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Heís a legendary performer ó a titanic crooner, R&B rocker and soulful balladeer who, at 69, still oozes the smoldering sexuality of his early years. He really doesnít need much of an introduction, aside from: Ladies and gentlemen, this is Tom Jones!
Metro Times: Youíve influenced punk rock, country and jazz musicians, as well as everyday folks. How does that feel?
Tom Jones: Itís a great feeling! And it is all kinds of people. There are young bands out right now, like the Kings of Leon, who I met the other day [at Britainís Glastonbury Festival], and they were telling me how much they listen to my stuff. And British bands like the Kaiser Chiefs. They all know who I am and what Iíve done. Itís just a great feeling to be appreciated like that.
MT: You became friends with Elvis Presley in Vegas. What do you remember about those times?
Jones: I was at Caesarís Palace and Elvis was at the Hilton. We used to work a month at a time in those days, and when he was finished with his engagement, he would stay on a few nights to watch my shows. One night, I came off stage and he was there in my dressing room. He said, "Tom, I have this song I want you to hear!" I said, "Great! Let me just jump in the shower quick and Iíll be out and weíll have a listen." So Iím in the shower, washing my hair, and I can suddenly hear Elvis Presley singing. I thought "I must be going nuts"... but when I opened my eyes, he was leaning over the shower door, singing to me! It was unbelievable! He couldnít wait for me to get out of the shower! To be honest with you, I donít know what song it was. There was an echo going on in the shower and Elvis mumbling. But I thought the experience was better than the song itself.
In all our meetings, I must say there never was a time that was really crazy. We talked about music most of the time. Or heíd be singing. Heíd have his vocal group and his keyboard player up in the suite at the Hilton, and weíd sing gospel songs all night. He was a private man; he wasnít really a wild guy, not in my presence. When he was wild, it was when he was onstage. In the í50s when I was a teenager and watched Elvis, he was the one who went onstage and moved as he sang. The thing that got me was that he just let it all hang out and he just threw it at all the people on and off the stage. He wasnít scared. He wasnít inhibited, and that rubbed off on me. It gave me confidence to get onstage and dance as well as sing. That came from watching him.
MT: Apparently that respect went both ways Ö
Jones: Elvis loved "Delilah." He put that record on to warm up before his shows. He thought that my version ó which was the original ó was so powerful that if he could sing it, then he was ready to go onstage. That was a big compliment to me from Elvis.
MT: You reportedly have some strange stories about Milton Berle.
Jones [laughs hard]: Well, Milton Berle was very well-endowed and he was known for it. He had this "big thing," right? So they were trying to do a version of Top Of The Pops in L.A. and I had a song called "Iím Never Going To Fall In Love Again," a big ballad in the í60. I was doing this song on the set and Iíll never forget it. In between takes, Milton Berle walks onto the set and his opening line to me was "Do you want to see my cock?" So I said, ĎYeah, sure. Come on!" And he showed it to me, on the set! I think he was taken by surprise because nobody had ever said "OK" And then he just walked away! He used to do a lot of that with me. Sometimes he would just call and tell me a joke and then hang up. But if he was close, he would come in personally.
One day I was in Miami and Iím singing at a big hotel down there, the Fontainebleau. So one afternoon, Iím in the suite having lunch with the fellas that worked for me, and a knock came at the suite door. My bodyguard got up and went to the door and said "Itís Milton Berle." He walked over to me and said "I havenít had a blow job in so long, I forgot what it tastes like!" And he walked out! He used to say outrageous things like that all the time, he wouldnít even say "Hello." Heíd just throw this outrageous joke out and then heíd leave
MT: Was your TV variety show where the whole "throwing the lingerie thing started? Or was there an earlier genesis of that bizarre ritual that still exists today?
Jones: The first time was at the Copacabana in New York. The band was up on risers, but the performer would be on the same level as the audience ó you know, right on the dance floor. So the tables and chairs were all around you. When I was performing, women would throw me table napkins because I was sweating. Well, there was this one woman, I saw her fiddling around and all of a sudden, there was this underwear, and she handed it to me to wipe my brow! Which I did. I then handed it back to her and said, "Watch you donít catch cold!"
MT: How did you come to cover "Iím Alive!í? You certainly own that song now, as much as you own "Itís Not Unusual," "Whatís New Pussycat?" or "Sheís A Lady."
Jones: There was another version other than the Tommy James and the Shondells recording that I heard. By some obscure band. I canít think of the kidís name but heís not a well-known person. It was more up-tempo, more of the way Iíve done it. I give it a bit of a stick and pump it up a bit and I open my shows with it now. Thatís my entrance.
Tom Jones plays Sunday, July 12, at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Pkwy, Sterling Heights; 586-979-7010.
Amy Yokin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.