A boy from nowhere still going strong.
Pontypridd is not a place that springs to mind for music. However, one of the world’s most famous singers came from there. In 1963, he joined the band Tommy Scott and the Senators. He is nearly 74 years of age and has an OBE and a Knighthood. When he was 12, he got TB, which kept him in bed for two years. It was during this time that he began to develop his love of music. His marriage of 57 years is still as strong today as it was in 1957 and it produced a son, Mark, who is his manager today. He sang the theme song from Thunderball. In 1974 he moved to America to escape Britain’s 83% marginal tax rate and bought Dean Martins mansion in Bel Air.
I’m talking about Tom Jones.
He was born Thomas Jones Woodward on 7th June 1940 to Thomas Woodward and Freda Jones. His father died on 5th October 1981 and his mother died on 7th February 2003. His Welsh home was 57 Kingsland Terrace, Treforest, Pontypridd, South Wales. Both his parents and grandparents were from Wales, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
Other stars also born in 1940 include John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Raquel Welch, Chuck Norris, Pele, Al Pacino and Bruce Lee.
Tom did not like school or sports and spent his time singing in the school choir when he could. It is said he was once told off for drowning out the rest of the choir as they sang Men Of Harlech in school assembly. He said that it gave him confidence and he also sang at family gatherings and weddings. As mentioned above, when he was 12, he contracted tuberculosis and during his two year recovery in bed, he listened to music and drew.
His time listening to music brought him to American soul, blues, R&B. gospel and rock to mention a few. Tom’s influences at that time included Little Richard, Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton and Elvis.
In his teens, he was becoming something of a tearaway - missing school, drinking and chasing girls. He began dating Melinda Trenchard, a local Catholic girl known as Linda. When he was 16, Tom and Linda got married. A month later, they had a son, Mark.
Tom had to provide for his family, so he began working in a glove factory, door to door selling and in construction. He also worked at nights in a paper mill as well as singing. He was running out of hours in the day, so he gave up the paper mill to concentrate on singing at night.
When he was 23, he joined the group Tommy Scott and the Senators. The band's leader, Vernon Hopkins enticed Tom away from his usual drinking spots after Tommy Redman (their lead singer) failed to show up one night, and with the help of a crate of beer persuaded him to perform with the Senators at the local YMCA.At this stage he began to develop his voice, which was described as a full-throated robust baritone.
It was supposed to be a one-off, but Tom was bitten by the bug. After brief involvements with playing guitar and drums, he had found his real musical strength: his voice.
They soon gained a local following and reputation in South Wales. In 1964, the group recorded several solo tracks with Joe Meek as producer. He took them to various labels, but they had little success. Later that year Decca producer Peter Sullivan saw Tommy Scott and the Senators performing in a club and directed them to manager Phil Solomon, but the partnership was short-lived.
Raymond Godfrey and John Glastonbury were two local songwriters who became Tom’s managers in 1964. They recorded a few tracks, but the producer refused to release the tapes.
The group continued to play gigs at dance halls and working men's clubs in South Wales and one night, at the Top Hat in Cwmtillery, Wales, Tom was spotted by Gordon Mills, a London-based singer turned manager who originally came from South Wales himself. Gordon wanted to become Tom’s manager, so he offered Raymond and John 5% of all Toms future earnings (which later became the base of a legal battle) and took him to London.He also renamed him Tom Jones, to exploit the popularity of the Academy Award winning 1963 film.
Tom’s dance moves (similar to Elvis) and his scruffiness did not impress the record companies. In late 1964 he recorded Chills and Fever which went nowhere. Then he recorded It’s not Unusual. The songs heavy orchestration and over the top arrangement coupled with Tom’s energetic delivery was infectious, and the song reached number one in the UK (even though the BBC refused to play it – Radio Caroline took it on) and made the top 10 in America.The rest, as they say, is history.
1965 really started Tom’s career. He sang the theme songs for Whats New Pussycat & Thunderball and also met Elvis in 1967, which started a friendship that lasted until his death in 1977.
