|Title: Unidentified 1976 interview
Source: interviewer's tape (probably two UK interviewers, BBC?). Transcription from low-quality audio tape by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library
Date: ca. early May 1976
Key words: touring, Bukowski, the Beats, Frank Zappa, Nighthawks At The Diner.
Unidentified 1976 Interview
Q: What drove you here?
TW: Well, the 1964 uh continental trailway bus, that's what drove us here. I have a copacetic creole Sicilian tenor player, Frank Vicari. And uh, on parole on drugs and drums is Chip White. On upright bass uh is Dr. Fitzgerald Huntington Jenkins III junior. All from New York city. Three previously unemployed bebop musicians. And uh it's a real pleasure to have a trio and be able to (...?...).
Q: Do you have to... You're supporting men independent of what concert you get...
TW: Child support, alimony you know? Back payments on my Heathkit...
Q: You're just generally trying to keep them together?
TW: I'm not doing a (...?...) for them no, they provide a service.
Q: And a good one at that. Did you start with them in New York then or did you meet them in Los Angeles?
TW: Oh, New York, absolutely New York. To find a trio... it's hard to find a style of players I was looking for in L.A. Los Angeles is full of like uh Laurel Canyon country music. I had a hard time finding what I wanted. It's hard to find an upright bass player.
Q: Do you get the same kind of response to the audiences on the east coast as on the west coast?
TW: Up here they know more what I am then on the west coast. The response ranges anywhere from indifference to uh plain subordination or hostility towards (...?...) the club feeling that I get whenever I'm in Philadelphia.
TW: When you played in Pittsburgh(1) I guess about a month ago, uhm what did you feel about that concert? You played four concerts in two days.
TW: Oh, Carlisle was a hit. Well I was real fortunate to be able to run into Charles Bukowski. We did two shows. And that was probably a highlight of the tour so far for me. I mean as far as joining somebody that you admire and enjoy playing with. I've seen him in L.A.. He's certainly a pioneer of contemporary poets. He's on Black Sparrow, and I've been reading him for a long time, I had seen him in clubs in L.A. and uh...
Q: How old are you Tom?
TW: Twenty-six... I was born at a very young age uh in the back seat of a yellow cab at Murphy hospital parking lot. So I was uh I was named after a cabby and I uh had to make decisions very early. I had to pay a buck on the meter the first thing. I grew up very fast... I wasn't circumcised untill I was thirteen. Uh... I did it myself with a dull butterknife. Didn't even hurt. So you can tell you're dealing with a tough customer here.
Q: Well you've been seen before this interview (...?...) at a restaurant in (...?...) at 1 o'clock in the morning.
TW: It's commonly refered to as OJ's or Howie's, that's Howard Johnson's restaurant(2), or uh... for $1,99 you can get all you can stand. (...?...) just to come here. In fact they just got to a point, you know, they won't eat anywhere else...
Q: I know these questions have been asked before, but do you see yourself as a kind of a 1970's beat poet?
TW: Well beat is just a bunch of strange ideas, like Maynard G. Krebs. You know, "Route '66" with George Maharis and Martin Milner(3) and uh you know uh "The Subterraneans"(4) starring George Peppard and Leslie Caron and Ranald MacDougall and uh... Well beat uh, the (...?...) the attitude to beat up and beat down (...?...). Beat was popularized by Jack Kerouac in the fifties. He was considered a "beat writer" and started something called the "beat generation". It was like uh a group of misfit writers uh that broke off from the literary community in New York and San Francisco. And I'm certainly not... I didn't even have a drivers license in the fifties so I can't be "beat", you know? I mean by the natural sense of the definition I'm not "beat". I feel like I'm very much uh 1976, uh you know?
Q: Would you, how would you characterize yourself? As a poet, a comedian, musician? All of the above?
TW: Well uh, I'm kind of a curator, I'm kind of a collector and uh I'm just, you know uh... I'm a small little firecracker swimming around the bowels of the music industry, you see?
Q: How did you come to cut your first record?
TW: Uh, I ran into this guy in downtown Los Angeles, and he exposed himself and uh it turned out to be Herb Cohen. And uh he was also in his spare time a business manager for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. And uh, so I uh (...?...) his background and uh got him off of absorbing "junior" and uh started to have a working relationship together. And uh, so the rest is history. What can I say?
