The Bergen Record

Tom JonesFor more than 40 years, he's been known for his night jobs. Now, his work has finally been recognized with Britain's ultimate honor -- a knight job. His new and formal title, Sir Thomas Jones Woodward, has a royal and regal ring. But it's unlikely millions of panty-tossing women around the world will stand on ceremony when they're in the company of Tom Jones, the singing Welshman who's serenaded them with his powerful voice and tantalized them with his sensuality for more than four decades. "For me, to accept a knighthood is a great and humbling honor, and I know my family -- and hope my friends and fans -- will share in my gratitude and excitement," Jones wrote in a Jan. 4 posting on his Web site, just days after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Jones, whose fans have clamored for this recognition for years, joins fellow artists like Paul McCartney, Elton John and Mick Jagger, who have added "Sir" to their names. But here's what's made the honor even more interesting. For the past 30 years, England's newest knight has lived in an American castle; Los Angeles is his home. Yet he's made it clear he's never forgotten or forsaken his ancestry and is still a British citizen. "I wear my nationality on my sleeve, and I'm proud of it," he wrote in the posting. "One of my passions is history, and often I engage anyone who is willing in lively historical discussions and debates on British topics and what it means to be British." Usually very cooperative with the media, Jones recently turned down all interview requests. No reason was provided, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his silence to his touring schedule. Jones, who'll turn 66 in June, maintains a relentless pace that would tire acts half his age. In February, he's working 13 dates practically back-to-back. In fact, his three-day engagement this weekend at Resorts Atlantic City represents the only time this month he'll be at one venue for more than a one-night stand. In March, he'll work two straight weeks in Las Vegas before hitting the road again for 10 one-nighters in April, then wrap up that month with yet another two-week gig in Las Vegas that'll stretch into May.

Clearly, a retirement tour isn't being planned any time soon. Fans will likely hear his monster hits from the '60s -- "She's a Lady," "What's New Pussycat?" "Delilah," "It's Not Unusual" -- for at least a few more years. And they can still count on Jones to surprise them by tackling contemporary music, as he did several years ago when he collaborated with Wyclef Jean, or music from nearly 200 years ago, as when he collaborated with the techno-pop band Art of Noise. "I dread the day that I can't sing," Jones said in an interview in 2003. "When my voice doesn't work as well as it does, then I'll have to stop." Few artists have sustained the popularity Jones has enjoyed since he and his booming voice burst onto the pop music scene in 1965 during the height of the British musical invasion. Although he's had his share of hits and misses on the music charts over the years, he never relied primarily on his recordings to keep fan interest alive. From the earliest days of his career, his live shows were packed with excitement and elements of surprise.

When his recordings weren't selling and radio airplay dried up, except for oldies stations, he began adding new material to his live shows to keep himself contemporary and to prevent his shows from becoming just another nostalgic concert of old, worn-out hits. In 1989, Jones' recording career, which had been mostly dormant for more than a decade, was revived when he began including a cover of Prince's hit "Kiss" to his live set list. "I had been doing the show [in the act] to stay contemporary. I did it on a British TV show, and [the techno-pop group] Art of Noise saw the show," he said. "They wanted to record it, so we did, but I never thought it was going to be a hit, because it had already been a big hit for Prince." The song established Jones as a crossover artist, because it sold well to his longtime fans and introduced him to a new, younger audience.

Since then, Jones has worked with a variety of artists and producers, from Wyclef Jean on his 2003 release "Reloaded" to popular British pianist and bandleader Jools Holland on their self-titled 2004 album, which featured their takes on old blues and rock-and-roll songs, plus original material. Other projects that kept him in the spotlight over the years include movie soundtracks (the theme from the James Bond film "Thunderball"), hosting a television variety series ("This Is Tom Jones") and acting; he's never been afraid to spoof himself, and appeared in an episode of "The Simpsons," in Tim Burton's sci-fi comedy-drama "Mars Attacks!" and on an episode of HBO's "Sex and the City."

By DAVID J. SPATZ The Bergen Record