The Washington Post - What’s new, Tom Jones? The hitmaker is still finding more things to sing about.



Tom Jones, the hitmaker whose work dates back more than a half-century, continues to draw fans and make interesting recordings. Since 2010, he has been working with rock producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon, Ray LaMontagne) on a trilogy of albums that both return Jones to his bluesy roots in Wales and use a mix of contemporary songwriters, including Tom Waits, Richard Thompson and Gillian Welch.

We reached the 76-year-old singer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he was finishing a South American tour before traveling north for a concert swing that includes a stop at Washington’s Warner Theatre on Sept. 25.


Q: You’ve been doing this for 50 years. Is it any easier an occupation?

A: It’s different. I don’t know exactly what I felt like then. I was full of fire when I was young. I wanted to attack anything. But I think when you’ve lived a bit, you read more into the songs. I do, anyway. And you’re sort of living the songs rather than performing them. . . . When I was young, I was interested more in [singing the songs]. . . . I can’t say I’m enjoying it more now than I did before, because I loved it when I first sang in Wales, in a pub or a club. I loved it then, getting up and singing. Or as a kid in school, I’ve always loved to sing. But I think when you’ve been around a long time, it’s even more satisfying to think that people are listening to me now, and I’ve been in the business for a long time.

Q: You’ve been revisiting your roots with your last few albums.

A: Yes. When I started off in Wales, I sang and accompanied myself with guitar in the ’50s. And then I got a band together, which is a rhythm section, really. I used to do a lot of blues, and rhythm and blues, and ’50s rock-and-roll and country, and all kinds of stuff. Then, when I had my first hit record, “It’s Not Unusual,” with brass on it, I had to put a bigger band together to try and duplicate the sounds that I was recording. But now, I’ve gone further back with just a rhythm section, even two instruments, sometimes even one. It’s more basic. It’s more how I would have done it in the ’50s, if you like.

Q: And the songs you’re singing seem to reflect your life, as well. They’re very carefully chosen.

A: Yes, exactly. The last album, “Long Lost Suitcase,” when I was recording it, Ethan [Johns] said it sounds like an autobiography, the songs that I was picking, and I said, “Well, I’m finally writing one.” That’s why we called some of the chapters in the book the titles of the songs, because they all reflected different parts of my life.

Q: Is it important to put your own stamp on a song?

A: It all depends. You can’t lose the essence of a song. I try to enhance it more than anything else. Some of them are similar to the original, but not a copy. Like when I did “Run On” on the “Praise & Blame” album, I knew it from Elvis Presley. When I tried it, it sounded like the one that Elvis had already done. And I thought, I’m not doing anything different. So then we came up with a guitar riff and I sang it in a higher key, and I did the whole thing myself, without the answering vocals from the backing singers. And it came out different. So, we try things. You’ve got to kick them around a bit to see what can you add to it or do something different to it, so you’re just not copying something somebody has already done.

Q: Did you have any reaction from Prince when you did your version of his “Kiss”?

A: Yes. I thanked him for writing it. I met him; he had a birthday party a long time ago. It was in London, and it was the first time I actually met him. I said, “Thanks for the song, thanks for writing it.” And he said, “Well, thanks for recording it.” But I didn’t take it any further. I didn’t ask Prince what he thought of it.

Q: What led to you write your autobiography, “Over the Top and Back,” which was released last year?

A: I’d been asked so many times since I started. When you first start off, I know singers who have only been in the business just a short amount of time, and they’ve already written their autobiography. I didn’t want to write it too soon. I wanted to live a while and write about things that I felt were important to me — growing up in Wales, and the characters that I met and listened to.

Q: Did you want to use it to set the record straight on some things?

A: Not really. What I wanted to show was how much I loved my wife. You know, my wife passed away in April. And that book is even more important to me now, because I don’t think I could write it now. Her passing hit me very hard. It’s still hitting me hard. Because we were kids together. We grew up together. So when I wrote the book, she’s featured in it a lot. And she loved it. . . . She passed away from lung cancer and it was very quick. . . . By the time they found it, she only had less than two weeks. So that hit me hard, and it still has. I didn’t know whether I would be able to sing after that. But now I realize that singing is saving my life, once I started again.

Q: Has your musical approach changed as a result?

A: Yes, I think it has. I feel it has. She used to listen to everything I recorded, and she would be very honest with me, whether she liked it, loved it or whether I shouldn’t have done certain things. . . . And on “Long Lost Suitcase,” “Tomorrow Night,” the Lonnie Johnson song, when I played it, she said, “I love that.” That was her favorite on the album. I didn’t know whether I’d be able to sing it. It means more to me now than when I actually recorded it, since she’s passed away, because of how much she thought of it, because of how much she loved it. And the words in it are very meaningful. But to do it is a joy to me now. Because I’m seeing her. I’m remembering her when I sing it.

Q: I suppose you must get fans who would rather you sing just the ’60s hits.

A: I don’t know. I think the people who really love the way somebody sings, they like to hear it. As long as you don’t change your style completely or do something that has nothing to do with what you’re known for, which I don’t agree with. So “Delilah” is still in the show. “It’s Not Unusual” is still in the show. “What’s New Pussycat?” is still there. “Leave Your Hat On” and “Kiss” are still there — the songs that I think are important. And I tried to freshen up the arrangements a bit. I sprinkle them throughout the show, so I can put in newer things, as well. And I don’t get any complaints.

People who go out and do hits year after year after year, I think the fans deserve more than that. The audiences deserve more than just that. You need to give them something new, or things you really love to sing. And they love it.


Article written by: Roger Catlin for The Washington Post

Mix Magazine - Singin’ With the Band


Singin’ With the Band

Ethan Johns Brings Tom Jones Back to His Roots

Remember what it was like when you were a kid, how much fun you’d have when you started making music with your mates?” asks producer Ethan Johns. “Just the four of you, sitting around, playing live and making music. That’s what this is.” “This” is Long Lost Suitcase, the third in a series of albums Johns has produced for legendary singer Tom Jones, following the acclaimed Praise & Blame (2010) and Spirit in the Room (2012). The disc, released by S-Curve Records in October 2015, follows the same winning formula as its predecessors: putting the singer in a studio with top musicians and letting him do what he did in the beginning of his career—sing live with a great band. “Ethan knew that I started with a small band in Wales when I used to play the pubs and clubs—a rhythm section, and that was it,” Jones explains.
“I knew some of the things he had done, with Ray Lamontagne, The Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams. I asked him what he had in mind, and he said, ‘I’d like to get you into a studio with very few musicians and just get to the essence of your voice,’ which he felt hadn’t been done before.” “To get the opportunity to put a microphone in front of a singer like Tom, who’s lived the kind of life he has lived and the experiences he can put into delivering a lyric, with that voice, that was just too good an opportunity to miss,” Johns says. All three albums were recorded by engineer Dominic Monks, whom Johns had met at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in 2007 while mixing Crowded House’s Time On Earth. “I was working in a very small control room, struggling to get a decent sound, so I gave Dom a crack at it,” Johns recalls. “I had spent three or four days at it, and he got a staggering sound in about 15 minutes. He walked in, 24 years old, and didn’t even bat an eyelid. So I was, like, ‘Right, do you fancy coming and working with me?’
By that point, I’d engineered almost every record I’d ever made, and I really wanted to take on an apprentice, to work with someone young to whom I could pass on what I’d learned from my dad.” Their first project together was Ray LaMontagne’s Grammy-nominated Gossip in the Grain in 2008, and they have been working together ever since. While the first two albums were recorded at Real World, Suitcase was tracked, mostly, at The Distillery in Somerset, a studio built by musician Sam Dyson initially to record his own band, The Chemists. Designed by Neil Grant (who also designed Real World), The Distillery boasts a fine mic collection, tape machine and a live room with a stone floor mezzanine. While the studio houses a Neve 8036, Suitcase was recorded through a Universal Audio 610 console built originally for Frank Sinatra’s home studio by Bill Putnam. “We ran Tom’s vocals through that,” says Monks. “It’s the most extraordinary sounding bit of gear I think I’ve ever faded up.”
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Engineer Dominic Monks setting up one of only a few drum mics with drummer Jeremy Stacey.
Suitcase was tracked to an Otari MTR-90 analog deck, using ATR Magnetics tape at 15 ips. “Sixteen tracks is fine for us,” Monks explains. “When you only have three or four mics on a drum kit, and a small band, that’s plenty of space. And a wider track means less noise and a richer sound all around.”
Song suggestions came mostly from Johns, Jones himself and Jones’s son, Mark Woodward, who works closely with his father. The main criteria was that they resonated with Jones. “Ethan knew I love gospel, country and blues,” says Jones, “so that’s what we did.” The resultant list included, among others, Willie Nelson’s “Opportunity to Cry,” Little Willie John’s “Take My Love (I Want to Give It),” Los Lobos’ “Everybody Loves a Train,” the spiritual “He Was a Friend of Mine,” Henry Russell’s “Tomorrow Night,” The Rolling Stones’ “Factory Girl” and Hank Wiliams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do.”
“When I learn a song, I can actually see the story,” Jones explains. “On ‘Everybody Loves a Train,’ for example, I see the concrete platforms and the people. Where are these people going? I put myself in the story of the song. I’m living it as I’m singing it. And I’m seeing it. Every song is like a mini movie to me. If I’m not seeing it, I can’t expect other people to.”
“Tom can sell you anything,” Monks smiles. “He actually used to be a vacuum cleaner salesman, door to door. And I’m sure he sold a lot of them.”
Bring in the Band
Johns assembled a core group of topflight musicians to back Jones for three separate five-day sessions in 2013: the last week in March, last week in June and first week in November, recording 11, nine and nine songs, respectively.
Besides the talented Johns on guitar and other instruments, the producer brought in guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low, an old friend, it turns out, to both he and Jones. “We both come from South Wales,” the singer notes. “I used to see him playing in London at the same time I was, with his band, The Amen Corner. And Andy was friends with Ethan’s father, Glyn—he remembers Ethan when he was a baby.”
Says Johns: “I’ve known [Andy] all my life. He was a hero of mine, growing up. He would come ‘round to the house and would always take time to help me restring my guitar or show me a new chord. So to be able to stand in a room with him and make this record was a real treat.”
Bass was handled by either Dave Bronze or Ian Jennings, while the drummer was another veteran, Jeremy Stacey. “A lot of thought goes into what Jeremy plays,” Johns explains. “He’d bring maybe three kits, at least five snares, 15 or 20 cymbals. He’d even vary what sticks he was using or the type of hardware.”
The band played live with Jones singing live in the studio, all grouped together closely, without headphones, Jones included. “To me,” he says, “it was a more natural way of recording. When I was first singing in pubs in Wales, we’d rehearse in the pub, we’d get some songs together, and then we’d go out and try them. There were no preset arrangements. They were done on the spot.”
The method is one Johns generally prefers on nearly all his recordings. “Everything sounds better if you do it that way,” he explains. “You’re pitching, you’re tuning, you’re timing—you’re balancing yourselves. That’s a fairly fundamental skill as a musician. If you’re stuck in headphone world, you’re isolated from everybody. Everybody’s got their own headphone mixes, listening to their own mix. You can’t get a musical conversation going. Overdubbing is a one-way conversation. If the thing you’re playing off is stagnant, and not responding to what you’re playing, then what are you doing? Who are you playing for? You’re certainly not making music with the band. You’re doing something else. To me, it’s criminal to take a singer like Tom, go away and record a track without him, and then ask him to come in and sing it on his own.”
Johns and Monks set up the room with the musicians close to each other, separated by low gobos, and Jones facing them so that all could see and hear each other. “You really want everybody to be primarily listening to the vocalist,” Johns explains, “because that’s where the beginning of a great take will occur, in the vocal performance. That should be inspiring and leading and informing every choice that you make as a musician. We’re all trying to catch the same wave. Tom responds as much to what we’re playing as us responding to him. You don’t have one thing without the other. If we’re not feeling it, all five us, it’s not gonna happen.”
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The Universal Audio console built by Bill Putnam for Frank Sinatra.


The method suited Jones just fine. “They’re listening, they’re hearing the expression in my voice—they’re living in it the same as I am,” he says. “Jeremy does little things with his brushes, for example, following my phrasing. It’s like he reads my mind—he seems to know what phrasing I’m using and puts in accents to accent it. He changes things as I’m changing them. It’s extraordinary.”


Monks would mike Jones with a classic RCA 44, which, he notes, had benefits besides its inherent tonal qualities. “Half the drum sounds come in the back end of the 44,” he explains. “Everybody is coming down Tom’s mic. You can solo Tom’s mic and just enjoy the records. That’s the sound, basically. I would treat that as if it was the main microphone, as you would a main pair in a classical recording. Everything else in the room is a spot mic.”


For louder tracks, the engineer would place a Shure SM7 directly next to the 44. “The 44 is a figure-8 mic, so if you stick a cardioid—like the SM7, which has great rejection out the back—next to it and mix them together, you end up with a hypercardioid microphone.”

