Few artists of such longevity have made such a singular mark as Tom Waits, constantly challenging popular musical perception and eschewing conventional commercial values with idiosyncratic ideas and odd vocal stylisation. He taught himself piano as a child and attributes his love of music to trips through Mexico with his father - a Spanish teacher. Working in a pizza bar, Waits initially joined R&B band The System, then played solo shows at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Once he was signed to Asylum Records, he released his debut album Closing Time in 1973 and toured with the likes of Frank Zappa and Charlie Rich, while his songs were covered by Tim Buckley and The Eagles. His Small Change album in 1976 included two of his most popular songs, Tom Traubert's Blues and The Piano Has Been Drinking, while the edgier Blue Valentine (1978) demonstrated his appetite for change; including an imaginative cover of Somewhere from the show West Side Story. In 1978 Waits launched a longstanding parallel film career with the movies Paradise Alley and One From The Heart and in 1983 released one of his most celebrated albums Swordfishtrombones. Waits then moved into musical theatre with Frank's Wild Years (1986), Big Time (1988) and The Black Rider (1990) and remains one of the ultimate cult personalities, whose music has had a deep influence on many modern artists.
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