"I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere, and it's drawn some substantial distance away from Tom Waits." (Peel 058 (BFBS))

Tom Waits (1949-) is an American songwriter, performer, composer and actor. His albums, which include Closing Time (his debut), Small Change, Swordfishtrombones and Bone Machine, tend to explore the seedier side of Americana, all delivered with his characteristic growl. Never having gained a top 40 hit in the UK, he has come to be known to the general public more through cover versions of his undeniably powerful material (e.g. the Eagles' 'Old 55', Rod Stewart's 'Downtown Train' and Bruce Springsteen's 'Jersey Girl') than through his critically acclaimed LP releases.

Tom Waits - Tom Traubert's Blues - 1977

Tom Waits - Tom Traubert's Blues - 1977

The Old Grey Whistle Test didn't neglect Waits, however.

As far as John Peel was concerned, however, Waits was more celebrated by not being played on his programmes, forming part of a triumvirate of artists (including Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen) for whom John reserved especial venom, calling him "awful" and "artfully down-and-out" [1] This may have had something to do with Waits' inspirations: he said, "I wasn't thrilled by Blue Cheer" (San Francisco psychedelic blues band much respected by JP) "so I found an alternative, even if it was Bing Crosby." [1] Consequently, Waits recorded many songs in a kind of inebriated semi-cabaret style (e.g. The Heart Of Saturday Night).

There is no record of Peel ever having played his material: in fact, when the opportunity arose [2] to do so, Peel played all the tracks from an NME free EP save Waits' tune, commenting, "I think he's a terrible old bore myself", and stating that Half Man Half Biscuit were "worth a truckload of Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteens." In 2001 Peel was much taken with Nora O'Connor's cover of 'Looks Like I'm Up Shit Creek Again'. Discovering it was written by Waits, he quipped "I didn't know he had it in him, to be honest" [2]. Nevertheless, they at least shared an admiration for Captain Beefheart: Waits was introduced to his music by his wife Kathleen Brennan, and subsequently changed his musical style to feature more avant-garde leanings, from Swordfishtrombones onwards.

Festive Fifty Entries

  • None


  • None (although he did at least one for Andy Kershaw). "I shall be listening to it anyway - for Andy rather than for Tom, I suspect." [3]

Other Shows Played

See Also

External Links

  1. See 'Bores', Sounds, 1976-02-07, reprinted in Olivetti Chronicles, Corgi edition, p. 54.
  2. 29 January 1986 (VPRO) and 13 July 1991
  3. 24 February 2000.
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