Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Tom Jones: The Man, The Voice

Tom Jones
Tom Jones Tom Jones Tom Jones Tom Jones

Otis: “How do you sing like you do?” Tom: “Because of listening to soul singers. In my own way I try to be a soul singer.”

Otis: “We try to do what you do, Tom. We love the sound of your records, so we try to be like you. Your first album…every track sounds like a single. To me, YOU are the best soul singer.”

Tom: “Coming from you; this is unbelievable.”

How do I know about this amazing exchange between the Welshman and the US soul legend? Because “The Voice,” Sir Tom Jones told me. Just us, sat in a little meeting room for more than an hour on leather sofa and chair, jug of water on the table and a big black and white print of The Rolling Stones on the wall, at Island Records’ HQ in London.

So, back to the Otis anecdote. Sir Tom: “He couldn’t believe I was white for a start, with my voice. He said ‘I don’t believe it. There’s got to be black in you somewhere, whether you know it or not!”

The man who has dueted with Aretha and many other soul greats, reveals he made a full soul album some years ago, with drummer Steve Jordan in New York. He cut some new songs and material by the man he names as the greatest ever soul singer: Solomon Burke, like “Can’t Nobody Love You (Like I Do.)” Joe Tex’s “I Gotcha.” Wilson Pickett’s “Engine Number 9.” But it was never released by the label. The reason is quite astounding…..

“They said it sounded too authentic. I said, wow! Too authentic? What’s wrong with that? The label guy said he didn’t hear any singles on it either. So it is still on the shelf. I’ve recorded many soul songs in my career, with big arrangements, but this was a full soul album.” So could he see himself turning to soul today, after the massive success of his last two records, which both went to number two in the UK album chart: “Praise and Blame” (a gospel/blues CD) and “Spirit In The Room” (a blues album - which he originally wanted to call “Soul Of A Man”)?

“Yeah, maybe. But I want to dig a little deeper into the blues for the next one, and work with the same producer (Ethan Johns.) A trilogy sounds really good to me. It is very natural for me…blues..gospel..soul...rhythm and blues.”

This 72-year-old legend (who says he feels 40,) who was Knighted in 2006, doesn’t trade on past glories though, and is totally focused on today. Sure, he’ll give you stories of old friends like Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Otis et al if you ask, but he is very much about today, not yesterday. 100 million+ record sales later, he’s still a brightly shining global star.

If you’d seen what I saw at the V Festival this year, when he pulled a crowd of circa 60,000 people, and mainly under 30-years-old, to his main stage set and performed with the energy of a 25-year-old (faultless vocals too) to a bonkers response, I’d not need to clarify this fact. His last two albums sold in bucket loads – recent media praise is deafening.

He tells me the turning point for his six-decade career was when he recorded the Prince song “Kiss,” with the Art of Noise. Or rather, when he sang the vocal to a very basic track in LA, sent it back to the UK and The Art Of Noise chaps added the rest. He was blown away by the result – even though he first thought it would be just an album track - and knew this was the direction he should take. He’d been making country records in the USA, with five big hit albums over a five year period.

“I knew I was digging my own grave just doing records only released in the States. Everywhere else in the world probably thought I’d packed it in.”

“Before that through the ‘70s, a lot of the shows I was doing, especially in America, it was because of what I’d achieved in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. It was carrying me…I was a retro artist, but suddenly I was current. I thought ‘my God, this is fantastic,’ and I wanted to do a whole album with them, but it didn’t work out. ‘Kiss’ got me back on pop radio.”

Managed by his son Mark Woodward, from a farm in Oxfordshire, Tom lives in LA with his wife and his sister. He has made many new young friends here with his Saturday night, prime time BBC appearance as a coach on “The Voice,” along with, Jessie J and Danny O’Donoghue. He tells me he will do a second series, and Jessie and have told him they are in if he is. His street cred' shot right up when he came across as so natural and honest on that show.

Tom does not take his success for granted, and really is a very modest guy when you talk to him, despite his fame. He tells me he gets down on his knees daily to thank God for giving him that voice.

“I pray to God every night that I can continue to do this. I am on my knees. I thank God for giving me this voice. I don’t know what I would have done without it. I’ve never known anything else but singing. I’m not looking forward to the day when I won’t be able to do it.
Tom Jones' Blues recent album "Spirit In The Room" is out on Universal-Island Records

Tom Jones' Blues recent album "Spirit In The Room" is out on Universal-Island Records

You can read more from our fascinating interview with Tom Jones in our print issue, available from all decent retailers or by clicking the link below...

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