By Christian Hertzog
Could Tom Waits be one of the trumpeters on this old junior high school band recording?
A 1964 album by a Chula Vista junior high concert band — an ensemble in which the songwriter is known to have performed – was recently listed on eBay, and could well be his first LP. Titled 1964: Sounds of Music, it features the “intermediate” and “advanced” bands from Hilltop Junior High School, conducted by David F. Greeno. The back cover is blank white, and there is no insert with performer credits.
Waits is best known as a singer, pianist, and guitarist, but has repeatedly told interviewers that his first instrument was trumpet.
“I played in school orchestras, played trumpet in elementary school, junior high,” Waits said in a 1973 interview with KPFK-FM.
The eBay seller, Pea Hicks, is a working musician, but his main source of income comes from online sales of items he finds in San Diego area garage and estate sales. He cannot conclusively prove that Tom Waits is on the work, but if so it it would predate his earliest known recording session by seven years. Hicks says that the librarian at Hilltop Middle School — as it is now known — confirms that Waits is in the 1964 yearbook.
“We know he played trumpet. He was definitely a student at Hilltop,” Hicks says, adding that he sold another copy of it for more than $250 a few years back. “Two bidders seriously competed for it. Someone is convinced that Tom Waits played on it.” (Tom Waits did not respond to a request for comment for this article.)
When reached by phone the recording’s conductor David Greeno, says he has never heard of Tom Waits. “I don’t recall that name in the band, but that was a long time ago and there were a lot of trumpets in that band.”
Hicks compiled excerpts from the LP, which can be heard on the eBay listing. “People who’ve never heard a junior high school band say, “Wow! That sounds like Tom Waits,” referring to the band’s rough — but sincere and enthusiastic — playing.
“The truth is, most junior high band records sound like that, but it’s ironic that the sound is so similar to 1980’s Tom Waits.”
Below: Rare, recently uncovered Waits photographs from 1974
Hicks also recently came across another exciting Waits find: dozens of photos shot by an amateur in San Diego in 1974. Thirty-three of them are obviously Tom Waits.
“I’ve had the LP for several years now, but I was waiting to find more definite Tom Waits material so I could list the LP along with something Waits collectors will be interested in,” Hicks says.
These photos, which haven’t been seen before, were definitely taken at San Diego State University’s Montezuma Hall, but pinpointing their exact date is difficult.
“You can see Waits playing piano, but a recording of his set from the [San Diego Folk] Festival reveals that he was playing guitar, accompanied by bass,” Hicks says, speculating that the pictures could have been from April 21, 1974, when Waits is known to have performed at San Diego State, preceding the San Diego Folk Festival by three days.