The son of a Welsh coal miner, Tom Jones was born Thomas Jones Woodward in Treforest, Glamorganshire, in 1940, and began his ‘career’ with bar-room singing – and enough brawling to break his nose a few times – first for beer and then for pound notes.
Since Welshmen, especially in groups, probably make up the greatest nation of amateur singers in the world, he must have had something powerful going for him to get the rest of the boozers to shut up enough to join in at the right places, if not just listen.
He started singing professionally in 1963, performing as Tommy Scott with The Senators, a Welsh beat group. In 1964 he recorded a handful of solo tracks with record producer Joe Meek and shopped them to various record companies to little success.
Later that year, Decca producer Peter Sullivan discovered Tommy Scott performing in a club and directed him to manager Phil Solomon.
It was a short-lived partnership and the singer soon moved back to Wales, where he continued to sing in Pontypridd bars and working mens’ clubs.
At one of these shows, he gained the attention of former Viscounts singer Gordon Mills who was now an artist manager. Mills signed Tom, changed his name to Jones and helped him record his first single for Decca, Chills and Fever, released in late 1964. The single did not chart, but It’s Not Unusual, released in early 1965, became a number one hit in the UK and a Top 10 hit in the USA.
The heavily orchestrated pop arrangement perfectly meshed with Tom’s swinging, sexy image, guaranteeing him maximum press coverage, which helped translate into a series of hits including Once Upon A Time, Little Lonely One and With These Hands.
During 1965, Mills also secured a number of movie themes for Jones to record, including the Top Ten hit What’s New Pussycat? (June 1965) and the James Bond theme song Thunderball (December 1965).
Jones’ popularity slipped somewhat during 1966 causing Mills to redesign the singer’s image into a more mature, ‘respectable’ (usually tuxedo-clad) crooner. He also began to sing material that appealed to a wider audience, like his huge country hit Green, Green Grass Of Home.
The strategy worked and he returned to the top of the charts in the UK and began hitting the Top 40 again in the USA. For the remainder of the ’60s, he scored a consistent string of hits in both Britain and America.
At the end of the decade, Tom relocated to America where he hosted the television variety program This Is Tom Jones. Running between 1969 and 1971, the show was a success and laid the groundwork for the singer’s move to Las Vegas in the early ’70s. Once he moved to Vegas, the singer began recording less, choosing to concentrate on his lucrative club performances.
After Gordon Mills died in the late ’70s, Tom’s son Mark Woodward became his manager.
The change in manager prompted Tom to begin recording again. This time, he concentrated on the country market, releasing a series of slick Nashville-style country-pop albums in the early ’80s which earned him a handful of hits.
Jones’ next image makeover came in 1988 when he sang Prince‘s Kiss with the electronic dance outfit The Art Of Noise. The single became a Top Ten hit in the UK and reached the US Top 40, which led to a successful concert tour and a part in a recording of the Dylan Thomas play, Under Milkwood.
The singer then returned to the club circuit where he stayed for several years. In 1993 Jones performed at the Glastonbury Festival in England where he received an enthusiastic response from the young crowd.
Soon he was on the comeback trail again, releasing the alternative dance/pop album, The Lead And How To Swing It in 1994.
On stage, Tom has always played up his sexual appeal; it didn’t matter whether he was in an unbuttoned shirt or a tuxedo, he always radiated raw sexuality which earned him a huge following of devoted female fans who frequently threw their underwear on stage.
His following has not diminished over the decades and he has been able to adapt to the changing face of the pop music charts, appealing to a whole new generation of the music-listening public.