50 years of Tenco: Leonard Cohen

50 years of Tenco: Tom Waits

2024 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Club Tenco, the largest Italian initiative dedicated to songwriting, of which Rockol is the official partner. As we approach this year’s edition, we celebrate its history in ten episodes, drawing from its historic archive.

1986 was the thirteenth edition of the Tenco Prize, born from an idea by Amilcare Rambaldi. That year the Tenco prize was awarded to Tom Waits, and the prize for the cultural operator to Susana Rinaldi, as can be explored in detail in the original 1986 issue of “Il Cantautore”, the annual monograph edited and published by Club Tenco.


Tom Waits was born on December 7, 1949 in Pomona, California and began performing at the end of the ’60s offering his mixture of stories, songs and smoky jazz atmospheres. During one of his appearances at the Troubador’s “Amateur Hoot Nights” in Los Angeles, Waits was noticed by manager Herb Cohen, who got him a recording contract with the then emerging label Asylum.

CLOSING TIME showcases a talent that is not yet completely in focus, but already capable of producing excellent songs, as in the case of “Ol’55” (later covered by the Eagles) and “Martha”. The following album, THE HEART OF SATURDAY NIGHT, is a complex representation of the human undergrowth that lives at night between pavements and low-class night clubs, a world populated by waitresses and truck drivers, all in tones inherited from Kerouac’s “On the Road” . Next comes the live release of the previously unreleased NIGHTHAWKS AT THE DINER, followed by SMALL CHANGE. Things change with FOREIGN AFFAIRS, an album even more inspired by the beat world and full of excellent songs, while both BLUE VALENTINE and HEARTATTACK AND WINE mark a moment of balance between ballad and jazzy r&b in Waits’ production. Waits’ route changes abruptly with his departure from Asylum towards Island and with the album SWORDFISHTROMBONES, in which they appear exotic instruments, harmonic and melodic textures unusual for the artist’s hitherto relatively linear writing.

After participating in films such as “Rumble fish”, “Down by law” and “Ironweed”, Waits releases another excellent work, entitled RAIN DOGS, which features Rolling Stone Keith Richards on guitar. FRANKS WILD YEARS, the next album, contains songs written for a show with his wife Kathleen Brennan, based on one of the songs from SWORDFISHTROMBONES.

In 1986 he was awarded the Tenco Prize.

Here is the complete biography of Tom Waits.

The 2024 Tenco Prize will take place from 17 to 19 October. Stay updated by following the official website of the event.


Photo: Club Tenco (Roberto Coggiola)