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Various Collisions: A biography of Sir Tom Jones, as found in Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography by Tom Jones photo


When I was born, they thought I was dead. My grandmother, who could neither read nor write, plunged me into a tub of cold water. I got started after that.

My father was a coal miner who had strong feelings about shoes. He wore pinstriped suits inspired by Hollywood gangster movies of the thirties and forties. My mother was a Welsh Lana Turner, a housewife.


The Second World War: a violent global conflict, the first five years of my life. I was mostly oblivious to it.

In the forties, nobody used the word “dyslexia.” I would have rather been hit with a cane than have had to write. “Mitching” meant “playing truant.” I learned to read, though.

The one time my father got openly emotional was when he would sing “A Beggar in Love.”

I went to bed for two years. Tuberculosis.


Puberty arrived. Nobody talked about it back then.

Melinda Trenchard walking by in blue three-quarter-length pants.

The first time I took the situation in hand, I thought I’d broken something.


I had always liked leather jackets and became an apprentice glove cutter. I learned to use the giant guillotine and a large pair of shears.

Somehow all the glove cutters were musicians. One played sax in a dance band. I went to see the band in Caerphilly one Saturday night. “That was crap,” I told the glove cutters on Monday.


Elvis seemed calculated. He knew where the camera was. But Jerry Lee Lewis doing “Whole Lotta Shakin’”—bang, that was it!

Jerry Lee didn’t give a fuck. Not giving a fuck destroyed his career. He was a fool.


Melinda loved dancing. Girls her age might wear a studded belt, which was frequently two dog collars fastened together.

If you’re lucky enough to fall in love, that’s it. Forever.

I remember Linda, worried, saying “I haven’t seen my period.” She was fifteen and I was sixteen.


Linda said she wanted to call him Mark Stephen. I was merely relieved that the names she liked weren’t unusual names. The way I saw it, it was your first duty to spare your son from having an unusual name.

In Search of a Group

Bryn “The Fish” Phillips doubled in his spare time as a mime artist, as so many fishmongers do. He wanted me to come along as a rock and pop singer, someone for the younger people in the room.

But I was looking for an opportunity to fucking rip it. With the Senators, at the YMCA, I sang the tits off our improvised twelve-bar repertoire. And that was it. I was in.

Name Change

Vernon decided I needed a stage name. Tommy Scott. We both agreed that it sounded good.

Early Shows

Some of the clubs could get a bit hairy. Sometimes the band became a target because the girls would get excited. One such night: a heaving sea of violence. The Wild West out there, only with more hair lacquer.


We got permission from the manager of the YMCA on Taff Street to set up our recording equipment in the room that offered the best acoustics—the gents’. I thought it sounded like shit.

Gordon Mills told me that if I stayed in Pontypridd, it would almost certainly never happen for me. I kissed my wife and child, climbed into a van, and left for London.

Name Change II

Apparently there was already a band called the Senators. So the Senators became the Playboys. Unfortunately, there was already a band called the Playboys. So the Playboys became the Squires. There didn’t seem to be another band called the Squires.

Gordon said that “Tommy Scott” made me sound like a jazz saxophonist. He said, “I’ve got a name for you: Tom Jones.”


Beat City was a seriously happening venue in a basement. I went on in a white shirt and once again turned in a performance which seemed to put fear into the eyes of those observing it.

I was a hard sell. I was a brawler, I looked too much like Elvis, I didn’t look right. The look for a pop star in the mid-sixties was androgynous. What did Jo Mills say about me: that she’d never seen anything so male?

It’s Not Unusual

The intro, the opening line, the melody and the lyric—it’s instant. Irresistible. If that doesn’t lift something inside you, then you’re either dead or on the way out.

The recording took place in November 1964. At the beginning of 1965, I had a smash hit record.

House of Fame

In a highway service plaza on the way back from a gig, a pack of girls burst into the gents’ and climbed into the cubicle in which I was sitting.

I knew that some people struggled with fame. I sensed very quickly that I was not going to be one of those people. It seemed to me that being famous was nothing but preferable to the alternative, which was not being famous.

Fame allows you to release things that are already in you. It’s a bit like a drink in that respect.

What’s New Pussycat?

Burt Bacharach was doing the music for a Woody Allen picture and wanted me to try out for the theme.

First, there was this weird, clanking intro. And then there was the chorus. “What’s new pussycat—woah, woah, woah.”

I said, “That’s not really the song, is it?”

What’s New Pussycat? II

We took four hours. I lost count of the number of times we did it, this mad fuck of a song. I was apprehensive about what it was going to mean for me.

I was more convinced when it came out and was a hit.

Live! At the Talk of the Town

The most excited people in the room were female. That was par for the course.

