The Tom Waits episode of Austin City Limits is one of the most requested shows in our 37-year archive. In the spirit of the holiday season, we’ve put this Season 4 delight back on the air for the first time in over a decade. Tune in this Saturday 12/22 to see this classic episode once again.
Recorded in December 1978, the show came in through the back door, so to speak. Terry Lickona, who became producer that year, was trying to book singer Leon Redbone. Redbone and Waits shared a manager, who promptly requested that Terry book his other client as well. In order to make sure the Redbone show happened, Terry agreed, even though he was nervous that the roots-oriented audience ACL had already built in its previous three seasons might think that Waits’ avant-garde gutter poetry was too radical for the show.
The rest is, well, you know the cliche. Supporting his classic LP Blue Valentine (but aren’t they all classics?), Waits was deep in the transitional phase of his career, evolving out of the jazzy beat poetry of his early work (“I Wish I Was in New Orleans”) and into the bluesier, more dissonant sounds (“Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun”) for which he became known in the 80s and beyond. He acknowledged the season with the streetwise but lovely “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,” which incorporates a few bars of a better-known Xmas hymn. And he debuted “On the Nickel,” one of his greatest ballads, and which wouldn’t be released on record until Heartattack and Vine in 1980.
You can check out the episode page for pics, the set list and the original liner notes for the episode. Don’t forget to visit our Facebook and Twitter pages and/or sign up for our newsletter for the latest news on ACL happenings, or to go to our Tumblr blog for a look back at ACL’s photographic past. Next week: Sonic Youth and the Black Keys.