by Todd McGovern
If you grew up in America in the 1960s and 70s, it seemed like every time you turned on the TV, there was Tom Jones – the Welsh Elvis.
Whether it was the Dean Martin Comedy Hour, The Bob Hope Special or the Sunday evening Ed Sullivan Show, there was Tom Jones, one of the day’s biggest pop stars, belting out songs like “It’s Not Unusual,” “The Green, Green Grass of Home,” “What’s New, Pussycat?” or “Delilah.” Slightly cheesy, sure, but there was no denying the power of his voice. Starting out, he was a fan of American blues musicians and early rock-n-roll performers. But the material he recorded and helped his rise to fame also blurred his image. This was the man who turned down “The Long and Winding Road,” which Paul McCartney offered to him before the Beatles recorded it.
He had a popular variety show in both Britain and the U.S., This is Tom Jones and went on to become a hugely popular nightclub act, with long stints in the hotels and casinos of Las Vegas.
An incident at the Copacabana in 1969 has followed Tom Jones ever since, much to his chagrin. It was an especially hot evening in the club, as Jones performed his many hits. Someone near the front of the stage hands Tom a white linen napkin to wipe his brow. A song or two later a woman takes this act a step further, removing her panties and handing them to Jones. An entertainment columnist reports the incident and before you can say Victoria’s Secret, a nightly ritual has emerged. To his credit, Jones is rather embarrassed that this has become such a big part of his image. As he puts it, “I never expected to be a magnet for knickers!”
In recent years, Tom Jones has gotten back to his roots, recording rock, R &B and country-tinged songs on albums like 2010’s “Praise and Blame,” which included covers by Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker and Billy Joe Shaver. In 2012, he released “Evil,” a single produced by Jack White. This fall saw the release of “Long Lost Suitcase” with songs by Gillian Welch, The Rolling Stones and Hank Williams, among others, coinciding with his book, “Over The Top And Back: The Autobiography.”
One thing you can also say about Jones, he’s had great taste in duet-partners. He’s sung with everyone from Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Sammy Davis, Jr. to Jerry Lee Lewis, Janis Joplin and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Check your sarcasm at the door and have a listen to the great Tom Jones!
Todd McGovern is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY.