You Say It's Your Birthday: Tom Waits

Today is the 48th birthday of gravelly voiced singer/pianist/guitarist Tom Waits.

Born in Pomona, Calif., Waits' beatnik revival act and forays into the worlds of

R&B and jazz have earned him a strong cult audience over the years, as well as

led to a few film appearances. Waits got his start performing songs that were

interrupted by moments of beat poetry in Los Angeles clubs in the late-'60s, and

was signed by Elektra/Asylum in 1972. His first record, 1973's Closing

Time was produced by ex-Lovin' Spoonful guitarist, Jerry Yester. The album

sold abysmally, but one of the songs, "Ol' 55," was covered by the Eagles (and,

much later, by Sarah McLachlan). In 1975, he abandoned the trio he had been

working with and assembled a saxophone-led quartet with producer Bones

Howe in recording Nighthawks at the Diner; the following year, he

recorded the jazzy Small Change, which included a duet with Bette

Midler called "I Never Talk To Strangers."

It was around this same time that Waits began working with the film industry,

appearing in Sylvester Stallone's Paradise Alley, recording songs for

On The Nickel and dueting with Crystal Gayle for the soundtrack to

Francis Ford Coppola's One From The Heart. Coppola liked Waits so

much that he cast him in several films, including The Outsiders and

Bram Stoker's Dracula. In addition, Jim Jarmusch asked him to record

the soundtrack for his film Night on Earth. Waits continued to record

throughout the 1980s, adding electric guitar to his lineup and giving his music

more of an R&B feel. He released Swordfishtrombones in 1983, Rain

Dogs in 1985 and Franks Wild Years in 1987, each one exploring

more and more experimental realms. He continued to receive little mainstream

recognition, but by this time he seemed willing to forgo commercial success in

favor of artistic freedom. In 1988, Waits sued Frito-Lay for using a sound-alike in

a radio jingle and won $2.5 million in damages, a decision that was upheld by

the U.S. Supreme Court. He has released two albums in this decade, 1992's

Bone Machine, which won a Grammy for best alternative album, and

1994's The Black Rider, a score from a collaboration with director Robert

Wilson and legendary beat-writer William S. Burroughs. He also appeared on

Primus' "Tommy The Cat" from Sailing The Seas Of Cheese and Gavin

Bryar's "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." Waits' latest recording, "Little Drop

of Poison," appears on the soundtrack to this year's The End of Violence


Other birthdays: Brian Futter (Catherine Wheel), 34; and Barbara Weathers

(Atlantic Starr), 34.