Is there anyone alive who's as cool as Tom Jones? I mean, what other singer's voice sounds fuller and more robust at age 69 than it did at 29? Who else would have not only the talent but the balls to share the stage with Janis Joplin in the '60s and cover an Iggy Pop tune with Chrissie Hynde in the '90s? And can you think of anyone else in recent history who may be best known for having multiple generations of women throw their underwear at him?
I didn't think so.
Sure, the primary cause of the hysteria that's followed the man from stage to stage all over the world for the last 45 years is his voice -- that thunderous, booming instrument that, defying nature and all logic, keeps getting more powerful with each passing year. But Sir Tom is not just a one trick pony. The man's got style. He's a hell of a dancer. Some '70s excesses aside, he's a swanky dresser -- he can wear a tux or an open-necked silk shirt with a gaudy medallion, and look just as comfortable in either. He even makes his leonine white man 'fro look hot. And when he decided to lose the hair dye last year, his white hair made him look sexier, not older.
We mere mortals may never be able to possess Sir Tom's lung power, but with enough schooling, who's to say that dudes such as myself couldn't learn to channel our inner Tom Jones and use that mojo to turn otherwise sane women into panty-flinging hysterics? I decided to go to the source and learn the secrets of being Tom Jones from the man himself.
After several leads proved fruitless, I was finally able to schedule an interview through his British publicist, with two caveats: I had 20 minutes to do my job; and I had to spend at least part of the interview asking Mr. Jones about his latest album and tour. The album, 24 Hours, is his first to come out in America in 15 years. But it's now more than six months old, and despite my glowing review in HuffPost, it didn't exactly set the charts on fire Stateside, making it a rather less-than-newsworthy topic. But something was better than nothing, so I eagerly agreed.
The big day arrived, and I was as nervous as a kitten in a dog pound. A lot of friends asked me if I flung my underwear at him when we met. I didn't, not only because I have more use for my boxer briefs than he does, but because it was a phone interview. But Sir Tom was charming and put me at ease instantly; when I asked if I should call him "Sir Tom" or "Mr. Jones," he chuckled and said, "Just call me Tom."
OK, Sir... I mean Tom! We spent the first part of the interview discussing his recent gig at the opening party for Mardan Palace, the ultra-opulent Turkish resort which supposedly sports the largest swimming pool in all of Europe. "They had a dance floor in front of the stage -- it was all built for the event, so it was open-air. Thank God there were quite a few British people there, especially press, a lot of young members of the British press. And a lot of them were girls. So I said 'Come on, dance!' I didn't have to say it to them, though. When I started singing, they came forward and started dancing, and I said, 'That's great, do more of the same.'"
Then on to the new album, almost all of which he co-wrote -- quite a feat for a guy who's rarely penned his own tunes. "I've written songs before, but not so many. I mean, I co-wrote them with songwriters -- I'd be there, and I'd give them ideas, for what kind of thing I wanted, and then they'd put it together. And then I'd alter things. So I worked with some really good songwriters." When you've achieved Tom Jones' station in life, I guess that's how you do things -- call up the experts, tell 'em what you want, and give the results the thumbs-up or down. An important lesson for all us Sir Tom wannabes.
I asked him what new artists he's been listening to. "I like Duffy, Duffy's a Welsh singer, I think I could do something with her. But I like bands as well. I love the Kings Of Leon. That kid can sing." Damn, this guy really is pretty hip!
I asked the question that's been puzzling me all these years -- how the hell does he keep his voice in such good shape at his age? "When I first went to Vegas, I lost my voice one night. That was in 1968. This doctor came in and he said, 'You're too dry, you need humidity.' And he put humidifiers in the dressing room -- in those days I was doing two shows a night. Well, it was back by the second show. And it was all to do with humidity. I carry humidifiers with me, I've got a humidity gauge that I use to make sure that the humidity is right -- especially when you sleep. You shouldn't sleep in a dry atmosphere. It's very bad for the throat." (For the record, immediately following the interview, I installed a humidifier in my bedroom, but I'm still off-key and raspy when I try to sing "Daughter Of Darkness.")
My obligations having been met, and with a mere 10 minutes of interview time left, I pounced. "On behalf of all the men who want to get in touch with their inner Tom Jones, but don't have your voice, what are some of the secrets to your mojo?" I held my breath and waited for the wisdom to be handed down. For the torch to be passed to a new generation of hipsters. And I got... this:
If I didn't have this voice, I don't know. I didn't have to play rugby that well, and I didn't have to play cricket that well, because I had this voice. As with some kids in school -- you know, they're jocks, and they've gotta shine as football players, and the girls are very attracted to them. My thing was always the way I sing, so that's been a big plus. So somebody that can't sing, then I don't know what to say. But you've got to try and find your niche. Whatever it is, sometimes it does attract the opposite sex, sometimes it doesn't. So you've got to do the best you can with the tools you've got.
