Tom Jones met Elvis Presley in 1965 and they became firm friends. Tom was 25 and Elvis 30, but Priscilla Presley once said, “Right from the start, they were like a couple of schoolboys. I never saw Elvis so happy in the company of another man.” So, what was it about the boy from Pontypridd that inspired the king of rock ‘n’ roll?
In 1965, Tom was visiting Paramount Studios in Hollywood to discuss singing a song for a film. Elvis was there that day filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style, and Tom was told that he would like to meet him.
He says, “I thought, my God, I didn’t know he knew I existed, because I had three singles out and one album at the time… When I go on the set where Elvis was filming, he walked towards me, singing ‘With These Hands’, which was my record. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream, that Elvis Presley was singing my song, you know, to me! We had a picture taken, and he said to me, ‘How the hell do you sing like that?’ And I said, ‘Well, you are partly to blame, you know, listening to your records in the 50s.”
Most Americans, Elvis included, had believed Tom Jones to be black, just as they had done when they first heard Elvis sing.
Tom used to listen to the BBC Light Programme where he first heard Elvis sing “Heartbreak Hotel”.
He says, “I listened to his first hit belting out through the tinny loudspeaker on our transistor radio on the kitchen dresser and it had an immediate and profound effect on the way my life was to develop. For Presley, the DJ assured us, was a white boy. I could hardly believe it for he was singing Southern-style black music as if he had been born to it… For me, a fledgling vocalist who had spent endless hours singing into a tape recorder trying to sound like a black American singer, Presley had shown that maybe mine wasn’t such an impossible dream.”
The best of pals from that day, Tom was back in the US in 1968 and about to play his first concert in Las Vegas. Chris Hutchins, Tom’s press agent at the time, had met Elvis a month or so earlier when he’d taken The Beatles to meet him at his home in Bel Air. He says, “It seemed natural enough to invite him to Las Vegas for Tom’s opening at The Flamingo,” and that’s exactly what Elvis did.
At this point in time, Elvis had not performed live on stage for several years. He’d been putting his energy into making films and churning out singles, but after seeing Tom’s show, he went backstage to congratulate him and, according to Chris Hutchins, he said, “You lit a fire in me tonight. I’m going to tell that old man (his manager) I need to get back on the road.”
Tom has often said that Elvis paid him a huge compliment by coming to see his show that night.
He says, “Afterwards, he came backstage and said I’d given him the confidence to perform live again. He told me, ‘Everything’s changed so much. Groups are big now, with The Beatles being so successful, and I was afraid that the day of the solo performer was over. Also, I didn’t want to put on a show that would seem old-fashioned, but you’ve shown me that there’s still a big demand for the sort of thing I do.”
Elvis did indeed return to the stage to do the sort of thing he did, and Tom says, “I was very pleased about that because I felt I’d been able to do something positive to help him in return for all the musical enjoyment he’d given me.
He, though, didn’t see it like that. He was a generous man and I think he always felt he owed me… We remained friends to the end, and even though I’ve made many changes of musical direction over the years, I still look back with great fondness and admiration for a great man and a remarkable singer… His wife, Priscilla, told me that when Elvis and I were together, he seemed to be a different person, much happier in himself. We spent some time in Hawaii together, just sitting side by side playing guitar and singing, with no one else around. We were like two kids, best friends, doing what they do best. We’d sit and jam all through the night…”
From 1968 to 2011, Tom Jones played at least one week in Las Vegas every single year – and women would throw their pants at him every time. Not bad for a boy from Pontypridd!