Tom Waits was born in Pomona, California to two schoolteachers. His parents divorced when he was 10 years old, and Waits began learning to play piano with the help of a teacher who was sympathetic to Tom's non-classical interests. By the time he was 16, Tom had joined an R&B band and begun to write songs.
1968: At about age 18 Tom developed a fascination with the Beat writers. Wore dark shades. Subscribed to Downbeat.
In 1971, manager Herb Cohen stumbled upon Waits in a venue called the Troubadour and suggested that the two work together. Later that year, Herb Cohen helped Tom negotiate a contract with Bizarre/Straight records in 1971 and started recording demos, then switched to Asylum Records the following year. Throughout the '70s, he released six albums, toured extensively, and became something of an alcoholic. He appeared in a movie with Sylvester Stallone, and later wrote music for other films.
He married screenwriter Kathleen Brennan in 1980 and began collaborating with her: first as co-producer, but soon as cowriter. He moved to Island Records to release 1983's Swordfishtrombones, which marked an artistic shift toward unusual instrumentation and non-mainstream song forms. Swordfishtrombones was also Tom's first self-produced work.
Tom describes his wife Kathleen as "An incandescent presence in everything I do." He credits her with cowriting songs, steering him away from alcohol, and ultimately saving his life.
In 1993 Tom Waits won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Rock Album for his album Bone Machine. This was followed by a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 2000 for Mule Variations.
On March 14, 2011, Tom was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Neil Young.
Waits has released at least 28 albums and contributed to at least 50 films. His newest album, Bad As Me, is scheduled for release on October 25, 2011. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France, for contributions)
Waits has fought vigilantly to keep his songs from being used in commercials. ""It has always been my belief that anything that degrades the value of the work degrades the artist," he said. "The artist has the right to have his work presented as intended and not ruthlessly cannibalized."