. If you want to know more about this guy's life and career, see my other article on him.

Tom Waits-In the Colosseum

Tom Waits, First Impressions

I love the reaction I see in people when I introduce them to his music. At first they're repulsed. Of course they are. How else would a person react to that voice the first time they heard it? No sane person would react in any other way than putting their hands over their ears and crying, “Please, dear God, make him stop.” But then they hear a song or two and begin to soften. I’ve seen it many times.

Tom Waits-Chocolate Jesus

Tom Waits on Creating and Song Writing

Pop music today makes me put my hands over my ears and cry, “Please, dear God, make them stop.” Same with country music. If most contemporary singers had a creative bone in their bodies, they’ve already traded it away for a record deal. Just my opinion. Here's what Tom has to say about song writing,

"Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them. Sometimes you end up with nothing but a mouthful of feathers."

"When you're writing, you're conjuring. It's a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you're inviting into the room."

Tom Waits-Gun Street Girl

Tom Waits--Love For Music

I’ve turned to alternative music for my listening pleasure. My music file has The Jayhawks, John Hiatt, The Lemonheads, Lucinda Williams, Michelle Shocked, The Mountain Goats, Old 97s, Red House Painters and Uncle Tupelo. Some you may have heard of, some you haven’t, but these aren’t the most popular musicians, bands, song writers and performers around today. Just by listening and watching, I know these people make music because that’s what they love most. That's the kind of musician Tom Waits is.

Tom Waits-The Piano Has Been Drinking

Tom Waits and His Fans

I don’t worship the guy, Tom Waits, I just like what he does, how he does it and how it sounds. It’s genuine, not made to please the masses, but to first please himself. If others like it, great. That's how I understand the man. I get the feeling, if everybody got up and walked out of one of his concerts, he'd just go on singing and playing. That's not to say he isn't interested in his audience. Here are his own words on the subject,

“There’s nothing more embarrassing than a person who tries to guess what the great American public would like, makes a compromise for the first time, and falls flat on his face… I would rather be a failure on my own terms than a success on someone else’s. That’s a difficult statement to live up to, but then I’ve always believed that the way you affect your audience is more important than how many of them are there.”

Tom Waits-Widow's Grove

Tom Waits, The Voice

People ridicule the voice of Tom Waits. I suppose I understand. It is a little rough around the edges. But he’s had nearly fifty years of performing to smooth it out. If it hasn’t happened by now, it probably never will. Something tells me he likes his voice just fine. Here's What Tom has to say about his voice,

“It’s true, I’ll never sing opera again. It is, however, an appropriate organ for conveying; it’s the right horn for my car. People get out of the way when I blow it. It frightens children and gets me a seat at the bar. What more do you want from a voice?”

Tom Waits-Tango Till They're Sore

"There's not much difference between what I appear to be on stage and what I am. I think people like that, that I'm not trying to pull a caper."

— Tom Waits

Tom Waits, Whatever It Takes to Make the Music

I like how he has the band make music. If he gets the right sound by banging on a metal pipe, then that’s what they use. If singing through a bullhorn makes his voice a little different, better for the song, then he sings through a bullhorn.

Tom Waits-Tom Traubert's Blues (Waltzing Matilda) This must be played on YouTube. Click on the YouTube icon in the lower right hand corner.

Tom Waits and Family

In 1980 he married a woman named Kathleen. They’re still married. I know, I know, lots of musicians have had long marriages, right? Name a few for me. There’s something special about the ones who keep their marriages together, who have found a way to make that person special, number one, their first love. When I hear somebody singing a love song, and I know they’ve been married five times before, the song loses something for me. Here's what Tom has to say on the subject,

"The trick is to have a career and have a family. It’s like having two dogs that hate each other and you have to take them for a walk every night."

Tom Waits-Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Tom Waits and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

This guy, Tom Waits, got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Neil Young introduced him. Lots of performers have covered his songs, and why not? The songs are good. The list is long, but it includes Rod Stewart, The Eagles, Norah Jones, Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Allison Kraus and Neko Case.

But the Hall of Fame and other performers didn’t make Tom Waits. He did that himself.

My Favorite Tom Waits Song--Hold On (with lyrics)

And Just in Time for Halloween.....What's He Building In There?

VH! STorytellers-If you want more Tom Waits, open this in youtube and go on with your hubsurfing


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    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Don, That is exactly what Tom has accomplished in his career. He has a large following of his own, but is relatively unknown outside of that circle. He has influenced many who are currently at the top of their careers. And he just keeps coming out with great, creative music. Well, I think so anyway. Thanks for stopping by and reading. Good to see you.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I was not familiar with this singer but I think he might be one of those artists who prepare the way for others to follow. Lots people didn't think Elvis could sing very well either.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      chef-de-jour, a true fan. Glad you stopped by.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      6 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Great intro for Mr Waits the bum who likes to sing and mess around with all kinds of musical stuff I've been a fan for many a year from Heart of Saturday Night to the triple Orphans ou a few years back with bastard and insects and all sorts wonderful quirky off the beaten track guy who is admired also for his acting.

      Thank you.I'm sure many are going to discover Tom Waits for the first time, got to be a good thing.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Oh happy day!!! Finally, a potential Tom Waits fan. Hi Deb. I'm so glad you like this artist and his music. Really, from this point it only gets better....the only way it can go is up. Remember he's like fungus. He grows on you. Seriously, I'm glad you could see the potential here.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Never heard of Tom Waits until now. The voice isn't sterling but it sure has a message, and I like it.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      No, you're only losing it when you forget your own name.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      YES! its Dylan.. wow im losing it LOL

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Frank, there was one fellow in the 60s who went by the name Captain Beefheart/Don Van Vliet. He was Tom Waits' inspiration. I don't know if that's who you are thinking of. The other bad singer of that era of course is Dylan. Thanks for reading and listening to a bit of Tom's music.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      I had a difficult time swallowing the music but it did stick Like that 60's singer i forget his name but he has such a bad voice but it grew on me.. what's his name it escapes me.. he was portrayed by a female actress in bio-- damn .. none the less a great hub.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ruby, if you listen to a few of his slower songs and watch a couple of the videos, watch out. You'll get hooked too. His lyrics are unbeatable, although there are a few songs that I just can't get what he's singing about. Thanks for reading and sharing.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Oh Cam, I must say, ? His voice is terrible! I know you want truthful comments. I guess his music could grow on you, but I hope not! lol. Different strokes for different folks, seems appropriate here. He must have a following sinse he was inducted in the rock and roll hall of fame. I do love Neil Young and when I tell people I like him they say, " Yuck " I do like the way you've outlined your hub. Well done and I will share it on Twitter...

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ok, thanks for mentioning it. I'll try to get a good connection on that video.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Yes Cam, I wanted to view and comment on that one, I see it is a version of Waltzing Matilda. Unfortunately the video says "error try later" which I will do on You Tube when I am on my computer (IPad at the moment).

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      John, thanks for jumping in and reading this hub. If you aren't familiar with the song Tom Traubert's Blues, scroll down to it in my article or look it up on YouTube. I think you will recognize it and maybe even kind of like it.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      What an amazing tribute to Tom Waits Cam. I admit I have never been a true fan but that being said I greatly respect the man and his music. His songs are truthful and he has a message. His videos are well worth watching and you can feel his passion. My eldest son loves Tom Waits and Nick Cave. I do like the Lemonheads, the others I am not familiar with. Just because someone doesn't have the most melodic voice doesn't mean they aren't a talented takes more than voice alone. I always loved Harry Chapin but he had a far from beautiful was his story telling in a song that appealed to me. Anyway, well done. Great hub. Voted up.


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