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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

MGS Chat: Sir Tom Jones

He’s not unusual. In fact, for a man who saw Elvis eating deviled eggs on an exercise bike, he’s surprisingly normal. Sir Tom Jones talks exclusively to the Media Guy.
The snake hips have gone, but the charm is all intact. Celebrated lothario, knight of the realm, Hollywood Walk of Famer... He’s clocked up more Vegas appearances than Sinatra, talked fitness tips with Elvis and been the target of untold items of flying underwear. Why, then, does it feel like I’m chatting with some jovial old timer in a pub at the back end of Cardiff?

Q: A friend’s father, also from Pontypridd, remembers you as a bit of a rocker. Any truth in that?
Sir Tom Jones captivated the Beyrouth Forum crowd.

TJ: Oh, yeah! We were listening to rock ’n’ roll music; Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Fats Domino, Little Richard. That was the kind of music I was doing in the pubs and the clubs.

Q: Did you see that the BBC published your old employment records recently? One entry reads, ‘He has been talking about “going professional” since April but he is still signing the UR [unemployment register] and not autograph books.’

TJ: Yeah! [Laughs] I didn’t know they were writing all that s**t down! They were offering me shift work and I said I’d rather not have it because I was singing in the clubs and trying to get a record contract. They were very good, though. I was signing on twice a week and doing gigs at night.

Q: Did ‘It’s Not Unusual’ suggest itself to you as an immediate hit?

TJ: My manager, Gordon Mills, was writing songs for Leeds Music, and I would record a lot of the demos to make some extra cash. One day he came to me and said, ‘I’ve got this song that I’m writing, and if we get a good demo we can present it to Sandie Shaw.’ He sang it to me in the car as we were going to the recording studio and I thought ‘Yeah, I get that’. I said, ‘Gordon, I have to have this song.’ And he said, ‘Nah, it’s a pop song.’ I said, ‘I’m telling you, this sounds like a hit song to me.’ Thank God it was Sandie they gave the song to because she said, ‘Whoever’s singing this demo – it’s his song. I wouldn’t be able to sing it like that.’ So that was it. That was the beginning of it for me.

Q: And you’ve sung it every night of your life ever since...

TJ: Exactly! That one is always in. No doubt.

Q: Don’t you get tired of it?

TJ: No. I really like the song, and it’s a test. It’s not easy to sing. You can’t just glide through it; you’ve got to sing it because of the range of the thing. Same with ‘Delilah’. I like doing them to prove that I still can.

Q: Do you remember those early Vegas days very clearly?

TJ: Well, I went to have a look at it in ’65, when I first went to America. I saw Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin... In London we had a club called ‘Talk of the Town’ and it was like there were six Talk of the Towns here in one town! They offered me a contract in ’68, and I’ve played there every year since. I don’t think Frank Sinatra even played there that long.

Q: And that’s where you met Elvis?

TJ: No, I met him in Hollywood at Paramount Studios in ’65, and he came to see me in Vegas in ’68 to see what I was all about. He wanted to make a comeback; he wanted to play Vegas. So he came and watched me work, and he said it gave him confidence.

Q: Did you ever see Elvis turn down a cheeseburger?

The Media Guy and Tom Jones at the fabulous
InterContinental Phoenicia Beirut Hotel.
TJ: Er, no. He used to like a pizza as well. He used to keep the pizza under his bed.

Q: Did he have a favorite topping?

TJ: I don’t know. But we’d be up late, singing gospel songs, and he’d say, ‘Do you like pizza?’ He had it under the bed, just in case, but he used to laugh about it. He wasn’t a secret eater. When he started getting a gut on him, I remember he had this exercise bike in the suite. This bike was an electric bike that would move by itself. He used to sit there eating devilled eggs and laughing. He was having fun with it, but it backfired on him in the end.

Do you ever worry that you might be remembered as a walking knicker magnet?

TJ: I wouldn’t like that. If they want to talk about it, you can’t stop that really because it happened. I would like to think the reason that it did happen is because of my voice; because the songs I was singing were getting people excited. Over the years my shows have been reviewed not on how good I’m singing, but by how many pairs of underwear are up there. It’s immaterial, really. What I’m putting out – that’s the main question.