Sir Thomas Jones Woodward, OBE (born 7 June 1940), known by his stage name Tom Jones, is a Welsh singer. He became one of the most popular vocalists to emerge from the mid-1960s. Since then he has sung nearly every form of popular music – pop, rock, R&B, show tunes, country, dance, soul and gospel – and sold over 100 million records.
Jones has had thirty-six Top 40 hits in the United Kingdom and nineteen in the United States; some of his notable songs include “It’s Not Unusual“, “What’s New Pussycat“, “Delilah“, “Green, Green Grass of Home“, “She’s a Lady“, “Kiss” and “Sex Bomb“.
Having been awarded an OBE in 1999, Jones received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for “services to music” in 2006. Jones has received numerous other awards throughout his career, including the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1966, an MTV Video Music Award in 1989 and two Brit Awards – winning Best British Male, in 2000, and Outstanding Contribution to Music, in 2003.
Tom Jones was born Thomas Jones Woodward, at 57 Kingsland Terrace, Treforest, Pontypridd in Glamorgan, South Wales. His parents were Thomas Woodward (died 5 October 1981), a coal miner, and Freda Jones (died 7 February 2003). His paternal grandfather, James Woodward, was an ironmonger’s haulier from Gloucestershire, and his paternal grandmother was from Wiltshire. His maternal grandfather was Welsh, and his maternal grandmother, Ada Jones, was born in Pontypridd, to parents from Somerset and Wiltshire.
Jones 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’ bluesy singing style developed out of the sound of American soul music. His early influences included blues and R&B singers Little Richard, Solomon Burke,Jackie Wilson and Brook Benton, as well as Elvis Presley, whom Jones idolised and with whom he would later become good friends.
In March 1957 Jones married his high school girlfriend, Melinda 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.
Rise to fame
Jones, whose voice has been described as a “full-throated, robust baritone“, became the frontman for Tommy Scott and the Senators, a Welsh beat group, in 1963. They soon gained a local following and reputation in South Wales. In 1964 the group recorded several solo tracks with producer Joe Meek, who took them to various labels, but they had little success. Later that year Decca producer Peter Sullivan saw Tommy Scott and the Senators performing in a club and directed them to manager Phil Solomon, but the partnership was short-lived.
The group continued to play gigs at dance halls and working men’s clubs in South Wales and one night, at the Top Hat in Cwmtillery, Wales, Jones was spotted byGordon Mills, a London-based manager who originally hailed from South Wales himself. Mills became Jones’ manager and 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 would be the most prominent of Jones’s career, making him one of the most popular vocalists of the British Invasion. In early 1965 “It’s Not Unusual” reached number one in the United Kingdom and the top ten in the United States. During 1965 Mills secured a number of film themes for Jones to record including the themes for the film What’s New Pussycat? (written byBurt Bacharach and Hal David) and for the James Bond film Thunderball. Jones was also awarded the Grammy Award for Best New Artist for 1966. In Hollywood, Jones met Elvis Presley for the first time who he recalls singing his song as he walked towards him on set.
In 1966 Jones’ 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 big country hit “Green, Green Grass of Home“. The strategy worked and Jones returned to the top of the charts in the United Kingdom and began hitting the Top 40 again in the United States. For the remainder of the decade he scored a string of hits on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1967 Jones performed in Las Vegas for the first time, at the Flamingo. His performances and style of dress (increasingly featuring his open, half-unbuttoned shirts and tight trousers) became part of his stage act. He soon chose to record less, instead concentrating on his lucrative club performances. At Caesars Palacehis shows were a knicker-hurling frenzy of sexually charged adulation and good-time entertainment. Women started throwing hotel room keys onto the stage. Jones and his idol Elvis Presley met in 1965 at the Paramount film stage, when Elvis was filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style. They became good friends, spending more and more time together in Las Vegas and duetting until the early hours at Presley’s private Las Vegas suite. The friendship endured until Presley’s death in 1977.Jones’ guitarist between 1969 and 1974 was Big Jim Sullivan, who also met and formed a friendship with Presley.
Jones played at least one week in Las Vegas every year until 2011.