Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Thomas Jones Woodward, 7 June 1940, Pontypridd, Wales) Pop singer. Began singing as a child; worked in construction, sang nights in working-men's clubs billed as 'Tiger Tom'; later as Tommy Scott and the Senators, making a fair living with the type of big, rich voice loved by the Welsh. Discovered by another Welshman, Gordon Mills (d 29 July 1986 in Los Angeles aged 51), who changed his name to Tom Jones, which was indubitably Welsh and had the advantage of free publicity from the hit '63 film of the Henry Fielding novel.

His first hit was 'It's Not Unusual' '64, written by Mills and Les Reed; Jones made a demo and they took the song to Sandie Shaw's agent, who said, 'That'll never be a hit.' Jones sang it on a Decca record; it won an Ivor Novello award, sold three million, was no. 1 UK/10 USA '65. Jones had 29 Hot 100 entries in USA '65-77 but no chart toppers, only three in top five ('What's New Pussycat?' '65, written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for soundtrack of the zany '65 film; 'Without Love (There Is Nothing)' '69; 'She's A Lady' '71); 28 hits in UK including two at no. 1: the first and 'Green Green Grass Of Home' '66 (no. 11 USA); several at no. 2 including 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' '67 (no. 49 USA; re-entered '69 at no. 6) and 'Delilah' '68 (no. 15 USA).

He was a good album seller, with 18 in the USA LP chart '65-81, four in the top ten '69-70; 18 hit LPs in UK included nine in top ten '67-71: Fever Zone '68 (on Parrot USA; similar 13 Greatest Hits on Decca in UK) sold a million; 20 Greatest Hits '75 was no. 1 UK. Live LPs did well, e.g. Tom Jones Live In Las Vegas and two- disc Live At Caesar's Palace both USA/UK, plus Live At The Talk Of The Town as early as '67 in UK (Tom Jones Live In USA '69). Mills had noticed that the most adoring fans were often middle-aged matrons (their daughters were swooning at the time over weeds with beards, not brawny Welshmen); USA TV special This Is Tom Jones '69 was an enormous success; on the USA tour that followed, women threw their underwear at him. Mills made him a huge club attraction, and did the same later with Engelbert Humperdinck and Gilbert O'Sullivan. Jones moved to the West Coast mid-'70s (lower taxes, closer to Las Vegas); received a tumultuous welcome in Cardiff '83 on his first visit to Wales for ten years. His son became his manager when Mills died; he hadn't bothered to release a single for some years, but 'The Boy From Nowhere' '87 came from proposed musical Matador based on the life of '60s bullfighter El Cordobes; Jones contributed several songs to the album.

Things That Matter Most To Me '87 on Mercury was a compilation of country-ish tracks and 'I've Been Rained On Too' was a top 20 hit in the country chart; The Lead And How To Swing It '93 on ZTT/Interscope/UNI six years later found him in good form and having a ball, well looked after by producers such as Trevor Horn, Teddy Riley and Jeff Lynne. He continued to find songs he liked wherever he had to look for them, moving in a country/roots direction, with albums Praise & Blame (2010), Spirit In The Room (2012) and Long Lost Suitcase (2015), which included songs by Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings ('Elvis Presley Blues': Presley had been a friend of his). Having gone from novelty pop to tuxedo clubs to roots music, the voice always reliable, he published a memoir, Over The Top And Back, in 2015.