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First Watch: Tom Jones, 'Elvis Presley Blues'

Tom Jones in a scene from his new video for "Elvis Presley Blues." (YouTube)closemore
Tom Jones in a scene from his new video for "Elvis Presley Blues." (YouTube)

Tom Jones says the first time they met, Elvis Presley asked him, "How the hell do you sing like that?" Jones' replied, "Well, you were partly to blame." The exchange marked the beginning of a long friendship and deep, enduring respect between the two famed crooners. That reverence is raw and unchanged in Jones' cover of Gillian Welch's "Elvis Presley Blues" from Jones' new album, Long Lost Suitcase, out Dec. 4.

In the song's video, Jones is alone. He's vulnerable, watching film strips of Elvis projected against the distressed wall of an empty room, photos of his friend scattered on the floor. He sees them and smiles.

"To me the song is a celebration of Elvis Presley, a celebration of his life," Jones tells us in an email. "I wanted to show that. I wanted to let the people know how much I felt about Elvis - that he did change music. So I thought if we can capture it, that would be a hell of a tribute."

Tom Jones' voice feels as powerful now at age 75 as it did 50 years ago belting his big hit "It's Not Unusual." His cover of "Elvis Presley Blues" is more mournful, more personal than Welch's beautifull, folky original. "He was all alone in a long decline," Jones sings, every word heavy with the weight of heartache, backed only by undulating chords from a lap slide guitar.

It's a hell of a tribute.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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