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Friday, 2 December 2011

Tom Waits at his Underwood 5 Typewriter

The latest edition of English rock magazine Uncut contains an "exclusive interview" with Tom Waits.
The feature contains this photograph of Waits at his typewriter. It was taken at Waits' home in Petaluma, Sonoma County, Northern California.
Is it an Underwood 5 Waits is using? It looks like one to me. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Waits does have a line in Just Another Dime Story on his album Tales From the Underworld Volume 4 (1999) which goes:
"Every night I'd put on a tie and hit the after-hours bars with my old beat-up Underwood typewriter". But surely an Underwood 5 isn't the type of Underwood typewriter you'd take to an after-hours bar. Perhaps an Underwood 3 portable?
This is the Underwood 5 in Richard Polt's Collection, the one I used to try to "match up" with Waits's typewriter. It's at
This issue of Uncut magazine comes with a CD called Tom Waits' Jukebox. It includes a track from Jack Kerouac, McDougal Street Blues, recorded in 1958. It's a "spoken word song" in which Kerouac is accompanied on piano by Steve Allen.
My own favourite Waits track is on Foreign Affairs (1977), an album which, Uncut says,  includes "two of his finest story-song epics, the Runyonesque tale of Potter's Field and ... Burma-Shave."
But it's another story-song epic on side one of that album that most appeals to me: Medley: Jack & Neal/California, Here I Come. It may not appeal to everyone's taste, but it does to mine. The "Jack" in the title is, of course, Kerouac.
By the way, other than Waits, Petaluma is home to poet Clark Coolidge and a man with whom I have had some very happy and memorable dealings, Norman Greenbaum, singer-songwriter of the greatest One Hit Wonder in history, Spirit in the Sky.
But back to Waits. Here are three of my favourite artists, side by side:
And especially for big Waits fan Rob Bowker, from the latest edition of another English rock journal, Mojo magazine:


Rob Bowker said...

Big Waits fan.

Richard P said...

Thanks for this -- I'll add Waits to my list of typewriters users on my site.

Robert Messenger said...

Since you're a big Waits fan, Rob, I have added in some artwork just for you. A possible T-shirt?
(Hi Richard, I take it you agree it is an Underwood 5?)

Bill M said...

Very nice article. The song references bring back some good memories. I'm too new at typewriter collecting to add my thoughts as to what model Waits is using.

Machines of Loving Grace said...

I'm going to have to say that's probably a No.6 or some variant thereof. Note the tabulator bar with set/clear keys above the numbers row, and the top-mounted ribbon selector switch.

Word verification: mishn: what that half-baked idea becomes at 2am after one too many at the bar. "Outta mah way. Ah'm onna mishn."

Robert Messenger said...

Hi Alan. I'm very happy to change the heading and text to a No 6, if you're sure. What do you think? Not having either a 5 or a 6 myself any longer, I can't compare.