At age 29 Tom Jones couldn’t imagine being a man over 50—he said it was all downhill from there. Yet today, a few years past that feared age, he’s just getting his second wind. In recent years Jones has gone from singing in front of sold-out crowds of middle-aged, underwear-tossing matrons to singing in front of sold-out crowds of fist-waving, funkily clad youths. Why the resurgence of this 50-something Welshman who first gained popularity before some of his new fans were even born? Perhaps because he’s never lost his unique vocal power or his charismatic stage presence. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s never fought the changing times.
Born Thomas Jones Woodward in Pontypridd, South Wales, Great Britain, on June 7, 1940, Jones started singing at an early age. His mother had him performing for shillings at the village store at the tender age of three and, later, singing American hits like “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “Mule Train” for the local women’s guild. At home he would ask his mother to pull the drapes and announce him as he sang on his “stage” in the sitting room. Determined not to end up a coal miner like his father, Jones left school at 15 and held a host of laborer’s jobs while singing nights in the tough, working-class pubs in town. He married Malinda (“Linda”) Trenchard when they were both 16 and she was pregnant with their only child, Mark.
As a teen Jones fancied himself a “Teddy Boy,” dressing in the aggressive and affected style of that rough British youth subculture (not unlike the 1950s “greaser” phenomenon in the U.S.). This identification and his struggle to escape his environment created the rugged, macho image that typifies Jones to this day. The hip swivel that “Tiger Tom” developed in those early years and the sheer emotion with which he sings set him on the road to sex-symbol status. In the beginning, however, this persona made for a muddled perception by both audiences and record companies.
In 1964, when Welsh songwriter and manager Gordon Mills came across Jones in a local nightclub, he could tell within a few moments that this man had potential. “The first few bars were all I needed to hear, they convinced me that here was a voice that could make him the greatest singer in the world,” Mills was quoted as saying in a 1993 Tom Jones Enterprises press biography. Mills urged Jones to join him in London and promptly shortened Thomas Jones Woodward to Tom Jones in order to capitalize on the then-current film adaptation of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, a hit starring Albert Finney; the name change helped to foster the
For the Record…
Born Thomas Jones Woodward, June 7, 1940, in Pontypridd, South Wales, Great Britain; son of Thomas (a coal miner) and Freda Jones; married Malinda Trenchard, c. 1956; children: Mark.
Worked variously as bricklayer’s helper, builder’s laborer, glove cutter, paper miller, door-to-door vacuum salesman, road construction worker, and hod carrier, among other jobs, c. 1955-64; sang in local pubs as Tommy Scott, the Twisting Vocalist; Tiger Tom, the Twisting Vocalist; and Tommy Scott and the Senators, c. 1955-64; “discovered” by manager Gordon Mills, 1964; signed by Decca label, 1964; released first album, Along Came Jones, 1965. Host of variety show in England and U.S., This Is Tom Jones, ABC, 1969-71; host of Tom Jones: The Right Time, VH-1, 1993. Signed with Interscope Records, 1993.
Addresses: Office —Tom Jones Enterprises, Ste. 205, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067.
same sexy image that the fictional Jones’s lusty personality suggested. But record company executives did not know what to make of this newly created Tom Jones. He was too old and he sang too well. His sound was raucous and overwhelmingly powerful, and his performance style was deemed too forward and sexual. At that time record companies were looking for groups of long-haired boys—not solo big-voiced men.
Mills and Jones persisted, and, within a year, Jones had recorded Mills’s driving “It’s Not Unusual,” landed a recording contract with Decca, sold three million copies of the song, and watched it rise to Number One in 13 countries. But Jones’s somewhat intimidating, sweating, sexy image again threw him off track. “A lot of the younger girls have said they’re frightened of me,” he confessed to New York Times Magazine contributor Anthony Carthew. Then, in November of 1966, during a post-“Unusual” slump, Mills made the discovery that would relaunch Jones’s career: the kids weren’t the real market—it was the adults. Armed with this insight, Mills stuck Jones in a tux, added slightly more mature songs to the singer’s repertoire, and by Christmas, “Green, Green Grass of Home” was at the top of the charts, signaling the beginning of a panty-waving saga.
Once critics got past the skin-tight pants and romantic, coal-mining background, they tended to agree that Tom Jones had one phenomenal singing voice. “Mr. Jones is both a showman and, all things considered, an unusually good singer,” wrote New York Times contributor John S. Wilson. Mark Shivas, also of the Times, called Jones’s gift “a big, throaty, sexy sound that wallops the studio wall with a satisfying thud.” Time, in fact, reported that “when Jones growls through a song in a black, bluesy style, the emotion seems to come more from the throat than the heart.” And Betty Baer of Look assessed, “Tom’s musical style is the confessional moan, the raw gut feeling associated with the American soul sound.”
