As Far Out readers know all too well now, Tom Waits is our Godfather of music and he can literally do no wrong in our eyes. Whether he’s telling us his favourite albums of all time, picking out a list of his most loved books or reissuing his early material to limited edition vinyl; When Tom Waits talks, we all shut up and listen.
So to continue our bid to fill our From The Vault section with some of Mr Waits’ most memorable moments, we are stepping back to 2013 to revisit his collaboration with iconic human riff, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.
The duo had already previously joined forces when Richards played on a trio of songs which appeared on Waits’ groundbreaking 1985 album, Rain Dogs. On top of that, the pair collaborated again back in 1992 when they co-wrote the song ‘That Feel’ which was featured on Waits’ album Bone Machine.
Their professional and personal friendship was summed up by guitarist Richards when he described Waits as “a one-off lovely guy and one of the most original writers,” in his now-iconic 2010 autobiography Life. Later on in the book, Waits repays the compliment by saying his buddy is “like a frying pan made from one piece of metal. He can heat it up really high and it won’t crack, it just changes colour.”
So it should come as little surprise then that these two creative forces would be drawn together once more as part of the Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys compilation album. The record, drawing together artists representing a variety of genres, all put their spin on sea shanties and created by Johnny Depp, Gore Verbinski and Hal Willner.
While the likes of Lou Reed, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave, and more appeared on the record, it’s Tom Waits’ gravely and uncompromising voice which stood out for us and why we’re focusing on it today.
It’s claimed that the original song is part of America folklore, appearing to have originated with Canadian and American voyageurs and fur traders while travelling down the Missouri River in canoes. Apparently, by the mid-1800s, the lyrics began to reference “the Oneida chief Shenandoah and a canoe-going trader who wants to marry his daughter.”
With some backing vocals and electric guitar from Richards, enjoy the rendition below.