Johns played his guitars through a 10W or 15W Magnatone Lyric amp, a Vox AC4TV and a Fender Excelsior, while Fairweather-Low had a 15W Supro, with a single 12-inch speaker. “The key to recording in this manner is you’ve got to be getting a great sound, but at low volume,” Johns explains. “So lots of very low-wattage amps knocking around.” The Vox was used for the grungier leads, though Johns sometimes would use a diminutive 1W Marshall. “It’s a little boutique handmade Marshall, with incredible sound.”


Monks miked the amps with a Coles or Telefunken C12, often with a Unidyne SM57 alongside; for smaller combos, a 57 or a Sennheiser 421 in the back, mixed together with the front mics, out of phase, onto a single track. “That’s a trick I sometimes do on those really small amps, when you’re trying to get some of the low-end resonance output from them,” Monks says. “If you just put a mic in front, they can sometimes be a bit small.”


For Stacey, Monks had the drummer bring his own vintage AKG D30 bass drum mic, supplementing a selection that included C12s, U 87s, Coles, the 57s and AKG D19s, the latter for louder tracks. “It would change drastically from track to track,” Johns says. “I’d marvel at how Dom would change his miking technique depending on the sound Jeremy was making.”


Four additional tracks were cut elsewhere, all of which had been attempted previously, but, upon late review of existing tracks, not to Johns’ satisfaction. So a year after the last Distillery recordings, Jones, Johns and Monks went to Real World and tracked “Elvis Presley Blues” and “He Was a Friend of Mine,” with just Johns on a tremoloed guitar and Jones singing alongside him. In a rare instance of overdubbing, Johns doubled his guitar, producing a unique stereo effect. “We only did two takes of the song,” the producer reveals. “We put the guitar track from the alternate and flew it into the first pass—that’s that guitar sound.” Two more, “Factory Girl” and “Honey, Honey,” were recorded anew at Paul Epworth’s studio, The Church, with Irish band Rackhouse Pilfer.


Johns mixed most of the album himself at his home studio, Three Crows East. Since he doesn’t own a 16-track analog machine, the tracks were transferred to Pro Tools at The Distillery, then converted to analog via a set of RADAR converters before being mixed through his API analog console and recorded to a Studer C37 ¼-inch 2-track.


“I do quick mixes, almost like roughs,” Johns reveals. “There’s very little processing, no program compression or bus compression, and very little EQing on anything. It’s all balance. And I spend no more than 30 or 45 minutes on any song, and then just live with them for a few weeks.”


Occasional slap echo does appear, Johns using either an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man or Lexicon PCM42, in lieu of several vintage Echoplexes he has around. “It’s pretty crunchy; it has its moments,” he laughs. “There’s a lot of old gear here, so it’s always a bit of ‘fingers crossed.’ You’re running tape, an old console, tubes everywhere. You just hope that nothing’s gonna fail catastrophically during the live take, during the keeper.”


Tracks like “Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do” can even end up with a mono mix, as was the case here, giving it an authentic 78 rpm sound. “I think one of the enemies of creative record making is decision deferral,” Johns says. “You should just trust your instincts. I mixed that song four or five times, and just one day went, ‘You know what? I’m gonna mix this mono.’”


The process, from beginning to end, was just Tom Jones and his band, playing songs. “You can hear the joy in those songs, in his voice, because Tom is having a good time,” Johns states. “The musicians are being allowed to play and express themselves and perform. And Tom is just sitting in front of people that he loves, making music he wants to sing. When you hear the smile in his voice, it’s real.”


Article written by: Matt Hurwitz for Mix Magazine

Photos: Mark Woodward

Article available online here






Welsh-born singer Tom Jones is renowned as an exciting and dynamic stage performer boasting a powerful and gritty voice that could move mountains.

Jones first broke through in the U.S. in the mid ’60s with a slate of pop hits numbering What’s New Pussycat? and It’s Not Unusual.

And while his new autobiography, Over the Top and Back, finds the 75-year-old icon looking back at over five decades of life in the music trenches, he’s also looking forward as evidenced by a thrilling run of three studio album helmed by producer Ethan Johns.

The material finds Jones embracing his musical roots to remarkable effect. Jones’ newest album Long Lost Suitcase is a spectacular record, which captures the raw essence of his artistry, stripped bare, tackling songs by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, Hank Williams, Jesse Fuller, the Rolling Stones and others.

Rock Cellar Magazine: With this recent string of three albums produced by Ethan Johns that find you reconnecting with your roots, does this feel like a rebirth to you?

Tom Jones: Yes, that’s why we call this CD the Long Lost Suitcase…because most of these songs came out of a suitcase. I’ve been saving these things up.12246751_10153648646000772_6020964348884789992_n

I’ve been listening to songs over the years and because I’m on the road most of the time, I end up putting them in suitcases. So I was pulling a lot of stuff out, same thing with photos, and I thought I’d lost this suitcase. I was searching for these songs, the songs that wound up on Long Lost Suitcase, with the exception of the Willie Nelson song because that’s pretty new.

But the rest of them were all songs where I felt, yes, I’ll do that one day, yes, I’ll do that one day and then they just kept building up.  So finally I said to Ethan (Johns), “Ethan, I’ve got these songs” and he said, “Well, let’s do them” and we did. Then he brought in the Gillian Welch song, Elvis Presley Blues. That’s one that didn’t come out of the suitcase, but most of them did.

When I was doing them, Ethan said, “These songs are autobiographical” and I said, “Well, that’s funny you should say that because I’m writing a book right now. So I said, “It would be great if we could get them out at the same time.” So Penguin Books and Virgin Records both agreed that they should come out together before Christmas and that’s what we did. You see, they tie in with different periods of my life. Some of the chapters in the book are the titles of the songs from Long Lost Suitcase. So it all ties in really well together.

Rock Cellar Magazine: In many ways, ironically, the albums Ethan Johns has produced for you, 2010’s Praise and Blame, 2012’s Spirit in the Room, and the new one, Long Lost Suitcase, fulfill presenting you in that manner, embracing your roots. Maybe if those albums came out years back you would have attracted a different audience, maybe less women…(laughs)

Tom Jones: (laughs) Yeah, but there again, you see, I know that women have always been big fans of mine but there have always been men there too. I remember playing Talk of the Town which was a nightclub in London in 1967 and one of the nights the nightclub had been booked by a male convention and I was singing there at the time. I was there for six weeks: I should have been there for two weeks but I was doing such great business that they held me for six. Anyway, this one night Ben E. King came to see me.

See, a lot of my friends were soul singers. I met Solomon Burke in 1965 when I did the Brooklyn Fox Theater; I met Ben E. King. These are the people that I’d been listening to. So anyway, Ben E. King was in London and playing a club and he came to see me at the Talk of the Town and the night he came (laughs) it had been sold to an all-male convention. (laughs) I said, “Ben E, it’s all men; I don’t know how it’s gonna go” (laughs) and he said, “Well, you’re not frightened of that? And I said, “No.” But it was great; it was tremendous. Ben E. said, “You can sing; everybody takes note when you sing.”


Rock Cellar Magazine: The rock underground eventually took notice of you and recognized your prowess as a bad ass rock and roll singer. I was recently watching your duet with Janis Joplin on Raise Your Hand circa 1969 from the “This is Tom Jones” TV show. What was the experience like belting it out with Janis?

Tom Jones: Well, when I was asked to do This is Tom Jones for ABC Television, they saw me on The Ed Sullivan Show and they thought, here’s a young guy and it seems like he can sing anything so let’s have him host a show. So I did. Now on my mind was, right, now I can do duets with the people that I love. I’ll do the middle-of-the-road stuff as well if that’s what they want.

If they want me to sing with Barbara Eden from I Dream of Jeannie, which was on ABC at the same time; they were always pushing the people that were on ABC of course, so she would be on. I said, “Look, I can sing with Barbara Eden but I want Jerry Lee Lewis on the same show.” Then when they offered me Barbara Eden again and I’d day, “Well I want Wilson Pickett on the show.”


So both times Barbara Eden was on my show which ASBC pushed, Jerry Lee Lewis was on the one show and Wilson Pickett was on the other. I was like, “Okay, Robert Goulet is gonna be on, fair enough but I’ve gotta have Little Richard. So it was almost like a tradeoff. Then with Janis Joplin, God bless her, she said to me when she came on, “Look, I don’t do variety shows; I’m only doing it because it’s you.” So she saw through it. Then when Janis and I did the rehearsal for Raise Your Hands she looked at me and said, “Jesus, you can really sing!” (laughs) I thought, thank God people like Janis Joplin had taken note.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Where many of your contemporaries with whom you started off fell to the wayside pretty quickly, you’ve carved out a remarkable 50-year career. What do you attribute your staying power and longevity?

Tom Jones: Well, first of all what keeps me going is the love of singing. I love to get onstage. It’s an old term, “get the hook.” (laughs)  They used to get a hook or people when they were on too long in music halls. (laughs)

I just love to sing. I get up at parties and sing; it’s just one of those things. So that’s the thing that has kept me going and of course the people. There’s no use singing for yourself all the time; you’ve got to have people to sing to and that never stopped. It’s been that way all the way through my career. There were bigger periods of time, of course, in my career. In the late ’60 and through the ‘70s I was playing arenas but then into the ’80s it was more nightclubs and theaters in the round and even convention places.

That’s where the book starts; I try to tell people that I got into a situation where I was singing and I was doing shows and I thought that everything was great. I was playing to two or three thousand people and I was making money but I was neglecting my recording career because the songs were not coming my way. Over the Top and Back - HI RES COVER

One thing led to another. I was in Las Vegas from the late ‘60s through the ‘70s. I think producers and maybe songwriters were thinking, oh well, Tom’s in Vegas, maybe he’s not looking for songs. It happened to Elvis Presley as well. So we were in Vegas too long.

And of course, I was playing two shows a night and it takes a bit of a toll on your voice as well.

So I had to get some polyps removed in the ‘80s. So it was like a rebirth then. My manager Gordon Mills passed away in ’86 and Mark and Donna, my son and my daughter-in-law, they became my managers. I just realized this today that they have been managing me longer than Gordon did. The first part of my career was 20 years and then I did the Prince song, Kiss. And now it’s been 30 years since then.


Rock Cellar Magazine: You’ve said, “The fire is still in me. Not to be an oldie, but a goodie. I want to be a contender,” you’re always trying to reinvent yourself and that’s rare.

Tom Jones: Yeah, I know it is. That’s how you stay current. For instance, I play three months in Europe doing rock festivals with a lot of young people. I see them standing in the wings looking at me. It’ a great thing. There’s a guy out at the moment named James Bay. He’s an English guy who had a big hit in the States with a song called Hold Back the River. I just presented him with a Q Award for Best Newcomer and we’ve become friends.

He watches me because he did some of these festivals in the summertime and said, “I can’t believe you can sing like this at your age.”

Rock Cellar Magazine: You first came to the attention of music lovers with pop flavored hits like It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat? and Delilah, which demonstrated your strong voice but did not fully convey the depth of feeling and emotion you had in delivering in a rock idiom with gritty blues, soul and R&B. Are you regretful that you didn’t get to tackle material suited to show off your talents in the rock and blues realm?

Tom Jones: Okay, this is what happened. When I did It’s Not Unusual I heard that as a commercial song. I did the demo for a singer named Sandie Shaw and she said, “Whoever sang on this demo, it’s his song.” So I did it. I knew it was a hit. This was a new song written by my manager Gordon Mills and Les Reed. To me, even though it’s a pop song I saw through it and I injected some soul into it. I’ve always tried to do that, adding a soulful nature or a blues nature if you like into my songs. So It’s Not Unusual was being played in the States and in New York it was being played on black radio. When I first came over to America in May of ’65, this guy that took me over, Lloyd Greenfield, got me on The Ed Sullivan Show. When I was coming over to New York this black DJ called Lloyd Greenfield and he said, “I hear you’ve got Tom Jones coming over” and he said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, could you bring him up to the station?” And Lloyd said, “You don’t understand, Tom Jones is white.” And this black DJ said, “Whoever is singing this song is not white.” (laughs)

Rock Cellar Magazine: Knowing you could do much more than pop, was it frustrating not to be able to show off those talents more in a rock/blues idiom?

Tom Jones: Well, let me say this. When I did It’s Not Unusual I thought, right, I’ve got my foot in the door now, now I’m gonna get some songs surely from American writers that are writing for Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave and Otis Redding. Well, Otis Redding was writing his own songs. But I thought these kinds of songs would be coming my way because a lot of black people thought I was black. Even with It’s Not Unusual which to me was a pop song but I thought, “if they’re hearing that I’m really and R&B singer then maybe I’ll be getting some songs” but no. The second single, What’s New Pussycat? I said, Oh my God, I’m going further into pop world. (laughs) That was an out and out pop song for a Woody Allen film; it was a novelty song.


Rock Cellar Magazine: You cover Elvis Presley Blues by Gillian Welch on Long Lost Suitcase. You first met him on the set of one of his movies in the mid ‘60s. Later in the ‘60s you rally connected with him. Can you put your finger on why you both connected beyond professional courtesies?

