Keeping Up With Tom Jones

The women who throng to his concerts -- and throw panties at his feet -- say the singer is still sexy after all these years.


It's your first Tom Jones concert. You're in the seventh row and the legendary entertainer looms before you in a smart charcoal suit and black T-shirt, thick, ringed fingers gripping the microphone in his left hand, his face like tanned leather.

He's working now, too; dark patches of perspiration stain his jacket as he belts out the Three Dog Night hit "Mama Told Me Not to Come" in a powerful, earthy voice. Yet sitting there in the darkness, you're consumed with one thought:

The man is nearly 60 years old. And women still throw their underwear at him.

Oh, it's a bizarre ritual!

Singly or in pairs, the women approach the stage, waving panties over their heads like lassoes. In mid-song, he takes the panties, wipes the sweat from his face and hands them back with a coy "Thank you, darlin'."

If he's in the middle of a ballad -- the man does not like to be interrupted during ballads -- they toss the panties on stage and go back to their seats.

Many of the women, it turns out, approach this lascivious ceremony with a clear strategy.

"I bring one pair that he wipes his face with that I keep forever," explains Lauren Lutz, a striking 35-year-old blonde sitting in the third row, aisle seat. "Then I [bring] the throw-ons that you just leave on stage."


All of this is taking place at the grand Morris A. Mechanic Theatre Sunday night, the 10th concert in a 20-venue tour for the veteran Welsh entertainer.

Tom Jones is old enough to be someone's grandfather now; in fact, he is someone's grandfather. And he's bulkier than you remember him from his old TV appearances and concert videos.

But from the moment he launches into the hard-charging "Ain't That a Lot of Love?" off his newest CD "Reload," it's a vintage performance, full of the high energy, hip-thrusting and leering asides that have marked his shows for 100 years now.

OK, maybe it just seems like 100 years.

He's been touring 35 years, ever since his first hit, the Grammy-winning "It's Not Unusual" made it to the top of the charts in 1965.

A string of other hits followed, including "Delilah" and "What's New Pussycat?" and, by 1969, he had his own musical-variety TV show on ABC, on which such superstars of the day as Elvis Presley, the Supremes, Sonny and Cher, Richard Pryor and George Carlin appeared.

But by the 1970s, Jones had fallen out of fashion, dismissed as a hopelessly retro lounge act. In 1988, he launched a comeback of sorts, recording a hit version of Prince's "Kiss" with the British techno-pop group Art of Noise.

Now, he's enjoying a major career renaissance. Like so many icons of the '60s -- martinis, cigars, Volkswagen Beetles, for instance -- he's actually become cool again.

And he seems to be working harder than ever. He's appeared as himself -- well, an animated version of himself, anyhow -- on "The Simpsons" and had a hit album in 1994 with "The Lead and How to Swing It."

A few years ago, he recorded the Randy Newman classic "You Can Leave Your Hat On" for a major scene in the British comedy "The Full Monty." And just this month he was named best male singer at the Brits, Britain's version of the Grammys.

Now he does 250 gigs a year, mixing the old stuff from the "She's a Lady" days and earlier with reworked R&B classics and newer songs by Tracy Chapman ("Give Me One Reason") and Lenny Kravitz ("Are You Gonna Go My Way"), backed by a sizzling eight-piece band and the requisite Marvelettes-style back-up trio in black evening gowns.

And if this performance at the Mechanic is any barometer, Jones' sex appeal appears to have hardly diminished at all. He may be a grandfather, but he hardly seems ready for Bermuda shorts, black knee socks and walking the beach with a metal detector.

A marvel to men, too

Tonight's show is a sell-out. Women dominate the boisterous audience, but there are lots of men, many of them dragged here by their wives and girlfriends.

Many of these are older guys, too, guys who have been around, guys who have knocked a few heads, guys who remember making love in the back seats of Pontiacs when Pontiacs were big enough for that sort of thing, guys who fought wars and raised families and survived illnesses and now play with their grandchildren in the autumn of their lives.

They gaze at Jones and see a guy with a bad perm and a heavy dye job who's getting thick around the middle.

And you can almost see them thinking: Hey, I got a bad perm! I got a heavy dye job! I'm getting thick around the middle! How does this guy do it with the women?

How indeed? Whatever it is, they ought to bottle it. It would be out-selling Viagra in a week.

At one point in the show, following a raucous cover of Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming," a buxom, dark-haired woman, perhaps emboldened by one too many glasses of chablis, runs to the stage.

There, she proceeds to pull open her shirt and flash the singer as he looks on with feigned astonishment. ("What's this?!")

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.