11 Ways to Describe Tom Waits’s Voice

If you haven’t experienced America’s favorite lacquered vaudeville rock beatnik carnival barking balladeer, you haven’t lived.

His voice sounds “like 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.” -Daniel Durcholz

Blasting through the pavement with a howl that screams of Captain Beefheart and Howlin’ Wolf“-anonymous review of Bad as Me

“An unrestrained bellow that could shake the heavens” and “a strangulated extreme […]positively scarred with sorrow” -anon. review of Heartattack and Vine

“Writes songs for the angels and sings them in the voice of Beelzebub” -Terry Gilliam

“Part field holler, part Salvation Army-junkyard band [of] the guttural underground[…]getting down on all fours and groveling without shame.” anonymous review of Swordfish Trombones

The smoothness of Barry White, but the raspiness of a mountain lion,” -RZA

“A gravel-seasoned growl capable of aching tender moments[and] crackles with back-alley eloquence and delight”-anon. review of Mule Variations

“Part drunken sailor, part beatnik dreamer, part sentimental wailer, […] a gin-soaked piano balladeer who never bothered to sober up.”-anon. Small Change review

“He has a little bit of James Brown, and a whole lot of Louis Armstrong.”-Rickie Lee Jones

Werewolf Language”-John Hodgeman More Information than You Require

“[not] callow“-anon reviewer

I call a contest: Who can come up with the best original description of Tom Waits’s voice?  The winner may or may not receive a free copy of their choice Tom Waits album, courtesy of Caleb Coy.

New to this artist?  Here’s a sampling of his vocal (and musical) repertoire.

“Downtown Train” video, from the album Rain Dogs, a song later made famous by Rod Stewart

“Fish and Bird”—a lullaby from the musical Alice (which we sing to our son most nights)

“Goin Out West” –an anthem from Bone Machine

A Live Performance of “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)”

“Just the Right Bullets” –from the musical The Black Rider

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One response to “11 Ways to Describe Tom Waits’s Voice

  1. Zeus’s intention for how thunder should sound, played into a working industrial fan, in the middle of a twister, with the tin man stuck between a rock and a hard place and all the corals from the bottom of the ocean dancing on a blackboard three months since the last time they trimmed their toenails, and lions treading over these corals roaring in pain, all played through a broken gramophone, with old chamber cellos to sweeten the sound.

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