Tom Waits started out in the early 1970s as a piano-based barroom balladeer with a penchant for beat poetry and West Coast jazz. By the late '80s he had mutated into a brilliantly adventurous artist whose style suggested an amalgam of Howlin' Wolf, Kurt Weill, and Captain Beefheart. Ever the theatrical figure, Waits also found success as an actor in several films. He's also worked on numerous theatrical/musical projects with avant-garde theater king Robert Wilson. Though generally regarded as a cult artist, he's widely respected, and everyone from Rod Stewart to the Eagles to the Ramones has covered his songs.