Tom Jones: Well, first of all we connected first on a musical level. When I first met him I had a single out called With These Hands and Elvis was walking towards me at paramount Studios on a film set singing With These Hands. In my mind were all these fellas I was in school with who used to hear me sing in clubs. I was singing Elvis Presley songs in Wales ‘cause I was singing ‘50s rock and roll music. The fellas used to say, “Wow Tom, you sing the shit out of that.”

And I said, “Well, I’ll meet Elvis one day” and they said, “Aw c’mon Tom, you’re great but please.” (laughs) I said, “No, I’m telling you I have this feeling that I will meet him” so when he was coming towards me and singing With These Hands I saw all these guys faces in my mind. He came up to me and said, “How the hell do you sing like that? What’s it like in Wales? I mean, What the hell’s going on there?” (laughs) I said that there were a lot of singers in Wales but they’re more Welsh traditional kind of singers, male voice choirs and things. I told him, “All my influences came from people like you; you’ve been a huge influence in my life.” So then we got close. I mean, we hit it off right away and he said, “We’ve got talk about music. I wanna find out more about Wales.”

Rock Cellar Magazine: When you were hanging out, what were the kinds of things you would talk about?

Tom Jones: We’d always talk about music. Elvis loved music so he would be asking me do I know this song or do I know that song. I remember we were in Hawaii. He had rented this beach front house. Like myself, he was always singing. In Vegas in ’69 he was trying to get through to me. This is a funny story. I was staying in a hotel in Vegas because I was doing some shows there and I saw one of Elvis’ friends Charlie Hodge one night at the bar and he said, “Elvis has been trying to call you.” I said, “Well, I’m sure the operator didn’t believe it was him when he called.” Charlie said, “Well, could you tell her that it’s Elvis?” (laughs) He’s been calling and trying to get you for three days.” So I said to the operator because I had a “Do Not Disturb” on the phone, “Excuse me, if somebody call and says he’s Elvis Presley please put him through because it is Elvis Presley!” (laughs) Then he got through to me one day and he said, “Tom, you’re a hard man to get in touch with” and I said, “Well, you know how it is Elvis” so he understood.

Rock Cellar Magazine: What songs would you sing together?

Tom Jones: When we were hanging out in Hawaii and in the ocean messing about with the Memphis mafia and Priscilla was there as well and the wives of the Memphis Mafia, there was a guy out at the time called Jerry Reed. It’s an uncanny thing; Elvis and myself were listening to the same people. When we were in the ocean he was singing the Jerry Reed song U.S. Male. So we were singing back and forth Jerry Reed songs.  He would do one and I would do one. We both had that first album that he did.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Did he ever discuss his love of your version of Green, Green Grass of Home?

Tom Jones: Yes. Elvis told me, “Your recording of ‘Green Green Grass of Home,” I missed it, I missed that one!” Apparently, Red West, one of the Memphis Mafia, had heard Jerry Lee Lewis’ version of the song, like I did; it wasn’t Porter Waggoner who had the first country hit on it.  But I heard it off of a Jerry Lee Lewis album, Country Songs for City Folks. Well, Red West had that album and he stuck it under Elvis’ bedroom door because Elvis would sometimes go into his bedroom for days in Memphis. He thought Elvis could sing the shit out of this. But he never did it. Elvis told me, “I missed it but you did it and you did a helluva job, man; it’s fantastic.” Then he told me, “I was going back from Hollywood to Memphis and George Klein was a friend of mine and once we got within earshot of a Memphis radio station we called him.”

They were calling him all the time to play my version of Green, Green Grass of Home. I don’t know how many times he played it. Jerry Schilling who was one of the members of the Memphis Mafia was the man who used to get off the bus every so miles and go to a telephone booth and make the call requesting one of Elvis’s friends (George Klein) who was a DJ in Memphis play Green, Green Grass of Home. Jerry’s my friend to this day; I see him a lot in L.A. He said that was a true story.

I also did a song called It Looks Like I’m Never Gonna Fall in Love Again, which was written by Lonnie Donegan. Lonnie was a friend of mine and said, “I’ve got this song. It’s taken from ‘I’m Never Gonna Cease My Wandering,’ which a depression song from the ‘30s. I’ve changed the lyrics and added a chorus to it.” When I first met Elvis before I recorded I’m Never Gonna Fall In Love Again, he and the Memphis Mafia used to go (sings) …”And it looks like I’m never gonna cease my wandering.” So he knew that song in its original form.

He’d look at the boy and go (sings) “I’m never gonna cease my wandering’” and they’d sing wandering I harmony. He was doing that when I first met him in ’65. Then I recorded the song and when I met him in ‘69 he said, “Aw man, you took ‘I’m Never Gonna Cease My Wandering’ and I told him Lonnie Donegan changed it and added a chorus. We were always talking music, all of the time. I never spent a minute with Elvis Presley without talking music.

Rock Cellar Magazine: You’re responsible in some ways for Elvis Presley’s triumphant return to the stage in Las Vegas in 1969.

Tom Jones: Elvis came to see me perform in 1968 at the Flamingo Hotel, which I was thrilled about. When we were talking afterwards he said, “The reason I’ve come to see you is because I’m thinking of performing live again.” He tried to crack Vegas in the ‘50s and they weren’t ready for rock and roll then. So he always wanted to go back to Vegas and become a success there.  He felt I was the closest thing to him and had a similar stage presence. If I could make it there he felt that he could too. So he wanted to see me work and saw what I did onstage.

He told me, “You’ve given me the confidence to make a comeback in Vegas,” which he did in ’69. It was tremendous to see him. That was Elvis at his peak as far as I was concerned. He was as hot then as he ever was before. His voice was still as strong, he looked great, he performed great and he was Elvis Presley once again. He was fantastic, he couldn’t have been better.

Watching him perform in ’69, I noticed certain moves that he did, which might have been inspired by what I was doing at the time, which was a huge compliment, and also some of his phrasing on the records changed slightly. I could hear things that I had sort of done. (laughs) But he admitted to it and said “You’ve influenced me and inspired me.” And I said, “Well, that’s fantastic” because in the ‘50s I was listening to Elvis Presley records and that’s what started me off.

He’s the main reason why I started singing. So it was great that I could contribute something to him after what he had given to me.

Rock Cellar Magazine: In the mid ’60s, your first extended visit to America came as part of a Dick Clark “Caravan of Stars” tour with various artists traversing the nation in a Greyhound bus. Bring us back to that time and share your most indelible memories of your first visit to the States.

Tom Jones: Well, first of all it was hard. I never realized that America was so big because we covered it on a bus. We would do a show and get on the bus afterwards and by the time we’d get to the next place it would be time for the next show the following night. But the best thing about it was mixing with all of the musicians ‘cause we had a blast.

The Turtles were great because they were young and jut out and I’d only had a couple of hit records myself then. It was great to be with them. I also hit it off with Mel Carter and Billie Joe Royal who had a song called Down in the Boondocks. Peter & Gordon were also on the tour; they were the only other British act on the show.

There was a black group on with us called the Jive Five and the bass singer was a guy called “Big Bess” ad Gordon Waller pushed him. He put his shoulder into him one night. I told him, “Gordon’ you’ve got to be careful” and he said, “Oh, fuck it!” “Big Bess” said, “Tom, please tell him not to do that to me, I don’t even know my own strength.”

I said, “Gordon, you can’t be pushing your fuckin’ weight around with these people” but Gordon was a macho guy and you had to be careful, which was strange because he was part of Peter & Gordon and they were doing light kind of songs. But Gordon and I were friends but I’d have to say to him. Be careful and take it easy.” But it’s always been the music, the music has always seen me through, even on that bus tour.

It was great; we used to sing on that bus with the Turtles, Peter & Gordon, Mel Carter and Billie Joe Royal. We had a ball. Even though it was tough traveling, we had fun.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Lastly, recall your first encounter in the 60’s with John Lennon.

Tom Jones: There was pop show in England called Thank Your Lucky Stars. I had my first record out and was doing a TV show in England and the Beatles were on the same show. This was in ’65. I had a number one hit with It’s Not Unusual. I wanted to hear the Beatles rehearse so I was sitting there in the afternoon at rehearsals with my manager at the time, Gordon (Mills) where the audience would sit. I’d never met the Beatles.

So John Lennon came out and I was thrilled to see him. But he made fun of my record. Instead of singing “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone, he sang “It’s not a unicorn it’s an elephant.” Then he said, “How ya doing you Welsh poof?” I said, (mock angry) “You come over here you Scouse bastard and I’ll show you!” Then he laughed. My manager said, “Don’t, don’t take it personally. It’s just his Liverpudlian sense of humor.”

Then Paul (McCartney) said to me on the same day, “Look, John didn’t mean any harm by it. For him to do that means that he loves the record.” I thought he was having a direct dig at me but then realized it was just his sarcastic Liverpudlian humor. See when he did that it was like a backhanded compliment. He was giving me a compliment on the song but he had to put his own thing in it.

Rock Cellar Magazine: So you had a run in with John Lennon on the first time you met him in the ’60s. Ten years later, you both appeared on a televised benefit to Sir Lord Grade. Did you and John mend fences?

Tom Jones: I met John many times after that and he was always good to me. We became friends over the years. We were talking most of that afternoon and I asked him, “Why do you live in New York?” Most Brits if we move out of Britain we go to L.A. ‘cause of the weather. So I said, “Why New York?” and he said, “I feel safe here.” You see, he could walk around New York and people would say, “Hey John!” They knew he was living there and people respected him and he could move around there; that’s what he meant.


Article: Written by Ken Sharp for Rockcellar Magazine

Article available here


Tom Jones on Meeting Elvis, Recording With Bacharach, 'Panty Magnet' Phase

"I'm still like, 'Was it me? Did I dream it all?'" says singer of storied 50-year career


Tom Jones has thought a lot about Elvis Presley. As a teenage fan growing up in a small village in South Wales, Jones used to tell his rock & roll friends in the Fifties: "I'll meet Elvis one day." No one believed him.

Now 75, and decades after becoming Presley's close friend and witnessing the iconic rocker's physical decline, Jones is talking again about Elvis. He's on a small stage at Apogee Studio in Santa Monica, California, for an intimate performance hosted by KCRW-FM and recorded for broadcast and streaming December 22nd. The live audience is limited to 180.

During an onstage interview with DJ Anne Litt, Jones tells funny stories of his surreal first meeting with the King of Rock & Roll and how the pair sang to each other in a shared hotel bathroom. But soon, he's back at the microphone singing "Elvis Presley Blues" by Gillian Welch.

"I was thinking that night about Elvis, the day that he died, the day that he died," he starts, to a quivering tremolo guitar, his voice solemn and pleading.  The sound couldn't be further from the bold and brassy pop songs that launched Jones' career as a hit-maker in the Sixties and Seventies, starting with the Number One 1 U.K. hit "It's Not Unusual" in 1965. This is more like a sermon. "And he shook it like a holy roller, baby/With his soul at stake ..."

His time with Presley is just one story Jones shares in his just-released autobiography, Over the Top and Back. It coincides with a new album, Long Lost Suitcase, the third in a series of releases produced by Ethan Johns that reintroduce the singer as a raw and soulful interpreter of stripped-down folk, blues and rock & roll. Both the book and album have taken him back across the decades, recounting all the people and places that he's seen.

"It still boggles my mind," Jones tells Rolling Stone, sitting in the offices of Apogee before his performance. His hair and goatee have gone gray, and on his right hand is a ring with the flag of Wales. "I'm still like, 'Was it me? Did I fuckin' dream it all?'"

The day he first shook hands with Elvis was in 1965 on the lot of Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Presley had asked to meet the young Welsh singer, whose new single was "With These Hands." At the studio, Jones could see Presley "walking towards me," he recalls, and then begins a vocal impression of Elvis singing, "'With these hands...' Oh, fuck."

"He said to me, 'How the hell do you sing like that?' And I said, 'Listening to you, for one thing' — and Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Mahalia Jackson, and things that he was influenced by. He said, 'Yeah, but I was brought up there. I went to black gospel churches. Is there anything like that in Wales?' I said, 'No, I was listening to it all on the radio.' Like all of us did in Britain."


Decades later, Jones was one of the 10 singers requested by honoree Bob Dylan to sing at this year's MusiCares Person of the Year tribute. Jones can't imagine such a request coming from Dylan back in 1968. "No way. Bob Dylan must have hated me," he says with a laugh.

Some critics labeled Jones' music as schlock mainstream entertainment with no connection to the rising counterculture of the Beatles, Stones and Dylan. And yet, back in Treforest, Wales, Jones had begun much like those contemporaries, performing rock and R&B covers in a village band he led called Tommy Scott and the Senators. It was his first stage name. (He was born Thomas Jones Woodward in 1940.)

He found a manager, changed his name to Tom Jones, and recorded a debut album that was a wide mixture of pop vocals, ballads and "some rip-roaring shit," Jones says now. But it was the urgently effervescent "It's Not Unusual," with Jones' muscular come-hither baritone, that topped the U.K. chart and reached Number 10 in the U.S.

He piled up other hits in the same accessible pop vein that decade, including "Delilah," "Help Yourself" and "Thunderball." Jones was on Decca Records with the Rolling Stones, but the distance between them grew even further during his four-hour recording session on Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "What's New Pussycat?" It was the theme song for a 1965 movie comedy and played into his growing image as a sex-symbol crooner in open shirts and tight pants. Jones hesitated, then dove right into the song.

