Tom Jones - Biography
By J Poet
Sir Tom Jones (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005) is probably the closest thing to Elvis that the United Kingdom has ever produced. He’s a dynamic showman with a powerful voice and a sexual presence that still makes women grow faint. He’s taken home a Grammy, dozens of gold records and albums, and sold over 100 million records in a career that stretches back to his early days fronting Welch rock bands. He’s been able to adapt to changing musical taste without becoming a sell out, and continues to play close to 200 dates a year.
Jones was born Thomas Jones Woodward in Pontypridd, South Wales, in 1940, and sang almost before he could walk. He entertained at his mother's Women’s Guild meetings while still a boy, and set up “stage shows” in his living room with his parents shining flashlights on him to mimic a spotlight. He sang in the choir at church and Treforrest Secondary Modern School where his teachers upbraided him for drowning out the rest of the ensemble with his already powerful pipes. In the 50s, Jones fell under the spell of rock’n’roll, and began drinking heavily and chasing girls. In 1957, just 17, he dropped out of high school, married his girlfriend Linda Trenchard and got a job at a paper mill. He then contracted tuberculosis and was ill for almost a year.
1963, the lead singer of Tommy Scott and the Senators quit and the band asked Jones to fill in him. Jones was so successful on his first gig, the band asked him to join and he was soon known as Tiger Tom, famous for prowling the stage in a black leather outfit. He reputation as a hard drinker and ladies man didn’t hurt the band’s image. Within a year they were opening shows for major acts and blowing them off the stage. A demo tape they made with Telstar producer Joe Meek failed to yield a record contract, but in 1964 Gordon Mills, a South Wales born, London based impresario, caught the band’s act and took them to London. He suggested the stage name of Tom Jones and changed the band’s name to The Playboys.
The singer’s rough and tumble approach and raw sexuality put off many record labels, but Decca signed the band and their second single “It's Not Unusual” was a #1 hit in England and went Top 10 and gold in America. Originally the single was considered “too hot” for proper radio to play, but the pirate station Radio Caroline sent it up their charts with regular airplay. The band – now billed as Tom Jones – became instant stars. “It's Not Unusual” also won Jones a Best New Artist Grammy. While albums like Along Came Jones (1965 Decca UK) A-Tom-ic Jones (1965 Parrot US) and It's Not Unusual (1965 Parrot US) didn’t ignite the charts, they were strong sellers, especially in the UK.
That changed with the “Green, Green Grass Of Home” single, which went Top 10 in the UK and US. Green, Green Grass Of Home (1967 Decca, UK 1967 Parrot US) included the hit but marked a shift toward more adult sounds, with less rock’n’roll tunes. Jones did his first Las Vegas stint, at The Flamingo, which cemented his US star status. He headlined The Flamingo for almost two years before moving to The International. His singles “What’s New Pussycat” and “I’ll Never fall in Love Again” also went gold.
Tom Jones Live at the Talk of the Town (1967 Parrot) a blistering live set, Fever Zone (1967 Parrot), and Help Yourself (1968 Parrot), Jones’ first Top 10 album in the US, set up Delilah (1968 Decca UK, 1968 London US). The title track was a gold hit. Jones was now a Las Vegas perennial and a constant chart presence, although his singles continued to outsell his albums. Hits included “Help Yourself,” “Without Love,” “Daughter of Darkness” and “Love Me Tonight” all of which went gold; “I'll Never Fall in Love Again” and “She’s a Lady” which went to #2 on the American charts and earned another gold single, and “Till” the worldwide smash that capped his first Golden Era. His albums included Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas (1969 Parrot), This Is Tom Jones (1970 Parrot), I (Who Have Nothing) (1970 Parrot), Tom Jones Sings She's a Lady (1971 Parrot), Tom Jones Live at Caesar's Palace (1971 Parrot), and The Body and Soul of Tom Jones (1973 Parrot). In 1969, the BBC gave him his own variety show, the hour long This Is Tom Jones, which ran for two years. ABC picked up the American rights for a purported nine million dollars. The show gave exposure to acts like Johnny Cash, The Bee Gees, Janis Joplin, The Moody Blues, The Who, Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, and his pal Elvis Presley. In 1970 he appeared in the over the top TV special Raquel! with Raquel Welch, John Wayne and Bob Hope.
In 1974 Jones moved to Bel Air and became an American citizen to escape the British tax code and while his record sales tanked, his Las Vegas gigs grew wilder and more extravagant. What he called “the underwear thing” started; women tossing their panties onto the stage at every performance. His music faded from pop radio, but he had a number of country hits like “Darlin’,” “I’ve Been Rained on Too,” “A Woman’s Touch” and “Things That Matter Most to Me.” His country albums include Say You'll Stay Until Tomorrow (1977 Epic), What a Night (1977 Epic), Darlin’ (1981 Mercury, 1993 PolyGram), Don't Let Our Dreams Die Young (1983 Mercury, 1993 PolyGram), and the compilation Things That Matter Most to Me (1987 Mercury, 2002 Uni).
In 1987, after the death of his long time manager Gordon Mills, Mark Jones, the singer’s son, took over his career, and got him to wax the ballad “A Boy From Nowhere” from the musical Matador. It went to #2 on the UK charts and Jones was back. In 1988 he supplied vocals to a cover of Prince’s “Kiss” for The Art of Noise; it became his first worldwide hit in almost 20 years and made him a star on MTV. Move Closer (1988 Jive) included “Kiss” and other club style hits and was followed by The Lead and How to Swing It (1994 Interscope) another club record. The Complete Tom Jones (1993 London UK) a 20 track best of, was rushed out to capitalize on his return to the mainstream.
In 1992, Jones was back on TV with The Right Time on the British independent ITV network. He chatted and sang with Erasure, Lyle Lovett, Stevie Wonder, and Al Jarreau. VH1 aired the series in the US, which led to gigs on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and The Simpsons. On Reload (1999 V2 UK) Jones collaborated with younger hit makers like The Cardigans and Space, and contemporaries like Van Morrison for one of his best albums ever. The record went gold or platinum all over the globe, his biggest selling album ever. He followed it with Mr. Jones (2002 V2 UK) working with producer Wyclef Jean; the album included Jones’ first songwriting efforts. In 2000 he performed at the Millennium celebrations in Washington D.C. and toured the Middle East and Europe. Tom Jones and Jools Holland (2002 WEA UK) took the singer back to his roots. With the expert help of Holland and his band, he brings his soulful fire to old faves like “Linda Lu,” “200 Pounds of Joy,” “St. James Infirmary Blues” and “Roberta.” His most recent album 24 Hours (2008 S-Curve), his first US release in almost 10 years, showcases his songwriting talent in a retro-soul style that pays tribute to the American music that originally inspired him. Producers Future Cut, Betty Wright and Nellee Hooper and guest shots by Bono and The Edge give the music a brilliant modern sheen without stepping on Jones’ larger than life vocals. The four-disc box The Definitive Tom Jones: 1964-2002 (2003 PolyGram) gives you 92 tracks from throughout his career. Queen Elizabeth II knighted Jones in 2005 for his contribution to British music and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2010 he released Praise & Blame, followed by Spirit In The Room (2012).