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Tom Jones: The Voice

Tom Jones tells us about his rise to fame, his Vegas hang-times with Elvis, and how Solomon Burke crowned him The Prince Of Wales...

Born Thomas Jones Woodward in Treforest, Pontypridd, Wales in 1940 to home-maker Freda Jones and coal miner Thomas Woodward, Tom Jones got music from an early age. “In fact I was born to sing,” he says to The Blues in that deep baritone voice of his.

He got his first taste of public performance belting out The Lord’s Prayer at school, while at home he was digging rock’n’roll. Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel made him pick up the guitar and “do it myself”, and as a 15-year-old teddy boy he started performing at the working men’s clubs, dance halls, YMCAs, “lots of blues, country, folk standards, songs I’d heard on the radio”. In 1963, he joined Tommy Scott And The Senators as their frontman and recorded for Joe Meek. The following year he debuted with a cover of Chills And Fever for Decca; his breakthrough came with his second 45, It’s Not Unusual, a song penned by his manager Gordon Mills and songwriter Les Reed intended for Sandie Shaw. When she turned it down, Jones recorded it and it hit the UK No.1 and US Top 10 in 1965. The same year he recorded the theme for Clive Donner’s comedy What’s New Pussycat? and in 1966 the title theme for the James Bond film Thunderball. Green Green Grass Of Home in 1966 landed him his second No.1; 1967’s I’ll Never Fall In Love Again and I’m Coming Home plus 1968’s Delilah all made No.2.

The hits slowed down over the following decades but never quite went away; then Reload, a duets album from 1999, introduced him to a new generation and a trilogy beginning with 2010’s Praise & Blame witnessed his blues renaissance. Now Long Lost Suitcase, the final part of the trilogy, sees him working with producer, guitarist and keyboardist Ethan Johns at The Distillery in Wiltshire alongside a band including Andy Fairweather Low. Imelda May guests on a cover of the Milk Carton Kids’ Honey Honey. Elsewhere Jones stamps his authority on Jesse Fuller’s Raise A Ruckus, Billy Boy Arnold’s I Wish You Would, Willie Dixon’s Bring It On Home and Little Willie John’s Take My Love (I Want To Give It All To You). “I’ve come home,” he says.

**There’s a sense with your last three albums – 2010’s Praise & Blame, 2012’s Spirit In The Room and this year’s Long Lost Suitcase – that you’ve come full circle. Is that how you see it?
**Well, yes, because when I started out singing in south Wales, it was just me singing and playing acoustic guitar in the working men’s clubs, and I would do blues songs, country songs, skiffle songs. I used to do Wabash Cannonball, the folk song, that was a favourite, also Lonnie Donegan’s Rock Island Line. I was drawn to Tennessee Ernie Ford songs and Big Bill Broonzy, too.

How did you discover the likes of Big Bill Broonzy?
I had TB from the age of 12 to 14, and I was in bed all day and I listened to the radio. It was a lifeline and the BBC would play everything. You’d get a Mantovani symphony and then Mahalia Jackson or Big Bill Broonzy’s _Black, __Brown And White_, and then of course you could listen to Radio Luxembourg through the night. It was very exciting, you’d get these little rays of light in the middle of a programme. We couldn’t afford a guitar so my mum bought me a ukulele, and I’d play along to these songs. I still like playing the ukulele now.

Did you always want to be a singer?
Yes, I always knew I was going to be a singer. My mum said, and this is the truth, that I could sing before I could walk. I’d be making baby noises to the radio when I was crawling around the kitchen.

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