Tom Jones

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Tom Jones Pencil Portrait
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Last update: 27/02/2016

Tom Jones’ double-barreled vocal cords remain every bit as potent as when he was in his 20s and catching the first wave of ‘British Invasion rock,’ led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

His is a well documented life – the pure slog of his formative club days, the career ignition that was Gordon Mills, stardom and then superstardom, career atrophy in Las Vegas where more than one entertainer has gone to die, and then a remarkable artistic renaissance with some of the best recordings of his entire career.

Anticipating his next musical move has been rather pleasingly, nigh impossible, whilst in contrast his private life for decades would remain utterly predictable. Whatever the distractions available, and Lord knows there had been plenty, he was never going to leave his wife and family. God forbid any woman would have been stupid enough to think otherwise.

Tom Jones was born Thomas Woodward in Pontypridd, South Wales. His father, also Thomas, was a coal miner. “We were working-class people but there’s a pride in it,” he says. “I felt proud that my father was a miner – that he went to work and brought home money in a very honest way – and that my mother looked after the house and brought up my sister and me very well. Most of my values have been formed from that working-class environment. They were good people so I know I was lucky in that respect.”

At 12, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and spent two years convalescing. The illness did have its upside, though – it meant he would never follow his father down the mines. Being bedridden also meant he could do little else other than listen to music – “When Rock Around the Clock came out I was, Jesus, what is that?!”. He was performing in working men’s clubs until he was spotted by Gordon Mills, a London-based manager. He changed his name to Tom Jones and his career took off.

Jones spent much of the late Sixties and Seventies – the height of his hip-gyrating, audience-knicker-throwing years – performing at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, where one of his good friends was Elvis Presley. “We were very much in tune with one another. Frank Sinatra was great as well, but musically he was different. He was of a different age, whereas Elvis and myself, we felt very similar about songs. He picked my brains a bit. I never realised he was doing it, but he would say, how do you deal with it, fame? And I’d say, well, I enjoy it. Then he’d say, what drugs do you take in order to enjoy it? And I’d say, well, I don’t – and I think that’s maybe helped me.”

Sir Tom has seen plenty of drugs in his time, “but it has never interested me. Cocaine, for instance – going to a party and seeing there’s a bloody big mound on the table. Christ, I don’t get anything from it. I like restaurants, I like pubs. I like to be in the pub standing with the fellas by the bar, a social thing that you don’t get from drugs. I still like a good pint of British ale.”

He recalls parties in the Sixties and Seventies where “everyone was smoking pot. I was at one with Mama Cass – she did my TV show – _’This is Tom Jones,’(ATV) which ran from 1969 to 1971 – and was staying at the Dorchester. She asked what I’d like, and I said champagne if you’ve got some. She said sure – but you’ll be the only one drinking it. She was right: everyone else was smoking pot. I was talking to this girl on the couch, and I’m smoking a Cuban cigar and drinking the champagne, and the next thing I know she’s slipped to the floor giggling. Then I look around the room and I notice a lot of people have gone to the floor. I ran out of people to talk to after an hour.”_

Sir Tom’s vice has always been women. There have been rumours of countless flings, from 21-year-old lap dancers to a two-year affair with Mary Wilson of The Supremes. Jones himself has admitted that during his Lothario period he slept with up to 250 women a year. On tour, he would have two dressing rooms: one for entertaining friends, the other – nicknamed “the workbench” – for entertaining groupies. Of course, it’s easy enough for men to banter about the singer’s pecadilloes but frankly, if he truly was screwing himself silly, then the music was suffering. Viewed from today’s perspective, it’s unlikely Jones believes it was all worthwhile. He was certainly ripe for ridiculing at the time, and I for one, couldn’t take him seriously. Ten years earlier, he’d seemed a man in a boys’ world, belting out great singles, both raw and exciting. By ’75, nobody really cared about Jones the singer, and to make matters even worse, some of his ‘conquests’ have been less than flattering about his ‘equipment’ and I’m not talking tonsils! In 1996, the sometime actress, singer, model, and sex symbol Mamie Van Doren, was less than complimentary about the welsh swordsman’s abilities in the sack when interviewed for a 1996 television profile of the singer. I was amused to find that she’d subsequently gone into print about the encounter, as the following link testifies.

