Tom Jones – What Rock’N’Roll Has Taught Me

As Tom Jones releases ‘Praise And Blame’, his most critically acclaimed album in years, we quiz the legendary singer on pocket billiards, cocaine and calling John Lennon a bastard

It wasn’t just the girls that loved me… it was the boys too
When I was sending around tapes of my first band in the early 1960s, the only person who got back to me was Joe Meek so we ended up recording a few songs with him. After the session, he told the boys to pack up and wait downstairs because he wanted to talk to me by myself. He wanted me to do some moves in front of him but I couldn’t understand why he didn’t get me to do that when I was singing.

Then he said, ‘Those jeans look tight… looks like you’ve got a bit of a thing there.’ I said, ‘Well, it serves its purpose!’ The whole time I was talking to him he had his hands in his pockets… he was playing pocket billiards. I remember thinking, if this is the only way I’m gonna get a record out you can stick it.

Always, always wear underwear when you’re on stage
My first agent suggested to me that I should try doing a show without wearing underwear once because I had a good physique and girls like to see the front area. So I did this show in London early on where I was wearing white shoes, white trousers and a white shirt. The problem is that I perspire a lot on stage so you could see right through this thing.

So ever since then, I’ve always worn underwear. You’d know about it if I wasn’t! I’ve always had problems with my physique, especially when I used to play kids shows on TV. The BBC used to get letters from parents how they could put on this ‘man’ gyrating in front of their kids.

You know when you’re famous when people want to batter you
When I got famous and went back to Pontypridd in the 1960s, I’d always get people saying ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ Some fellas would get nasty because their girlfriends would get excited. I used to talk my way out of those situations pretty well.

I’d say things like, ‘You’ve got the girl, not me. Take it easy.’ Sometimes that wouldn’t work and we would have to get into it. I had a few head butts and my nose broken a couple of times. But at least you’re getting through to people and making an impact.

Black people make the best singers
They’re very musical and rhythmic by nature. It’s a big part of their culture. People always thought I was black when I started. Black people would come to the clubs in Wales and they’d ask me whether there was any black heritage in my family and it was the same when I went to America. I was knocked out by that.

I still haven’t found anyone that can out-drink me – but everyone can out-drug me
It’s not something to be proud of necessarily but I can’t remember anyone getting the better of me. Richard Burton (Welsh actor and legendary pisshead) gave me a run once at an award ceremony in Germany. He drank a battle of cognac as fast as I drank a bottle of champagne.

Drug taking has never been attractive to me because you have to go to the toilet to sniff cocaine. I don’t like going to the toilet even when I have to. The other thing is, with drink you can see the alcoholic content on the bottle but with drugs, you never really know what you’re getting.

If John Lennon shouts abuse at you, it’s because he likes you
I first met him when we were doing a TV show around the time ‘It’s Not Unusual’ came out. The Beatles were rehearsing and I was sat where the audience were going to sit later. He saw me and said, ‘How you doing, you Welsh poof’?

I said, ‘Come up here and I’ll show you, you scouse bastard!’ My manager was quick to say that he wasn’t slagging me off, he was just being funny. It’s like a term of endearment! I didn’t know it at the time but it was just the scouse humour at work.

Sex appeal is crucial- and Elvis would agree with me
We used to spend a lot of time together in Las Vegas and Elvis was a great guy. We’d be up all night singing with each other and sometimes he’d even bring in vocal groups to play with. I tried to record some of it once just for myself but his people stopped me. I really got to know him and he loved music more than anything.

I’m really pleased I got to know him so well. He liked what I did and he would ask me how I learned to sing that way. I would just laugh and say, ‘Well, you’re partly responsible.’ Sex appeal was a big thing for Elvis. If you didn’t have it, he probably wouldn’t be interested and he couldn’t understand why anyone would like you.

Jonathan Ross saved my career
Back in the 1980s, I was really getting into modern stuff like Prince. I would cover ‘Kiss’ on stage and then one time, I did it on The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross. The Art Of Noise saw that and they wanted me to record it with them. It was the song that got me back on Top 40 radio. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know what would have happened to my career.

Never go on the razzle with Jerry Lee Lewis
He’s one of my favourite singers and he’s influenced so many. At one point, he wanted me to do a TV special with him that he was going to call ‘Tom And Jerry’. He got upset because my manager hadn’t talked to one of his people about it and one night when were both drunk, he came for me. I pushed him back but he came at me again with a bottle this time but I told him I’d stick the bottle up his… anyway, we were both drunk. He called me the next day and he couldn’t remember what happened. Words: Hardeep Phull

Did you know?

-Tom would have ended up as a miner were it not for a bout of tuberculosis that left him bedridden for two years as a kid.

-Tom was on the hit-list of names drawn up by Charles Manson during his planned killing spree in the late 1960s. One of Manson’s ‘family’ was apparently supposed to get close to him before murdering him.

-Tom gave up kissing his female admirers on stage during the late 1980s as the AIDS scare gripped the world.

Tom Jones’ new album Praise And Blame’ is out July 26