Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions, and observations about the local scene. This week: the one, the only Tom Jones!
Of all the accolades Tom Jones has earned over the course of his career -- a Grammy, an MTV Video Music Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a song included in the soundtrack to Little Fockers -- none seems more impressive than the title bestowed upon him this year and last by Britain's Glamour magazine, that of Sexiest Man Alive. Granted, any rugged individual with a show-biz pedigree can be considered a contender, but the fact that Mr. Jones turns 73 this year makes this a huge step in the geriatric direction for luscious older gents everywhere.
Jones, once known as Thomas John Woodward, was a humble lad born to working-class parents in Wales' mining country. Since the '60s, he's achieved every pinnacle of success in the entertainment world: stints in Vegas, a television show, hit records, and the devotion of millions of female fans who itch to throw their panties at him.
Older, grayer, and slightly wizened, Jones still maintains his frantic pace and shows no sign of slowing down. A regular on the U.K. version of The Voice, he had the honor of singing at last year's Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace, part of an exhausting concert schedule that still keeps him on the road a good part of the year.
"I just want to sing until I drop," he told New Times during a recent phone conversation. "I'm not tired yet. I do hope I get tired before my voice gives out. I would hate to still want to do it but my voice won't let me. I hope I get tired and say, 'Oh, my God, I just can't do this anymore.' [laughs] Maybe I'll get like that when I'm old."
Jones is clearly as cool as ever. His latest album, Spirit in the Room, continues a musical makeover initiated with 2010's widely hailed Praise Blame. He pared back elaborate arrangements in favor of stripped-down instrumentation and a confessional intimacy that combines his remarkably brassy vocals with a vivid personal perspective. He taps into a wealth of material from some of the greatest songwriters, from Waits to Simon.
"My producer Ethan said to me, 'What if we do songs from songwriters that you like? You tell me songwriters that are interesting to you,'" the singer explains. "So it was people that I liked as songwriters. I also tried to look for songs that could be about me, so it would sound like me singing about it and sound real, like they're coming from me."
And what is it that drives a man who's been around and seen so much? "It's the same thing that drove me from day one," he insisted. "I wanted to try and sing everything that's inside me. Everything that I think about. I want to continually express myself. The fire has not gone out. The flame is very much lit, and in order to keep that fire burning, I have to do new things and sing new songs. I don't want to keep repeating myself."
And indeed, he still strives to stay current. "I listen, and I watch talent shows. Like, I'm doing The Voice now in England, because I love to listen to new talent. I've been around for so long, and I've worked with so many people, so I do have advice to give to people. That aside, I want to do new things myself, not only give advice to other people but to keep doing it for me. I don't think you can share experience with somebody if you can't do it yourself.
"I didn't think when I started that I'd still be alive now," Jones chuckles. "But when you're young, you're young, and you don't think about the future. But it's been an amazing journey. When I think about the people that I've met and hung out with on their level. When I was back in Wales and I was playing in pubs, I'd say, 'I'll meet Elvis Presley one day.' And the reaction was, 'Oh, yeah, right. Right, Tom. OK.' But then I met Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. and Elvis. I wouldn't change it for the world. People ask me if I've got any regrets. Not really."
Jones was also once a staple of South Florida's nightclub scene, specifically Miami Beach, during the halcyon days of the late '60s and early '70s. So naturally, we asked him to think back on his experiences in our area of the Earth.
"I played a club in London called The Talk of the Town," he explained. "An American agent saw me in that environment, and he couldn't believe that I hadn't played nightclubs in America, because this was 1967. So he said to me, 'You know, you should be in Vegas.' I hadn't really thought about it before. And he said, 'I'm telling you, if you allow me to, I'll book you in the Copacabana in New York and the nightclubs in Miami and Vegas.' So I said, 'OK, let's give it a shot.' So in '68, I started playing those nightclubs, like the Copa in New York and the hot spots in Miami Beach.
"There were a bunch of clubs in Miami Beach back then, especially in the hotels there, like the Fontainebleau and the Deauville. Easter time, it was a big thing there. I did a few years there at Easter time in Miami."
For a lad from a mining town in Wales, Miami Beach must have seemed like paradise. "Well, it was," he laughed. "To go to London was like wow, and to go to New York, it was whew. And going to Miami, Florida, it was only things you see in movies. Vegas and all the rest of it, it was tremendous. It was unbelievable."
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