Title: Waits Bringing New Band, Same Old Clothes
Source: The Santa Barbara News And Review (USA). Late 1978 by Charley Delisle. Thanks to Ken Langford for donating scans
Date: published late 1978, conducted ca. September, 1978 in Los Angeles
Keywords: Paradise Alley, On The Nickel, public image, Blue Valentine, Tropicana
Accompanying picture
Source: The Santa Barbara News And Review (USA). Late 1978 by Charley Delisle. Date: Los Angeles, ca. September, 1978. Credits: photography unknown. Thanks to Ken Langford for donating scan


Waits Bringing New Band, Same Old Clothes


By Charley Delisle

Tom Waits will make what is ask for becoming his annual appearance in Santa Barbara at the Arlington Theater on Tuesday, December 12th. Now on tour to promote his sixth album, Blue Valentines, Waits has made steady progress professionally since his earliest appearances in town at the Bluebird Cafe(1).

At 28, he remembers very clearly his own painful start in the business, coming up from San Diego on the Greyhound, working as a doorman in clubs(2), living out of his "Ol' '55" Cadillac (he recently sold it in favour of his dream car, a '64 T-bird), before being signed by Herb Cohen after an appearance at Hollywood's Troubadour Club(3), and then finally signing with Asylum/ Elektra in 1972.

That Waits has arrived as an established performer and songwriter is evidenced by his work in Sylvester Stallone's new movie Paradise Alley. I was real proud that Stallone called me here at home," Waits told me recently." originally he was just going to have me write a song. But we ended up creating a part for me, a character called Mumbles."

Waits has also completed the title song for a new feature movie by Ralph ("The Waltons") Wait, entitled, On The Nickel, referring to LA's skid-row Fifth Street. "I saw the final cut. It's a beautiful movie man. It'll take your breath away. That man (Wait) doesn't fall into the category of 'bullshit artists' like alot of people in this city. He's doing something with his conscience."

Most people who are unprepared for a Waits performance ask the Butch Cassidy question: "Who is that guy?" At first glance he does not appear to be someone you would want to introduce to your friends. Five day beard with goatee; black stovepipe pants that, ironically, would be in with the latest styles if they were longer; black devilishly pointed shoes ("I got them in London. The guy that sold 'em to me swore these were the sharpest in town"); tight fitting black 'Our Gang' hat; torn leather aviator jacket. Except for the jacket, all Waits' cliches. As it becomes apparent that the man is a talented artist, the question evolves to: "Is he really like that?" the crumpled, low-life look is an image Waits uses as a vehicle for his music. However, it is part of him too, "but with the ifs, and the buts removed. Onstage, you got no time for distinctions."

Waits and I have been friends since childhood(4) . Before his current road trip, I spend some time with him in Los Angeles.

Waits At Duke's

Waits starts his day about one p.m., hunched over a cup of coffee at Duke's coffee shop on Santa Monica Boulevard, as if he is carrying the weight of the room on his sparrow-boned frame. The small, steamy room is packed full of struggling artist types and clattering dishes. Sitting piggy-back on top of duke's is the fashionable tacky Tropicana Motel(5) . This is Waits' territory, his home.

After two and a half years, Tom has let go his old group and has a new band. "I'm changing my sound a little. Something different. I've got to keep it fresh. God, it was tough letting those guys go." Waits pauses and shakes his head. "It was tougher than that." Members of his old group worked with him on only three songs for Blue Valentines. All of the new people happen to be black. "They," he says tongue in cheek, "are all Negroes. I'm the only spot in the group."

"I don't live in a vault. Everyone I see, I welcome." Waits speaks in a voice that has been variously described as a rasp, growl and a bad exhaust. We are alone in Waits' famous room at the Tropicana, a room where your feet never touch the floor. Though some myths have been perpetrated concerning Waits, his apartment deserves everything it gets. Each step is supported by cigarette butts, magazines, album covers, Dixie cups, books, cardboard boxes, and every other product of pulp wood imaginable. All the horizontal surfaces are populated with empty Old Bushmill's and beer cans and bottles. He cautions "Just walk where it looks trampled down."

There is a knock at the door. Waits yells, "Who is it?" A voice asks for Tom Waits. Tom calls back, "He's not here, try later."

He explains to me, "I live in a neighborhood that far from insulates me from life out there. I feed off it. But at one point, you really have to stop and go away and sit down and collect all of the things you've been through. So it's always done in stanzas. You have to be away to let your imagination work along with your memory." Laying around the room are letters addressed to Waits that have been left at his door. They are from all over the country, and ask for autographes, personal meetings or offer a place for Waits to flop if he is in town.

"I have a little room in Hollywood where I go - by Van Ness and Sunset, next to the Denny's. I wrote all the songs on Blue Valentines between here and there in three weeks." he rubs his hand across his face and shrugs, "It was a lot of work."

Waits thinks it is his finest album. He hopes it will do well enough to give him a break from the grueling road trips he is on eight months of the year; and allow him more time to write at home. Radio air-time for Waits' music has always been lacking; his unique grumbly-growl voice and smokey jazz-blues, beat poet genre is apparently too foreign for the Pepsi Generation. Though Waits has long received critical and professional praise (Bette Midler, who Tom is very close to, the Eagles, et al, have recorded his songs), he still feels the need to prove himself.

"In this business, you're either moving up or down, no status quo. The album was a huge boulder I had to move. There was pressure, but is was my own pressure. Most people think, 'Oh yeah, he's the guy that writes about winos and hookers.' That," he says matter-of-factly, "is just not true. I've written a wide range of songs about different kinds of experiences. A writer should challenge himself with a variety of subject matter and be able to do that well."


(1) Bluebird Cafe: these shows havent been identified yet. Further reading: Performances

(2) Working as a doorman in clubs: further reading: The Heritage

(3) Hollywood's Troubadour Club: further reading: The Troubadour

(4) Waits and I have been friends since childhood: Charley Delisle might be referred to in "Kentucky Avenue": "And Charlie DeLisle is sittin' at the top of an avocado tree" (Blue Valentine, 1978)

(5) Tropicana Motel: further reading: The Tropicana