Welsh born singer Tom Jones has won a Grammy award and sold over 100 million records throughout his career. He is best known for his top-selling singles “What’s New Pussycat”, “Delilah”, “It’s Not Unusual” and the theme song from the James Bond film, “Thunderball.” His legendary live performances continue to inspire women of all ages to throw their bras and panties at the stage . He’s performed for Bill Clinton, and received a knighthood for his services to music in 2006 making his full title Sir Thomas John Woodward. Recently he stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk with Ron Bennington about his latest album, “Spirit in the Room.” Excerpts from the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: The voice sounds exactly the same as when you started. How the hell do you keep that going, Tom?
Tom Jones: I have no idea. I just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.
Ron Bennington: Has there ever been a time in your life—cause I know you do so many shows– have you ever struggled with it at all?
Tom Jones: Yeah, I had some polyps on my chords at one time, and they had to be taken off. But I saw it coming, because when I started off a doctor told me in like, 1965, he said, ‘you have the beginnings of a small polyp on one of your chords.’ And he said, ‘one day you’ll have to have it taken off.’ So as time when on, I thought, let’s do it, let’s get it out of the way. And it was fantastic after it was done. It was like starting all over again because my vocal chords were clean again.
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Ron Bennington: Well, it’s been such an amazing career and we brought up the fact of so many shows that you’ve done—so many albums—so many songs. And still on this one, you’re going in different directions—so many great songwriters.
Tom Jones: Yeah, well that’s what we worked on, on this one. Ethan John is the producer, said, ‘if you just tell me what songwriters you like— and we’ll listen to songs that they’ve done, and lets see if we can come up with some that have not been over done, and that you can put your own flavor to.’ And so these are the songs that we decided on.
Ron Bennington: So many greats, the “Tower of Song” by Leonard Cohen could almost be the Tom Jones theme song when you think about it.
Tom Jones: When I heard it I thought, this is unbelievable. Because “my friends are gone and my hair is gray.” Which is true. And another verse is “I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” It’s a tremendous song. If I was a better songwriter, I would write something like that. But there’s only one Leonard Cohen, that’s it.
Ron Bennington: But you can find yourself telling that story. It’s always an amazing thing when you can see somebody that can really take a song and perform it in a way that suddenly everybody feels it, or can think about it in a new way.
Tom Jones: Yes. Well that’s what I’ve tried to do. I try to make it my own. When I’m learning a song, I just get the structure of it, and I’m not listening to the person singing it– not listening to his or her phrasing too much so I can put my own into it, as long as I know the song well enough.
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Ron Bennington: It’s amazing. You’ve done, rock and roll, you’ve done country, blues, gospel. And it seems like you could walk in and out of any of those places without having it stick to your shoes.
Tom Jones: Because I’ve been influenced, I’ve listened– growing up I was listening to the BBC radio in Wales, and if I heard a country song come on, I’d think, ‘wow what is that?’ Or a gospel song, or the blues. There was something different; different to what was pop songs of the day in the late 40’s and in the 50’s. And then of course when rock and roll kicked in—when “Rock Around the Clock” came out in 1955 – that was like whew! That was it for me, then. And it just reassured me that it was the basic music that started American music off—roots music….
Ron Bennington: …right, real roots music….
Tom Jones: Exactly, and that’s where rock and roll came from. And so I’ve always been interested in it.
Ron Bennington: That short period of time right before rock and roll, it was almost like the flower was coming up, out of the ground.
Tom Jones: Well, I remember Tennessee Ernie Ford recording a bunch of boogie records. You know, catfish boogie and blackberry boogie. It was like an old rock and roll record, but it was boogie. It was country…
Ron Bennington: They weren’t even sure where to put it or what to call it and it was a lot to do with the races coming from different places, mixing together. The interesting thing is, here you are all the way on the other side of the world in Wales, and that music is touching you in the same way as if you grew up in Memphis Tennessee.
Tom Jones: Oh yeah, definitely. Well, when I first met Elvis Presley, he said, “how do you sing like that? What’s it like in Wales?” Because he felt that the reason that he sang the way he did was because he was born and brought up in that area, listening to black performers. Listening to country and rhythm and blues, and blues. That’s how he developed his style, because he grew up like that. But I said, it was just listening on the radio that did it for me.. It wasn’t so much that people—because in Wales, it’s coal mining country. So you get a lot of male voice choirs. There’s a lot of singing going on, but not like American roots music. So I was..with a Welsh sort of voice, but listening to American roots music really.