"I thought, 'I'm going to punch the shit out of it on "What's New Pussycat?"' And Burt said, 'That's what I want. It's a crazy song for a crazy film. ... I have to have a voice of authority.' It's sort of a backhanded compliment: 'I've got to have you, but this is the song,'" he says with a laugh.

1035x1416-1W2A5748Since Jones was not a songwriter, the direction of his music was limited to the songs that were available, he explains. The same kind of material kept coming his way. "They were iconic records. I'm not saying I don't like them," he adds of the hits. "When Burt convinced me to do that song, it took a while. He did say, 'This is not a rhythm & blues song.' Soul music had kicked in by then, and I wanted to do Wilson Pickett songs, Solomon Burke, Sam and Dave, and Otis Redding. But I wasn't getting the songs."

From 1969 to 1971, he hosted This Is Tom Jones, a weekly TV variety show that the singer used as a means to stretch out and collaborate with his musical heroes and contemporaries, from Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard to Aretha Franklin and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The show began in London, but moved to Hollywood after it was picked up by ABC, where mainstream entertainment like Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden dominated the agenda.

"ABC Television was looking for the middle-of-the-road people to come on," Jones recalls. "So I said, 'I'll sing with Barbara Eden, but I've got to have Jerry Lee Lewis.' They said, 'Jerry Lee Lewis hasn't been on a major network TV show since he got banned!' And I said, 'I'd like to change that,' because Jerry Lee influenced me more than anybody in the Fifties."



His career veered into camp when female fans began throwing their underwear at Jones during concerts. He became known as a "panty magnet" after one woman was seen offering her underwear to the singer mid-show.

"She took them off and I said, 'Watch you don't catch cold,'" Jones says laughing. "But it backfired on me. Somebody wrote it up in the papers, so they were bringing them in handbags. Fuck me, what have I done!"

By the late Eighties, Jones was being embraced by a new generation of admirers, beginning with a cover of Prince's "Kiss" with Art of Noise, reaching Number Five in the U.K. and the Top 40 in the U.S. In 1999, Jones released Reload, an entire album of duets, including team-ups with Van Morrison, the Pretenders, Portishead and the Cardigans. In 2002, Wyclef Jean produced the album Mr. Jones.

A crucial late-career collaboration began in 2010 after producer Ethan Johns picked Jones' name from the roster of Island Records in the U.K. Johns created an understated organic setting for Jones' powerful vocals. "He said, 'All your records, all your hits, have always had big arrangements. Why don't we get back to the meat of it?' I said, 'Great!' And I thought maybe, finally," Jones says, laughing, "50 years after."

The new album includes a jangly bluegrass reading of the Stones' "Factory Girl," Willie Nelson's romantic ballad "Opportunity to Cry" and Hank Williams Sr.'s bittersweet "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used to Do?" Fans have accepted his new sound, Jones says. He still does the hits, but rearranged to fit the mood of his current releases. At Apogee Studio, "Delilah" begins as a ballad, then builds with layers of accordion and a slicing electric guitar solo. "I haven't thrown those songs away. I've just reshaped them."

His voice has also endured some inevitable changes over the decades. He notes that whatever he's lost in upper-register range is balanced with the depth of experience.

"When I listen to my old records, I like them because there's a lot of piss and vinegar in them," Jones says. "I'm still up there in certain places, but the mid-range and bottom end are much richer — and my brain, experience. There's an old saying: 'You can't put old hair on young shoulders.' So you've got to have lived to sing certain songs.''


Article by: Steve Appleford for Rolling Stone Magazine

Pictures: Michael Kovac/WireImage/Getty/Hulton Archive/Larry Hirshowitz/ABC Photo Archives.

Article available here

Two Years, Confined to One Room - A Wall Street Journal Interview

Stricken with tuberculosis as a child, Tom Jones recalls his home in Wales. —Singer Tom Jones, 72, has sold over 100 million records—including "It's Not Unusual" and "What's New Pussycat?" His latest album, "Spirit in the Room" (Rounder), will be released Tuesday. Mr. Jones lives in Beverly Hills, Calif. He spoke with reporter Marc Myers.

I was born in the house of my grandmother in Treforest—a small town in the south of Wales. Nearly everyone in my family had been born in the front room of that two-story home.

When I was 1½, my grandmother on my father's side moved in with her daughter—allowing my family to move into her larger, three-story house about a mile away in Pontypridd. It was convenient, since my father and his brothers worked in the local coal mines. Like our first home, it was a terraced house—one of many identical stone residences that lined the road. Ours stood at the end of a row at the top of a hill on Laura Street.

In 1974, Tom Jones visited the streets in Wales, shown here, where he lived as a child. Today he lives in California, where he continues to record and perform.

On the ground floor were three small sitting rooms, with the kitchen in the back. Up a flight of stairs were two more rooms, one behind the next. On the top floor were three small bedrooms—one for my parents and one each for me and my older sister. It was a loving environment, and the neighborhood was filled with family and friends.

But everything changed in 1952, when I turned 12. I began to feel tired and listless, and my mother had trouble getting me up in the morning. When she took me to the doctor, an X-ray showed I had tuberculosis. Fortunately, we caught it early, so my TB wasn't contagious and I could stay at home.

The first plan of action was isolation and rest. My mother moved me down to the middle floor, and I spent the next two years confined to bed. The doctor said I had to relax and that the windows needed to remain open—lowered only slightly in the winter. Blankets and the coal fireplace in the room kept me warm.

Bed was a novelty at first. I didn't have to go to school, which was great since I wasn't a very good student. Later I learned I was dyslexic. But being forbidden to sing during the first year was a real drag. I had started singing early and had been performing in school, at family gatherings and at birthday parties. To keep myself occupied creatively, I sketched and painted with India inks.

My mother was a saint—and very house-proud. She took care of everything. She constantly cleaned and changed the room's walls for me—cutting out pictures of cowboys from magazines and putting them up. From my window, I could see the green valley below. But as good as that view was, I'd grow restless. So my parents routinely moved the bed around to change the scenery.

The radio my parents rented for me was a lifeline. It was a simple, dark-brown model with two dials and two BBC stations. Late at night, you'd hear music from America—blues by Big Bill Broonzy and gospel by Mahalia Jackson. Eventually I also had a rented TV set and watched pop singers on the Saturday-night variety shows—especially Frankie Vaughan. I'd tell myself, "I'm going to be on there one day."

After a year in bed, the doctor let me get up for two hours a day. But all I could do was stand at the front door and wave at my friends going to play or stand standing by the gas lamppost at night. They didn't know how lucky they were. I promised myself that when I could walk to that lamppost, I'd never complain about anything again. Soon my mother bought me a ukulele, and I sang with the window open. People would gather below to listen.

When I had fully recovered in 1954, I moved back upstairs to my bedroom. Three years later, when I was 16, I married and we moved into my wife's family's house. Up until I turned 21, I worked in a local glove factory, then at a paper mill and finally in construction during day so I could sing at night. I used to tell friends I was going to meet Elvis Presley one day. They'd laugh and say, "You're great, Tommy, but be real."

Years later, when my single "With These Hands" was a hit, I traveled to the States in October 1965 to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show." TV had just gone color, so we had to fly out to Los Angeles, where CBS had color facilities. While I was there, someone asked if I wanted to meet Elvis. We went to Paramount Pictures, where he was filming.

On the set, Elvis saw me and walked over with his hand extended to shake mine. As he got close, he was smiling and singing "With These Hands"—the song I had performed on TV. I couldn't believe it. All I could think of were those years in bed and all those friends who had told me to get real.

A version of this article appeared April 19, 2013, on page M12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Two Years, Confined To One Room.

Praise & Blame: A Conversation With Tom Jones

51-v1AbOBnL._SL500_AA300_Mike Ragogna, The Huffington Post - Posted: July 27, 2010 01:11 AM Mike Ragogna: Your new album Praise & Blame has a very stripped-down sound. What was your philosophy going into making this record?

Tom Jones: Well, I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time, and some of the albums I've done in the past, one or two tracks sometimes have been like this--stripped down. I've always liked that...not for all songs, but for songs of this nature especially. I feel you don't need a lot on them musician-wise. I think this is the best way to approach it, for me anyway. And I think it shows the voice off, and you can hear the tonal quality of the vocals. We took a lot of time picking the keys to get them in the right keys. We wanted to do some of the slower songs low because my voice over the years has become lower and richer.

MR: Your very first track, "What Good Am I," seems to pull off its big message with even more emotion than the original.

TJ: First of all, to approach it the way we did, the only version I had heard before that was from Bob Dylan. I wanted to slow it down and give it more depth. The lyrics already had them. The depth was already there, but the tonal quality...

So, we did it in a low key, and Ethan Johns said, "Look if you think it will work, sing it as softly as you can. Don't push it at all, and let it come out very natural," and that's what I did. Normally, when I sing, if I start to go up in the register, I get louder. That's what happened. But with this, you try not to control it, so that's what I did, it's what we ended up with.

MR: Can you go into the recording process?

TJ: We recorded it in Peter Gabriel's studio in Wilshire, so we were trying it out in the afternoon. We broke for dinner, and normally, once we do that, we wait until the following day to have another go at it. So, when we were having dinner, we were talking about it and I had had a couple of glasses of wine and I said, "You know, I think I've got it now in my mind. Maybe we should go back and try it again." I think everybody felt more mellow--maybe it was due to the red wine. But I definitely felt more relaxed, and everybody seemed to be like that. We just let it flow...not to over do, over sing, or punch it too hard--just to sing it as quietly and as breathy as possible. And then when we listened to it back we realized that this was it. We had it. You know, normally I don't drink before I sing. I like to keep a clear mind, but it was just a glass of red wine that might have helped.

MR: That brings us to that mega-voice of yours. I was told you had to record quite a distance from the microphone for some of the rockers on this album.

TJ: Yeah. Well, I think the difference with my voice today is that it's richer than it used to be. So, I think if I had done it 30 years ago, it may not have had as much weight to it. So, I think this definitely benefits from experience and the tonal quality of my voice. But the material itself...

MR: What went into the song choices?

TJ: I used to do songs like this in Wales growing up. If I went to Sunday school at 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon, to the Presbyterian Chapel, we did a lot of gospel hymns which I didn't realize was gospel until later on. Not as much as they do in the Southern states, but the songs are definitely there with the gospel element.

For instance, when I was in Las Vegas with Elvis Presley--God bless him when he was still alive--we would hang out at night in his suite and we would sing mostly gospel songs because he loved gospel, and he would start to sing these songs and I would join in. He asked me, "How come you know these songs?" and I said, "Well, we sing them in Wales, not exactly as you do." Now I do, but not when I was a kid so much. But the songs were definitely there.

MR: Are there songs on this record that do come from your childhood?

TJ: I knew "Run On." Of course, I got that one from Elvis. But I got a lot of the gospel things I have done before. The Mahalia Jackson tunes were on BBC radio when I was growing up in the '40s and '50s. I think Mahalia Jackson was the biggest gospel singer that we had heard from the States...and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

MR: Praise & Blame also puts rock 'n' roll into the gospel mix.

TJ: Well, there you go. We heard songs that other people had done, like The Staple Singers. We had heard some of the things they had done and again. Getting back to "Run On" that Elvis had done, when we tried it the first time, we did it in the same key as Elvis did. It sounded very similar. I wasn't doing anything to this song that hadn't been done already. Elvis had already done it. I mean, Christ, I would have come off as a second hand Elvis here if I did it the same way. So, we had to change it. I said, "What about if we lift the key and put it in a higher key. I can put more effort into it in a higher key, and it won't sound so smooth.

So, Ethan Johns said yeah, and we started looking for a guitar riff by listening to a lot of other records that had been done, then Ethan came up with that guitar riff. So, between that riff and me singing in a higher key, we just let it rip. I rip into it as opposed to doing it the way Elvis and The Jordanaires did it. Actually, I am not sure if it was them, but it was definitely a choir doing the answer phrases.

So, I thought, "Let me just sing the whole thing, and I'll just sing the answers as well." Ethan said, "If you are going to do the whole thing, maybe you shouldn't do it as long because it goes on." So I said, "Lets do it and see where it ends up. I did the whole song because it was going so well, but I think that guitar riff had a lot to do with the pushing of the song.

We tried to get things, as you said, more rocky, more gospel, more old gospel, hot gospel like it would have been done in the South when some country blues players would do a gospel song. That's how I imagine it would have been done.

MR: How did you come up with the concept?

TJ: Well, I am always thinking what am I going to do next because I love so many different kinds of songs. There are certain areas in pop music that I wouldn't try and go into, but there are a lot of areas that I like and the way of recording them. The question is always there in terms of where do I go, what move do I make next musically.

But this one is very natural to me as I know these songs. These are the kind of songs that I sang in the pub in Wales growing up, so it was a natural thing. But the idea that gave us license was when Island Records asked me to do an album of hymns for last Christmas. I thought, "Now I wonder if I can really dig into this rather than just do hymns, although hymns would be very nice with an orchestra and a choir...very nice." I think that's what they wanted.