Q: You travelled with Frank Zappa and the Mothers for a while?
TW: (dryly) Yeah, those were the days... Uhm, I did three tours with Frank. Then he had: Tom Fowler, Ruth Underwood, Murphy Brock, George Duke and uh Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson and uh... Yeah, we toured all over the place. In fact we were in Rochester too... Yeah, each night was uh an experiment in terror, and an experiment in bad booking. And uh it was kind of a real catastrophy most nights. But I learned a lot from it and I'm glad that I did it, and uh...
Q: What was your act like then, compared to now?
TW: I was alone on stage. I was telling stories. But you know, it's hard to talk to ten thousand people. I mean, you know? So I just chose to, you know: "Wham, Bam, thank you Ma'm" I'd do my set and somebody'd say: "Take the money and run to Venezuela!", you know? "Something else will come up next week!", you know?
Q: Do you get more satisfaction out of playing concerts or making an album, or is that a bad choice?
TW: They are two completely different things. Your chops have to be uh... Well you have to get performance-chops after a while. I'm working on 'em. You know: "good nights, bad nights". Like anybody else. You know, I'm an entertainer. You go on whether you got hammeroids or your wife left you, or you got a cold and you got non-specific urethritis. Or, you know, your shoes are broken, or you know, you go on regardless, you know?
Q: Are there any kind of audiences that you like to respond to more then others?
TW: Uh, I enjoy a club audience that comes specifically to see me, and has seen me before. Uh, there are also times when I enjoy being the underdog on the bill and take on the audience, you know, giving them the business, you know? I like that too. I've been telling stories and everything on stage just to finally... it just evolved and started to consolidate and corragulate recently to where I began to think about working with a trio on stage and having them to add another dimension to what I'm doing. And also create a night club mood for me to be able to stretch out and uh... So I, yeah I started doing it on stage before I recorded "Nighthawks At The Diner" and then uh.. and once I had finished that I started to think seriously about putting together a road band. But at the time I couldn't afford the musicians that I wanted to work with 'cause most of 'em were very prestigious and they had like lick-meters on their belt, you know? (...?...) And it was just uh out of the realm of possibility. So now... I can barely afford it.
(1) When you played in Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh, March 12-13, 1976
(2) Howard Johnson's restaurant: Howard Johnson's is a chain of restaurants and hotels, located primarily throughout the United States and Canada. The name is derived from the founder of the original company, Howard Deering Johnson, who started the initial chain of restaurants and motels. Howard Johnson hotels are now part of Wyndham Worldwide, formerly a part of Cendant. In the 1970's Johnson attempted to streamline company operations and cut costs, such as serving cheaper food and having fewer employees. It proved disastrous as guests were finding this new era of Howard Johnson's restaurants and motor lodges irrelevant to the services they had come to know for years. Desperate to make the company more successful and profitable, Johnson created other concepts, such as HoJos Campgrounds and 3 Penny Inns for lodging, as well as Deli Baker Ice Cream Maker, Chatt's, and Bumbershoot's for restaurants. All of these concepts failed, furthering the company's demise.
(3) "Route '66" with George Maharis and Martin Milner: George Maharis (born September 1, 1928 in Astoria, New York) is an American actor best known for his role as Buz Murdock in first three seasons of the TV series Route 66. Maharis also recorded numerous pop music albums at the height of his fame, and later starred in the short-lived TV series The Most Deadly Game. In 1960, Maharis shot to stardom with his successful turn as Buz Murdock in the popular TV series Route 66, which co-starred Martin Milner as formerly rich, now orphaned Tod Stiles. The show featured the two rebel-hunks traveling throughout the United States along Route 66 (and elsewhere) in a new Corvette that belonged to Milner's character.
(4) "The Subterraneans": The Subterraneans is a 1958 novella by Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac. It is a semi-fictional account of his short romance with an African American woman named Alene Lee in New York in 1953. In the novel she is renamed "Mardou Fox," and described as a carefree spirit who frequents the jazz clubs and bars of the budding Beat scene of San Francisco. A 1960 film adaptation changed the African American character Mardou Fox, Kerouac's love interest, to a young French girl (played by Leslie Caron) to better fit both social and Hollywood palates. While it has been derided and vehemently criticized by Allen Ginsberg among others for its two-dimensional characters, it illustrates the way the film industry attempted to exploit the emerging popularity of this culture.