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Tom Jones Keeps Things Alive, Young

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Friday, July 10, 2009

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Barely five minutes into a conversation, Tom Jones has already talked about getting props from Kings of Leon at this year’s BRIT Awards in London, having the Killers invite him to collaborate with them and wrangling U2 frontman Bono to write a song for his latest album.

That may seem like young company for a 69-year-old to keep, but apparently “It’s Not Unusual” for the singing icon, who first hit it big with the song of that name 44 years ago.

“These young bands, they certainly know who I am and they certainly know what I do,” says Jones, who was born Thomas Woodward in Wales and resides in Los Angeles.

He’s sold more than 100 million records during his career, and while he’s best known for ’60s Swinging London hits such as “Green Green Grass of Home,” “Delilah,” “Help Yourself,” “She’s a Lady” and the Burt Bacharachwritten theme to Woody Allen’s 1965 film “What’s New Pussycat?” he’s also taken on Prince’s “Kiss” with the cutting edge electronic ensemble Art of Noise and has also collaborated with Tori Amos, the Pretenders, Stereophonics, the Cardigans, Wyclef Jean and others.

“I’m not trying to be a younger man,” Jones explains. “When kids come to see me ... I just did the Glastonbury music festival (in England); there were 175,000 young people there, and they were going nuts. And when I came offstage all these young kids were saying, ‘Wow, Tom, your set was awesome ... ’

“It’s great the kids are digging what I’m doing as well as the older fans — they’re there as well, God bless ’em. It’s always been a mixture of people.”

And, Jones acknowledges, many of those people are women, and many of those have a habit of tossing various items of lingerie to him during his performances — where he still rocks a pair of tight trousers better than some performers half his age and has more swivel in his hips than any Detroit Lions running back in the past decade.

But, Jones explains, the sex symbol image “is a little tongue-in-cheek thing, really. I think everybody gets that. I don’t mind, because if you’re gonna sing songs that have a certain amount of sex in them, you can’t really be taking it in any other way. Once you get that stamp, it just keeps going.

“I am an older sex symbol,” he adds with a laugh. “But then again, look at Sean Connery. He’s 10 years older than I am and he’s considered a sexy man, so there you go.”

Songs mean more than sex symboldom to Jones, however, and he was pleased to be able to put “24 Hours” out in the U.S. last year — his first release on these shores in 14 years. It’s not that Jones wasn’t working; in fact, since “The Lead and How to Swing It” came out in 1994, he’s had eight Top 30 hits in the U.K., including the No. 3 smash “Sex Bomb” with Mousse T, and his 2000 album, “Reload,” was the biggest of his career.

He also received a BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 2003, and in 2006 Jones, who already had an Order of the British Empire designation, was made a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II.

“I was thrilled to bits,” Jones says of the honor. “When I first heard it, it shook me up, ’cause I thought, ‘Do I have to do anything? Will I have to change my lifestyle at all?’ But, no ... It’s a great experience. When they call your name out and you kneel in front of the queen and she gets that sword and taps you on the shoulder with it, it’s a tremendous moment.”

Jones says “24 Hours,” his first release as a “Sir,” was intended to be a covers album, but outside of a brassy, soulstyled version of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Hitter,” he really wasn’t happy with the choices. His record company bosses encouraged him to seek original material, and he wound up working with the hitmaking production team Future Cut (Lily Allen, Natasha Bedingfield, Kate Nash), co-writing some of the songs and hitting up Bono, who co-wrote “Sugar Daddy” with U2 guitarist The Edge.

“When I first heard it I said, ‘Sugar Daddy?!’ Christ, is that what (Bono) thinks of me?’ ” Jones recalls with a laugh. “He said, ‘No, no, it’s about you, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek song.’ He said, ‘Have a listen. If you don’t record it, I won’t get too upset; I’ll just slit my wrists and strangle the fella who helped me write it.’

“So I said, ‘OK’ and recorded the song, and that was it.”

Jones hasn’t started thinking about his next album yet, but he says the admiration of Kings of Leon, the Killers and others certainly has him thinking.

“I might do something there, with those kinds of American bands or with an American producer or something,” Jones says. “Maybe that would be played more in this country if I did it. I certainly don’t want to take so long for another album over here, you know?”

Tom Jones and the Killer Flamingos perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday (July 12) at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Pkwy., Sterling Heights. Tickets are $28 reserved and lawn, $68 premium reserved. Call (586) 268-5100 or visit www.freedomhill.net.

Web Site: www.freedomhill.net

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