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(Credit: Danny Clinch)

Music

Why Eddie Vedder loves Tom Waits

Eddie Vedder is one of the most well-respected and unmistakable vocalists of the past 30 years. The frontman of Pearl Jam has a smoky but powerful vocal style, and during the days of grunge’s zenith in the early ’90s, it was always a toss-up between him and his great friend, the late frontman of Soundgarden, Chris Cornell for the title as Seattle’s best vocalist. 

An intense and captivating performance, there’s no surprise that many subsequent vocalists have listed him as a critical influence. Vedder, alongside Cornell, showed that the rock singer wasn’t dead, and taking from the likes of past heroes such as Robert Plant, reasserted its dominance for the new breed. His discussion of issues such as self-harm, familial problems and homelessness cemented Vedder as a spokesman for the jaded, the angry and the cast aside. 

Of Vedder’s iconic work, in a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Roger Daltrey of The Who said: “I just love to hear Eddie sing. I think he’s got such a distinctive, fabulous voice. He doesn’t copy, so that’s what I like; he does the Eddie Vedder version. It’s never easy to do because most people will just try and copy what the Who have done. He’s always himself.”

Following on from Daltrey’s assertion that there really is nobody quite like Eddie Vedder, it would make sense that Vedder enjoys the music of others, who are as equally as iconoclastic and hard to pin down. During a sit down with SPIN in 2003, for the ‘My Life in Music’ column, Vedder went into detail about the music that informed his artistry. It was no surprise that Vedder showered praise on The Beatles, Talking Heads, Soundgarden and of course, The Who. 

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Apart from Chris Cornell, there was another iconic vocalist that stood out on Vedder’s list. This was Pomona, California’s favourite son, Tom Waits. When you think about it, there are actually a lot of similarities between the two. Instantly recognisable vocalists with their own distinct styles, the way that both manage to carry pulsating music via the power of their voice practically aligns them as separate sides of the same coin.  

Picking Waits’ 1975 third album, Nighthawks at the Diner, Vedder said: “I like the fact that you can’t really categorise this music. I want to come up with a Tom Waits-ish line about Tom Waits: ‘Tom Waits for no man.’ (Laughs) I think he once said that he prides himself on making good background music.”

He continued: “But if you try to dissect it or even play along with the stuff, you realise it’s got all these chord changes that are never played straight. They sound like they’re morphing, and the result sounds like an old car that needs a tune-up. You end up with all these sounds that create rhythm, and it’s the perfect bed for a voice.”

Now it all makes sense. You can see that Tom Waits‘ beat-inspired work colours Vedder’s, be it his work in Pearl Jam or solo efforts. A constantly moving swell of music, they give Vedder the perfect ballast from which to define a song with the true instrument, his voice.

Listen to Pearl Jam ‘Even Flow’ below.