MUSiC: Closing Time, 50 Years On…

Hot damn, what an amazing debut record!

I thought I’d revisit it, having recently bought 50th Anniversary posters, and also re-listened to it, in the car, for the first time in quite a while.

I did a series of long reviews of all my favourite Tom Waits albums, and posted them on Amazon, years ago. It was stuff like that – and the ‘helpful’ vote reactions of other Amazon shoppers – that lead to them inviting me to participate in the Vine program.

Rather annoyingly they then deleted ALL my reviews – (over a thousand!*) and booted me off Vine, later on. With no proper explanation! And I’m not sure I had any backup copies.

* With over a million helpful votes!

So this might be the time and place to kind of recapitulate that stuff, to some degree?

Only this time I’ll feel free to be even more digressive/discursive. For example, looking into some of the production team and sidemen who helped make this sublime work of musical art.

John Seiter, Drums & Backing Vocals.

Spanky-era Seiter.

Drummer John Seiter not only plays his primary instrument superbly, and with pitch perfect sensitivity to the material, on Closing Time. He also adds excellent – and highly unusual, in that they’re almost unique in the Waits canon – backing vocals, on (?) and (?).

Seiter’s claim to fame isn’t his Waits connection, but his roles as drummer for Spanky & Our Gang (196?-6?), and, more briefly, The Turtles. His brother Jimmi Seiter was also a drummer and percussionist, with a long and successful association with The Byrds, in the ‘70s…

Bill Plummer, double-bass

Bill and his bull fiddle.

As Jerry Yester recalled, Tom was insistent on having an upright bassist. Drummer John Seiter brought in Bill Plummer. Bill had a very varied career: he once played (in an unrecorded jam, I believe) with Miles, is on The Stones’ Exile On Main Street, and also played sitar, studying the latter with Ravi Shankar, no less!

Bull in sitar mode.
Bill’s ‘69 sitar album, on jazz label, Impulse!

Read more here about this intriguing album.

Jerry Yester, Production & String Arrangements

Jerry with his then wife, Judy.

Jerry Yester had been a fixture on the ‘60s coffee-house folk scene, a member of The Modern Folk Quartet, and replaced Zal Yanofsky in sixties folk-pop sensations, The Lovin’ Spoonful.

His recollections of working on this album with Tom are priceless, as they include having the very young as yet unsigned artist visit his home, to play through his material and discuss the potential upcoming album.

If I recall correctly he talked about how his wife, who’d usually ignore such goings on – her husband obviously doing stuff like this all the time – felt compelled, in this instance, to discover the source of the beautiful sounds wafting through their home.

Yester also recalls how, at the end of the session for the album-closing (and titular) instrumental, Closing Time, there was a prolonged silence. ‘Nobody wanted the moment to end’, he enthuses, citing this as ‘the most magical’ musical session he’d ever been part of.

Despite this, Yester and Tom were pulling in differing directions. Yester’s background and expertise lead him to move things in a folksier direction, whereas Tom’s whole boho-beatnik jazzer schtick was already beginning to take shape.

This looks very interesting.

Read more here about the Farewell Aldebaran album.

Ed Caraeff, Photographer


Photographer Ed Caraeff took the photos that one sees front and back. The front cover photo is a real beauty. Totally capturing the beatnik bar/nightfly vibe. The back cover one is from a series shot – possibly just after a Troubadour performance (according to some sources) – in what looks like a photography studio setting.

A snippet from the contact-sheet that yielded the back cover image of Waits.

Cal Schenkel, album cover design


Cal Schenkel’s most famous association is with Frank Zappa. Waits and Zappa were both on Herb Cohen’s Bizarre/Straight label. And in his early years Waits would sometimes open shows for Zappa, et al. Talk about trial by fire!

Cal’s work with Zappa…
…rather different from the Closing Time cover.

Cal’s website can be found here.

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