Hits now began to build up in 1966, Once Upon A Time, With These Hands. Green Green Grass of Home became his second chart topper. This was an interpretation of a song on a Jerry Lee Lewis album – Country Songs for City Folks.
During this year, Gordon had to redesign his image, because his popularity began to slip, into a more respectable, mature, tuxedoed crooner. This strategy worked because he returned to the top of the charts in the U.K. and began hitting the Top 40 again in the U.S. For the remainder of the '60s, he scored a consistent string of hits in both Britain and America.
In 1967, he started a few years in Las Vegas in both the Flamingo and Caesars Palace. It was during this time that he met Elvis. And it was here that he became famed for having knickers thrown at him by his female fans. The knickers were shortly followed by hotel room keys. He began to become well known in America and reached superstar status. Tom played at least one week in LA per year until 2011.
In 1967, Frank Sinatra told Tom that his voice would go if he didn't change the way he sang. Tom reportedly laughed and said: "But what other way is there? I'll be around until the green, green grass is turned into a car park". Where’s the car park?
Between 1969 and 1971, Tom had his own hit TV show, This Is Tom Jones. Shown both in the UK and the US, it was worth $9 million per series to Tom over three years. Before the show's end in 1971, Tom appeared with stars including Johnny Cash, The Bee Gees, Janis Joplin and The Moody Blues.
At the start of the 1980s, he had another show named The Tom Jones Show that was produced in Vancouver, Canada and lasted for 24 episodes.
In 1970, Tom was paired up with Raquel Welch for a TV special entitled Raquel! The programme was viewed by millions across the globe and featured guest performances from John Wayne and Bob Hope.
One of Tom's best-loved singles was released in 1968. Delilah was a dark story of murder and infidelity, but people were entranced by the melody and Tom’s unforgettable delivery. It became a big hit.
The ‘70s were eventful for Tom. His former manages, Raymond Godfrey and John Glastonbury, brought him to court to recoup moneys they said were due to them. The Senators disbanded because they weren’t needed in LA. He left Britain for America because of high taxes. "I love Britain and I love living there," he said. "It's home. But I've been forced into exile and I don't like it one little bit." He moved to Bel Air and bought Dean Martin’s mansion for $1 million. His popularity stopped rising and he was seen as a man out of time. Tom still had a number of successful single releases, such as 'She's A Lady', 'Daughter of Darkness' and 'The New Mexican Puppeteer'.
In 1977, two things happened. Elvis died and he released a single, Say You’ll Stay until Tomorrow. This was the last time he would be in the singles charts for ten years.
On 5th August 1986, Gordon Mills died of cancer. Tom’s son, Mark, took over as manager. Mark gave him another new image and a new sound and introduced Tom to a whole new audience. After a brief association with Van Morrison, Tom hosted a new TV show, The Right Time.
In April 1987, he entered the singles chart again. A Boy From Nowhere was a big-time ballad, not too far removed from what had gone before, but most importantly it got Tom back in the public eye. This is my favourite record of all of Tom’s songs. It shows the range of his voice. The song came from Matador, the musical, which only lasted three months in the Queen’s Theatre in London in 1991.
Just a few months later, Tom appeared on Jonathan Ross' show The Last Resort. He sang Prince's "Kiss" with the electronic dance group the Art of Noise. The single became a Top Ten hit in the U.K. and reached the American Top 40, which led to a successful concert tour and a part in a recording of Dylan Thomas' voice play, Under Milk Wood. He then returned to the club circuit, where he stayed for several years.
In 1993 he signed to Interscope (home to Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and latterly Eminem), and released the album The Lead And How To Swing It. On it, he collaborated with people including Teddy Riley, Flood and Youth.
In 1995, Tom headlined Glastonbury, to a rapturous reception. Soon, he was on the comeback trail again, releasing the alternative dance-pop album The Lead and How to Swing It in the latter half of 1994. The record was a moderate hit, gaining some play in dance clubs.
In 1998, he performed a medley of songs from the film The Full Monty with Robbie Williams at the Brit Awards. Also that year, Space and Cerys Matthews released The Ballad Of Tom Jones.
