Tom Jones plays the Mountain Winery in Saratoga this summer.(Courtesy Harry Borden)

Tom Jones sings on, taking solace in wife’s last wish

It’s been nearly a year since Welsh rocker Sir Tom Jones published his tell-all autobiography, “Over the Top and Back,” which coincided with the release of his 41st album, “Long Lost Suitcase,” a collection of some of his favorite R&B covers.

He meant to launch their backing tour sooner — his U.S. jaunt hits The City next week — but real life tragically intruded on his plans.

In April, while playing “Suitcase” concerts in the Philippines, he phoned Lady Linda, his wife of 59 years at home in Los Angeles, to see how she was doing.

“She said, ‘Not so well.’ The doctor had said that she had some fluid on the lungs, due to her emphysema,” he says.

Once the fluid was tested, the diagnosis for the patient, a colon cancer survivor, proved much worse: “They said it was lung cancer, and it was terminal,” he says.

He caught the next flight home (unable to physically sing at that point) and with manager son Mark at his side, raced to her hospital bedside, where she told him: “This is it. But don’t worry — you’ll be OK.”

Jones says, “I just couldn’t believe how calm she was. She was telling me that I will be OK! And I said, ‘I don’t know about that.’ But she had eight days, it turned out.”

Initially, the Grammy-winning vocalist — whose overseas career began with his 1965 debut “Along Came Jones” and washed onto American shores as part of the Beatles-led British invasion — was unsure if he could get onstage again.

“Because I’m an emotional singer, I get into all of the songs that I sing, and I see them vividly. And I thought, ‘How the hell am I going to do that?’” he says.

But his wife’s dying wish was that he continue performing, so his son booked tentative club dates in London, he says, “Just to see if I could actually sing. And it worked.”

It helped, of course, that Jones — whose voice is even smokier, more resonant at 76 — has been doing the most stunning work of his career lately, thanks to Ethan Johns, who produced “Suitcase” as well as gospel albums “Praise & Blame” in 2010 and “Spirit in the Room” in 2012. They’re a far cry from his glitzy signature vintage hits “It’s Not Unusual” and “What’s New Pussycat.”

Jones has a heartwarming technique for maintaining his composure. His wife’s favorite “Suitcase” number was Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night,” so he discusses that onstage now. “I say how much it meant to her, and when I do, she’s there,” he says. “And it gives me more joy than sadness.”

IF YOU GO
Tom Jones
Where: Masonic, 1111 California St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 11
Tickets: $49.50 to $150
Contact: www.ticketmaster.com

Ethan JohnsLong Lost SuitcaseMark JonesOver the Top and BackPop MusicSir Tom Jones

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