Tom Jones, The Unusual Star With The Biggest Voice: Stories
Tom Jones performing in Atlanta in 1977. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Roaring out of Wales with a show-stopping baritone, Tom Jones became famous for songs like "It's Not Unusial" and "What's New Pussycat?" A contemporary of '60s rock icons like the Beatles and Rolling Stones -- and technically a member of the British Invasion himself -- Jones took a different career path, becoming a sex symbol, Vegas act, and TV variety show host. Jones' '70s image, with open shirt, hairy chest, and extremely tight trousers, was over-the-top, but appealing at the time. After all, if you're showered with panties every time you take the stage, someone must think you're doing it right.
The Son Of A Coal Miner Rises To Fame
Tom Jones was born in Potyyprid, South Wales in 1940, to a father who worked in the coal mines. They feared he might be stillborn because he did not cry when he was born, so his grandmother held him by his ankles, dunked him in a bucket of cold water, and then swung him around over her head. After this auspicious beginning, he dropped out of school at 15 and sang in nightclubs while doing manual labor in a glove factory and construction during the day. In Wales, he sang R&B covers with a band he led called Tommy Scott and the Senators. At that point, Jones, who had been born Thomas Woodward, had the stage name Tommy Scott. He lied to his manager, Gordon Mill, telling him that he was a 22 year-old single coal miner. In reality, he was 24, the son of a coal miner, and had been married since 17. He had a son, Mark, with Linda before they married in 1957.Once he found a manager and launched his career in 1964, he changed his stage name to Tom Jones and recorded his debut album. Gordon Mill chose the name, hoping to cash in on the popularity of a 1963 movie of the same name. His first hit came with “It’s Not Unusual.”
He Didn't Become A Star Singing The Songs He Loved
Because Jones did not write his own songs, he had to perform the songs that came his way. They were not necessarily the songs he wanted to perform, as he grew up listening to artists such as Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. He would have preferred to sing soul music, which was emerging at the time.
The Creation Of An Image And Its Effects
In 1966, he won the Best Newcomer Grammy, and then in 1967, he had his first Vegas appearance. His hand gestures emerged with a purpose: to keep the band in sync as he performed. At this point, his tight pants-wearing, chest exposed persona also emerged as a way to play up his sex appeal. He also heeded some advice: to focus on one woman in the crowd as he sang. His choice of black pants, however, was more for practicality, as the dark color hid his sweat while he was performing. That sex appeal would have consequences. During performances, women started throwing their panties at him while he performed, leading him to become known as a “panty magnet,” a moniker that held true in more ways than one. Despite the fact that he was married to his wife Linda from the time that they were teenagers until she died from cancer in 2016, he did not remain faithful. According to Jones, he slept with up to 250 women a year when he was at the height of his fame. He enjoyed performing more than he enjoyed recording, and he appeared in Vegas for at least one week a year until 2011.
Becoming Friends With The King
He encouraged Elvis to perform in Vegas. As a teenager, he had told his friends that he was going to meet Elvis one day, and his friends didn’t believe him. It was, in fact, Elvis who suggested they meet, and they did, at the Paramount Film studio. When they first met in 1965, Elvis greeted Jones by singing “With These Hands,” which was Jones’s most recent hit. They became close friends, and Jones was one of Elvis’s confidantes. They would stay up late at night, singing each other’s songs. Elvis would sing Jones’s song “Delilah” at concerts after that, and the pair even vacationed together in Hawaii.
He Becomes A Television Host
After his first Vegas performance, he started to host This Is Tom Jones as a way to meet the musicians he admired and to broaden his own music. The show lasted from 1969 to 1971, and he hosted performers such as Jerry Lee Lewis, who had been banned from American television.
He Reinvents Himself
As his popularity as a recording artist waned, he reinvented himself as a country singer briefly. In the ‘80s, his career took yet another turn, when he covered Prince’s “Kiss” with The Art of Noise. In 1999, he released Reload, an album of duets with artists including Van Morrison and Portishead.
Awards and Acting
He made his acting debut in the 1979 television film, Pleasure Cove and appeared as himself in Mars Attacks. He has appeared on a variety of animated shows as himself, including The Simpsons. In 2016, he was a coach on The Voice, alongside will.i.am, Jennifer Hudson, and Olly Murs. Not only did he win a Grammy in 1966, he won an MTV Video Music Award in 1989, and two Brit Awards: Best British Male in 2000 and Outstanding Contribution to Music award in 2003. He was knighted by the Queen in 2006.
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