Born Thomas Jones Woodward, June 7, 1940, in Pontypridd, South Wales, Great Britain; son of Thomas (a coal miner) and Freda Jones; married Malinda Trenchard, c. 1956; children: Mark. Addresses: Office-- Tom Jones Enterprises, Ste. 205, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067.
At age 29 Tom Jones couldn't imagine being a man over 50--he said it was all downhill from there. Yet today, a few years past that feared age, he's just getting his second wind. In recent years Jones has gone from singing in front of sold-out crowds of middle-aged, underwear-tossing matrons to singing in front of sold-out crowds of fist-waving, funkily clad youths. Why the resurgence of this 50-something Welshman who first gained popularity before some of his new fans were even born? Perhaps because he's never lost his unique vocal power or his charismatic stage presence. And it doesn't hurt that he's never fought the changing times.
Born Thomas Jones Woodward in Pontypridd, South Wales, Great Britain, on June 7, 1940, Jones started singing at an early age. His mother had him performing for shillings at the village store at the tender age of three and, later, singing American hits like "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "Mule Train" for the local women's guild. At home he would ask his mother to pull the drapes and announce him as he sang on his "stage" in the sitting room. Determined not to end up a coal miner like his father, Jones left school at 15 and held a host of laborer's jobs while singing nights in the tough, working-class pubs in town. He married Malinda ("Linda") Trenchard when they were both 16 and she was pregnant with their only child, Mark.
As a teen Jones fancied himself a "Teddy Boy," dressing in the aggressive and affected style of that rough British youth subculture (not unlike the 1950s "greaser" phenomenon in the U.S.). This identification and his struggle to escape his environment created the rugged, macho image that typifies Jones to this day. The hip swivel that "Tiger Tom" developed in those early years and the sheer emotion with which he sings set him on the road to sex-symbol status. In the beginning, however, this persona made for a muddled perception by both audiences and record companies.
In 1964, when Welsh songwriter and manager Gordon Mills came across Jones in a local nightclub, he could tell within a few moments that this man had potential. "The first few bars were all I needed to hear, they convinced me that here was a voice that could make him the greatest singer in the world," Mills was quoted as saying in a 1993 Tom Jones Enterprises press biography. Mills urged Jones to join him in London and promptly shortened Thomas Jones Woodward to Tom Jones in order to capitalize on the then-current film adaptation of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, a hit starring Albert Finney; the name change helped to foster the same sexy image that the fictional Jones's lusty personality suggested. But record company executives did not know what to make of this newly created Tom Jones. He was too old and he sang too well. His sound was raucous and overwhelmingly powerful, and his performance style was deemed too forward and sexual. At that time record companies were looking for groups of long-haired boys--not solo big-voiced men.
Mills and Jones persisted, and, within a year, Jones had recorded Mills's driving "It's Not Unusual," landed a recording contract with Decca, sold three million copies of the song, and watched it rise to Number One in 13 countries. But Jones's somewhat intimidating, sweating, sexy image again threw him off track. "A lot of the younger girls have said they're frightened of me," he confessed to New York Times Magazine contributor Anthony Carthew. Then, in November of 1966, during a post-"Unusual" slump, Mills made the discovery that would relaunch Jones's career: the kids weren't the real market--it was the adults. Armed with this insight, Mills stuck Jones in a tux, added slightly more mature songs to the singer's repertoire, and by Christmas, "Green, Green Grass of Home" was at the top of the charts, signaling the beginning of a panty-waving saga.
Once critics got past the skin-tight pants and romantic, coal-mining background, they tended to agree that Tom Jones had one phenomenal singing voice. "Mr. Jones is both a showman and, all things considered, an unusually good singer," wrote New York Times contributor John S. Wilson. Mark Shivas, also of the Times, called Jones's gift "a big, throaty, sexy sound that wallops the studio wall with a satisfying thud." Time, in fact, reported that "when Jones growls through a song in a black, bluesy style, the emotion seems to come more from the throat than the heart." And Betty Baer of Look assessed, "Tom's musical style is the confessional moan, the raw gut feeling associated with the American soul sound."
It's not surprising, then, that Jones's early influences included blues and R&B greats like Solomon Burke, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, and Brook Benton. Jerry Lee Lewis's music planted the seed of rock and roll in Jones's heart. These musicians so impressed themselves on Jones's style that many listeners thought he was black. "There was this disk jockey," Jones told Shivas, "who was amazed because I was white and said I should keep my face off the record sleeves because otherwise I'd lose the colored audience I'd built up and the sales would drop. But of course I didn't. I was christened 'our blue-eyed soul brother,' which I liked. It was a fantastic compliment." Even Elvis Presley thought Jones was black when he heard "What's New Pussycat?" The first thing Presley asked on meeting Jones was "How the hell do you sing like that?" The two became close friends and when "Green, Green Grass of Home" became a hit for Jones, Presley frequently called radio stations to request it. Presley also warmed up his voice with Jones's "Delilah" before his own performances.
