The Vinyl 100 #94 Tom Waits – Small Change

The Vinyl 100 (That sounds so much better) continues on, and isn’t slowing down anytime soon, with Tom Waits 1976 album “Small Change”.

I have to backtrack a bit here.. Years ago I had people, off-and-on, ask me if I ever listen to “Tom Waits”. Tom Waits, the idea of him, as well as his myth, grew in my mind as I failed to ever really listen to his music. But instead think about this guy that several people at several different periods in my life had suggested that I listen to him.

I don’t know what ever kept me from it during the mid 00’s when I was on a weird musical journey of trying to broaden my musical tastes. Tom Waits music seemed like it would have been a great soundtrack at the time, but in retrospect getting into him as I got older made much more sense. I guess Tom Waits had to find me.

I had fun drinking in the mid 00’s. I was a late bloomer in life, but a few years before turning 30 I had fun. Tom Waits had a lot of fun in the 70’s, and Tom Waits drank a lot in the 70’s, much like I did in the mid 00’s. Sometime in 2006 it was at a bar in Riverside California that a blurry blonde haired girl asked me if I ever listened to Tom Waits. I probably mumbled “no, I haven’t” as I tried to focus on my drink and everything around me and her explanation of just why I should. Who knows what ever happened to blurry blonde haired girl.

Strangely my introduction to Tom Waits didn’t come through a stereo speaker, or even a computer speaker, it came via a movie actually, on DVD: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Seeing him in that movie reminded me that I need to listen to Tom Waits. He was quite the character. Weird, I know. I decided to to purchase a Tom Waits “CD” because I couldn’t find any of his older albums, particularly “Small Change” on vinyl because in 2010 for some reason the 70’s albums were hard to find in the town I lived in. I even went to the Orange County Record Show in hopes of finding any, but nothing. Strangely it was a Best Buy in San Bernardino California that had a few Tom Waits CDS. The thing about me and CDS is that I do my best listening in my car. Tom Waits Small Change stayed in my car stereo for quite a while.

A lot of people know Small Change as the album with the “Waltzing Matilda” song which, in actuality, is titled “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)” and is the listener’s introduction to the album and the characters that inhabit that album. Tom, of course, is the drunken narrator. (Tom was drinking a lot around this time) Having time traveled with Tom Waits (such a great sentence) via his albums and working my way both backwards and forwards as a collector. I rank this album highly because, not only being my entry point, it is also a point where he blended jazz perfectly with his style of music at the time. It took hi a few years until the 80’s to really change his style all-together, but for me this album is my quintessential go-to album when I want to listen to something from his 70’s era.

Small Change, with its 2 track stereo tape recording under the production guidance of Bones Howe, really captured the essence of what Tom was doing in those days. I imagine the microphone reeking of bourbon after a vocal take done by Tom while recording “The Piano Has Been Drinking..” that is of course assuming he drank while recording. While Tom liked to, and poetically sang about society’s downtrodden and other assorted cast of characters (hookers, strippers, and small people..), he was sometimes autobiographical in his music.

When I did manage to finally find this album on vinyl it was actually in Riverside California at a record store that just barely opened up. Literally, I was sitting in my apartment with my then girlfriend/future wife/future ex-wife when we saw an add for a record store in a record collector newspaper and so we drove to the store and the owner along with his wife and friend were actually putting out records still, because they literally just opened. Nothing was even priced yet. But the owner was a cool guy and still is, and his name was also Tom. So I asked Tom if he had any Tom Waits and he sure did. Since he had no prices on the records he just randomly through out the price of $7 dollars each, so  I was able to score Small Change, Heartattack and Vine, and Blue Valentine all for the price of $7 dollars each. Tom’s store still exists and if anyone reading lives in the Riverside area I suggest checking it out, his store is called “Groovers”.

Small Change was the gateway album for me. It is definitely an album I appreciated more in my early 30’s as a young man who liked to sip bourbon at home and reflect on my 20’s when I’d go to clubs and bars. But more importantly it opened me up to exploring more of Waits music. For an artist that has been around since 1974, nearly 40 years now, exploring a catalog as rich and diverse as Tom Waits catalog is, is a pleasing experience… and that is why Small Change has made into my “Vinyl 100.” Tom Waits is going to make a couple appearances on the Vinyl 100.. as I have 93 albums to go. It is going to be a fun summer.

Keeping track? So far I’ve written about:
#95 Captain Beefheart and his Magic and – Trout Mask Replica
#96 Fugazi – In On The Kill Taker
#97 Agent Orange “When You Least Expect It…
#99 & #98 The Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill & Run-D.M.C. Raising Hell
#100 History: America’s Greatest Hits


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