Whether it’s having knickers thrown at him, the chest hair, the swinging hips or that unmistakeable voice, chances are Tom Jones will mean something to you.
The 75-year-old - born Thomas Woodward and who started out in the working men’s clubs of his native South Wales in the late Fifties - is an international star. But that wasn’t always the case, as his forthcoming autobiography promises to prove.
It starts in 1983, and Jones is at rock bottom. Or, to be more precise, a chintzy dinner venue in Framingham, Massachusetts.
He was still having knickers thrown at him - though it was more an ironic nod to old times than the sexually-charged roots of the tradition - still performing, dining high, knocking back cognac and smoking cigars, and he didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.
His son Mark, watching up in the lighting rig, however, could see there was a problem, and that his old man had become complacent.
“I just thought it’d happen for me again, but I wasn’t pursuing it,” recalls Jones. “It was the least creative time of my career. I was losing my grip and I wasn’t aware of it.”
As Over The Top And Back details, Mark became his father’s manager after the death of his long-time associate Gordon Mills in 1986, and Jones’ resurrection began in earnest. Gone were the deadbeat country albums Mills had resigned his star to, and in came a fresh collaboration with Art Of Noise, a cover of Prince’s Kiss.
“I thought if I couldn’t have a hit with that, I couldn’t get a hit and I was done,” says Jones. “Hearing that song for the first time was as exciting as the first time I heard Rock Around The Clock or Heartbreak Hotel.”
For Jones, as far as music goes, those rock’n’roll hits were Year Zero. He would sing for his family as a young boy, and he’d even get up in the pubs and clubs around Treforest, the small town outside Pontypridd where he grew up, but something changed when he heard Rock Around The Clock, as was the case for so many 15-year-olds at the time.
He’s never shaken the impact those sounds had on him, despite the highly produced songs that would follow in his career; the likes of It’s Not Unusual, Green Green Grass Of Home, With These Hands and Delilah.
More recently, however, he’s been allowed to get back to those roots with the help of producer Ethan Johns, son of Glyn Johns, who famously produced The Beatles’ Let It Be album.
The chapters written of Jones childhood are especially good, from Jones’ descriptions of his parents and the two years he spent confined to bed, ill with TB, to meeting Melinda, whom he would go on to get pregnant and marry by the time he was 17.
They’re still married 58 years on, and she remains by Jones’ side, even if she only went to see him perform on a handful of occasions.
Jones, known as a womaniser in his youth, keeps salacious details out of the book. “There’s been plenty of sh*t written about me in the past, and they didn’t want that in the book, they wanted stories about all the great people I’ve met and they wanted to hear all my stories. There’s a lot to tell without making it cheap,” Jones explains. “I’m not hiding anything, I’ve got no skeletons in my closet, and all that stuff is out there already.”
He also spares no kind words for the producers of The Voice, who unceremoniously axed him without warning after four series (apparently, the first Jones knew of it was when he read a newspaper article about his replacement). Other than those ‘schmucks’, Jones knows he’s lived too good a life to be bitter, and at 75, he knows it’s pointless wasting time on hard feelings.
If you had a story as good as the one involving him naked, and Elvis half-naked, holding a gun while having his leather trousers pulled up by a bodyguard, you’d probably feel the same way too.
lOver The Top And Back: The Autobiography by Tom Jones is published on October 8 by Michael Joseph, priced £20. Long Lost Suitcase is released on October 9