By the end of 1970 Jones had sold over 30 million discs worldwide. He continued his success throughout the early 1970s, with hits like "Delilah," "What's New Pussycat?," "Help Yourself," "Never Fall in Love Again," and "Without Love." With superstardom came This Is Tom Jones, the hour-long, prime-time British musical variety television show, the American rights to which were acquired by ABC-TV, making Jones the first British entertainer to star in a regularly scheduled American television show. This Is Tom Jones was a colossal hit for two seasons and touted a varied and impressive list of guests ranging from musical stars The Who, Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley, to actors Anne Bancroft, Peter Sellers, and Kirk Douglas. Jones's TV garb--velvet tuxedos, shirts open to the waist--not to mention his undulating hips, catapulted him into the realm of love god.
Unfortunately, as Jones did not write his own material, he was dependent on good music finding him. "That stopped happening in the '70s," he admitted to New York Times contributor John Marchese. Instead, he relied on his hits and began a heavy touring schedule with long engagements on the Las Vegas circuit. It was during this period that "the underwear thing," as Jones calls it, began. Never before had the voice and gyrations of an entertainer prompted women to remove their underwear and toss it up on stage, often along with their room keys--or themselves. Mortified husbands were constantly retrieving their lust-struck wives. Although it embarrassed him, Jones could not ignore the invariable panty inundation and eventually worked it into his routine, wiping his brow with a lacy morsel and flinging it back to the proud owner. Until 1987 Jones's professional life continued in this fashion, with newer generations of music fans saying things like "Tom Jones? Oh yeah, he's that underwear guy in Las Vegas." Press coverage of his career all but ceased, and his fans got older. Even the singer's own publicity materials omit nearly 20 years of his life.
But in 1987 Jones recorded "A Boy From Nowhere" for a musical called Matador. When it hit Number Two on the British charts, Tom Jones was suddenly a name that excited the younger generation. With numerous demands by teens that London dance clubs play "It's Not Unusual," Jones was back. The clincher was the 1988 release of "Kiss," a cover version of the Prince song by British avant-garde techno-pop group The Art of Noise; the cut featured Jones on vocals. Heavy rotation of the video incarnation of "Kiss" on U.S. cable stations MTV and VH1 introduced Jones to an entirely new audience. Requests for him to appear began flowing in, including, in 1991, a benefit for Kurdish refugees broadcast by MTV and the 30th anniversary celebration for Amnesty International. Jones was suddenly working with top young performers from both the U.K. and the U.S.
Strong influences at this time were Jones's son Mark and daughter-in-law Donna. In 1986, after the death of manager Gordon Mills, Mark Woodward became his father's manager, with Donna acting as publicist; this young couple encouraged Jones to sing newer material. Jones's longtime wife, Linda, had always been an encouragement as well, although she has kept a decidedly low profile throughout the years. Jones confessed to New York Times contributor Shivas, "She doesn't like to be in the audience watching my hips move around. She knows the effect it has on her and she doesn't want to see it having that effect on other girls too." Jones simply attributes the longevity of his marriage to love. "When you really love one another," he told Details interviewer Anka Radakovich, "you become part of one another."
Jones looks at most everything with that easy-going simplicity. Of his current resurgence in the entertainment business, he said nonchalantly to Rick Marin of TV Guide, "If you've been around a long time, you get rediscovered." He never did stop performing, and when everything old became new again, Tom Jones became hip. In 1992, The Right Time --six half-hour television segments produced for the national independent ITV network in the U.K.--had Jones singing and chatting again with pop music's most current acts, including Erasure, Lyle Lovett, Stevie Wonder, and Al Jarreau. When the show aired in February of 1993 on VH1, Jones flew once more into the American spotlight, reestablishing the mark he'd made with "Kiss." This success did not surprise his die-hard fans, like plastics manufacturer Burk Zanft. "I remember when Tom filled Madison Square Garden," Zanft reminisced to New York Times contributor Marchese. "He was as big as Michael Jackson back then."
Jones still relies on available material, but his ear is perfectly tuned to what's new. His versatility keeps his singing fresh. "I like all types of music," he told Marin. "But I'm not copying, I put my own sound on it. It's all Tom Jones." He's made British pop group EMF's "Unbelievable" his own--indeed, it has become Jones's '90s theme song, replacing "It's Not Unusual." And the eternal sex appeal? He explained to Marin, "It's the sound of [my] voice. It's a sexy sound. [I] don't have to leap all over the place. Sinatra has always been a sexy singer and he's never really done much gyrating."
Since the U.S. debut of The Right Time, Jones has been all over American television. He's played himself on prime-time's The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and was even featured on the Fox network's animated hit The Simpsons. Popular comedian/performance artist/actress Sandra Bernhard has said that she felt destined to work with Jones after catching his Las Vegas show and realized her destiny when he made an appearance on her HBO special Sandra After Dark. Their "Unbelievable" duet was so risque that even the crotch-grabbing, hip-rolling Jones was embarrassed. Bernhard didn't seem to notice, though. "He's just such a pro," she recalled to Marin. "And he has never lost his sex appeal."
