Thomas Alan "Tom" Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor. 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 has built up a distinctive musical persona. He has worked as a composer for movies and musical plays and as a supporting actor in films, including Down by Law and Bram Stoker's Dracula. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his soundtrack work on One from the Heart.
Lyrically, Waits' songs frequently present atmospheric portrayals 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", performed by the Eagles, and "Downtown Train", performed 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. He has been nominated for a number of major music awards and has won Grammy Awards for two albums, Bone Machine and Mule Variations. In 2011, Waits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Waits has steadfastly refused to allow the use of his songs in commercials and has joked about other artists who do (commenting "If Michael Jackson wants to work for Pepsi, why doesn't he just get himself a suit and an office in their headquarters and be done with it?"). He has filed several lawsuits against advertisers who used his material without permission. He has been quoted as saying, "Apparently, the highest compliment our culture grants artists nowadays is to be in an ad — ideally, naked and purring on the hood of a new car", he said in a statement, referring to the Mercury Cougar. "I have adamantly and repeatedly refused this dubious honor."
Waits filed his first lawsuit in 1988 against Frito-Lay. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an award of $2.375 million in his favor (Waits v. Frito-Lay, 978 F. 2d 1093 (9th Cir. 1992)). Frito-Lay had approached Waits to use one of his songs in an advertisement. Waits declined the offer, and Frito-Lay hired a Waits soundalike to sing a jingle similar to Small Change's "Step Right Up", which is, ironically, a song Waits has called "an indictment of advertising". Waits won the lawsuit, becoming one of the first artists to successfully sue a company for using an impersonator without permission.