Revealed: South Shields songwriter's connection with Tom Jones

Today musician and actor Johnny Caesar continues his fascinating life-story -
Tom JonesTom Jones
Tom Jones

“On leaving The Caesars, in May 1966, to go solo as a stand-up comedian, I changed my name from Jack Brownless to Johnny Caesar, as most people in northern clubland knew me as being a member of the Caesars,” explains Johnny.

“I was offered a songwriting contract with a London publisher, Francis Day and Hunter, which was based in Tin Pan Alley, with a view of getting a deal with EMI to record as a singer-songwriter.

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“But as I had a young family to support and needed an immediate income, I decided to concentrate on the comedy side of my career and put the songwriting on hold for a couple of years.

“I began working the clubs and nightclubs up and down the country, in Wales, and Scotland.

“In late 1969, I was contracted to do a summer season for 1970 at the Hawaiian, in Jersey, in the Channel Islands, but it was not to be, as on February 28, 1970, while on stage at the Coylumbridge Hotel, in Aviemore, the ski resort, in Scotland, I suffered an electric shock from a live microphone.

“Luckily there were four doctors in the audience who got my heart started again, but my right hand was badly burned (as reported in The Shields Gazette at the time) so the next few months were spent in hospital, getting skin grafts to my hand, which meant I lost the summer season in Jersey.

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But the injury didn’t stop Johnny, as he goes on to explain.

“In August 1970, I was doing a week’s cabaret in South Wales, when, as I was looking towards the Rhondda Valley, I picked up my guitar and in only 20 minutes wrote a song called If I Could See The Rhondda One More Time, which was to launch the career of a Welsh artist and become a classic across the world, being sung and recorded by dozens of artists and still earning royalties to this day.

“For 20-odd years it has been in the top 10 of music played at funerals in Wales.”

Johnny reveals that the song was first offered to Gordon Mills, who was the manager of Tom Jones, but he turned it down.

However, another Welsh singer took up the option.

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“Later, when I was again working in Wales, I met an unknown Welsh singer who needed a song as he had a new manager in London. I sang him Rhondda, and he said ‘that’s it’.

“His manager came from London the following day and asked me if I would produce the record, and I agreed.”

The singer changed his name to David Alexander and released the record on EMI Records in 1971.

Despite a lack of play on the BBC, the record kept selling “by word of mouth”, and EMI kept it in their catalogue for five years, eventually outselling some chart-toppers.

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“I was then asked by Million Dollar Music, in London, to write my own LP of original songs, and as I was opening side one with Rhondda I decided to write another song about the Rhondda to start side 2.

“This was called Come Home Rhondda Boy.

“After the LP was released, I got a call From EMI Music, who wanted to publish it and record it with Max Boyce, the Welsh comedian and folk singer, so I agreed.

“A few days later, I got a call from Gordon Mills, in Los Angeles (who must have realised his mistake turning down Rhondda for Tom) to say he wanted to record Rhondda Boy with the Welsh superstar, so I went out To Hollywood, in Los Angeles, and it was recorded and released on Tom’s LP Darling.

“When it was reviewed by Billboard magazine in America, the reviewer said Rhondda Boy was the best track on the LP, so it was released as the A-side single on Polydor Records, and it did very well in worldwide sales. The song was also covered by many other artists.

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“I was still doing well in clubland, and in 1971, a promoter again asked me to do a summer season in Jersey, at the West Park Pavilion, which was a huge success.

“The following year, I was asked to perform at the Le Taq hotel, and in 1973, to do so at the Hawaiian – the same venue that I had been forced to cancel in 1970 – which I agreed to, as I was able to return to the mainland during the winter to work the nightclubs.

“The most famous of all was Batley Variety Club, where I did many weeks with artists like Matt Monro, Roy Orbison, Mike Yarwood, Frankie Vali and the Four Seasons, The Stylistics, Freddie Starr, Frank Ifield, Frankie Laine, Tommy Cooper and many, many more.

“During this time I also worked at the Intercontinental Hotels, in Zambia, and Kenya, plus cruises to the Canary islands and Mediterranean.”

* On Thursday, Johnny talks about his acting career.