If you’re a fan of Tom Jones and you don’t care who knows it, then no one needs to justify the jovial Welsh superstar’s lounge-soul covers of pop, R&B, and rock songs to you. Certain purists have been a tougher sell on Jones’ act, including, in 1969, Neil Young, who joined Jones onstage once, and only once, on the This is Tom Jones show and immediately regretted it. But who cares about Neil Young’s cranky dislike of commercial television? Who is Neil Young to say we can’t enjoy Jones’ bravado vocals on Crosby, Stills, Nash & sometimes Young’s “Long Time Gone”? The audience sure got a kick out of it, as apparently did the rest of the band.
Janis Joplin didn’t have any such hangups when she went on Jones’ show that same year. Well, she had a hangup, but it wasn’t Jones. “God bless her,” Jones remembered, “she said to me when she came on, ‘Look, I don’t do variety shows; I’m only doing it because it’s you.’ So she saw through it. Then when Janis and I did the rehearsal for Raise Your Hand she looked at me and said, ‘Jesus, you can really sing! (laughs) I thought, thank God people like Janis Joplin had taken note.” If she outshines Jones in the televised performance of the song, above, and I think we can agree she does, he doesn’t seem to mind it much.
Jones may not have had much rock cred; he would never have been invited to share the Woodstock stage with CSNY and Joplin, but as a singer, he’s always earned tremendous respect from everyone, and rightly so.
“Tom held his own,” writes Society of Rock, “and kept up beautifully as he was swept up in the storm that was Janis Joplin’s stage presence, trading verbal licks and sending her into fits of joy when he let go and surrendered to her overwhelming energy. This wasn’t just your regular, run of the mill variety show but then again, nothing was ordinary after Janis was through with it.”
This includes any stage that had her on it, which she immediately dominated as soon as she opened her mouth. Hear her live version of “Raise Your Hand” at Woodstock from earlier that year, further up, and see her tear it up in Frankfurt on her European tour with the Kozmic Blues Band. “I make it a policy not to tell anyone to sit down,” she says by way of introduction. “That’s to encourage everybody to stand up.” Joplin’s death the following year deprived the world of one of its all-time greatest blues singers, but thanks to the internet, and Tom Jones, we’ll always have performances like these to remember her by.