Tom Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor known for his musical tales of bohemians, drifters and misfits and for his stylistic blend of blues, folk and jazz. Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding 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." With this trademark growl, his incorporation of pre-rock music styles such as blues, jazz, and vaudeville, and experimental tendencies verging on industrial music.
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, and "Downtown Train", by Rod Stewart. Although Waits' albums have met with mixed commercial success in his native United States, they have occasionally achieved gold album sales status in other countries.
Waits has built up a distinctive musical persona. 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.