Tom Jones Still Sings To The Back Rows For more than 40 years, Tom Jones has been strutting his stuff across the stage. Now, at 68, he's got a new album called 24 Hours, his first U.S. studio disc in more than 15 years. It combines big-band sounds with catchy beats, occasionally suggestive lyrics and a booming voice.
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Tom Jones Still Sings To The Back Rows

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Tom Jones Still Sings To The Back Rows

Tom Jones Still Sings To The Back Rows

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I've always wanted to say these words: Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Jones.

(Soundbite of song "She's a Lady")

Mr. TOM JONES: (Singing) She's a lady, whoa, whoa, whoa. She's a lady...

(Soundbite of song "Delilah")

Mr. TOM JONES: (Singing) Why, why, why Delilah...

(Soundbite of song "It's Not Unusual")

Mr. TOM JONES: (Singing) It's not unusual to be loved by anyone. It's not unusual to have fun with anyone...

SIMON: Sir Tom is what you call him now, and he's back with a somewhat new sound, but that same rafter-rattling voice.

(Soundbite of song "Give A Little Love")

You've got to give a little a love, give a little a love. Go on just do it, you can't confuse it. Give a little a love, give a little a love. Go on and do it, Go!

SIMON: The world's best-known Welshman - well, there's also Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Burton, Dylan Thomas and Anthony Hopkins, but no mind - released his first album in 1965, and since then he has sold more than 100 million records around the world and been knighted. His new album, "24 Hours," is his first U.S. studio release in more than 15 years. Sir Tom Jones joins us from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

Sir TOM JONES (Singer): My pleasure.

SIMON: I'm intrigued by your choice of producers for this album because it's produced by Future Cut.

Sir JONES: Yes.

SIMON: And of course, they are known for working with Estelle and Kate Nash and young pop stars in Britain. What were you looking for by choosing them?

Sir JONES: Well, I wanted to get with somebody that was on the same wavelength as myself. And when I met them, they said they would like to get the essence of things that I had recorded in the '60s, you know, but with a modern sound. But they liked a lot of brass things that I had done on my early recordings. So one of the songs that - for instance, one of the songs that we recorded now is called, "If He Should Ever Leave You," which was sampled from a record that I did called, "I'll Never Let You Go."

(Soundbite of song "If He Should Ever Leave You")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) I'll buy you diamond rings. I'll give you pretty things. To prove that I love you so...

Sir JONES: The brass in the beginning is identical.

(Soundbite of song "If He Should Ever Leave You")

Sir JONES: And they, you know, they liked that. So they wanted to do things like that, which I was all for. And they had some tracks already laid down, so what I realized was I had to get some songwriters and write songs to go along with some of these tracks that they'd already laid down.

SIMON: And how did Bono come to write a song for you? A song called "Sugar Daddy."

Sir JONES: "Sugar Daddy," yes. We were in Dublin, and I was in the club with him having a drink. And I asked him, would he write me a song? And he said he would love to, but if he did he would like it to be about me. So he asked me a lot of questions about growing up in Wales, you know, and you know, what did I do before I got into show business. And so that line is there, "You got to get your hands dirty when you're digging a ditch." You know, because I told him that I used to dig ditches as well.

(Soundbite of song "Sugar Daddy")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) You gotta get your hands dirty when you're digging a ditch. Revenge on the rich. Got the money got the moves. Got the looks and the breaks. Got the shirt got the shoes. Got what it takes.

Sir JONES: He liked the way I looked when he was a kid and he used to see me on television, you know, with the shirt and the shoes and like that. So those things are in there. So information I was giving him, he was using.

SIMON: Got to tell you, the whole idea of Sir Tom Jones and Sir Bono in a pub, having a drink, it raises the question, so you only go drinking with other people who've been knighted?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sir JONES: No, I wouldn't - this is a nightclub, though. I think it's been documented that it was a pub, but it was actually a nightclub called Lilly Bordello's(ph) in Dublin.

SIMON: Classy place, I'm sure.

Sir JONES: Oh, yes, very classy.

(Soundbite of song "Sugar Daddy")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) The show must go on. What else can it do? I'm gonna drop it all on you. Sugar, sugar daddy. Sugar, sugar daddy. Sugar, sugar daddy.

SIMON: Sir Tom, we asked some of our listeners to give us some questions. Would you mind answering a few of them for us?

Sir JONES: Not at all.

SIMON: First is from Tony K. of Seattle, Washington.

TONY K. (Caller): Hello, Sir Tom. I had the great pleasure of meeting you 19 years ago after a wonderful show at the Paramount Theater, and you were incredibly gracious. It was a pleasure. My question involves your duet album, "Reload." I think it's a terrific record and one of my personal favorites. And I was wondering what artist you would like to share a microphone with today? Thank you very much.

