TOM JONES, OBE, known simply as ‘Jones the Voice’ to his faithful army of Welsh fans, began his singing career with a string of top-10 hits in the mid-1960s. He has toured regularly ever since, with appearances in Las Vegas across six decades.
His performing range has included pop, R&B, show tunes, country, dance, soul and gospel. In 2008, the New York Times called Jones a musical “shape shifter”, who could “slide from soulful rasp to pop croon, with a voice as husky as it was pretty”.
Jones has sold over 100 million records, with 36 top 40 hits in the UK and 19 in the US, including It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat, the theme song for the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball, Green, Green Grass of Home, Delilah, She’s a Lady, Kiss and Sex Bomb.
Jones made his acting debut playing the lead role in the 1979 television film Pleasure Cove. He played himself in Tim Burton’s 1996 film Mars Attacks!. In 1970, he received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy nomination for hosting the television series This Is Tom Jones.
Jones received a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1966, an MTV Video Music Award in 1989, as well as two Brit Awards: Best British Male in 2000 and the Outstanding Contribution to Music award in 2003.
He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to music in 2005.
Jones experienced a resurgence in notability in the 2010s due to his coaching role on the television talent show The Voice UK from 2012.
Jones was born Thomas John Woodward, at Treforest, Pontypridd, on June 7, 1940, the son of a coal miner. He attended Wood Road Infants School, Wood Road Junior School and Pontypridd Central Secondary Modern School.
He began singing at an early age; he would regularly sing at family gatherings, weddings and in his school choir. Jones did not like school or sports, but gained confidence through his singing talent.
At 12, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Many years later, he said: “I spent two years in bed recovering. It was the worst time of my life.” During convalescence, he could do little else but listen to music and draw.
Jones’s bluesy singing style developed out of the sound of American soul music. His early influences included blues, R&B and rock and roll singers Little Richard, Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
In March 1957, Jones married his high school girlfriend, Linda Trenchard, when they were expecting a child together, both aged 16. The couple’s son, Mark, was born in the month following their wedding. To support his young family, Jones took a job working in a glove factory and was later employed in construction.
Jones, whose voice has been described as a ‘full-throated, robust baritone’, became the frontman in 1963 for Tommy Scott and the Senators, a Welsh beat group. They soon gained a local following and reputation in south Wales.
The group continued to play gigs at dance halls and working men’s clubs in south Wales, unitl, one night at the Top Hat in Cwmtillery, Jones was spotted by Gordon Mills, a London-based manager who also originally hailed from south Wales. Mills became Jones’s manager, took the young singer to London, and also renamed him ‘Tom Jones’, to exploit the popularity of the Academy Award-winning 1963 film.
Eventually, Mills got Jones a recording contract with Decca. His first single, Chills and Fever, was released in late 1964. It did not chart, but the follow-up, It’s Not Unusual, became an international hit after offshore pirate radio station Radio Caroline promoted it.
The following year was the most prominent of Jones’s career, making him one of the most popular vocalists of the British Invasion period. In early 1965, It’s Not Unusual reached number one in the United Kingdom and the top 10 in the United States.
During 1965, Mills secured a number of film themes for Jones to record, including the theme songs for the film What’s New Pussycat? (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) and also for the Bond film Thunderball.
In 1966, Jones’s popularity began to slip somewhat, causing Mills to reshape the singer’s image into that of a crooner. Jones also began to sing material that appealed to a wider audience, such as the country hit Green, Green Grass of Home. The strategy worked, and Jones returned to the top of the charts in the UK and began hitting the top 40 again in the US.
For the remainder of the decade, he scored a string of hits on both sides of the Atlantic, including I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, I’m Coming Home and Delilah, each of which reached number two in the UK chart.
In 1967, Jones performed in Las Vegas for the first time, at the Flamingo. His performances and style of dress became part of his stage act and increasingly featured his open, half-unbuttoned shirts and tight trousers. He soon chose to record less, instead concentrating on his lucrative live performances.
Jones and his idol Elvis Presley met in 1965 at the Paramount film stage, when Elvis was filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Jones recalls Presley singing his song as he walked towards him on set. They became good friends, spending more and more time together in Las Vegas and duetting until the early hours at Presley’s private suite.
Jones played in Las Vegas at least one week each year until 2011.
He had an internationally successful television variety show titled This Is Tom Jones from 1969 to 1971. The Associated Television-produced show was worth a reported US$9,000,000 (equivalent to about $57m today) to Jones over three years.
On April 26,1970, CBS released the television special Raquel! directed by David Winters, in which he was a guest. It starred Raquel Welch, and other guests included Bob Hope and John Wayne. It was filmed in London, Paris, Acapulco, Mexico City, Yucatan, Big Sur, and Los Angeles and featured lavish production numbers. Welch and Jones combined musical and comedic talents on classic rock ‘n’ roll standards of the era.
In the 1970s, Jones toured with the female singing groups Quiet Elegance and the Blossoms as his backing groups. He had a number of hit singles, including She’s a Lady, Till, and The Young New Mexican Puppeteer. He had a big hit in 1976 with Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow, which went to number one on the US country chart.
In 1979, Jones made his acting debut in Pleasure Cove, an ABC television film which was an unsuccessful pilot for a potential television series along the lines of Love Boat and Fantasy Island.
In the early 1980s, Jones started to record more country music. From 1980 to 1986, he had nine songs in the US country top 40. His manager Gordon Mills died of cancer on July 29, 1986 and Jones’s son Mark became his manager.