If it’s any consolation for Jones, these are the recollections of a woman who strenuously denies any breast cosmetic surgery throughout her career, a statement so palpably untrue – based on photograpic evidence throughout the decades – that everything she utters must be taken with a pinch of salt. Perhaps if she’d spent a little more time in the vertical position – by her own admission, it’s been a ‘colourful’ life – she might have escaped her raunchy image, and developed her craft as an actress. It seems ol’Tom slipped up here, entangling himself with a woman equally as active as himself. Ouch!!!

Throughout it all – remarkably – has been his wife, Linda. They married when they were both 16 and she was pregnant with their only child, Mark. Linda even stood by him when, in 1989, it was revealed that he had fathered an illegitimate child. ‘Lady Linda’ is said to be agoraphobic – and her condition is one of the reasons the couple still live in LA, in a heavily secure mansion in Beverly Hills (Robbie Williams is a neighbour).

Their enduring marriage baffles many. “I still love my wife – the longer you’re married, it changes,” he says. “The older you get, it’s no longer a sex thing. There’s got to be more than that in order for it to last. You have to like one another; you have to have the same values. We both came from a working-class background, we both came from the same place, so we’re not like two foreign people having to explain to the other what their childhood was like. A lot of that, I think, has to do with the marriage lasting as long as it did. We grew up together. To walk away from that would be terrible.”

Grace Dent, reviewing Jones’s autobiography in the Belfast Telegraph, hit it on the nail. ‘Tom and Linda Jones could have easily divorced at any point over the past six decades. By easily, I mean that with excruciating emotional pain and a lot of tedious paperwork, they could have gone their separate ways upon earth. Tom could have swallowed an enormous divorce payment, and had a lot of other weddings with skinny things with pert chests who, inevitably, would become as familiar as Linda themselves and need upgrading.’

In an article refreshing for its bluntness and honesty, Dent further adds : ‘Tom and Linda seem to accept – as many normal everyday couples do, too – that, regardless of how imperfect home life is, it holds a damn sight more substance than the new or the unknown. Many have chosen this path, like Tom and Linda, and are seeing it out to the end. Quibbles about her growing reclusiveness, smoking, or the stuff he got up to in 1976 are nothing more than window-dressing. Regardless of it all, wherever Linda is, Tom classes it as home. That, I cannot help, but think, is a definition of real love – and it’s one that’s rarely paid tribute to in Hallmark cards.’

‘These are the nuts and bolts of real love. Older people don’t mention this much at weddings because the bride and groom would run a mile. I liked the part of Tom Jones’ interview when he said he loved speaking to Linda on the phone, wherever he is in the world, as they still have the same old giggle they always did. The idea of a person lying about on a hotel bed in London, chatting and laughing with their spouse in Los Angeles, still solid after 56 years, is rather special.’ Full marks to Grace – wherever you are – for slicing the bullshit in two, like a knife through butter.

Jones himself, thinks getting married and becoming a father so young gave him his drive. “It gave me strength. I thought, I’ve got to do this not only for myself, but for my wife and my son. I want them to be proud of me.”

Mark is now his manager. When he first started working with his father, he persuaded him to leave the tight trousers and medallions behind, although there was resistance for a while over the hair dye and perma-tan. He also helped orchestrate Sir Tom’s musical resurgence in the late Nineties by encouraging him to work with younger artists such as Stereophonics.

Although there are limits. “I’m not crazy about gangsta rap, because it glorifies violence, which I don’t agree with,” he says. “It’s like a movie: it has to be a reckoning. Most movies are made so that good overcomes evil, and I think that’s important, rather than, ‘He got away with that’.”

The opening tone of his autobiography is self revalatory. He writes “Let’s not begin at the beginning, Let’s start somewhere near the bottom.” Describing the mind numbing experience of a twice nightly cabaret show in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1983, twelve years without a hit, he goes on to recall: “This wasn’t exactly the plan. Assuming there was a plan. Which, come to think of it, there wasn’t.”

Blasting almost vertically into fame’s skies, higher than he even dared imagine, Jones describes a career on cruise control, gradually losing height, slowly, gently, over the course of more than a decade, without noticing how close the ground has got until a moment backstage between shows. Posing two key questions to pique the reader’s interest, he writes: “How did I get here? And secondly, now that I’m here, how do I get out?”