Sir JONES: There's a bunch of people that are around that I haven't sung with as yet. Whitney Houston, I think, is a great singer. If somebody came up with a good song, I think we could sing it together, you know, really well. And I like Alicia Keys. I like Duffy, who is a Welsh singer, and Amy Winehouse. You know, if she ever pulls herself together.

SIMON: You have to get her between spells.

Sir JONES: There's another girl called Adele that is making some noise now in England. So there's a lot good voices around, I think, but with the right song, you know. With duets, though, you have to find the song first, and the other person has to really want to do that.

SIMON: Sir Tom, before we get to our next question, you were very sick as a child, weren't you?

Sir JONES: Yeah, I had tuberculosis from the age 12 to 14. I was bedridden for two years. Sometimes it takes an illness like that to really make you aware that health does not come easy, you know. It's not cheap. But when you have good health, you see, you don't think about it. And a lot of kids growing up, if they don't get sick, they never experience it, so they take it - a lot of people take it for granted.

But when you do get sick like that, you think, my God. I mean, I remember there was a lamppost at the end of our street, and I used to see the kids playing around the lamppost there, and I used to think to myself, my God, when I'm able to walk to that lamppost, I'll never complain about anything again as long as I live. It was - and I've never forgotten that. You know, it's stuck with me all the time.

SIMON: We have something that I think you'll like here in this comment from Sandy Spellman of Texarkana, Texas.

SANDY SPELLMAN (Caller): Hi, Scott and Tom. My husband and I love your new CD, "24 Hours." We have been to several of your concerts, and no matter what mood people are in when they walk in, they always leave with a big smile. What I want to know is what puts a really big smile on your face?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sir JONES: Well, seeing the people walk out with big smiles on their faces. That's what makes me smile. I mean, that's the best part of the day for me is really, is being on stage. I love to sing, and I love, you know, I love getting across to the people. It's like a giant pat on my back when they are getting it and they are really digging it, and that's what puts a smile on my face.

SIMON: Let's go to a question now from Ellen Sterling from Las Vegas.

ELLEN STERLING (Caller): Hi, Sir Tom. I wanted to know if there's a question you wish interviewers would stop asking you. And Is there one you've never been asked but would like to answer?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sir JONES: Well, yeah. But me bringing it up, you see, would bring it up then.

SIMON: I think I know what she's talking about, even if she doesn't.

Sir JONES: It's the underwear thing, you know, that people keep asking me about that I think it's, you know, it's become a joke, and it's not really what I'm all about. You know, it's not - I would prefer to be asked...

SIMON: People throwing underwear at you on stage.

Sir JONES: Underwear, yes, sorry. Throwing, yes.

SIMON: They're not asking about your underwear.

Sir JONES. No, sorry, throwing underwear, you know, that part. That happened, you know, it started a long time ago with room keys and things like that. But I never thought that my image would overpower my talent. But the thing that got me onto the stage to begin with was the sound of my voice. So it's - and I started selling records before the majority of people knew what I looked like. So it's on the sound that I make, really, and not the, you know, sometimes what happens on stage. So I can't think of anything that I would want them to ask me that I haven't already answered.

SIMON: May I ask you about this, Sir Tom. We interviewed Dame Shirley Bassey earlier this year, another famous Welsh singer. Now, a lot of pop stars, as they get older - no names mentioned - re-record fine albums where they kind of reinterpret the classics and emphasize a softer, subtler side. But you Welsh folks, you and Dame Shirley, you just still love to bring out the voice and rattle the pans and...

Sir JONES: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, I think, we're very similar, Shirley and myself, because we do project, and I think we learned that singing in pubs and clubs in Wales without microphones, you know. And you learn to project, and that never really leaves you. So you know, we can get tender at times, you know, but still like to belt out songs when they need to be belted out, and she feels the same way as I do in that respect.

SIMON: I was so struck by something I read. You did an interview in the 1980s, and you said that you dread the day you have to retire.

Sir JONES: Yes. I don't want to retire. I'm not frightened of growing older. It's not a thing that - I don't harp on the past, you know, and think, oh, my God, I wish I was 18 again, you know. It's not - I mean, I have had a wonderful life and I'm still having one. But the only thing that age is going to do is finally stop me from singing, and I'm not looking forward to that. I'm not looking forward to retirement when I won't be able to sing anymore. That - but I hope I'm tired enough then not to be frustrated. You know, and think, my God, I wish I could still sing like I did. So I'm not looking forward to that at all.

SIMON: Well, Sir Tom. Take care of yourself and your voice, OK?

Sir JONES: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "24 Hours")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) Hear the footsteps at my door. I don't struggle anymore. As I...

SIMON: Sir Tom joined us from NPR West. His new album, "24 Hours," is out now. You can hear more of it on our Web site. And by the way, if you have any fond memories of Tom Jones, please share them with us. You can go to This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of song "24 Hours")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) I had one more minute, twenty four hours ago. One more minute, twenty four hours ago.

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