Thomas Alan Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, composer, and actor. Waits music is characterized by his distinctive deep, gravelly singing voice and lyrics focusing on the underside of U.S. society. During the 1970s, he worked primarily in jazz, but since the 1980s his music has reflected greater influence from blues, vaudeville, and experimental genres.
Waits was born and raised in a middle-class family in California. Inspired by the work of Bob Dylan and the Beat Generation, as a teenager he began singing on the San Diego folk music scene. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1972, he worked as a songwriter before signing a recording contract with Asylum Records. His first albums, the jazz-oriented Closing Time (1973) and The Heart of Saturday Night (1974), reflected his lyrical interest in nightlife, poverty, and criminality. Repeatedly touring the U.S., Europe, and Japan, he attracted greater critical recognition and commercial success with Small Change (1976), which he followed with Blue Valentine (1978) and Heartattack and Vine (1980). He produced the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppolas 1981 film One from the Heart and subsequently made cameo appearances in several Coppola films. During the 1970s, he also had relationships with two prominent performers, Bette Midler and Rickie Lee Jones.
In the early 1980s, Waits married Kathleen Brennan, broke from his manager and record label, and moved to New York City. Under Brennans encouragement, he pursued a new, more experimental and eclectic musical aesthetic influenced by the work of Harry Partch and Captain Beefheart. This was reflected in a series of albums released by Island Records: Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), and Franks Wild Years (1987). He continued appearing in film, taking a leading role in Jim Jarmuschs Down by Law (1986). In the 1990s, his albums Bone Machine (1992), The Black Rider (1993), and Mule Variations (1999) earned him increasing critical acclaim and various Grammy Awards. In the late 1990s, he switched to the record label Anti-, who released Blood Money (2002), Alice (2002), Real Gone (2004), and Bad as Me (2011).
Waits albums have met with mixed commercial success in the U.S., although they have occasionally achieved gold status in other countries. He has a cult following and has influenced many singer-songwriters, despite having little radio or music video support. In 2011, Waits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was included among the 2010 list of Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Singers, as well as the 2015 list of Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.