His hugely successful 1999 album Reload, a collection of duets with some of the year's brightest stars, brought him back into the limelight where he's always been most comfortable.
He received an OBE in 1999.
Along came the turn of the century. President Bill Clinton asked Tom to perform on New Year's Eve at the 2000 millennium celebrations in Washington, D.C. It was an evening of historical reflection that was set at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.
In 2000, he got an honour for Best British Male at the BRIT Awards and also became the voice of Australia’s National Rugby League in an advertisement.
A major tour followed in Europe, Australia, US, Scandinavia, Middle East, Eastern Europe and the UK, with the final leg including five Wembley Arena dates and seven shows at the Cardiff International Arena. It was the largest and most successful tour of his career.A highlight was a performance with Pavarotti at his festival in Modena, Italy, benefiting Afghan children in Pakistan.
In London, Tom was honoured with the prestigious Silver Clef Award for Lifetime Achievement by the UK music industry charity Nordoff Robbins, which works with autistic children using music therapy.
In 2002 Mr Jones, a collaboration with former Fugees member Wyclef Jean and Jerry Wonder Duplessis was released. The album was recorded in New York and was an attempt at modernising Tom's music.
In 2004, he teamed up with Jools Holland and released Tom Jones & Jools Holland, a roots rock 'n' roll album. It peaked at No. 5 in the UK.
In 2005, when he was 65, he gave a concert in Pontypridd to a crowd of 25,000. This was the first concert there since 1964.
In 2006, he was knighted at Buckingham Castle.
Sir Tom's next album was released in November 2008, entitled 24 Hours. This was the first record in which he had a direct song-writing input. It was produced largely by drum'n'bass devotees Future Cut.
Also in 2008, he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame, sang in Strictly Come Dancing and insured his chest hairs on 7th February 2008 for $7 million. He later disputed that in a Top Gear interview
In 2009, he did a Comic Relief release of Islands in The Stream with Robin Gibb. Also in 2009, he changed his image again. This time it was to recognise his age and position as grandfather of music. His hair is now its natural colour – silver grey.
In 2010, he released the album Praise & Blame, much to the disgust of David Sharpe (VP of Island Records), who asked if it was a joke. However, Tom appeared on the second last episode of Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and performed "Burning Hell" from the album. In August 2010, Praise & Blame debuted at number 2 on the UK album chart.
From 2010 to 2014, he appeared in a charity concert in Twickenham Stadium, appeared with Hugh Laurie in the ITV series Perspectives, appeared on American Idol, released a single called Evil, was a coach on The Voice UK, released an album Spirit in the Room, released A Tower of Song (I think Leonard Cohen does it better), performed at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert, performed at the V Festival and headlined at the BBC2’s Live in Hyde Park Festival.
On 10th May this year, 2014, he was a special guest in LA on the Morrissey US Tour.
At 74 years of age, like Leonard Cohen (who is 79), there is no sign of Tom Jones stopping, or indeed slowing down. Over the years, Tom has sold over 100 million records. He is the 6th most popular person named Tom after Cruise, Hanks, Brady, Hiddleston and Kenny. I would have thought Tom Petty would be at the top of that list, but he number 18. He is ranked no. 61 on VH1’s 100 Sexiest Artists. The Sunday Times estimates his wealth at $213 million.
He’s admitted to getting some plastic surgery and has had work done on his eyelids and nose. He points to them. ‘Just a nip and a tuck.’ He visited his plastic surgeon to see if he could get the bags removed from under his eyes but he was advised it wasn’t a good idea. ‘He said I’d look like I was staring.’
The idea of retirement is not in his language. ‘A lot of people want to take it easy and spend time on the golf course. I don’t have a hobby. Music is always running through me. I have the urge to prove to myself that I can still do it, and for people to like what I do. There’s a voice inside me saying, “You’re still sounding great, Tom. Your voice is still strong.” Now if it started telling me: “I wouldn’t do that if I was you. . .”’ And he laughs.
Keep going Tom.
By Bob Tallent
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