Happy Birthday, Tom Jones

I’ve written about him before, mostly here.

He’s still out there. His voice is not only intact but as powerful as it ever was. He is recently a widow after 59 years of marriage. He is beloved by his fan base who have been following him for 50, 60 years now. Let’s see who, of your young musicians today, will inspire that kind of loyalty. There will be some, I guarantee it, but you never know who it will be. Longevity is the name of the game. Staying power. Generosity. Integrity. Doing what you WANT to do. Not resting on your laurels. Continuing to create. Continuing to be generous.

Tom Jones’ cover of Gillian Welch’s killer song “Elvis Presley Blues” blows my socks off and I didn’t think anything could compare to Gillian’s version. The arrangement of Jones’ version is startling, intense, with no catharsis in it, no resolution, no let-up except in Jones’ vocals … the cover is an ongoing pulse of sound, never varying, a tightrope wire of electricity. But I am also struck by Jones’ performance. Of course, he knew Elvis. He and his wife would vacation with Elvis and Priscilla. So there’s a smile on Jones’ face, in his eyes, as he thinks of Elvis. As sad as it is that Elvis died so young, it is my belief that people should smile when they think of him. His entire life was an act of generosity. It wore him out.

As Gillian Welch so gorgeously wrote in her lyrics: Elvis went out onstage “with his soul at stake.” His SOUL at stake.

As I always say, It’s got to cost you something. Otherwise, why do it? And so someone who didn’t know any other way to do it, like Elvis … should be celebrated, admired.

Jones’ smile, as he watches the footage of Elvis, is soft and open, tender.


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22 Responses to Happy Birthday, Tom Jones

  1. Anne says:

    I love his songs so much. Even the incidental sighs are great. And the way he says “please don’t make me” on I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. Just so much emotion packed in there.

    • sheila says:

      Right?? He bursts with his own emotions. And he has the voice to express all of it. Fearless with himself and his gift.

  2. mutecypher says:

    That killed. Thanks for sharing!

  3. mutecypher says:

    I was listening to the album this came from and he does Hank Williams’ Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do?


  4. mutecypher says:

    I saw him Friday. He puts on a great show. He was supposed to be in town back in November, but had to get a hip replacement and re-scheduled the show. 78 years old, on tour a few months after surgery. And just killing it.

    I didn’t know he was on The Voice UK. His opening act, Into The Ark, was one that he mentored on the show. They were also very good.

    At one point, a fan shouted out for Delilah. Tom says, “not yet, we don’t start with the main course – we’ll have some appetizers.” A little later someone shouted something unintelligible. Tom paused, tried to figure it out, and then said “I don’t know what you said, but whatever it was, the answer is yes.” The guy was just a delight.

    • mutecypher says:

      He talked about meeting his wife when he was 16 and working in a glove factory. It was a sweet story.

      And he introduced “Kiss” by saying he wanted to do a tribute to a genius who passed too soon.

      Such a generous spirit.

  5. Brooke A L says:

    This is seriously one of the best things you’ve written, Sheila, and that is saying something. And I haven’t even watched the video yet.

  6. The best covers are the covers that bring something of the artist into the other person’s work. This version does that in spades. Wow.

  7. regina Bartkoff says:


    “With his soul at stake.” His SOUL at stake.
    Well, I’m just done for now, that went right through me.
    I loved what you said about Jone’s smile too.
    “As I always say, It’s got to cost you something.” “Otherwise why do it?”
    What the commenter Brooke said about this being one of your best. YES. And weird, because it’s short and deceptively simple what you are writing here. But your whole force of yourself is in it, and your deep love and understanding for these two incredible performers, we feel it. Thanks Sheila.

  8. Melanie says:


    I had a Disney LP record in the 60s that had songs about folk heroes and legends: Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, and of course John Henry. I did not understand as a child what it was talking about, but when my own children were young that song popped up on a recording and I was able to appreciate when they sang, “He lay down his hammer and he died, Lord, Lord. He lay down his hammer and he died.” It is really powerful that Gillian’s blues homage to Elvis climaxed and concluded with that bittersweet correlation between John Henry and Elvis.

    I have not heard the other version, but after hearing and seeing Tom Jones sing it so achingly and beautifully O don’t even want to click the link.

    On a much lighter note, I just heard the one about playing ‘What’s New Pussycat’ on the jukebox 21 times in a row. My husband and I had a good laugh until I learned the joke was on me. That has apparently been a Tumblr meme for a decade. (I’m not a millenial, I just play the parent of one irl.) In a way I suppose it exposes another generation to the awesomeness of Tom Jones. Happy Birthday!

  9. Melissa Sutherland says:

    I heard him live somewhere in NJ maybe 25 years ago and have never forgotten. I just couldn’t get over the power and truth of his voice. He never wavered. He just sang. He just sang. Heaven. I’ve read a lot of your pieces on him, and they never fail to remind me.

    • sheila says:

      Oh wow – that’s wonderful! I’m amazed, too, at how intact his voice remains – despite his age. That Elvis number … he just WAILS it.

  10. Larry Aydlette says:

    I loved his duets with musical artists he admired on his old TV show. The one with Janis Joplin is a killer. It’s not a surprise that he would admire Elvis in the same vein.

    • sheila says:

      I love coming across those old clips from his TV show. I’m not sure if the “Hey Jude” duet he did with Wilson Pickett was on his show – ?? – and it was on Youtube briefly and then vanished – never been able to find it since – I imagine it’s because the Beatles copyright hammer came down? – which seems ridiculous to me because it’s this grainy horrible quality copy of a TV show. Anyway, have you seen that duet?

      It completely re-thinks Hey Jude – which I didn’t think possible – and the two of them together is just glorious!

      • Bill Wolfe says:

        “I love coming across those old clips from his TV show.” He had a short-lived show on VH-1 sometime in the 1990s or early Aughts. The performance that stands out in my memory is when he did a duet with Stevie Wonder on “Heaven Help Us All.” The original never did too much for me, but Tom and Stevie together made it something special. I finally “heard” the words.

    • sheila says:

      ooh – look! The Hey Jude is embedded in this medley – a longer “medley” – so someone sneaky is getting around the copyright issue I’m thinking – so happy to see it again – they’re so great together:


  11. Clary says:

    Wow, what a powerful voice! How come he keeps singing like a lion, a lion with feelings.

  12. Clary says:

    I just found Tom Jones singing 3 songs, he’s really amazing, I don’t believe he is 81 years old. He sings “I’m growing older”, well, maybe inside, if he says so.

  13. Bill Wolfe says:

    I saw a live show of his on some obscure cable channel recently. It was from the last ten years or so; in it, he did some good newer material, very blues-based, and some re-thought old pieces. The best of the latter was a quiet, Spanish-flavored version of “It’s Not Unusual.” Smoldering, rather than a burst of flame like the original, I think I preferred it.

    That Elvis song is excellent. The leap in the last verse to John Henry tells a whole new story about Elvis. Amazing how people keep finding new ways to see him.

  14. Bill Wolfe says:

    That same program was on TV tonight and I was able to find it on You Tube. It’s worth seeing, sometime when you’re in a Tom Jones mood:


  15. Brendan O'Malley says:

    his version of james brown’s “it’s a man’s world” is INSANE.

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