One night, the place was booked out to some kind of all-male convention. But the atmosphere wasn’t any less intense. Fellas seemed to get off on it, too.


A story-song: the ballad of a spurned and vengeful lover. A pub song, a folk song, a drinking song. A nut-busting rock number waiting to happen.

A truly international hit.

My Rolls-Royce had single headlights, but they brought out a new one with double headlights, and I thought, “Wow.” So I traded up.

At the Copa

Gangsters got to like me. If their wives and their girlfriends liked me, it seemed to be okay with them.

One of those nights at the Copa, a woman stood, flipped her dress up, stepped out of her panties, and handed them to me. I said, “Watch you don’t catch cold.”

This became what you do at a Tom Jones show.

This is Tom Jones

Your own TV show: this was the star prize, the gold medal. They weren’t handing out television series to just anybody.

The deal for three series of This is Tom Jones was worth £9 million, the biggest that had ever been struck for a singer-led variety show.

It seemed to merit getting my nose fixed, which I did, reshaping the section that had been battered in various collisions on the streets of Pontypridd.

This is Tom Jones II

I went out drinking with Wilson Pickett after the show. “One of these days, we won’t need you white fucks,” he said. “We’ll have our own networks and our own TV shows.”

At this point I considered it prudent to leave.

At Cass Elliot’s, everyone was passing around joints the size of policemen’s truncheons. I turned to the girl who’d been sitting next to me and found her on the floor. “What are you doing down there?” “I don’t know.”

Drugs were never my thing. Cocaine didn’t look attractive. I’d see people bending over the toilets in the nightclubs. I’d be in the toilets because I wanted a shit.

Peace and Love

Graham Nash asked, “How come you didn’t play Woodstock, Tom?” “I don’t know. I guess it had come and gone before I knew it.”

The California flower power thing—I wasn’t getting that at all. But it was 1969, and that was the way it was going. I had to accept that I wasn’t quite going with it.

Viva Las Vegas

I picked up where I’d left off at the Copa—women going nuts, underwear flying, and room keys now. Room keys were Vegas’s little twist on the hysteria.

The road will set temptations in front of you that are hard to resist.

The King

Elvis was curious about my singing. He had questions: Did everyone sing like that in Wales? Where was I getting it from? Were there lots of black people in Pontypridd?

One night I came off stage and went to the shower. Through the rush of water I heard Elvis singing. I stepped out to towel, only to find that Elvis was still there and that moreover, he had taken a dump in the toilet.

Someone had been pitching a song to him, but he thought it would be better for me.

Hard Times

I began firing a succession of blanks. “Golden Days,” “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “La La La.” Records that simply got released and died.

Barry Manilow was having hits. How in the hell? That nasal voice. Surely not even Barry Manilow could like the way that Barry Manilow sounded.


I saw a house in Bel Air that I liked. It was Dean Martin’s, but Martin was going through a divorce and shedding some property, so it was for sale.

Linda was terribly homesick.

Even Cowboys Get the Blues

Polygram figured: let him go country. The first album was Darlin’. The follow-up: Country.

We got plays on the radio. It meant nothing in Europe. You put on a Stetson and climbed on a horse, and you disappeared outside the boundaries of America.

We did five country albums. Polygram offered to take up a sixth, but I told Gordon “I can’t.” I can’t be this lame anymore.


My son Mark had suggested sticking Prince’s “Kiss” into my live show, not long after the song was a hit in 1986.

Some things Prince has done, like “Purple Rain,” you think, forget it. There’s nothing more you can do with that. But “Kiss” left room for interpretation.

I took the tape to a little studio in the Valley and recorded a vocal track onto it.

Kiss II

“Kiss” was a hit. A stonking great international hit. Top 10 in Australia and Norway and Spain and New Zealand and Holland and Sweden and Belgium and Australia. In the U.K., number 5, higher than the original.

An MTV award. A renewed presence on American Top 40 radio.

Time fell away.


I’d seen what happened at Glastonbury when it rained. The place turned into the Somme—people staggering around with trench foot, mud where their clothes used to be.

Kids were jumping all over the place, flooding in from all corners. Two young fellas picked up a banner that read “Tom Fucking Jones!”

Lou Reed was in the wings, getting off on it. That was unexpected.

The More Things Change…

I was backstage at the Capitol Radio Party in the Park in 1997, and the DJ was about to present me. He was bound to use a line: “Get ready with your panties, ladies.”

But he didn’t. He brought me out straight. Some of that baggage falling away.

The More Things Stay the Same

In London, I took Wyclef Jean to the Met Bar. A girl came over to introduce herself. “Nice to meet you,” I said.

She whipped up her dress and showed me the piercing on her clitoris. “Thank you for that,” I said.

Wyclef told everyone he knew.

My reputation precedes me wherever I go.