It’s not surprising, then, that Jones’s early influences included blues and R & B greats like Solomon Burke, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, and Brook Benton. Jerry Lee Lewis’s music planted the seed of rock and roll in Jones’s heart. These musicians so impressed themselves on Jones’s style that many listeners thought he was black. “There was this disk jockey,” Jones told Shivas, “who was amazed because I was white and said I should keep my face off the record sleeves because otherwise I’d lose the colored audience I’d built up and the sales would drop. But of course I didn’t. I was christened ‘our blue-eyed soul brother,’ which I liked. It was a fantastic compliment.” Even Elvis Presley thought Jones was black when he heard “What’s New Pussycat?” The first thing Presley asked on meeting Jones was “How the hell do you sing like that?” The two became close friends and when “Green, Green Grass of Home” became a hit for Jones, Presley frequently called radio stations to request it. Presley also warmed up his voice with Jones’s “Delilah” before his own performances.
By the end of 1970 Jones had sold over 30 million discs worldwide. He continued his success throughout the early 1970s, with hits like “Delilah,” “What’s New Pussycat?,” “Help Yourself,” “Never Fall in Love Again,” and “Without Love.” With superstardom came This Is Tom Jones, the hour-long, prime-time British musical variety television show, the American rights to which were acquired by ABC-TV, making Jones the first British entertainer to star in a regularly scheduled American television show. This Is Tom Jones was a colossal hit for two seasons and touted a varied and impressive list of guests ranging from musical stars The Who, Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley, to actors Anne Bancroft, Peter Sellers, and Kirk Douglas. Jones’s TV garb—velvet tuxedos, shirts open to the waist—not to mention his undulating hips, catapulted him into the realm of love god.
Unfortunately, as Jones did not write his own material, he was dependent on good music finding him. “That stopped happening in the ‘70s,” he admitted to New York Times contributor John Marchese. Instead, he relied on his hits and began a heavy touring schedule with long engagements on the Las Vegas circuit. It was during this period that “the underwear thing,” as Jones calls it, began. Never before had the voice and gyrations of an entertainer prompted women to remove their underwear and toss it up on stage, often along with their room keys—or themselves. Mortified husbands were constantly retrieving their lust-struck wives. Although it embarrassed him, Jones could not ignore the invariable panty inundation and eventually worked it into his routine, wiping his brow with a lacy morsel and flinging it back to the proud owner. Until 1987 Jones’s professional life continued in this fashion, with newer generations of music fans saying things like “Tom Jones? Oh yeah, he’s that underwear guy in Las Vegas.” Press coverage of his career all but ceased, and his fans got older. Even the singer’s own publicity materials omit nearly 20 years of his life.
But in 1987 Jones recorded “A Boy From Nowhere” for a musical called Matador. When it hit Number Two on the British charts, Tom Jones was suddenly a name that excited the younger generation. With numerous demands by teens that London dance clubs play “It’s Not Unusual,” Jones was back. The clincher was the 1988 release of “Kiss,” a cover version of the Prince song by British avant-garde techno-pop group The Art of Noise; the cut featured Jones on vocals. Heavy rotation of the video incarnation of “Kiss” on U.S. cable stations MTV and VH1 introduced Jones to an entirely new audience. Requests for him to appear began flowing in, including, in 1991, a benefit for Kurdish refugees broadcast by MTV and the 30th anniversary celebration for Amnesty International. Jones was suddenly working with top young performers from both the U.K. and the U.S.
Strong influences at this time were Jones’s son Mark and daughter-in-law Donna. In 1986, after the death of manager Gordon Mills, Mark Woodward became his father’s manager, with Donna acting as publicist; this young couple encouraged Jones to sing newer material. Jones’s longtime wife, Linda, had always been an encouragement as well, although she has kept a decidedly low profile throughout the years. Jones confessed to New York Times contributor Shivas, “She doesn’t like to be in the audience watching my hips move around. She knows the effect it has on her and she doesn’t want to see it having that effect on other girls too.” Jones simply attributes the longevity of his marriage to love. “When you really love one another,” he told Details interviewer Anka Radakovich, “you become part of one another.”