So, basically, if you don't sing like Tom Jones, you're screwed? No! That couldn't possibly be. Perhaps he was just holding out on me. I tried to dig a little deeper, get a little more specific. How about advice on picking out clothes?
I've got a guy in England, a stylist. I love designer suits, so he lets me know what's available. And he knows me well now, so he knows what I would like, and the stuff to stay away from. It's convenient to have somebody like that, because you don't have to go and look around at shops yourself. Which I've done at one time. I did get my clothes made for me, but there are so many good designers out there now that make great clothes off the rack. Try a lot of stuff, but go with your instincts. If it fits well and it looks good and you like wearing it, then that's what you should go with.
My dreams of achieving Tomness were growing fainter with every passing moment. Um... how about dancing? Any signature moves to recommend to us left-footed Sir Tom wannabes out there?
First of all, you don't want to look silly. I mean, you've got to be able to dance. I have a natural ability for dancing, but you can't overdo it. Sometimes, I tend to -- because I forget how old I am -- I might do something that doesn't work as well as it did when I was young. You can't go doing the same kind of moves, because it just looks silly, and people can see that. As I've gotten older, I've just cooled it down a bit. But I've got to be told sometimes that I'm not 25 or 35 anymore.
In a word, no. But just when all hope was lost, I started to gather a few valuable nuggets of information. Such as, what to do to break the ice with a woman:
I would think it's in the eyes. I think a look says a lot, before you even ask a question. A gentle look. I think you should put somebody at ease with the way you look, before you even speak. It's important to put somebody at ease, so that when you do say something it's not shocking. But the look is important.
Awesome! How about advice on what to drink when you're making eyes at the sweet young thing across the bar?
It all depends where I am. If it's in England in a pub, it would be a British ale. I love British beer. It's ale, you know, it's not lager. But then again, if I was in a nice restaurant and I went to the bar, it would either be a vodka martini or a champagne cocktail
We were on a roll. How does a TJ aspirant know how much jewelry is enough and how much is too much?
I've learned over the years not to overdo it. I've tried wearing more than one ring on one hand and it doesn't look good. It's overkill, I think. So I think a ring on either hand. Nine times out of ten I'll go for pinky rings, but not always. And I've always liked the cross and chain, so I have quite a number of those. My stage jewelry is a bit more than I would wear out, normally. Sometimes I'll wear a cross with diamonds in it on the stage, and the same thing with the watch, and the same thing with the rings. But in the daytime, it's more sort of solid gold than with stones in it. Or even if I went out at night to a restaurant.
Well, things were really starting to click here. I'd already gone 15 minutes over my allotted time, but I had one very important question left to ask: You've gotten the girl back to your room. You sit on the couch and get comfortable. What music, Tom Jones records excepted, do you play to get the pettin' party underway?
If it's a nice situation, and you're just relaxed, you need background music. You don't need anything that the person that you're with says, "Who's that?" If you're trying to be with somebody, you don't want to be distracted by the music. You want it to blend in with the mood. So I would say background music, something nice and mellow. You don't want anything that's loud. Music is great, it all depends on what mood you're in, what you want to listen to. If it's party time, you listen to, you know, party music, if you want to dance with somebody. But then again, if it's a slow dance, you need something slow. So it all depends on the mood, what mood you're in.
Um, any artists in particular? What is background music, anyway?
I would say if you're talking to somebody, if you're having a romantic evening with somebody, you need background music. You don't want anything to distract from what you're saying, or when you're giving them the look, like we talked about.
And with that, our interview was over. And I wasn't really any closer to channeling my Jonesness than I had been when we first started chatting.
But I hadn't given up hope. I thought, maybe, with a week or so to think about my line of questioning, Sir Tom would surely become the oracle of cool I'd expected, dispensing pearls of wisdom like they were sweat-stained hankies. He was due in New York a week hence; maybe an in-person interview would make him more at ease. Perhaps we could even go out to a bar together and he could show me how to pick up a woman, Tom Jones-style! My fantasies grew ever more grandiose as I dashed off an email requesting a followup. I could show him some of my favorite NYC watering holes... we could hit a few golf balls at Chelsea Piers... I could visit him on the West Coast and we'd become BFFs....
A few days later, I got the response from the publicist:
We can't commit to more time at this point as he will be rehearsing and we don't have a precise schedule for that yet.
Tom Jones will be playing the Beacon Theater in New York City on July 21st. If you hear someone in the loge screaming things like "Boxers or briefs, Tom?" or "How do you like your eggs?", I apologize.