Today Jones is making friends everywhere he goes. Pop singer Sting is one; Jones was the surprise hit of Sting's 1993 Carnegie Hall concert to benefit his rain forest preservation projects. Afterward, actor Dustin Hoffman told Jones that when he opens his mouth to sing it seems like an animal jumped out. Some of the "lads," as Jones call his new young friends--including Jason Priestly and Luke Perry of Fox's popular Beverly Hills 90210 --have been known to fly to Las Vegas for performances. Jones has also bonded with ribald interviewer Howard Stern, who often rivals Bernhard in his outrageousness.
Meanwhile Tom Jones is loving it all--the late nights, the parties, the performances. For ten months of the year he tours the U.S. and abroad--tackling everything from pop standards to gospel to country--and taking every opportunity to embrace new songs, new genres, and new fans. "I just wanted to make records," he told Marchese. "New records. I don't want people to say, 'He started to make some noise again and then just faded away.'" In mid-1993 Jones signed a recording contract with Interscope Records. Though he has mellowed somewhat onstage, he still breaks into an occasional grind, sending audiences--men and women of every age--into peals of delight. He mused to Marchese, "I just do what I do. If people think it's hip, well, thank God."
by Joanna Rubiner
Tom Jones's Career
Worked variously as bricklayer's helper, builder's laborer, glove cutter, paper miller, door-to-door vacuum salesman, road construction worker, and hod carrier, among other jobs, c. 1955-64; sang in local pubs as Tommy Scott, the Twisting Vocalist; Tiger Tom, the Twisting Vocalist; and Tommy Scott and the Senators, c. 1955-64; "discovered" by manager Gordon Mills, 1964; signed by Decca label, 1964; released first album, Along Came Jones, 1965. Host of variety show in England and U.S., This Is Tom Jones, ABC, 1969-71; host of Tom Jones: The Right Time, VH-1, 1993. Signed with Interscope Records, 1993.
- Selective Works
- Along Came Jones Decca, 1965.
- What's New Pussycat Parrot, 1965.
- Atomic Jones Parrot, 1965.
- It's Not Unusual Parrot, 1965.
- From the Heart Decca, 1966.
- Green, Green Grass of Home Decca, 1967.
- Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings Parrot, 1967.
- 13 Smash Hits Decca, 1967.
- Tom Jones Live at the Talk of the Town Parrot, 1967.
- Delilah Decca, 1968.
- The Tom Jones Fever Zone Parrot, 1968.
- Help Yourself Decca, 1968.
- In Aid of World's Refugees London, 1969.
- Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas Parrot, 1969.
- Tom Parrot, 1970.
- This Is Tom Jones Parrot, 1970.
- I (Who Have Nothing) Parrot, 1970.
- Tom Jones Sings She's a Lady Parrot, 1971.
- Tom Jones Live at Caesar's Palace Parrot, 1971.
- Tom Jones Close Up Parrot, 1972.
- Body and Soul of Tom Jones Parrot, 1973.
- Tom Jones' Greatest Hits Parrot, 1973.
- Somethin' Bout You Baby I Like Parrot, 1974.
- Memories Don't Leave Like People Do Parrot, 1975.
- Tom Jones 10th Anniversary Album Tee Vee, 1975.
- The Classic Tom Jones Epic, 1977.
- Say You'll Stay Until Tomorrow Epic, 1977.
- Tom Is Love Epic, 1977.
- What a Night Epic, 1977.
- The Country Side of Tom Jones Parrot, 1978.
- Rescue Me MCA, 1979.
- Do You Take This Man EMI, 1979.
- Darlin' Polygram, 1981.
- Country Polygram, 1982.
- Don't Let Our Dreams Die Young Polygram, 1983.
- Love Is on the Radio Polygram, 1984.
- Tender Loving Care Polygram, 1985.
- Matador Epic/CBS, 1987.
- Move Closer Jive/RCA, 1989.
- Carrying a Torch Chrysalis, 1991.
- The Complete Tom Jones London UK, 1993.
- Velvet + Steel = Gold: Tom Jones 1964-69 Deram, 1993.
- (Contributor) The Christmas Album Interscope, 1993.
December 31, 2005: Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the honor of knighthood on Jones. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/12/31/britain.honors.ap/index.html, January 3, 2006.
- Coronet, December 1969.
- Details, July 1993.
- Life, September 18, 1970.
- Look, November 4, 1969.
- National Observer, July 21, 1969.
- Newsweek, January 20, 1969.
- New York Post, June 7, 1969.
- New York Times, February 8, 1969; March 9, 1969; June 14, 1970; June 15, 1971; March 8, 1974; April 7, 1974; May 17, 1993.
- New York Times Magazine, November 14, 1965.
- Rolling Stone, May 16, 1991.
- Time, July 11, 1969.
- TV Guide, January 24, 1970; February 20, 1993.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Tom Jones Enterprises press biography, 1993.