Jones looks at most everything with that easy-going simplicity. Of his current resurgence in the entertainment business, he said nonchalantly to Rick Marin of TV Guide, “If you’ve been around a long time, you get rediscovered.” He never did stop performing, and when everything old became new again, Tom Jones became hip. In 1992, The Right Time —six half-hour television segments produced for the national independent ITV network in the U.K.—had Jones singing and chatting again with pop music’s most current acts, including Erasure, Lyle Lovett, Stevie Wonder, and Al Jarreau. When the show aired in February of 1993 on VH1, Jones flew once more into the American spotlight, reestablishing the mark he’d made with “Kiss.” This success did not surprise his die-hard fans, like plastics manufacturer Burk Zanft. “I remember when Tom filled Madison Square Garden,” Zanft reminisced to New York Times contributor Marchese. “He was as big as Michael Jackson back then.”
Jones still relies on available material, but his ear is perfectly tuned to what’s new. His versatility keeps his singing fresh. “I like all types of music,” he told Marin. “But I’m not copying, I put my own sound on it. It’s all Tom Jones.” He’s made British pop group EMF’s “Unbelievable” his own—indeed, it has become Jones’s ‘90s theme song, replacing “It’s Not Unusual.” And the eternal sex appeal? He explained to Marin, “It’s the sound of [my] voice. It’s a sexy sound. [I] don’t have to leap all over the place. Sinatra has always been a sexy singer and he’s never really done much gyrating.”
Since the U.S. debut of The Right Time, Jones has been all over American television. He’s played himself on prime-time’s The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and was even featured on the Fox network’s animated hit The Simpsons. Popular comedian/performance artist/actress Sandra Bernhard has said that she felt destined to work with Jones after catching his Las Vegas show and realized her destiny when he made an appearance on her HBO special Sandra After Dark. Their “Unbelievable” duet was so risqué that even the crotch-grabbing, hip-rolling Jones was embarrassed. Bernhard didn’t seem to notice, though. “He’s just such a pro,” she recalled to Marin. “And he has never lost his sex appeal.”
Today Jones is making friends everywhere he goes. Pop singer Sting is one; Jones was the surprise hit of Sting’s 1993 Carmgie Hall concert to benefit his rain forest preservation projects. Afterward, actor Dustin Hoffman told Jones that when he opens his mouth to sing it seems like an animal jumped out. Some of the “lads,” as Jones call his new young friends—including Jason Priestly and Luke Perry of Fox’s popular Beverly Hills 90210—have been known to fly to Las Vegas for performances. Jones has also bonded with ribald interviewer Howard Stern, who often rivals Bernhard in his outrageousness.
Meanwhile Tom Jones is loving it all—the late nights, the parties, the performances. For ten months of the year he tours the U.S. and abroad—tackling everything from pop standards to gospel to country—and taking every opportunity to embrace new songs, new genres, and new fans. “I just wanted to make records,” he told Marchese. “New records. I don’t want people to say, ‘He started to make some noise again and then just faded away.’” In mid-1993 Jones signed a recording contract with Interscope Records. Though he has mellowed somewhat onstage, he still breaks into an occasional grind, sending audiences—men and women of every age—into peals of delight. He mused to Marchese, “I just do what I do. If people think it’s hip, well, thank God.”
Along Came Jones, Decca, 1965.
What’s New Pussycat, Parrot, 1965.
Atomic Jones, Parrot, 1965.
It’s Not Unusual, Parrot, 1965.
From the Heart, Decca, 1966.
Green, Green Grass of Home, Decca, 1967.
Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings, Parrot, 1967.
13 Smash Hits, Decca, 1967.
Tom Jones Live at the Talk of the Town, Parrot, 1967.
Delilah, Decca, 1968.
The Tom Jones Fever Zone, Parrot, 1968.
Help Yourself, Decca, 1968.
In Aid of World’s Refugees, London, 1969.
Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas, Parrot, 1969.
Tom, Parrot, 1970.
This Is Tom Jones, Parrot, 1970.
I (Who Have Nothing), Parrot, 1970.
Tom Jones Sings She’s a Lady, Parrot, 1971.
Tom Jones Live at Caesar’s Palace, Parrot, 1971.
Tom Jones Close Up, Parrot, 1972.
Body and Soul of Tom Jones, Parrot, 1973.
Tom Jones’Greatest Hits, Parrot, 1973.
Somethin’ Bout You Baby I Like, Parrot, 1974.
Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do, Parrot, 1975.
Tom Jones 10th Anniversary Album, Tee Vee, 1975.
The Classic Tom Jones, Epic, 1977.
Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow, Epic, 1977.
Tom Is Love, Epic, 1977.
What a Night, Epic, 1977.
The Country Side of Tom Jones, Parrot, 1978.
Rescue Me, MCA, 1979.
Do You Take This Man, EMI, 1979.
Darlin’, Polygram, 1981.
Country, Polygram, 1982.
Don’t Let Our Dreams Die Young, Polygram, 1983.
Love Is on the Radio, Polygram, 1984.
Tender Loving Care, Polygram, 1985.
Matador, Epic/CBS, 1987.
Move Closer, Jive/RCA, 1989.
Carrying a Torch, Chrysalis, 1991.
The Complete Tom Jones, London UK, 1993.
Velvet + Steel = Gold: Tom Jones 1964-69, Deram, 1993.
(Contributor) The Christmas Album, Interscope, 1993.
Coronet, December 1969.
Details, My 1993.
Life, September 18, 1970.
Look, November 4, 1969.
National Observer, July 21, 1969.
Newsweek, January 20, 1969.
New York Post, June 7, 1969.
New York Times, February 8, 1969; March 9, 1969; June 14, 1970; June 15, 1971; March 8, 1974; April 7, 1974; May 17, 1993.
New York Times Magazine, November 14, 1965.
Rolling Stone, May 16, 1991.
Time, July 11, 1969.
TV Guide, January 24, 1970; February 20, 1993.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Tom Jones Enterprises press biography, 1993.
"Jones, Tom." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jones-tom
"Jones, Tom." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jones-tom
Director: Tony Richardson
Production: Woodfall; Eastmancolor; running time: 128 minutes; length: 11,565 feet. Released 1963.
Producer: Tony Richardson; screenplay: John Osborne, from the novel by Henry Fielding; screenplay editor: Sewell Stokes; photography: Walter Lassally; 2nd unit photography: Manny Wynn; editor: Antony Gibbs; sound: Don Challis; production designer: Ralph Brinton; art director: Ted Marshall; music: John Addison; narrator: Michael MacLiammoir.
Cast: Albert Finney (Tom Jones); Susannah York (Sophie Western); Hugh Griffith (Squire Western); Edith Evans (Miss Western); Joan Greenwood (Lady Bellaston); Diane Cilento (Molly Seagrim); George Devine (Squire Allworthy); Joyce Redman (Jenny Jones); David Warner (Blifil); David Tomlinson (Lord Fellamar); Rosalind Knight (Mrs. Fitzpatrick); Peter Bull (Thwackum); John Moffatt (Square); Patsy Rowlands (Honour); Wilfrid Lawson (Black George); Jack MacGowran (Partridge); Freda Jackson (Mrs. Seagrim); Julian Glover (Lt. Northerton); Rachel Kempson (Bridget Allworthy); George A. Cooper (Fitzpatrick); Angela Baddeley (Mrs. Wilkins); Avis Bunnage (Landlady at George Inn); Rosalind Atkinson (Mrs. Miller); James Cairncross (Parson Supple); Redmond Phillips (Lawyer Dowling); Mark Dignam (Lieutenant); Lynn Redgrave (Susan); Jack Stewart (MacLachlan); Michael Brennan (Jailer).
Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score, and Best Screenplay. British Film Academy Awards for Best British Film, Best Film from any source, and Best Screenplay.
Osborne, John, Tom Jones: A Film Script, London, 1964.
Bull, Peter, I Say, Look Here, London, 1965.
Manvell, Roger, New Cinema in Britain, London, 1969.
Walker, Alexander, Hollywood, England: The British Film Industryin the 60s, London, 1975.
Klein, Michael, and Gillian Parker, editors, The English Novel and theMovies, New York, 1981.
Barr, Charles, editor, All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema, London, 1986.
Hill, John, Sex, Class, and Realism: British Cinema 1956–63, London, 1986.
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Battestin, Martin C., "Osborne's Tom Jones: Adapting a Classic," in Man and the Movies, edited by W.R. Robinson, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1967.
Villelaur, Anne, "Tony Richardson," in Dossiers du cinéma 1, Paris, 1971.
City Limits (London), 11 February 1983.
"Albert Finney," in Ciné Revue (Paris), 30 August 1984.
Van Gelder, L., "At the Movies," in New York Times, vol. 138, C6, 15 September 1989.
Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 475, October 1991.
Walker, A., "Letters: Tom Jones at Home," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 3, December 1993.
Holden, Stephen, "An Angry Man Found Himself in Tom Jones," in The New York Times, 21 August 1994.
