A Great Tradition: Sex bomb Tom Jones continues longtime Las Vegas affair with MGM Grand performances. Tom Jones is on the phone while catching some rays by his pool in Beverly Hills, which even in January is exactly where you would expect him to be. Sure, he's 68, but that hasn't stopped him from being Tom Jones. In fact, he has worked his age into the persona. The singer didn't want to make just another album for "24 Hours," his first U.S. release in 15 years. So he made one rich in autobiographical resonance, with both the music and lyrics tying back to his 43 years as a sex bomb. It all started with Bono, explains the singer, who plans to perform as many as six of the new songs in his MGM Grand shows through Jan. 28. The two met in a Dublin nightclub more than two years ago, and Jones said, "I'd love you to write me a song." "(Bono) said, 'OK, but if I'm going to write one, it's going to be about you.' " The two went on to discuss Jones' past, with Bono confessing, "When he was a kid, he saw me on TV and he liked the way I dressed as well as the way I sounded. So all that stuff is in the song." When the two met up again in another club -- this time in London -- Bono sang the rough product of his labors with U2-mate The Edge and writing partner Simon Carmody. The tongue-in-cheek ditty called "Sugar Daddy" captures the Tom Jones swagger by proclaiming "I'm the last great tradition" and boasts, "You don't send a boy to do a man's job." But it also confesses, "the older I get, the better I was."
Jones says he and his manager son, Mark Woodward, have talked about pop singers aging and people saying, "Maybe he shouldn't be doing this anymore."
"But you get a blues singer, and nobody's concerned about his age. ... With blues singers, people seem to enjoy that these men have experienced life. And I think maybe this is what happened with this (album) as well.
"Maybe it's because I've been around a long time, I think these songs are more fitting now."
After Bono went through the lyrics, he pointed out "That information you gave me in Dublin, there's a lot of that in this song."
"I said, 'Well, do I get writer credit?'
"He said, 'No.' He didn't even think about it," Jones recalls with a chuckle.
The singer remembered Bono's approach -- and took corrective action for royalties -- when the original recording sessions stalled out.
The first idea from S-Curve label head Steve Greenberg was to reinvent forgotten or little-known songs. That yielded the opening tune, Tommy James' "I'm Alive," as well as an eyebrow-raising Bruce Springsteen obscurity about a jaded boxer, "The Hitter."
Those covers were fine, but "we didn't have enough of them," the singer says. So Jones sat down with writers to help steer the direction for original tunes, and ended up with writing credits on seven of them.
For instance, he says, writer Lisa Greene asked him, "You've been married a long time. Have you ever done a song about that? How have you kept that going so long?"
And his reply, "No matter where I've been or what I've done, the road always leads back to Linda," his wife of almost 52 years. "The Road" became one of several songs where "I was coming up with ideas, and the songwriters were working on that. They would come up with lyrics, and I would put them into my own words."
Musically, Jones admits the '60s-cool sound of Amy Winehouse's blockbuster "Back to Black" album helped chart a course. He had suggested a retro approach in the past, but says record executives told him, "Oh no, that's old stuff. It won't work again."
"So thank God, when 'Back to Black' came out. I said, 'There you go. It can work.' It's in a new form with new sounds, but the arrangements, the vibrance of it, is definitely '60s."
The first U.K. single, "If He Should Ever Leave You," even samples the horn riff from Jones' 1967 song "I'll Never Let You Go." The singer says he found a great vintage microphone in a Los Angeles studio, which is important because he has been known to blow them out.
In the old days, he says he could hit a high C, "but I've sort of gone from a tenor to a baritone. I've lost about a tone off the top. But I've gained a lot on the bottom," as heard on the album's title track. "My lower register is much fuller than it was when I was in my 20s."
Last March, the keepers of the fan site Tom Jones International made an onstage presentation marking the singer's 40 consecutive years on the Strip. "Now Vegas is looked at as being cool. It was always cool to me," he says.
He misses the legendary entertainers from the old days, but he doesn't miss doing two shows a night. "I can go to a restaurant now rather than have my food between shows in the dressing room." MIKE WEATHERFORD