Today in 1949, the birthday of Tom Waits. 

Fans love his gravelly voice, his way with words and his captivating songwriting… his has been a unique and singular path, accept no imitations… 

Seriously, accept no imitations, because, a Tom Waits imitation once led the singer to sue a giant snack company. 

The ad was for Doritos, and it featured a gravelly voiced singer touting the great taste of the new SalsaRio chips, to a backing track that seemed to recall the Waits track “Step Right Up.”

Ironically, the lyrics “Step Right Up” are pretty clearly mocking the way we try to play up a product and its positives to get people to buy it.

And as Mental Floss reported, Waits had taken part in a commercial for dog food in the early 1980s, and regretted it so much that he vowed never to be part of an ad ever again.

So when the Doritos ad started playing on radio stations all over the US, Waits said he started getting calls from people he knew asking why he was singing in a snack chip commercial.

He joked that maybe he’d gotten blackout drunk and forgotten that he’d done the ad.

Actually, it was Dallas musician Stephen Carter who provided an extremely convincing Waits-style voice.

The actual Waits went to court against the maker of Doritos, Frito-Lay, and the agency that had produced the ad.

He argued that if people thought they were hearing Tom Waits lending his voice to sell chips, the ad – or as he called it, a “corn chip sermon” – amounted to a false endorsement.

While the companies argued to the contrary, the court ruled for Waits and awarded him millions of dollars.

Waits reportedly joked later that he spent all the money on candy.

Note that he didn’t say chips.

Around this time in 2021, a museum curator in Ekaterinburg, Russia noticed that figures in an Anna Leporskaya painting from the 1930s, a painting believed to be worth more than a million dollars, suddenly had eyes.

An investigation concluded that a security guard on his first day on the job had drawn the eyes with a ballpoint pen because… he was bored.

I guess at least he didn’t try to do a Tom Waits impression.

When Tom Waits Sued Frito-Lay Over a Doritos Ad (Mental Floss)

A security guard is accused of ruining a million-dollar painting by drawing eyes on it in ballpoint pen (Yahoo!)

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Photo by Nicolas Toper via Flickr/Creative Commons