But it gave me the opportunity to dig deep, do some gospel stuff, and combine it with a Rock element. Hot Gospel--like that. Make it more raw, don't polish it up or smooth it out. Then I talked to Ethan Johns as we were thinking of who was going to produce it, and so he said he wanted to try a couple of tracks. Island Records didn't want to commit until they heard something first, and what kind of thing we were going to do. So, we cut two songs first: "Did Trouble Me" and "Run On." He presented them to Island Records, and they loved them so they said okay. So, that gave us the opportunity to look into gospel songs that I knew or that we felt would sound good.

MR: Then you recorded the rest of the album which ended up having a real live feel to it.

TJ: Setting the keys is a big thing because some songs don't need to be sung high. You need to get more warmth in them, so they don't always need to be set in a higher key. That's what we did...we tried to get the keys right and work on it from there. Then there was just the rhythm section and it was Ethan, the drummer, the bass player, and myself, and we just did it live. The other instruments you hear later on, Ethan overdubbed them. I just worked with Ethan Johns; Dave Bronze was on bass and Jeremy Stacey was on drums.

MR: It seems to be all about spontaneity, and everything functioned so tightly in this environment.

TJ: That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to get it as alive and natural as possible. The studio that we did it know Peter Gabriel has quite a few studios there. He has a big proper studio, but we didn't want to use that because we wanted to just use the rhythm section. This room that we used, they brought the tape machines in because it's analog so there was no control booth. I have never recorded in a place quite like that before because there was always a control room.

MR: Where was the engineer's placement?

TJ: Right there in the same room. It was a couple of tape machines and a couple of engineers, and they would be walking around putting little plastic partitions in, especially around the drums. But with me, we couldn't overdub anything because it would leak. So, I was singing into what looked to me like an old, square RCA microphone. I asked the engineer, "How old is this microphone?" and he said, "Oh, it's really 1939 or 1940." Well, that's the same age as me, so he went on about how old this mic was.

MR: Good mic-ing is half the battle.

TJ: It was a reconditioned mic, of course, but it was fantastic. It picked up everything. That's why I can sing so lightly on some of them. Picked every breath up. It was tremendous, but then again, you have leakage from the other instruments. We recorded every one live, so you couldn't. If it didn't happen then, we would do it again.

MR: Nice, the way music was originally recorded.

TJ: This is it. It was like going into a rehearsal hall and trying songs out. Let's try it again and see what we can do with this, and the big and only difference with this is that it was being recorded.

MR: So if the vibe is just right and it jiggles just right, that's it.

TJ: That's right. We try it and listen, and if it's not ringing true, then we try it again. But it did all come together very well. Once the ball started to roll and we knew when all the musicians were with me and looking at me, they were facing me, and we were all looking at one another.

MR: And especially with faith at the root of where you started, you couldn't help but have miles and miles of feel.

TJ: Exactly. I don't think you could have laid a track down and then try to put a vocal on top of that, which I have done in the past and a lot of people do when they record. You set a key and they lay a track down and you put the voice on. With some stuff it works, you know, especially dance music. You've got to give the engineer time to overlay things. But with this, I felt that this one needed to be as live as possible.

MR: Right. Now, you've had a lot of different phases or styles in your career. For instance, a younger audience will associate you with your cover of Prince's "Kiss" while an older audience may associate you with "Green, Green Grass Of Home," "Delilah," "What's New Pussycat?" or "It's Not Unusual." It will be interesting to see who comes in on this.

TJ: I have made all kinds of records, but you can still go in there and do them stripped down, unplugged. Really, its just going in there and getting back to basics and not using any of the trickery. There is a lot that can be done today, but sometimes, you need those different sounds like on dance music like I was saying. But not on this one definitely, and it proves that you can do all kinds of stuff.

MR: For an artist, it's great to continue experimenting with music even after you've become successful doing one style over another.

TJ: With some bands and singers, they don't want to step too far to the left or to the right. Once they get success with something, they don't want to wonder away too far from where they are because they feel it's what people want. Well, it's to a certain extent people are like that, but I think people like other things as well. The feedback that I've gotten from audiences is, "Wow, we loved the show Tom, but we didn't expect that. And what a thing that you did on there," and nine times out of ten, it's acoustic. When it's just the guitar or myself or the rhythm section you know, it seems to me the stripped down version--especially when you have a full band on stage--it's good to change and strip it down. There is more impact to it than if you did it all like that.

MR: How can you hear somebody's soul if it's battling a lot of sonic clutter.

TJ: Well, this is it, and it's happened before when I have recorded with a rhythm section and then the producer will start overdubbing. My wife, God bless her, when I played her the roughs on this--just my voice and the rhythm section--she said my voice was fantastic and hoped the producer wouldn't mess it up. As far as she was concerned, this has happened to some of my records before. They just sometimes put too many instruments on, and then you lose the initial idea that was there to begin with. We didn't want to do that, and when Ethan started to overdub stuff, he said, "I want you to listen and see if I have gone too far or not." So then we had to start pulling stuff off or not using as much of it or don't start using the piano yet in the song or bring it in halfway to add color to it but not all at once. I think a lot of the time that Ethan spent was doing that. I didn't want to overdo this as it sounded so good, you know, just the rhythm section and myself. But it needed some coloring, some organ here and some vocals there, just a little bit. So, I think that was the tricky part for him, trying to figure out how far to go.

MR: Was there any other period in your life when you wanted to do a stripped-down project like this, but just did the regular record instead.

TJ: All the time. (laughs) Well, I shouldn't say all the time, but with record companies, I understand that once you get a hit with something, you want more of the same. And you say, "Hey, look, I have an idea for something," and they say, "Oh yeah, we will get to that." I did a live album once and it never came out. There was some live stuff on it, and I remember different record companies that I had been with. You know, I said, "Hey, I have this live album," and (they say), "Oh yeah, it sounds great, and we will put it out, but we need a studio album first before we get there." There is always that element that you are up against. Even with Island Records and this one, they wanted to hear something before they would commit. It's understandable. You can't just give people a free rein because they may take advantage of it. And sometimes it works, but a lot of the time, it doesn't, so you have to know what's going on. I understand that...unless you have your own record company, and you do the whole thing yourself. That is different.

MR: Was there any other time in your career that you wanted to do an album about faith?

TJ: Yeah. When Island Records asked me about hymns for Christmas, and I thought I wanted to go deeper...

MR: When you were having hits with your earlier singles, were there periods when you were thinking, "You know, I just want to make a record of songs of faith that inspired me in my youth"?

TJ: Oh yes. When I was telling you about Elvis Presley, and he was surprised to find out that I knew so many gospel songs when we were in Vegas. We would sing gospel songs at night, and I said, "Yeah, we used to sing these songs in Wales." And he would say, "Well, why don't you record a gospel album?" as he had success with it. I said, "Yeah, I will," but I was then saying what record companies were saying to me--"Oh yeah, we'll get to it, don't worry." (laughs)

So, it's always been in the back of my mind to do it. But like I said, record companies are a little shy of concept albums sometimes. They look at the outlets right away in terms of who is going to play this and what radio stations will play that, and I understand that. If you're going to make a record, you are going to want people to hear it.

MR: For those starting out today wanting to have a great pop music career, what is your advice?

TJ: Well, when you start off, you have to try and get as much experience as possible. I don't think you can make records in the front room of your house and then go on TV with it and think you have an act together. My advice is to get up in front of people as often as you can, whenever you have a chance to sing--whether it's in a club or Karaoke, wherever--get up and get experience wherever you can get people to hear you sing live so that you get experience. Hopefully, when the time comes and you get a hit record, you are prepared to go on the road. I think you need that experience first. It will put you in good stead later on if you have had experience singing in dance halls and clubs. I have heard a lot of young people saying they didn't realize it was going to be so hard.

(Transcribed by Erika Richards)

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Q Interview - Tom Jones: Leaving It All Off, Hat Included

tomjones160x120Q had the pleasure of meeting up with Wales' greatest export Sir Tom Jones last week to discuss his rootsy new album Praise And Blame. Autographing an album for a fan, he pauses to spell 'Happy Birthday'. "I'm dyslexic, you know?... I know 'birthday' is 'ir' but it should be 'er' - I mean, that's how it sounds, 'berthday'." Maybe it's learning difficulties. Or perhaps it's just a matter of Wales having never left Tom Jones; which would be one explanation for why he's recorded an album of the music he enjoyed in church as a boy in Pontypridd. Mostly, the Tom Jones we see now is laying everything bare. With that in mind, when a rep from his record label Island brandished the whole thing "a joke", you'd think it would hurt. But as the Godfather of pop would probably have it, it's just par for the course in the pop industry. Speaking authoritatively (and emphasising every phrase in that gravelly Welshman's tone) about the gospel origins of rock'n'roll and getting back to where it all started, Tom explains how he's been told he doesn't "fit in" since the release of his first hit single, It's Not Unusual. It would appear however that, for this "joke", it's Tom Jones who may just have the last laugh. Seventy years old; his voice better than ever; still "kicking the shit out of everything": 'unusual' doesn't do him justice.

Q: Hi Tom, are you having a good day? Tom Jones: Yeah, yeah, good. [Points to part-consumed glass] I'm having a beer at the end of it.

Q: Everything from the colour of your hair now to the way you've recorded Praise And Blame says "exposed". Would you say this is the most laid bare phase in your career so far? TJ: Yeah, yeah, I think so. You know, it's the most natural sound that I've recorded and the most live. It sounds like if you're in a room, you know what I mean? If you're singing live in a place. It doesn't sound like a 'recording' as such. That's what I like about it. It's really well done thanks to Ethan Johns; he's the man that produced it and played on it. He was a big part of the atmosphere of the whole thing.

Q: It really comes out at you. Would you say it's your voice that you want people to focus on now? TJ: Yes. These songs need to have a sound like that. You don't need much orchestration. The songs are so strong that they speak for themselves. All I had to do was sing 'em, you know? Of course, you have to put feeling into them. But that was already in the songs; you didn't have to over-emphasise anything, just let it flow. What Good Am I? - the Bob Dylan song - I sang that and Ethan was right, he said, "Don't sing it too loud. Try and sing it as softly as you can... restrained." Rather than trying to enunciate every word, every syllable, it didn't need it. I think we captured it.

Q: Would you say then that this was a totally different recording experience from anything you've done up till now? TJ: Yeah, well it's a bit like going back to the start when I used to sing in Wales in clubs and pubs and dancehalls. I'd have a group - a rhythm section - and we'd get in the pub and we'd rehearse. We'd move songs around and try different ways to do things, rather than just copy the records that were out at the time. This felt like that to me. We moved things around. We'd say, "let's try it like this" or, "let's try it a little faster", "maybe we should change the key here". When they clicked, it was like "Yeah, that's it." We didn't settle for less. We didn't settle for, "Oh, that's good." Not yet. We'd keep kicking it around until we got it to where we wanted it. That was very similar to when I started.

Q: Is this the record you "always wanted to make", or is it as cut and dry as the fact that you were turning 70 and just wanted to enjoy something different? TJ: No, it's something that's been in me for many years. But it's been difficult to get a record company to go along because it is a "concept" album. Most record companies, and rightfully so, want to sell records and have songs on the radio so it has to be radio friendly and there has to be singles. But getting back to the start, when I recorded It's Not Unusual it was different from records that were around. So that wasn't 'radio friendly'. The BBC wouldn't play it! They didn't understand it. The Beatles were in their prime and the Stones... it was a big British band invasion. So for single performers it was more difficult. Especially when you come up with, you know, brass, larger-than life, straight-in-yer-face sound [laughs].

Saying that, it was different enough to be played. But sometimes it's more difficult to get something like that across than it is with things that are more similar to what's going on. And I feel that's what this record is now. Some radio stations won't play it. They say it doesn't fit in. Well OK, but, you know, play one!

Q: Like you, they need to take a risk... TJ: Yeah, see what the people think! At the end of the day it's up to the public. If they like something they let you know. If they don't, they let you know that too. At least play it! Don't say, "It doesn't fit in". It's not supposed to fit. This is a spiritual album, but take it on face value. What do the songs sound like? Are they striking or moving? That's what I like to do. I want to make records that have some power. It could be a dance record or a ballad, but it needs to be powerful.

Q: It needs to be from the heart, then? TJ: Exactly! It needs to be honest. It needs to sound real. To me that's what this record sounds like. So, yes I've been waiting a long time to do it. And with my age, I think my voice sounds different to when I was young. It's a natural thing. You know, your voice gets richer, not weaker. My voice is as powerful now as it was. But I think it's richer and some of these songs benefit from that. Like, What Good Am I? You know what I mean? The low notes. And Nobody's Fault But Mine. So there's a time for certain things.

Q: Originally, It's Not Unusual was written with Sandie Shaw in mind. Do you think, had she recorded it, it would have been deemed more radio friendly? TJ: Yes it would have been. But thank God she liked it the way it was! Afterwards they said, "She doesn't wanna do it." It was a great opportunity for me to record it because it was only a demo that I did that we sent to her. When I met her she said, "I didn't wanna do it because I didn't think I could do it." The two guys who wrote it - Gordon Mills and Les Reed - tried to put it in a vein that would suit her cos she had songs with that [starts singing intro] "dung du-dung" so they stuck it in that beat so it would appeal to her. But when I sang it, you see, it took it... somewhere else [laughs]. I dug into it.