* * *
Tom Jones is one of those films of ambiguous national status, registered as British, and made by a British cast and crew, but funded entirely by the London office of United Artists. As such, it is one of the films on which is negotiated the shift from the "committed social realism" of the early 1960s British cinema to the mainly American-funded "swinging sixties" films of the middle years of the decade. At first sight, being a costume melodrama (and an adaptation of a classic novel) set in the eighteenth century, Tom Jones would seem to be aberrant in relation to both the earlier films, and the different contemporaneity of time, place and energy of the glamorous and eccentric pop culture fantasies of the mid 1960s. But the film was a huge success, accruing four Oscars, garnering much critical acclaim, and doing record business at the box-office. To some extent, the success of this film paved the way for subsequent films to work in the same free-wheeling, light-hearted and sexually "permissive" mode.
Richardson was quoted at the time as saying "This is our holiday film. We thought it was time we made a really uncommitted film. No social significance for once. No contemporary problems to lay bare, just a lot of colourful, sexy fun" (Daily Mail, 2.7.62). Even so, realism was still a key term in the publicity and critical reviews surrounding the film. As the Daily Mail's reviewer put it, "a holiday film it may be, but the master of screen realism is not letting glamour run amok on that account." Authenticity was assumed to be guaranteed by shooting entirely on location, and by seeking out "correct" period details in setting, props and costumes. Thus much of the power of the film depends upon the elaboration of such narratively redundant detail, fleshing out a richly detailed space within which the drama can unfold.
The reputation of the production team was important too. Richardson himself was a founder of and a prolific producer and director for Woodfall, one of the key companies in the film style and independent mode of production that characterised Britain's new wave. Osborne, who adapted Fielding's novel for the screen, was another of Woodfall's founders, and author of two of the plays that the company had adapted earlier, Look Back In Anger and The Entertainer. Finney, who played the lead role, had done the same in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. And Lassally, the cameraman who had produced the gritty look of A Taste of Honey and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, now used similar techniques for this period recreation: having attempted to achieve a realistic effect at one level through the authenticity of period detail, Lassally and Richardson pushed for a different kind of realism at another level by using contemporary documentary camera techniques wherever possible, including shooting on location, using light-weight hand-held cameras, comparatively fast film-stock, and natural light.
Without this veneer of surface realism and the cultural status of Fielding's novel, it seems unlikely that this spectacular and excessive period costume piece, with few of the moral or social commitments of earlier Woodfall films, could have been so easily accommodated by the British critics of the period. And, in fact, some of the reviewers of the film suggested that Tom Jones was far more socially relevant (because of its satire and its plea for tolerance) than the "superficially contemporary" films that had preceded it.
It is perhaps the question of style which enables the critic in retrospect to establish as strong a degree of repetition as of differentiation between the pre- and post-Tom Jones films. As with Richardson's previous two films, both canonised as realist films, Tom Jones displays an eclectic use of non-classical devices, many of them derived from the French nouvelle vague. Alongside relatively classical camera set-ups and scene construction, we find heavily stylised devices for shot- or scene-transitions; an obtrusive foregrounding of non-diegetic music; occasional use of under-cranked camera to speed up action; a particularly self-conscious use of montage sequences; and so on. But perhaps the most famous of Tom Jones's stylistic touches is the frequent use of direct address to camera and other means of establishing a subjective rapport between spectator and film (justified as a means of reproducing the narrative voice of the novel). There is much debate amongst critics as to whether this style is "organic" to the film, or whether the film has been invaded by merely disconcerting camera trickery (which was the view of the more "serious" British critics). Either way, it was this type of pop-art modernism that characterised many of the subsequent British films of the mid 1960s.
"Tom Jones." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tom-jones
"Tom Jones." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tom-jones
1. Comic opera in 3 acts by German, lib. by A. M. Thompson and R. Courtneidge based on Fielding. Prod. Manchester and London 1907.
2. Opera in 3 acts by Stephen Oliver to his own lib. based on Fielding's novel (1749). Comp. 1974–5. Prod. Snape 1976 (EMT), Nottingham and London 1976.
3. Comic opera in 3 acts by Philidor, to lib. by A. A. H. Poinsinet and B. Davesne based on Fielding. Prod. Paris 1765, rev. with lib. altered by M. J. Sedaine, Paris 1766. Modern revivals: Cambridge 1971, London (Fr. Inst.) 1978, Los Angeles 1980.
"Tom Jones." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tom-jones
"Tom Jones." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/tom-jones