By Randy Lewis
Things had been shaping up for 2016 to be another late-career banner year for Welsh rocker Tom Jones as he continued touring in support of last year’s standout album “Long Lost Suitcase.”
Then his wife of 57 years, Linda (Melinda Rose) Woodward, died suddenly in April after what the family described as “a short but fierce battle with cancer,” a shock that sidelined Jones and for a time had him wondering whether he would ever sing again.
“When it happened,” he told The Times recently, “I was unsure of myself. I didn’t know whether I could carry on.”
Their son Mark Woodward, who has served in recent years as his father’s manager, suggested after some time had passed that Jones gather musicians for rehearsals.
“I said, ‘I’d like to try,’ ” Jones, 76, said. “My doctor advised it. He said ‘You’ve got to sing.’ I’ve realized since, of course, that’s what has saved me — the music. With the concentration that goes into it, you don’t think about anything else. You have to concentrate — I do anyway, that’s what I’ve found.”
Now, Jones is back on tour again, playing a handful of club and theater shows in the U.S., beginning Oct. 5 in Kansas City, Mo., and culminating with a joint concert with Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison on Oct. 13 at the Hollywood Bowl, their only scheduled U.S. appearance together this year.
Over the last five years, Jones has dived back into the soul, R&B, gospel and folk music he loved growing up in the Welsh mining town of Pontypridd, delivering three albums with English producer Ethan Johns — “Praise and Blame” (2010), “Spirit in the Room” (2012) and “Long Lost Suitcase” (2015) — that rank among the best in a long career, which broke wide open in 1965 with the hit “It’s Not Unusual” that introduced his powerhouse voice to the world.
The recent albums include his powerfully authoritative versions of songs such as Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” and Willie Nelson’s “Opportunity to Cry” as well as Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” and Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I?” — many of them spiritually tinged songs that have brought him comfort after the loss of his wife.
“At the beginning, I didn’t know whether I could go on or not,” Jones said. “When I actually sang, it was uplifting. It reminded me of all the good times we had together. It was more uplifting than I thought it would be.
“Linda always listened to all the new stuff I’ve done, but on the ‘Long Lost Suitcase’ album, she really loved ‘Tomorrow Night,’ the old Lonnie Johnson song,” he said. “So I do it in the shows, and I say that my late wife loved this song.”
Singing with her in mind hasn’t yielded sadness, said Jones, who also noted that before her death, he taped a PBS special in Chicago with guest singer and fiddler Alison Krauss (no air date has been set).
“It’s had the reverse effect,” Jones said. “I find pleasure in it because it reminds me of her.”