It sounded like a hit record to me when I did the demo and I stuck to my guns and said, "I have to have this record". My producer Peter Sullivan said, "Look, if you want to do this, we've gotta kick it." It couldn't just be a mild song, which it was originally. "We have to hit it hard because you have this big voice." So thank god Les Reed came up with that brass which gave me room to smack it. Then it became as powerful as it is.

But that's what makes records great - that they're not like something else, that they're individual. [Raises eyebrow] Radio is not that open to that. In those days it was the pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline who loved it and played it. They're the ones I have to thank for at least getting it on the airwaves. And then, you know, the bloody thing went like a rocket! The BBC had to play it then, of course, cos it was Number 1! [laughs].

Q: It's all part of that industry age-old war of the push and pull between image/what sells and artistic integrity. That's something that seems to always plague pop artists, and apparently still you? TJ: Yeah. When I was young and when I was wearing tight pants, you know, I though that my voice would over-power any negativity that people saw in me. And I was young, I was vibrant and I loved to dance and I wanted to get on it and kick the shit out of everything, you know what I mean? Like young people do. [Shrugs and smiles] Well, I still do that anyway, but... I was aggressive. And people would say, "Oh yeah, Tom Jones with the tight pants." And I thought, "Oh Jesus, what about my voice?" I wouldn't be on the stage if it wasn't for my voice; there's the power, there's the thing. But sometimes, without knowing it, people are seeing rather than hearing. So I've learned, after all this time, that I have to be careful with that now. More careful in the way that I look. Just concentrate on the music.

Q: Your voice is an incredible instrument still to this day. How have you cared for it over the years? TJ: I know not to abuse it. I used to do two shows a night and it's ok for a while but then if you keep doing it you start to sing on tired chords and you can damage them. But that's trial and error. I've learned to take care of it more than when I was young. It's all down to drinking plenty of water, get rest, some sleep. It's like an athlete. You have to give muscles rest so that they work properly. Singers are very similar to athletes because it's part of your body that's producing the sound, it's not like playing an instrument. The instrument is right there in your throat! And be careful that you don't drink too much booze [Q looks to Tom's glass of beer]. Well, especially before you sing. Afterwards is another story. [Laughs] I'm not singing today so I'm having a beer.

Q: For you, you've continued for so long because you just love to sing. Is there any day for you that doesn't involve music? TJ: No, not really. I'm always listening. There's always music. Music's going round my head all the time. Even if I'm not singing, you know, I'm whistling. People make fun of me, my family especially because when I walk out the bedroom I'm [starts whistling] and they go [whistles response]. I say, "I hope I don't whistle that bad" [laughs]. It's always some form of music in my head, or I'm listening to CDs, and of course, old vinyl. I've still got old records that I love to listen to.

Q: You started out as a rhythm and blues singer. Was gospel something you were listening to from an early stage and it's stayed with you all these years, too? TJ: Oh yeah, yeah. Singing hymns in chapel when I was a kid, you know. Singing in school, there were a lot of religious songs. When rock'n'roll kicked off in the '50s, it's just like it was a vibrant new sound. But the more you listen to it, the more you realise that it's coming from a gospel place. The roots are bluesy, gospel music. And I think that's what upset people when they said, "It's the Devil's music." It was very close to religious music in its structure. It was just that the words were different. I think that's what upset 'em. If it had been a music that wasn't connected I don't think it would've upset that many people. [Knowingly] But sometimes it's good to upset people cos then they'll take note.

Q: Elvis was at the forefront of rock'n'roll and he came from a gospel background. Is it true you played gospel with The King? TJ: Yeah, we used to sing it together at night, after we did the shows in Vegas. We'd go back to his suite. That's what he loved. If Elvis was going to sing something just on the spur of the moment, it would be a gospel song. But he loved to have singers with him. I mean, that's how he was brought up, I'm sure of it. Going to the church that he went to as a kid they had people doing these answer phrases, and then he would join in. So he loved that, he loved to hear voices. He was surprised to know that I knew so many of the gospel songs. He'd say, "Oh, how do you know that one? Do they sing gospel in Wales?" I'd say, "Yeah, but not exactly the same way." [Laughing] It's more like hymns. People in the South got a hold of hymns and it became gospel. That's where the roots are and that's what this record is. The structure of those songs is very natural to me. Songs like Strange Things Happening Every Day; Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She did gospel like that, she played electric guitar when she sang. She was like a rock'n'roll singer singing religious songs, really.

Q: You debuted the album in a church a few months back. Beyond the musicality of these songs, lyrically they're a lot deeper. All the glitz and glamour has been stripped away. When you're singing a song like What Good Am I? is there that genuine self-doubt? TJ: Yes, well the song itself makes you think: what good am I if I just stand by and let things happen when I can make a change? You should speak up. Those things, the lyrics affect me when I'm singing. That's why Ethan told me to restrain it. It worked when I whispered parts, rather than sung them. When I was growing up in Wales and playing in pubs there were no microphones so you had to enunciate and make things larger than life to get across. Sometimes you have to try and hold that back. It's a habit that I got into by projecting but some songs you don't need to. They need to be treated with a tender attitude. Less is more. Which I never realised before [Smiles].

Q: Less is more is the new Tom Jones... TJ: Well, it's an honest album. I loved recording it. Listening to the stuff back was a joy. You gotta treat things the way you think it should be treated. The songs are of a certain kind and the message is the same. You just have to think and realise, there are Strange Things Happening Every Day. And If I Give My Soul. And Trouble Me. You know, "If I let things stand that should not be, my Lord will trouble me." He'll say, "Hey!" Which has happened to me. So I've experienced that.

Q: So, you are a God fearing man? TJ: Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely! I pray every night. I get on my knees and thank god first of all for giving me a voice. Giving me the instrument to allow me to be myself and do something that I love to do for so long. Hopefully I'll keep it until I drop!

Q: You've collaborated with so many people over the course of your career. Is there anybody you missed out on that you regret? TJ: Ummm. Well, I would love to have recorded with Elvis Presley but he wasn't allowed to do it at the time.

Q: Is there a reason for that? TJ: Tom Parker, you know? He wanted to keep him away, he didn't want him to mix with anyone or be seen. It was a shame because Elvis wanted to. He would have loved to do duets with people. He wasn't afraid to do anything. But I sang with Jerry Lee Lewis on my TV show so I got that done and Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, I sang with Chuck Berry on a midnight special in the States. Most of it I got done. I think Whitney Houston's got the best voice. I know she's shakey at the moment. But I think she had the best natural female voice that I've heard. Maybe that could still happen.

Q: You grew up training your voice on your idols like Jerry Lee Lewis. As the Godfather of pop, as it were, if you were start out all over again, would you say there people now that you could draw inspiration from? Or has pop changed too much? TJ: No I think there's individual people about. Like Kings Of Leon. I think they come from a Southern, gospel-y, old time rock'n'roll thing. I don't think music has changed that much since 1955 when Rock Around The Clock came out - you know Bill Haley & The Comets. They concentrated more on making those instruments larger than life. That's why those records sounded so different. It came from gospel. Pop before that came from a jazzy style - the big band era. Singers were balladeers, they sang with a singing voice.

When Tony Bennett recorded the Hank Williams song Cold Cold Heart he was the first mainstream singer to have a hit with a country song and I thought, "Wow! That's great, he's done that." But I saw a documentary - when they presented the song to Tony Bennett he didn't like it. And I thought, "Owwww". It blew that thing out of the water. They twisted his arm. But he did a great version and it did the trick; it brought country music to people who wouldn't listen to it before. It's like what happened with the blues with British bands. BB King said if it wasn't for British rock bands the blues might've died. They came in with a new thing and then people wanted to know what the original sounded like. It's always good to bring stuff to light.

Q: So whether it's early gospel or modern rock, you're representing something contemporary in a very roundabout way... TJ: Yeah. It's all based on what happened from that time on. The Beatles always said that. They were listening to '50s rock'n'roll music. That's what influenced the British invasion. This is almost like getting (back there)... there's a song on here called Run On which a lot of gospel groups did. The one I knew was Elvis's version. He did it... you know... Elvis... [starts singing with Elvis impression], "Well, you may run on for a long time." And the group go, "Run on for a long time." So we did it in the same key and I'm thinking, "I sound like Elvis! [Laughs] We gotta get away from that." So we lifted the key. Ethan Johns said, "Let me get a rock guitar lick here. We'll rock it up!" I thought, "Wow! We're gonna rock something up even more than Elvis did!" [Laughing] Woooh! To me, it sounds even more authentic. It's a hot, gospel, thumping thing.

Q: In a nutshell, it's all pop and if radio learned anything from It's Not Unusual they should absolutely get it on the air? TJ: Exactly, yeah. I mean, Jesus!

Tom Jones's new album Praise And Blame is out now on Island Records.

Words: Eve Barlow

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Drowned In Sound Meets Tom Jones

61678 ‘Who in the hell is Tom Jones?’ spat Charles Bukowski. It’s a good question. The Tom Jones he wrote about in Hollywood is a slick Vegas showman, “his shirt is open and the black hairs on his chest show. The hairs are sweating.” The Tom Jones I meet is a white-haired Welshman about to release an album of blues and gospel so out of character that the vice-president of his own record label called it a “sick joke”. So just who in the hell does Tom Jones think he is?

He was billed alongside The Beatles and The Stones, partied with Elvis and Sinatra and dueted with everyone from Janis Joplin to Ray Charles, but in the popular imagination he’s festooned with knickers, his career built on sex appeal. Now, on Praise & Blame, he’s traded sex for death. There is a lot of mortality on Praise & Blame, and a lot of God. What’s happening here, Mr Jones? He looks at me and turns his palms towards me. “Time’s getting shorter,” he says.

“Now that I’m seventy, I know I haven’t got as much time left as I did when I was thirty, or forty, or fifty, or sixty. I still want to record as much as I can, but when you don’t have that much time left you think about it more.” Age has given him a sense of urgency, I suggest. “Exactly! You think, let’s knuckle down and let’s do some stuff that I want to do.”

It turns out that what Tom Jones wants to do is cover Bob Dylan and John Lee Hooker and a host of standards drawn from the deep well of the American South. “I’d heard a lot of them before, from different artists. I knew them. ‘Run On’, I knew the Elvis Presley version. We tried it in the same key as he did it in, but I sounded too much like him. I’m not going to play it if we’re not doing anything differently, so we put it in a higher key.”

One thing you realise quickly talking to Tom Jones is that he really, really loves singing. When he talks about it, a boyish passion spills out of him. He knows these songs inside out, every nuance. “I said rather than have voices for the answers, I’ll sing the whole thing. It made it different from what I’d done before, from when other people had done it. I tried to do the same thing with all the songs, really. One or two are similar, like Johnny Cash with ‘Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down’, but still we put more of a beat to it. Johnny Cash’s was a little slower.”

This mention of Johnny Cash is telling. It has been suggested that Praise & Blame is Jones’ attempt to replicate the success of Cash’s American Recordings. Was that a conscious decision? “Well, there are comparisons – because I’m seventy now, and because some of the songs are the same, and the stripped-down nature of it because of what Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.” The difference, he says, is in their voices. “With him, he was at the end of his… well, as it turned out, the end of his life… but certainly at the end of his recording career. He had difficulty in doing that stuff, and some of it added to the feel, because he was struggling with it. But with me – I’m not struggling with it.”

Jones is proud of his extraordinary voice, and it lends itself well to this music. Gospel is in his bones. “I’ve always liked 50s rock’n’roll music, and rock’n’roll came from gospel and blues and was a marriage of all those things in the South, in the States. I like rockabilly, boogie-woogie stuff. I like gospel not only because of the lyrics but because of the feel of the songs.”

He says he didn’t record these songs earlier because record labels were in thrall to Tom Jones the Sex Bomb: “I’ve wanted to do gospel for a long time, but most record labels want you to do pop records. Any time you sign with a label, it’s ‘Well, I’d like to do…’ ‘Yeah, we will, we’ll get to that, but meanwhile give us a hit.’ Island Records, they initially wanted hymns or songs for Christmas, so I thought that maybe this is my chance to get to those gospel songs.”

Island’s enthusiasm and decision to team him with Ethan Johns, who’s produced the likes of Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams, makes it even more surprising that their vice-president David Sharpe attacked the album in an email that was leaked to the press. His complaint was precisely that Jones was singing “hymns”, not pop songs. Jones is fiercely protective of his songs, and if the leak was part of a marketing stunt then he certainly wasn’t in on it: “I read it on the plane coming over,” he says. “One of the stewards had an English paper and he said ‘There’s a spread about your album’, so I said ‘Oh, really! Let me have a look!’ I read it and I thought ‘Who the fuck is this?’ First of all I didn’t know who the guy was. I still don’t. I only deal with the people who are involved in making the record. So, first thing when I got in, I said, ‘Who is this guy? What does he do?’ Apparently he’s one of the financial guys. I said, ‘What the fuck’s he on about?’ You can’t go condemning a record. It’s terrible for people to say, ‘Well, maybe Tom has made a mistake if the record company don’t even like it.’ I mean, that’s what people are going to read – ‘cause that’s what I read! They’ve been apologising to me ever since, but they still haven’t come up with why it was done. What is the point of that? I don’t get it. As far as I’m concerned there was no plan to get a controversy. It’s negative, I think, and misleading.”