In 1987, Tom Jones re-entered the singles chart with A Boy From Nowhere, which went to number two in the UK. The following year, he covered Prince’s Kiss with Art of Noise. The song reached number five in the UK and number 31 in the US. The video for Kiss was played frequently on MTV and VH1, and won the MTV Video Music Award for Breakthrough Video.
Jones received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989, located at 6608 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, in front of Frederick’s of Hollywood. In 1992, he made his first appearance at the UK’s Glastonbury Festival, and in 1993 he appeared as himself in episodes of two popular US sitcoms, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Simpsons.
In 1996, he appeared as himself in Tim Burton’s ensemble science-fiction comedy film Mars Attacks!. A scene in the film features Jones performing on stage when aliens attack and he manages to escape with a gun.
In 1999, Jones released the album Reload, a collection of cover duets with artists such as the Cardigans, Natalie Imbruglia, Cerys Matthews, Van Morrison, Mousse T, Portishead, Stereophonics and Robbie Williams. The album topped the UK charts and sold over four million copies worldwide. The single Sex Bomb was released in early 2000 and became the album’s biggest single, reaching number three in the UK singles chart.
US President Bill Clinton invited Jones to perform on New Year’s Eve at the 2000 millennium celebrations in Washington DC. In 2000, Jones garnered a number of honours for his work, including a Brit Awards for Best British Male and Outstanding Contribution to Music in 2003.
On May 28, 2005, in celebration of his upcoming 65th birthday, Jones returned to his homeland to perform a concert in Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd, before an audience of about 20,000. This was his first performance in Pontypridd since 1964.
That same year, the BBC reported that Jones was Wales’s wealthiest entertainer, having amassed a fortune of £175,000,000.
Jones, who had been awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1999, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 at Buckingham Palace for his services to music. After receiving a knighthood, Jones stated: “When you first come into show business and get a hit record, it is the start of something. As time goes by it just gets better. This is the best thing I have had. It’s a wonderful feeling, a heady feeling.”
On July 1, 2007, Jones was among the artists who performed at Wembley Stadium at the Concert for Diana, joined on stage by guitarist Joe Perry of Aerosmith and soul singer Joss Stone.
A boxing fan, Jones has performed national anthems before a number of boxing matches, singing ahead of the Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton fight in 2007, the Bernard Hopkins-Joe Calzaghe match-up in 2008 and the Manny Pacquiao-Hatton fight in 2009.
In 2008, he released 24 Hours on S-Curve Records, his first album of new material to be issued in the United States for over 15 years. Jones, who was still performing over 200 dates a year as he approached his 70th birthday, set out on a world tour to promote the album.
“The fire is still in me. Not to be an oldie, but a goodie. I want to be a contender”, Jones said.
He was certainly still going strong when, in March 2009, Jones went to the top of the UK music charts for the third time in his career with a cover of Islands in the Stream, sung with Ruth Jones, Rob Brydon and Robin Gibb, who co-wrote the original with his brothers Barry and Maurice. The record, which was inspired by the song having featured in the BBC’s hit sitcom Gavin & Stacey, was released in aid of Comic Relief.
By the time, in August 2010, that Praise & Blame had debuted at number two on the UK album chart, Jones had sold in excess of 100 million records.
Jones released a single in March 2012, produced by former White Stripes frontman Jack White, called Evil. The single was first made available through independent record shops in 7″ vinyl format. An exclusive three-coloured vinyl was also sold at only one shop – Spillers Records in Cardiff. The shop, from which Jones bought records as a schoolboy in the 1950s and early 1960s, was founded in 1894 and is listed in Guinness World Records as the oldest record shop in the world.
Jones received a huge upsurge of popularity among a new generation of fans when he became a coach on the BBC talent show The Voice UK in 2012, along with will.i.am, Jessie J and Danny O’Donoghue. He mentored Leanne Mitchell to win the first series and returned to coach in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.
In the summer of 2012, Jones performed at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in front of Buckingham Palace, singing Delilah and Mama Told Me Not to Come and then at the V Festival in Staffordshire.
In September 2015, Jones announced the long-awaited release of his album Long Lost Suitcase through Virgin/EMI, the third in a trilogy of albums, following Praise & Blame (2010) and Spirit in the Room (2012). The album’s track titles are interwoven into the chapters of his autobiography Over the Top and Back, released at the same time.
In January 2021 Jones announced his forthcoming covers album Surrounded by Time, alongside the release of a new single, his rendition of Todd Snider’s Talking Reality Television Blues. The album, his 41st studio album, was released three months later.
Jones remained married to Linda until her death on April 10, 2016, despite his many well-publicised infidelities. One affair, with model Katherine Berkery, resulted in the birth of a son.
Following the election of a Labour government in 1974, Jones became a tax exile to avoid a 98 per cent income tax. In June 1976, he purchased the red-brick mansion at 363 Copa De Oro Road in the East Gate Old Bel Air in Los Angeles from Dean Martin for $500,000. He sold it to Nicolas Cage in 1998 for a reported $6.469 million.
Tom Jones, selected discography
Along Came Jones (1965)
What’s New Pussycat? (1965)
A-tom-ic Jones (1966)
From the Heart (1966)
Green, Green Grass of Home (1967)
Help Yourself (1968)
Mr. Jones (2002)
Tom Jones & Jools Holland (2004)
24 Hours (2008)
Praise & Blame (2010)
Spirit in the Room (2012)
Long Lost Suitcase (2015)
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