Under construction

Tom Jones changed musical direction again in 2010 when he released a back-to-basics album called ‘Praise & Blame,’ , a release that placed him at the forefront of a guitar based band for the first time in nearly four decades. A leaked email emerged from David Sharpe, vice president of Island Records, asking if it was a “sick joke” hinted at a radical career departure, yet the album did well, both critically and commercially. Clearly, Jones had more in him than periodic rehashes of “Sex Bomb.”

“It was stripped down so people could hear more of me without the big arrangements,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed all of my career, but this felt like when I was first starting out, singing songs that I really believed in, and doing them simply. I remember growing up and the traditional songs that fellas would get up to sing in a club, the purity of that. There was a fella in Wales, a rugby player, Glen O’Gevin. We used to go to this working men’s club, men only on a Sunday night, and fellas would get up and sing just for the love of singing – not to attract females, just men, just for the love of it. And Glen would get up, sing My Mother’s Eyes, and by the time he was half-way through, everyone was touching, and by the time he’d finished, people were crying. My God, that’s pure singing.”

Recommended listening

Green, Green Grass of Home (1967)

Jon Savage argues convincingly in his book “1966 – The year the decade exploded,” that Tom Jones’s sentimental hit, “The Green, Green Grass of Home,” originally a Jerry Lee Lewis country song, was swept to the top of the charts by public emotion in Britain over the Aberfan disaster of October 1966, when a Welsh school was engulfed by a landslide. “That was the end of the Swinging Sixties,” Savage asserts. “Aberfan cast such a pall over this country.”

On the back of such an enormous hit, it was a logical step to base Tom’s fourth studio album with Decca Records, around the song. Produced by Peter Sullivan, the album showcases a singer beginning to abandon his teenage pop audience in order to concentrate on a more mature, middle of the road group of listeners. Although he did include uptempo R&B numbers like “Kansas City,” the album’s strongest moments occur when he concentrates on standards and country tunes like the title track, “My Mother’s Eyes,” and “That Old Black Magic,” or when he turns in laidback soul songs like Bacharah’s “Any Day Now.” The album was still inconsistent, as Jones over-sang several of the tracks, but it was easily the best album he had recorded to date.

Reload (1999)

Fresh from his cameo in “Mars attacks” (1996), Jones would complete his resurgence, recording a UK #1 album featuring duets with the likes of Van Morrison, The Pretenders, The Cardigans and Natalie Imbruglia. Business in the European markets was brisk, yet the collection would be oddly overlooked stateside.

“Burning down the house” gets the party mood off to a rumbustious start, and “Mama told me not to come” maintains the high octane pace. Best of all, there’s an inventive re-imagining of Ray Davies’ “Sunny Afternoon,” and the radio friendly “Sex Bomb” with Mousse T. Elsewhere, he bests Robbie Williams on “Are You Going to Go My Way” and croons suggestively on “Baby it’s cold outside” with Cerys Matthews. Rounding off an eclectic mix, there’s some Barry-esque 007 horns on Portishead’s “All Mine” (with the Divine Comedy), the traditional “Motherless Child” (with Portishead) and the all-time great, “Little Green Bag” with the Barenaked Ladies. An in-car favourite of mine; and a sentiment shared by millions

Ladies, throw your panties in the air and wave them like you just don’t care.

Greatest Hits Rediscovered (2010)

Certain artists’ Greatest Hits packages simply rehash familiar material every five years in unfamiliar packaging. In the case of Tom Jones, his artistic and commercial renaissance from the late 80’s onwards, afforded his label the opportunity of compiling a much expanded running order over two discs.

This ‘Rediscovered’ album is a musical timeline of hit singles spanning almost five decades, released in a year that saw Sir Tom Jones celebrate his 70th birthday. The singles run from his first number one “It’s Not Unusual” back in 1965, the hits from the 60’s – “What’s New Pussycat”, “Thunderball”, “Green Green Grass Of Home” and “Delilah”, the likes of “She’s A Lady” from the 70s, through to more recent successes that reignited global interest in an artist that to date has over 100 million record sales worldwide, like the reworked Prince classic “Kiss,” the rocking “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” or “What Good Am I.”

Desert Island Discs - BBC Radio 4(26/9/10)

Praise and Blame (2010)

Jones was signed by Island, to mine a rich vein of more substantial material. The central themes of faith, temptation and redemption are explored in an eclectic collection of songs, recorded live with a stripped down combo and the occasional guest like Booker T. Jones, the American multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, record producer and arranger, best known as the frontman of the band Booker T. & the M.G.‘s.

‘Praise & Blame’ is, accordingly, drenched in blues and southern soul, sounding both contemporary and retro in equal measure. The album opens with Dylan’s ‘What Good Am I?’, a self-questioning meditation which the singer would promote heavily in concert and on telelvision. Much of what follows goes further back, to the root of country and rock & roll in gospel music, from songwriters such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson.

Further supported by an IMAGINE ‘making of’ documentary produced by Alan Yentof, the album did brisk business, charting well in Britain and several key European territories. Suitably focussed, and without the distraction of hobbies, it is – as the man will tell anyone prepared to listen – still all about the music. If his days are numbered, then Jones is clearly hell bent on enjoying life for as long as possible. There’s no retirement plan, however philosophical life can make you. As our man puts it himself: “Hank Williams once sang a song called ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’. I never thought of it like that, but you know what? He’s right. None of us will.”

Recommended reading

Over the top and back (Tom Jones) 2015

Reviews of Jones’ autobiography were predictably muted, grudgingly acknowledging that he has had an astonishing life, and one he would selectively recount with verve, energy and a vivid eye for detail. A coal miner’s son, a boy from nowhere, he had a completely untutored golden voice, a lusty tenor that took him from being a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman to fame, friendship with Elvis Presley and a £190 million fortune. Much to the disappointment of critics, there was just a solitary reference to alleged affairs on the road, despite a long marriage to childhood sweetheart Linda:

‘There was sex in the shows, and there was sex around the shows. The air seemed to crackle with it . . . the atmosphere was alive with the possibility of sex. I was going over as some kind of love god, and I was going over so strongly that occasionally I was even persuaded of it myself. The road will set temptations in front of you that are hard to resist.’

Perhaps he had good reasons for the exclusion – late, blooming respect for his wife, a wish to protect the women involved, a keen sense of his own, hard-won dignity in old age – but to some, the bland steamroller of his discretion would almost capsize the whole project. Not for me, though.

Thankfully, in the preparation of his memoirs, our man would recognise that his legacy rests with life onstage, the best of his recordings, and a handful of television spectaculars. If the truth be told, he probably couldn’t remember much of anything where woman were concerned. Why on earth would he? It’s the essential difference between the sexes. Whilst a woman will recall every intimate detail including the stars and that glorious full moon, for millions of men, everything is a blur within months and distinctly opaque within a year. I certainly wouldn’t wish to pay £20 to indulge in his sexual recollections. Of course he enjoyed ‘girl on girl’ shows in his hotel suite, so what the hell is there to write about? He didn’t discover anything new – no three legged woman on the sunset strip – so may we lay to rest, at least for one autobiography, the most over-hyped, over-rated physical act of all time? After all, none of these experiences were ‘mind blowing’ enough convince him to change his marital status. So let’s focus on the important aspects of his life. Quarantined at home, with tuberculosis and the the first awakenings of his musical awareness – it was the “large, brown electric powered radio” that nourished him in those days, – “This would have been the first time I listened to music properly – not just hearing it, but attending to it, absorbing it.”

The young soul fan rapidly became a husband and father when Linda would fall pregnant with their only child Mark, and to keep the family he mixed jobs on building sites, in a factory, selling vacuum cleaners whilst fronting a rock band with a strong local following. Spotted by ambitious manager Gordon Mills, whose wife’s opinion of Jones was – “I’ve never seen anything so male in my life” – the dye was cast.

Mills’ composition ‘It’s Not Unusual’ would set him on his way, allowing the embryonic star to grind those hips around the world, in a showbiz career of colourful ups and downs. Eschewing drugs – even when dished up in a heap at a party at Lulu and Maurice Gibb’s house – Tom would remain the archetypal ‘pint-in-a-pub man’ and more likeable for all that.

As for the women in his life, he knows that we know, we know that he knows we know, and that’s basically it. In twenty years time, nobody will care about his prodigious involvement with the fairer sex. Those ‘ladies’ might – for being so carefree and stupid – but music historians won’t. If you want sleaze, pick up a Jackie Collins novel at your nearest shopping mall. This memoir is something else.


Tom Jones

The official site and an obvious starting point. You didn’t expect him not to have one, did you?!!