Misleading certainly, because despite the spiritual themes these are by no means hymns. Is Jones himself religious? “I’ve always been a God fearing person,” he replies. “I pray every night, before I go to sleep. I’m always aware - aware that there’s something.”

It’s a deeply introspective album, never more so than on his version of Dylan’s ‘What Good Am I?’ Is Tom Jones really a Dylan fan? “Yeah! I listen to him more now, or I have done in the last twenty years, than I did before. When I first started recording, even before that, I’ve always liked voices. I listened to a lot of ‘singers’. I wasn’t much interested in ‘Did he write the song or didn’t he?’ In those days, I just went with what it sounded like. I wasn’t so much of a fan of Dylan then because I didn’t particularly like the way he was delivering them, whether he wrote them or not. The more I’ve listened to them, the more I’ve appreciated them.”

So what drew him to ‘What Good Am I’? “I wanted songs that were meaningful, I wanted songs that said something. Even on the up-tempo songs, like ‘Strange Things Happen Every Day’, there’s things that’ll make you think. They’re important songs. So that’s why I liked that one of Bob Dylan’s. I mean, I’d like to do an album of Dylan’s stuff, he’s written some great songs. Ethan thought, ‘How are we going to treat this?’ It was his idea to sing it in a lower key than I would ordinarily. ‘Don’t sing it out,’ he said, ‘Try and hold it, even when you go up.’ When I start to sing higher, my voice opens up, but here I controlled it. It took a few takes to get to where we did, but it was his idea for the arrangement, which I thought was great. Slow it down and sing it low. Breathy.”

He’s back enthusing about singing, but I want to know why he thinks he’s been so successful interpreting songs he hasn’t written. Does he have an actor’s instinct? “That’s exactly how I approach it. The sound of my voice – there’s a certain quality to my voice that sort of defines me. That’s the first thing, the sound of it, but then I listen to the lyrics and I want to get into it. Lyrics are very important to me, no matter what the song is. I’ve always liked lyrics, and when I hear an interesting lyric – that could be ‘Sex Bomb’, if you like. If you listen to ‘Sex Bomb’, the verses are really clever. There are some really good things in there. Like ‘Delilah’ – “I felt the knife in my hand” - it paints a picture.”

Thinking about the darker subject matter of Praise & Blame, it’s worth noting that Jones has been a proponent of the ‘murder ballad’ since early in his career: “With ‘Delilah’, everybody knows the chorus, but you’re thinking about the knife and the fella killing the girl, or ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’, where’s he’s in jail.”

Jones talks about his career, his hits and his life like a man who can’t quite believe his luck. He was 24 in 1964, scraping a living as frontman for Tommy Scott and the Senators, listening to Jerry Lee Lewis records and recording unsuccessful demos with Joe Meek. Then he met Gordon Mills, who became his manager. His debut single ‘Chills and Fever’ failed to chart, but when Mills wrote ‘It’s Not Unusual’ for Sandy Shaw, Jones recorded the demo and managed to persuade them both to let him release it instead. He never looked back: “The record was so big, all of a sudden, like a few months. I recorded the song at the end of ’64, then it came out at the beginning of January ’65, and it was number one on March 1st. Then it went worldwide.”

On one particularly memorable bill in 1965, Jones appeared at the NME Poll-Winners Concert alongside The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Dusty Springfield and The Animals. What on earth could it have felt like to be a part of that scene? Did it feel like something special was going on even then? “Oh, definitely! I mean, The Beatles opened the door. Before that it was always American music. British music was cover versions of American records. Then The Beatles came along. When I was here in London at that time you felt it – that this was it. American acts were coming over and they wanted to go to Carnaby Street. It had moved from Memphis or Motown to London.”

But like he said, he’d gone worldwide: he broke America instantly: “I think I did my first Ed Sullivan show in April of ’65. I met Elvis the same year. It was unbelievable!” Surely it was overwhelming. How do you readjust to your landscape shifting so permanently? “It was just mind-boggling. It goes from wanting to prove what I could do, singing-wise. When I got onto Top of the Pops and met all the bands they were going ‘Jesus! You’ve got a great voice!’ and I was like, ‘Wow! I’m proving it! I’m doing it!’ It was buzzy. The Beatles and The Stones were at the top of their game – and then Elvis Presley! And Frank Sinatra! In the same year! Mind-boggling!”

Jones is beaming as he tells the tale, that note of incredulity still in his voice. He shows me the way he hunched up shyly when he first had his picture taken with Elvis Presley. The way Elvis posed. “It was great, and you don’t get used to it, but it becomes a part of your life, the more you do it. Then in the Seventies when I had my own TV show and I was doing duets with Jerry Lee Lewis and…”

He’s on a roll now, but he was on a roll back then too. He was safe enough for middle America to grant him his own television show, but edgy enough to demand that his guests were his rock’n’roll heroes. The guest list reads like a roll-call of Seventies celebrity: Richard Pryor, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Peter Sellers, Ray Charles, The Who, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – but the name of the show was This is Tom Jones. “It was fantastic! I was pushing for rock’n’roll acts, you know. It was made by ABC Television in the States and they wanted more ‘safe’ acts, they wanted it to be a TV hit on the ratings. Rock’n’roll, even then, in ’69 still hadn’t really been accepted.”

Hang on a minute there, Tom. You were pretty ‘safe’ yourself. That’s why they hired you! “Well, I was recording available material. Not being a songwriter I had to rely on what was coming in. ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ came from that. Burt Bacharach wanted me to do it. I was thinking ‘I want to do more rhythm and blues, soul’, but things kept popping up – it’s like I was saying with the record companies – ‘We’ll get to that…’ Meanwhile, Big Burt Bacharach wants me to do this song for this Woody Allen film! So yeah, some things I did people would think it was towards middle-of-the-road type stuff, but if anybody came to see me live in those days I was doing more soul music than anything else.”

The advantage of being ‘safe’ in the network’s eyes was that he had the power to open the door for people he loved to get on television. That included his hero, Jerry Lee Lewis. “I’d been a fan ever since ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’. Elvis had come out with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, which was the first major hit, so everybody was going, ‘Wow! Elvis is a freak of nature, a white guy singing like that’, and I said, ‘Well that’s gotta be other people! He can’t be the only one, surely!’ So when ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ came out that was it. It’s a Southern thing – White people grew up with Black people, and it was all rubbing off, you know what I mean? Elvis definitely came out with a unique sound though. The sound of his voice was… phew! In terms of the show, I was getting my way – as I say, they wanted Robert Goulet and other people that you probably don’t know, mainstream America - so I’m saying, ‘I want Jerry Lee Lewis!’ and they’re going ‘Jerry Lee Lewis?’ I said, ‘If you want me to do this, you have to do that.’ I was pleased that it was happening – and the guests were thanking me! Jerry Lee thanked me for getting him back on TV!”

Jones is still pulling in the crowds. His low-key Latitude set to showcase Praise & Blame saw disappointed fans being turned away, recalling memories of the rush to his set at Glastonbury last year: “When I went on and I was singing, I could see these kids coming in, ‘cause they weren’t all around the stage at that point, but I could see them coming over and running and I thought ‘Jesus Christ! This is great!’ I loved it!”

Bukowski called him a “cardboard man”. Bukowski was wrong on that count. He may have played ‘safe’ for much of his career, but there’s a real depth to Tom Jones, and on Praise & Blame a newfound sense of perspective. Now in his fifth decade as a professional singer he still has the ability to surprise. Then again, there have always been those who saw a little more in him. Among the devoted viewers of This is Tom Jones was a young Tim Burton, who remembered the show when he came to write Mars Attacks!. “He came to see me do a show in LA and said, ‘I’m writing this film and I want you to be in it,’” Jones chuckles. “He said, ‘I thought to myself, if anybody can save the world it’s Tom Jones!”

Tom Jones Interview: Why Applause Is The Greatest Drug Of All

tom_jones_1273759441_crop_528x320 Julian Marszalek , May 13th, 2010 10:21 Living legend and Wales' finest son talks exclusively to Julian Marszalek about his life, work and loves... and why a round of applause and a pint of decent ale are the only drugs he'll ever need.

Watching those vintage clips of Tom Jones on long-forgotten The Beat Room TV show, dropping the full-throated bomb of his 1964 debut single, 'Chills and Fever', and ably backed by a full on rock'n'roll band, it's not difficult to wonder how things might have been. Quiffed and bursting with a barely contained youthful energy, it's one of the few occasions that Tom Jones the rock'n'roll singer is seen at serious odds with the image and reputation that followed to this very day.

In the 46 years since his singular baritone burst out of the valleys of south Wales, Tom Jones has lent his voice to pretty much every style of music that's buried itself into the public consciousness – pop, rock, showtunes, county, disco, electronica – you name it, he's done it. For his legions of fans, this gleeful style-hopping is a symbol of his versatility, a singer just as much as home with ballads as he is with music needing a more widescreen delivery. To his naysayers, Jones is little more than a tuxedoed entertainer happy to exploit trends with little regard for the impetus behind them.

Perhaps it's the image of the tight-panted cock-thruster dodging the ever-showering rain of underwear on stage that does him a disservice, but it can be easy to forget that Jones is a man with a passion for roots music that runs several fathoms deep. His appearance alongside a number of British blues luminaries in Mike Figgis' contribution to Martin Scorsese's series of The Blues films revealed a man exposing his emotions without the usual trappings of showbiz schmaltz and glitzy presentation. More often than not, he was no longer the Vegas crooner of legend but a man tapping into his very heart and soul to deliver a performance of uncharacteristic tenderness and undeniable human frailty. It was a side of the singer rarely seen even by his staunchest defenders or sternest critics, and one that had still to make its mark outside of that coterie of legendary musicians.

It's always been obvious that behind the façade of glamour, greasepaint and lights is a man who clearly loves music at its earthiest and most uncompromising form. What's also obvious is that this side of Jones is only fleetingly glimpsed and it's a fact that hasn't been lost on the man himself. Fast approaching his 70th birthday, Jones has hooked up with producer Ethan Johns, the man responsible for helming albums by Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams, Rufus Wainwright and Laura Marling, to deliver Praise and Blame, perhaps the most honest album of his long career.

Returning to his roots of gospel and the blues, Jones has eschewed the sheen of his most famous recordings in favour of dirt and red-raw honesty. Backed by a simple rhythm section and recorded live with no overdubs, this is the sound of Jones the Voice sailing into uncharted waters as he convincingly seeks redemption and a sense of peace. More importantly, this isn't another ersatz reading of Johnny Cash's American Recordings series as is currently favoured by artists and producers of a certain vintage, but something approaching a re-affirmation of why Jones does this in the first place.

Speaking to Jones via telephone in LA, The Quietus is struck by the warmth, enthusiasm and humour in that familiar baritone and it becomes clear that he isn't some huckster flogging his wares; Jones is genuinely stoked and excited by what he's achieved, and hopes that his long serving audience goes with him on the latest detour of this particularly long and winding road.

Your last album, 24 Hours, found you returning to the sound that made you famous in the 60s. Praise and Blame finds you going back further still to the music that inspired you to sing. Have you come full circle?

Tom Jones: I think so. I try different things because I like to do all different kinds of songs, you know? Sometimes it's difficult to know which way to go really. First of all I had to talk to a producer so I talked to Ethan Johns and told him that I wanted to do some spiritual stuff that means something but not overblown and he said, 'Well, that's exactly the way I work. I work with a rhythm section in the studio and we'll kick that around in the studio.; And that's a great way to work, I think, with everybody pitching and chipping in. When you've got the song and you've got the key, we kick the song around a bit until we get something that sounds natural.

What's drawing you to the spiritual side of things?

Well, I've been into spiritual music since I was kid. We always sang a lot of gospel stuff in the chapel and at funerals, funnily enough! I mean, the most famous one in Wales is 'The Old Rugged Cross'. Even at parties we'd have the old singsong on the weekend but you realise with that stuff that even though sometimes it's sad, it's also uplifting. When I used to sing in the pubs and the clubs in Wales we'd always put in a gospel-type song like 'Down By The Riverside', you know? And I realised that when rock'n'roll kicked in in the 50s that that's where it came from: gospel, country and blues.

Were you ever torn between spirituality and rock'n'roll in the way that Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were?

Well, that's why I've called the new album Praise and Blame, because you can be praised for something and you can be blamed if people don't like it or think that you're blaspheming. In order to take the praise, you have to take the blame. I remember once doing a gospel-type version of 'Danny Boy' and some people liked it and some die-hards said, "Oh, you can't do that with Danny Boy!" You can't have it all your own way and that's what's life is all about, I think.

I was watching your contribution to Mike Figgis' British blues boom documentary Red White and Blues and it showed a different and more contemplative side to Tom Jones as opposed to the Sex Beast of public perception. In that respect, how overdue do you think that Praise and Blame is?

Yeah, it is overdue. I think there have been different sides of me all throughout my recording career, and when you have an idea sometimes with a record company they want commercial; they've always talked me into doing commercial stuff, but it's hard to get across to a record company that you want to do a specialised thing, that you want to do something that is not pop – I'm not aiming for hit singles here. This is a concept album and I think that's a great thing.

Island Records, bless 'em, they asked for some Christmas music and I thought, Christ! If I can do than then maybe I can go deeper with it? They were almost on the right wavelength so I said, 'Look, if you want me to do something that is uplifting with a spiritual feeling then why don't we do it properly?'

I wanted to get more nitty-gritty. When people hear it, I want them to say, 'Wow! I haven't heard Tom sing quite like that before!'

**This has parallels with your mate Elvis' '68 Comeback Special doesn't it? His label wanted a Christmas show and they got leather-clad rock'n'roll instead...

TJ: Yeah, funnily enough, I watched that just the other night and I didn't realise that [Elvis manager Colonel Tom] Parker wanted a Christmas show and Elvis said to the director, "I really don't wanna do that."

So have you promised Island some Christmas songs in return then?

[Laughs] No! We did them two [demo] songs – 'Run On' and 'Did Trouble Me' - to show what we were trying to do and they're two really religious songs. Elvis did 'Run On' with gospel singers and put his own stamp on it so I wanted it even rougher, even more stripped down than he did.

You're Tom Jones with all that that implies. How much of a struggle is it for you to walk into a record label and say, "Look, this is what I really want to do"?

Well, it's kind of trial and error. You can't say, 'This is how I want to do it' in case they say, 'Well, we don't want to do it like that.' As I say, we tried those two songs with Ethan Johns who, God bless him, is well respected and Island have been wanting him to produce some of their other artists. But when he was asked to do me, he said, 'Great! That's something that I want to do.'

How did you and Ethan Johns hook up in the first place?

I was thinking about this spiritual-type music and who to do it with so Island suggested that we meet up and I met him at Apple Studios. I liked what he said: 'We'll go in the studio, kick around a couple of songs and see which way we can do the best with them. You sing 'em the way you feel 'em and we'll back you up.'

And when we did it, everyone was thrilled.

**There's been a move in the wake of Johnny Cash's American Recordings for artists of a certain vintage to interpret contemporary music in a roots style or the sound that made them famous. You've gone direct to the source material here instead. Why?

There were so many of these really good, spiritual gospel-type songs around but you've got to be careful that they don't get overdone as well, you know? I took quite a while getting to know these songs and I listened to the authentic versions like Sister Rosetta Tharpe's 'Strange Things' and I said, 'That's it! That's what I want!' I wanted to do them in a way that related to me and my early roots, when I was singing in the pubs and clubs of Wales with just three guitars and drums.

How much of the real Tom Jones is in these songs?

When you sing songs like these, it does touch you. If you're going to sing those lyrics, it's got to mean something. It's not like singing a song that I've got nothing to do with because these are very touching songs and they make people think. If my versions of these songs don't touch people then I've missed the mark.

I was watching early footage of you performing [1964 single] 'Chills and Fever' with you fronting a band. Do you have any regrets about not continuing in that format?

Well, yeah but I wanted to do other things as well. I still wanted to do stuff like 'It's Not Unusual' and 'Green Grass of Home' because when I had a band we did that stuff and it got me through the door, but I was also doing 'Great Balls of Fire' onstage. When someone came to see me [in the early days] they'd get 'It's Not Unusual' because it was more or less soul music. I was very much influenced by soul because it was very much like gospel music and the stuff done by Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke. That's the kind of stuff I was doing even before I had a hit record.

You've worked with a whole variety of artists over the years from Janis Joplin through to Wilson Pickett and many others. You've been pretty blessed in that you've covered so many bases.

Well, that's why ABC wanted me to do the 'This Is Tom Jones' TV series back in the 60s. They thought that if I hosted the show I'd be able to do duets with more or less anybody because my repertoire was so big. I was always pushing for rock'n'roll people to be on the show but when I started it was more middle-of-the-road. I said to the producers, "If you want Barbara Eden from 'I Dream of Jeanie' on the show then I want Wilson Pickett and I've got to have Jerry Lee Lewis." And they said, "Jerry Lee Lewis? But he hasn't done any TV in years" and I said, "I don't care! Give me my bloody guests! And I want Janis Joplin! And I want Ray Charles! And I want Aretha Franklin!" And I got them all!

The Stones and The Animals and the other British invasion bands were always mystified that mainstream America had never heard these artists. Was that your experience too?

Absolutely! As far as the American bluesmen were concerned, I liked Big Bill Broonzy and when I was being interviewed in '65 when I first went over there they said, 'Where are you getting your influences from?' because they thought I sounded black; 'It's Not Unusual' was being played on black radio. To me, that was a pop record but they said, 'No, it's your timing and the tone of your voice – it's not white!'

When 'It's Not Unusual' came out over there, there was a fella called Lloyd Greenfield who'd booked me on the Ed Sullivan show and this black DJ called him and said, 'I hear that Tom Jones is coming over. You've got to bring him up to the radio station' and Lloyd said, 'But he's white' and the DJ said, 'No! Whoever is singing this song is not white.' And Lloyd said, 'But he is' so the DJ said, 'Can I give you a bit of advice? If you put his album out before the Ed Sullivan show, don't put his photo on the cover!' Because a lot of black artists didn't put their picture on the cover [so as not to alienate white audiences] and it was the reverse with me.

Did that upset you? Chris White from The Zombies was telling me about the package tours that they did in the US with a lot of their favourite black musicians. He loved doing them but he hated the racial segregation that he encountered at diners and places like that.

Funnily enough, I did a couple of tours with The Zombies; we all toured in '65 and I was on the Dick Clarke Caravan of Stars tour and they were on some other tour, and sometimes we would be in some city and the two tours would come together and we'd go on the same show.

But when you're on a tour with black entertainers and you have to stop at these roadside cafes, sometimes the whites would have to go in to get the food and sometimes they'd have to go in and get the food and bring it back to the coach. So I thought, Jesus Christ! It's unbelievable!

You know, in 1965 I'd have thought all of that shit would have been over! I knew segregation had been happening in the Second World War because being born in 1940 I saw a lot of black troops in Pontypridd just before D-Day and the black soldiers would walk on one side of the street and the white GIs would walk on the other side of the street. You know, I saw that when I was a child! I used to say to my father, 'They've all got the same uniforms on but they're walking on different sides of the street' and my father said, 'They don't mix; they're segregated' and I thought, Jesus Christ! That was when I was a child but I couldn't believe seeing it in '65. I thought that shit had gone out of the window by then.

You've hung out with the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Janis Joplin and Jerry Lee Lewis among many others. How is it that you've managed to avoid the usual trapping of fame such as drugs, madness and an early death?

Well, I was never interested in drugs because I've always liked a drink. And I like drinking; I really enjoy the taste of it. I love certain drinks and I love the taste of British beer; you know, real beer on tap.

A lot of British people drink Stella which is a lager. Jesus! That's not even real beer! People tell me that it's really good and I'm like, 'Yeah, right!' I don't want to put Stella down but some people drink to get drunk and I saw that with drug taking. People were taking drugs to get high and they weren't really enjoying the experience. You know, with cocaine – I saw people in bathrooms in restaurants snorting lines and I thought, Jesus Christ! It looked like Fagin counting his money!

I've been at parties where people have been snorting off tables but it was never attractive to me. I've never tried it once. I've never even smoked a joint. But I have been in a room and gotten high off of it because everyone else was bloody smoking it!

I've tried to analyse this and I think maybe you go into unknown territory – you see people do it but there's no label on the bottle. When I drink, I want to know what I'm drinking and I want to know what the percentage of alcohol is in that bottle. I don't want someone pouring me a drink of something that I don't know. And I think that with drugs it's like that. I wouldn't want to take a chance on something where I don't know what the effect will be. I know the effect of beer and I know what it is with wine and I know what it is with spirits but I wouldn't want to dabble with drugs. That saved me from going down that road.

But drink has contributed to the demise of quite a number of artists over the years, hasn't it?

Oh sure! You know, I do enjoy a drink but I've got to keep my eye on the clock. If I've got to do something the following day then I've got to get my eight hours sleep. In Wales we call everyone by their nicknames, usually by their professions, like I'm 'Jones the Voice' and Kelly Jones from The Stereophonics has got a new one for me. He calls me 'Tommy Eight Hours'!

That makes you sound like someone from Goodfellas!

Yeah! See, whenever I've been out with them there always comes a point when I say, 'Well, it's getting late now, lads!' Maybe they can take it but I need my eight hours.

I've always tried to keep a handle on it because if you do drink too much there's always the dehydration the next day and you're up against it. If you've got an early thing to do, like TV or something, you can't go on looking like shit and more likely sounding like shit! So I've seen a couple of those cases and I've though, No, that don't work!

I tried all of that at the beginning when you start to make money and the fame that comes fast with your first hit record and you've got to watch yourself then.

Given your love of ale, it must be difficult to get a decent pint in LA?

Well, nowadays they import quite a lot of British beer and you can even get Welsh beer. They haven't got Brains yet but I'm drinking Felinfoel Double Dragon and it's great. I get it from the supermarket and it's very nice. It's the closest you can to Wales without actually going there!

Have you tried any of the American microbrew stuff like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sam Adams?

Sam Adams is good as long as it's the ale. Nine times out of ten it'll be lager but they do a nice ale as well.

What's the biggest misconception about Tom Jones?

The thing that hits me the most is the sexual part on stage. You know, the knicker throwing and all that. That overtook the talent which I never meant for it to do. I always thought that my voice could push through anything, you what I mean? People always thought, 'Oh, it's Tom Jones: throw knickers at him!' And I always thought I could overcome that with my voice but sometimes you can't. If you start messing around too much on stage with stuff that's been thrown at you then you'll get caught. See, we're back to Praise and Blame again! I created it myself and it's bit me on the arse, really. These days, if people throw things on stage then I don't bother with them. You know, I don't pick them up and I don't do shtick with them.

See, coming from a working class background, if someone throws something at you in the pub then you make something out of it and you use it to your advantage, so when they started throwing underwear at me I was having a ball with them, you know?

You know, when The Beatles went on stage, the kids didn't give a shit what they were playing – they were just screaming. And at one point, I don't think people cared about what I was singing as long as I had tight pants and they could throw knickers at me.

Are you going to take Praise and Blame on the road in that stripped down band format?

We're going to try to some shows in smaller venues and we're trying to put them together now so we can do a few showcases. But I couldn't do a whole show like that because the album's not long enough and I'm onstage for at least 90 minutes.

See, when people come to see an entertainer... it's fine if you do a specialised show like a showcase or a club and you explain what you're doing but if people are coming to see a show and [you] only do that album and don't do anything they know, I think that you're short-changing the people then. But I'll definitely be doing a lot of the songs in the show. And we're going to try to do a TV show with the album line-up.

You're just a few weeks away from your 70th birthday. Got any special planned?

I'm going to be spending it here in LA because my wife, she doesn't travel anymore. Not since 9/11 – it shocked the shit out of her. After we flew back to America we haven't flown since and that's a bit of a bother. Anyway, she's a quiet person and she doesn't like parties – well, she did when she was younger, of course – and I'd like to be with her for my 70th birthday. That's not to say that I won't be seeing my friends in England for a few bevies but it just won't be my actual birthday.

Given such dedication, would you call yourself a romantic?

Yeah, I still love my wife and we still have dinner together, just me and her. And I'm fine with it. I enjoy it and she loves it.

What have you got left to achieve? Surely there shouldn't be any reason for you to get out of bed in the morning?

No, but that would be very boring though. I can only take short periods of time off, you see. I sing around the house and my wife, she says to me, 'I think it's time you bloody went out on the road.' You know, I get my guitar out and I'm singing songs to her – which she likes – but she says, 'I know where this is leading and you've got to get back on stage again.'

It's funny because I'm working as much as I ever did and when I was younger I thought I'd have slowed down by now. My wife asked my original manager Gordon Mills, 'Does Tom have to tour as much as he does?' and he said, 'Oh, don't worry Linda. When he gets older he'll slow down – it's a natural thing.' So my wife now says, 'When's this slowing down, then?' To be honest with you, I don't think it will. I've just done shows down in South America, Australia, New Zealand, the Far East, the Middle East and South Africa. I've finished a three-month tour just now.

But I still want to make more albums of different kinds of music; you know, I don't like to get stuck in a rut. Some people love a certain kind if music and they play it and that's all they play, and God bless 'em, but I like to change things round a bit. I love singing 'Kiss' as much as I love singing 'Boy From Nowhere'. See, to me, it all works. I can get parts of me out there that you can't do with one song. You need a mixture of stuff to get different parts of me out there. I take people on a musical journey while getting kicks myself and I'm loving it! When you get that reaction from the audience, it's like a bloody drug. That's the drug I've indulged in the most: applause. I can't sit around the house as there's no adulation to be had!