How it all began

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Fame and fortune didn’t come easy for Tom Jones. In fact, how a coal miner’s son became a worldwide singing sensation, now on his 53rd year as a performer, was by accident.

Life was a struggle for Jones as a boy, born to working-class parents in Wales as Thomas Woodward in 1940. When he was 12, Jones went down with tuberculosis and was bedridden for two years. When he was 16, Jones got married to his pregnant girlfriend Melinda Trenchard. Their son Mark was born a month after the wedding. Out of school, Jones worked in a variety of jobs to feed his family. He was employed in a paper mill, went door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners and did odd jobs as a builder’s laborer. What kept Jones busy and food on the table was work in a glove factory, bringing in two pounds a week.

Looking for ways to earn extra money, Jones found his way on stage when a band called the Senators called him in to replace AWOL frontman Tommy Redman in 1963. It was for a show at the YMCA in his Wales hometown of Pontypridd and Jones, who earned a reputation as a booming vocalist in family gatherings, weddings and school choir events, stepped in without hesitation. He wasn’t Tom Jones yet and went by Tommy Scott, for a while as Tiger Tom, when the Senators backed up the British Invasion band Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas in a local bill.

A Welsh songwriting pair Raymond Godfrey and John Glastonbury saw potential in the Senators and arranged to produce seven demo tracks to market to London record labels. The tapes were brought to impresario Joe Meek who wasn’t impressed. Eventually, another producer Gordon Mills took an interest in the Senators and gave the group a break. To start with a clean slate, the Senators got renamed the Playboys then the Squires and Tommy Scott became Tom Jones after the hit movie of the era.

Jones and the Squires bombed out with their debut single Chills And Fever in 1964. Mills and composer Les Reed then wrote a song It’s Not Unusual for rising star Sandie Shaw as a follow-up to her hit There’s Always Something There To Remind Me. But Jones somehow got into the picture. He was invited by producer Peter Sullivan to the Decca studio to record It’s Not Unusual and cut it after only two takes with the Squires playing minimal roles. Led Zeppelin guitar wizard Jimmy Page was a session man on the single. When it hit the airwaves in 1965, the record zoomed to No. 1 in the UK charts and stayed in the ladder for 14 weeks. The Squires later disbanded and only Jones remained in the spotlight.

Jones was quickly marketed as a solo vocalist reinforced by a gutsy style and a sexy image complete with a hair ribbon. He was subsequently transformed into a more mature, tuxedoed belter. Along the way, the hits wouldn’t stop. Green Green Grass of Home topped the UK charts for seven weeks and sold over a million copies in the Isles alone. I’ll Never Fall In Love Again went to No. 2. Delilah, She’s A Lady, What’s New Pussycat?, Thunderball and Help Yourself were other big hits.

Mills took Jones’ career to a higher level and negotiated for his own transatlantic TV show This Is Tom Jones, which went on from 1969 to 1971. Jones earned $9M for the three-year gig. By then, Jones was a fixture in Las Vegas where he made his debut in 1967 and performed at least a week every year up to 2011. His success in the US led to seven performances on the Ed Sullivan Show and guest appearances on several talk TV programs.

In 1970, Jones began to tour the US extensively on a tax avoidance scheme, according to writer Bill Harry. His first contract was for 34 one-nighters, paying two million pounds. He eventually settled in the US in 1974, buying actor Dean Martin’s mansion in Los Angeles for $500,000. When Mills died in 1986, Jones’ son Mark took over as his manager.

Jones, a Grammy awardee in 1966 as Best New Artist, sold his Los Angeles home to actor Nicolas Cage for $6.469M in 1998 and in 2009, decided to relocate to the UK with his family. He has remained married to his wife despite admitting to sleeping with 250 groupies a year in his heyday and fathering a son Jonathan in an affair with model Katherine Berkery. Jones’ flings with Supremes singer Mary Wilson, former Miss World Marjorie Wallace, TV host Charlotte Laws and actress Cassandra (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) Peterson were well-publicized yet his marriage has endured through the turbulent years.

For his achievements in bringing honor to the UK, Jones was bestowed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1999 and knighted in 2006. In his incredible musical career, he has compiled 36 Top 40 hits in the UK and 19 in the US with his 1999 album Reload, featuring the single Sex Bomb, a huge four million seller.  

Writer Dave McAleer said, “Jones’ appeal crossed age, sex and racial barriers.” Dionne Warwick once told Jones “I can’t believe you’re white” after hearing his soulful renditions. Motown’s Mary Wells said, “I never thought I’d hear a white man sing like that.” Jones said, “I’m glad I sound like that because I love R&B and I don’t mean what they call R&B in Britain, I mean the real thing.” The late Nat King Cole was a Jones fan and said, “I love Tom Jones’ style… he’s a real singer.”

Jones’ global appeal has also brought him to the sports arena. In 2009, he was in the ring to sing God Save The Queen before Manny Pacquiao’s fight against Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas.

Now at 75, Jones still swivels his hips and sings with the same soulful style. His hair has turned white but his pants are as tight as ever, his body like it was in the ‘60s. They don’t throw knickers at him on stage anymore as the giggling girls of the ‘60s are now matured matrons. Jones, however, hasn’t lost his touch or pitch. He’ll perform at the Smart Araneta Coliseum tonight and that’s a can’t-miss date with one of the surviving legends of pop music.

(Tom Jones Live In Manila is presented by Live Nation and Ovation Productions. It is presented by Fox Channels, The Philippine STAR, Manila Bulletin and BusinessWorld. It is also supported by Retro DCG FM 105.9, ABS-CBN, MYX, Astroplus, Philippine Entertainment Portal (PEP), Philippine Concerts.com, G/ST, Legato, Manila Concert Scene, When In Manila, MNL, Odyssey Music & Video, Crossover 105.1 Manila, Hi Pangga!, 106.7 Energy FM, Wish 1075, Inquirer.net, 97.9 Home Radio, DWWW 774, 96.3 Easy Rock, Barangay LS 97.1, Philstar Global, ABS-CBN News.com, Pinas FM 95.5, Soundcheck MB, Clickthecity.com and Rappler. Tickets are priced at P8,185, P6,075, P5,020, P2,960, P1,750 and P930 and are available  through www.Ticketnet.com.)

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