Tom Waits’ Ongoing War With Advertising Agencies

Simon Whistler, host of the series Today I Found Out recounts the ongoing war that musician Tom Waits has with advertising agencies who insist upon using his songs, his likeness and especially his incredibly distinctive voice despite his continual refusal. At one point, Frito-Lay used a sound-a-like to perform a jingle set to Waits’ Small Change song “Step Right Up” without permission. Waits sued and won.

Waits immediately filed suit which brought about an unusual legal quandary. You see, Waits didn’t own the rights to the song Step Right Up; his former label did. And, as it turned out, Frito-Lay had legally obtained permission to use a version of the song in their ad. …Frito-Lay’s lawyers then had the audacity to argue that Waits’ voice wasn’t that recognisable- you know, even though Frito-Lay had gone to the effort of hiring a guy who sounded exactly like him for the express purpose of making it seem like it was Waits singing in the ad.

Despite his win, agencies for other brands kept coming after him, despite his steadfast refusal.

This case…should have scared off ad agencies forever, but amazingly the singer has had to sue other companies like Levi’s, Audi and the car manufacturer Opel for the more or less the same type of thing Frito-Lay did.

Yet in each case, Waits has prevailed. Levi’s issued an apology through a Billboard announcement and any money he’s collected from these suits has been donated to charity.

Whistler also adds in a fun fact about actor Ron Perlman and how he’s connected to Tom Waits.

Tom Waits is often mistaken for the actor Ron Perlman who shares a similar, distinctive growly voice and haggard look to such an extent Waits’ own fan club redirects Perlman fans to his IMDB page.