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Ron Bennington: There’s still great stuff from the tv shows that you did in the 1960’s I guess….
Tom Jones: Yes, ’69 to ’71.
Ron Bennington: ….and great performers, you and Janis Joplin singing together. Places that you didn’t get to see any of these other performers go. And some people that would not think that—- but you established amazingly quick with those people.
Tom Jones: Yeah when they asked me to do the tv shows I said, yes, okay. But I have to– you know with television they want sort of people [who are] tv friendly. Like Barbara Eden was doing “I Dream of Jeannie” so they wanted Barbara Eden on. I said fine, I can sing with Barbara Eden, as long as I can have Jerry Lee Lewis on. So it was almost like a trade off. You know they would have me singing something with Robert Goulet. But I would say, well okay, I can sing with Robert Goulet but I want Wilson Picket. So that was it.
Ron Bennington: And some of those people—that was the only chances they really had to go on tv and do their thing ever.
Tom Jones: Yeah, when Jerry Lee Lewis came on, I don’t know whether Jerry Lee had done a show of that size for a long time.
Ron Bennington: Because he got in a little trouble….a little family trouble…
Tom Jones: Exactly (laughs). Exactly. So when I said Jerry Lee Lewis—Ohhhh, ohhh. I said, good god, the trouble he got into– it was a long time ago. It was great television. And Little Richard—a lot of these rock singers, old time rock and roll, and rhythm and blues singers, and soul singers—you know what I mean, great entertainers—on mainstream television. It will work if you allow it to.
Ron Bennington: Some of these are still on YouTube and stuff on the internet, and you can just see these explosive performances. Because people seemed to me like they showed up with their A game, and you guys took it to another level. I’m not saying it’s a competition, but the game rises I guess.
Tom Jones: Yeah, exactly. And I’m proving a point to ABC television, at the time, that this stuff could be on television. And people are going to really love it. So it was like a proving thing. Listen to this, and then you’ll know what I’m trying to do.
Ron Bennington: It’s amazing stuff and really happy that so much of it is still out there.
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Ron Bennington: Can you tell that quickly? Can you tell, okay this is one that I should be doing?
Tom Jones: When we did “Praise and Blame”, that was the album before this one, and I sang a Bob Dylan song called “What Good Am I?” And when we did it, I listened to it back and I said, ‘wow, that feels powerful.’ You felt the spirit there, and there was only a handful of musicians on there. And they all felt the same way. They said something happened. Definitely something happened. And that’s what we’ve tried for with each one. Until it really really sounds like it’s happening.
Tom Jones: No, no no, not at all. You don’t know when it’s going to happen or what songs it’s going to happen on. But things happen. And that’s why with Ethan– it’s great working with Ethan Johns because each take is a live take. So we do four or five sometimes, maybe six, and listen to them back and then pick one of them. Because they vary slightly, each one. And then you think, wait a minute– there it is. There’s the magic. There it is. And that happens, and everybody feels it.
Ron Bennington: And that’s the same way with all the shows you’ve done live. Are they all different?
Tom Jones: Definitely. And you try to repeat. You know you think, woah, this was great tonight. It really took off, everybody’s loving it and I’ll do it again tomorrow night. But sometimes you try to recapture what you did the night before and it’s not there. It’s not that you’re doing anything different, it’s just the magic is not in the air. It’s hard to explain. I can’t really explain it until it happens.
Ron Bennington: I think that if it wasn’t that elusive, you wouldn’t have stayed this interested in music all these years.
Tom Jones: That’s right. If it’s the same night after night, and every time you go into a recording studio, then you wouldn’t get those highs and lows and the excitement of one time and maybe not so much on another take. It’s a strange thing, but you know it when it happens.
Ron Bennington: When it happens, whatever the spirit is, you’re there for it, and you know it took place. The album is “Spirit In the Room”, as we’re sitting here talking about it. The one and only Tom Jones. Thank you so much, so great to see you my friend. Best of luck with everything you’re doing and I’ll see you next time coming through.
Tom Jones: Very good, thanks a lot.
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.
When I think of Tom Jones I can't help but think of the time O&A interviewed him and Jimmy asked him if he and his band ever "ran a train" on any groupies (and then proceeded to clarify what that meant). Tom wouldn't admit to any such act.
Very good interview as always Mr. B. only thing I would change is you should have started off by saying, "My my my Delilah, what's new pussy cat?" He would have loved that.