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Pop legend still going strong after 5 decades
WHEN you've sold over 100 million records, it's tempting to just rest on your laurels.
Not Tom Jones though, who will return to play Singapore at the end of the month. His last performance here was during the 2015 Formula One race.
At 75, the Welsh crooner is well into the fifth decade of his singing career but is still embarking on new musical adventures. His latest album Long Lost Suitcase is the third in a trilogy of back-to-basics traditional blues and gospel cover records that the hairy-chested warbler has made with producer Ethan Jones.
The latter is better known for working with younger indie acts like Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne and Paolo Nutini.
The first time both collaborated was on Praise & Blame (2010) which shot to No 2 on the UK charts. Spirit in the Room (2012) came next, followed by last year's Long Lost Suitcase.
"When I first met Ethan, he told me he heard things in my voice he has never heard before (on my records)," says Jones over the phone from Auckland last weekend, while in the middle of his Australia-New Zealand-tour. "(The songs I've recorded previously) tend to come with lush arrangements so he said why not go back to the start like when I would play in the pubs of Wales with just a rhythm section?"
Born Thomas Jones Woodward in Pontypridd, South Wales in 1940, Jones quit school at 15 and worked in a variety of manual jobs while singing in clubs at night.
He signed up with Decca Records and his debut single Chills and Fevers (1963) flopped but the second one, It's Not Unusual (1964), shot him to fame after hitting No 1 in the UK despite being banned on the BBC. The rest is history. Jones has covered a broad range of music and genres since.
Jones is also a livewire on stage who is known for sending his female fans into a tizzy with his sexually charged performances. During a New York concert in 1968, it led to a woman chucking her underwear at him and since then, that has become a tradition at his gigs.
Jones reveals that the 13 tracks on Long Lost Suitcase are his most personal to date; so much so he used some of them to name the chapters in the album's companion autobiography Over the Top and Back. His cover of Gillian Welch's Elvis Presley's Blues on the record, for instance, is also a tribute to the late "King of Rock and Roll" in the book.
Both Jones and Presley struck up a close friendship while they were working the Las Vegas "live" circuit during the sixties and seventies. "I'll always remember being in Elvis' suite after we'd both done our shows and he would be singing gospel so I would join in whenever I knew one of the songs," Jones shares. "He loved to laugh and had a great sense of humour - he was a happy person, you'd never see him down and he was always talking about music."
The recent trilogy of records has marked the start of a second career revival for Jones after a relatively quiet eighties and nineties before his son Mark took over as manager and gave his dad his first No 1 in decades. That album, Reload (1999), sold five million copies and remains his best-selling work to date.
The living music legend has also been introduced to a younger generation of fans after joining the panel of judges on reality singing show The Voice UK in 2012. He was replaced last year by Boy George but is slated to return when the programme moves to a new network.
Like a true musical chameleon, the shows he is currently playing on this tour aren't just nostalgic trips down memory lane. "I mix things up - I do new ones and then throw in an oldie," Jones adds. "I still do Delilah, Thunderball, Green Green Grass of Home, Thunderball and Kiss but when you hear them 'live' with this band we have on stage, you can't tell those songs come from a different time."
- Tom Jones plays The Star Theatre on March 31 at 8pm. Tickets from S$88 to S$208 available from Sistic