Surrounded by Time is his first album since the death of his childhood sweetheart and wife of 59 years, Linda Trenchard. Jones was only 17 when he married her, and despite his many confessed infidelities, they remained devoted to each other. (She died of lung cancer at age 75, in 2016.)
Here, he shares the griefs and triumphs of his latest chapter with AARP.
You wrote on Instagram: “After five years of enormous personal changes, I finally found the need to express myself again through music.” How much did the loss of Linda inspire this album?
It almost stopped me performing forever. I was on the road in the Philippines. The doctor in L.A. at first said her lung cancer was treatable. But then he called back and said it’s so aggressive … it’s terminal. I canceled my tour and went back to L.A. and straight to the hospital. She was sitting up in bed with a big smile. I said, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to sing anymore.” She said, “Of course you will. I’ve got to leave. I know I don’t have long now. You and Mark [their son] have to mentor one another now and carry on. You need to move back to London, where the family is.” She said to carry on singing. “Don’t fall with me. Don’t come down with me,” she said. That’s why the first song is “I Won’t Crumble With You if You Fall.”
You chose to record the song, “I’m Growing Old.” Is aging a concern, and is time more precious now?
Definitely. I got that song in the early ‘70s from [singer-songwriter] