The voice of the valleys reveals to Will Hodgkinson why sounding 'nice' was never an option for him... When I first discovered the joys of singing: Ghost Riders in the Sky - Vaughn Monroe (1949)
I must have been eight or nine when I climbed on top of my school desk and sang this because I had heard it on the radio the night before. I accompanied myself by banging a ruler. It was the first time I really got attention for singing, because at home I was singing so much that everyone took it for granted. A few years later I discovered rock'n'roll and all the boys looked to me for what was going on. We were teddy boys, y'see. We knew about Elvis. Then I heard 'Great Balls of Fire' by Jerry Lee Lewis and I knew how I wanted to sing.
When I was working in a factory: Rock Around the Clock - Bill Haley and his Comets (1954)
I worked as an apprentice glove cutter when I left school at 15. All the other guys working in the factory were amateur musicians. One day 'Rock Around the Clock' came on the radio and I started singing along. 'Will you shut up?' they shouted. 'It's fantastic!' I replied, and they told me it was nothing but 12-bar blues and that anyone could play it. 'I don't give a shit, it's great,' I said, and challenged them to do a version of it. They did, and it sounded terrible. With rock'n'roll it may only be three chords, but it's how you play them that counts.
The record that changed my life: It's not unusual - Tom Jones (1965)
I was working with [producer] Joe Meek, but that ended when I grabbed him by the neck and ripped up my contract. Then I was doing demo records for other singers, and we cut 'It's Not Unusual' in Regent Sound in Soho as a demo for Sandie Shaw, who turned it down. I told my manager I had to have this song, but the first version we recorded wasn't anything special. Then my producer Peter Sullivan said: 'You've got a big voice. Nice is not enough. You are not nice!' As a result, the song jumped out of the speakers and became a hit.
When I went on the Ed Sullivan Show: In the Midnight Hour - Wilson Pickett (1966)
This was my first time in New York, and the first time I heard soul. Jackie Wilson had been doing something similar with an orchestra, but 'Midnight Hour' was raw and that appealed to me. I had heard early rock'n'roll records before that, but they always sounded very rough indeed. Then Tom Dowd, the engineer for Atlantic Records, changed everything by recording songs that were direct but with great production, like this one. I felt a kinship with black singers like Wilson Pickett; felt that we were doing something similar, so for years I opened my show with 'Midnight Hour'.
The record that revived my career: Kiss - Prince (1986)
If I hear a song I like I'll do it in the show, so when I heard this I sang it in an R&B style. Then I was due to go on Jonathan Ross's programme in 1987 to perform the ballad 'A Boy From Nowhere', and he wanted something upbeat too. My philosophy has always been: when in doubt, do 'Great Balls of Fire'. But Jonathan asked if I had anything new. Art of Noise were watching and they asked if I'd do a version with them. When they sent me the finished version I thought: 'If this isn't a hit, I'll bloody well pack it all in.' It was a busting hit.
Strange and possibly true
1 Tom Jones - born Thomas John Woodward - originally performed as Tommy Scott. His manager changed his name to mirror the handsome stud of Henry Fielding's classic novel of the same name.
2 Women famously threw their knickers at Tom Jones when he performed on stage in the mid-Sixties. By the time he was performing at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in the late Sixties, they were throwing hotel room keys at him.
3 Jones has remained married to his wife Melinda for over 50 years.
4 He recorded the vocals for his 'Daughter of Darkness' in one take - when he was drunk.
5 The first guest booked for Jones's Sixties and Seventies TV show, This is Tom Jones, was Elvis Presley. He never turned up.
• Tom Jones's new album, 24 Hours, is out now on S-Curve/Parlophone