Publication: San Jose Mercury News
Date Printed: Friday, October 19, 1991
Section: Eye
Page: 21
By: STEPHEN WHITTY, Mercury News Staff Writer

TOM Jones has survived four decades of show business because Tom Jones is adaptable.

Rock 'n' roll? Fine. Vegas? All right. A bit of country, maybe a variety show for the telly? Lovely.

You can call him glitzy and showbizzy and he won't mind a bit. Because while many of his contemporaries are on the oldies circuit, Jones is recording Prince songs, making albums with Van Morrison, performing with Billy Idol and doing TV specials with the Pogues.

And yes, he really is 51. And a grandfather, twice over.

Q: I saw you two years ago at Circle Star and the fans were still throwing underwear onstage. Do you remember when that began?

A: Yeah, that started in '68 at the Copacabana in New York. It was a nightclub, and I was perspiring a lot, and the ladies were handing me table napkins. And this one woman stood up, lifted up her dress, took her underwear off and handed it to me. I don't know whether it was shock value or what. I don't know what she was trying to do. I just sort of wiped my brow and handed them back. But a columnist was there, and put it in the paper, and that was that.

Q: What do you do with all of them?

A: Well, it's not that much anymore. I never wanted it to get in the way of my voice, of my talent, and by the early '70s I was getting reviewed by how many pairs of underwear were up there. So over the years I've said I'd like people to listen to me as well as throw things. But really, it's all right.

Q: And the women screaming and carrying on -- does that embarrass you sometimes?

A: No. (Laughs.) No. Not at all.

Q: What was it like working with Van Morrison on your new album, "Carrying a Torch"?

A: Great. It was very easy because I've known Van from the '60s; we started together in '64. He was in a band called Them and he had a hit with "Baby, Please Don't Go" and I had "It's Not Unusual" and we were touring a lot together. . . . We wanted to work together but never got around to it. It's taken all this time. The thing I liked about it was that we went in with his band and we did it basically live. It was a happy time, going in, putting the light on and doing it. That's the way I used to record in the '60s. That's the way everyone used to record.

Q: You had a long friendship with Elvis Presley, too.

A: I think he was the only other person I've spoken to that felt the same way about music as myself, as far as versatility is concerned. Because he loved ballads as well as rock 'n' roll, he loved gospel, he loved pop. And we would sit in his suite and talk about music, and he would have his vocal backing group, and we would sing, mostly. Jam. . . . We had a lot in common, it's just he got mixed up with the drug situation, which I never did.

Q: Were you aware of all that going on?

A: Later. When I'd see him at his suite in the Las Vegas Hilton, he'd sort of disappear into the bedroom and he'd come out and you could see that something had happened. But he never said anything about it, we never talked about it.

Q: How much do you still tour?

A: Nine to 10 months of the year. I don't like a lot of time off. I can get lazy, and start overindulging in good food and good wine. What I do keeps me disciplined.

Q: How do your wife and family deal with it?

A: My wife used to travel with me a lot of years ago, but she got fed up with that. She said "I can't keep up with you." So we have houses in Wales, and Los Angeles. And wherever she is, I go there. And my mother and my sister live in L.A., up the road from me. And my son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren, we have dinner every night I'm in L.A. So I try to keep the family thing very active.

Q: You were a teen-ager when rock 'n' roll really hit.

A: Yeah. I'd left school and I was working in a glove factory. Apprentice glove cutter. And when "Rock Around the Clock" came out the other guys thought it was awful. But I liked it. It was exciting to me. . . . I remember in this glove factory at Christmastime we had this party and they were playing rock 'n' roll records. And I was the only kid that could jive, you know, which was like doing the bop over here. So there I was dancing with all these girls. I thought, "This is wonderful. This is it. This is for me."

Q: Was there a time when you realized, God, I've made it?

A: Well, when I was in Wales, people knew me. I was playing clubs and I'd gotten a following there. But when I went to London in '64 it was a different story because the group scene was very big. To be a soloist was out of fashion. . . . And there I was, like a flashback from the '5Os, with denims on and a leather jacket and greased hair. I was on a tour with a bunch of rock bands when "It's Not Unusual" came out. I didn't realize how big the record had gotten. And I was in a pub between shows and there was a crowd gathered outside. I figured it was for one of the bands. So I walked right out and they tore my bloody clothes off.

Q: Anything you haven't done that you'd like to?

A: I'd like to do some specialized albums. A rock 'n' roll album, a late-night listening album, a rhythm and blues album, a gospel album, a Christmas album, an album of Welsh songs -- but the record companies always want commercial. They want a mix. I've never made a movie, either. I'd like to try that.

Q: You just finished a Christmas movie for British TV, though.

A: Yeah, Malcolm McClaren just finished a show called "The Ghosts of Oxford Street." I play Gordon Selfridge, an American from Chicago who opened the first department store in Britain. He was a womanizer and a drinker and they asked me to play the part. Typecasting perhaps, I don't know. . . . Sinead O'Connor and the Pogues are in it too.

Q: Doing so many concerts a year, do you ever get to the part where you think, Oh God, it's time to sing "It's Not Unusual" again?

A: No, not really, because of what comes from the audience. It's always fresh. When you start a hit, and you got applause on it, it's a shot in the arm.

Q: What's not unusual about you?

A: I'm a basic person. I like what I do very much and I've enjoyed it, I've learned things. About good food and good wine especially -- coming from a working-class background, you know, it was fish and chips and a pint of beer. I've gone to different countries. I've read a lot of history books. I've taken advantage of what success has given me. . . . And I really love Wales, and I love to go back there, and go into a pub and have a few.

Q: When you go on stage, and you're there in the tight pants and you take off the jacket and all the women start to scream -- is that all you?

A: Yeah, that's . . . oh now, what do you mean? (Laughs) That's all me as far as my build is concerned? Or the way I'm performing?

Q: Well, both.

A: Yeah, it's all me. Both.

Tom Jones
Where: Circle Star Center, San Carlos
When: 7:30 tonight
Tickets: $21.50
Phone: (415) 366-7100

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