Thomas Alan Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, composer, and actor. Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding as though "it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car". Waits has built up a distinctive musical persona with his trademark growl, his incorporation of pre-rock music styles such as blues, jazz, and vaudeville, and experimental tendencies verging on industrial music.
Born to a middle-class Euro-American family, Waits was raised in Whittier, California and then San Diego. Inspired by Bob Dylan and the Beat Generation, as a teenager he began singing on the San Diego folk music scene. Relocating to Los Angeles, he secured work as a songwriter before gaining a recording contract with Asylum Records and producing his first album, Closing Time, in 1973. He has worked as a composer for movies and musicals and has acted in supporting roles in films, including Paradise Alley and Bram Stoker's Dracula. He also starred in Jim Jarmusch's 1986 film Down by Law. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his soundtrack work on One from the Heart.
Waits' lyrics frequently present atmospheric portraits of grotesque, often seedy characters and places, although he has also shown a penchant for more conventional ballads. He has a cult following and has influenced subsequent songwriters despite having little radio or music video support. His songs are best-known through cover versions by more commercial artists: "Jersey Girl" performed by Bruce Springsteen, "Ol' '55" by the Eagles, "Downtown Train" by Rod Stewart, and "Come On Up To The House" by Sarah Jarosz. Waits' albums have met with mixed commercial success in his native United States, although they have occasionally achieved gold album sales status in other countries. He has been nominated for a number of major music awards and has won Grammy Awards for the albums Bone Machine and Mule Variations. In 2011, Waits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is also included among the 2010 list of Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers, as well as the 2015 list of Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.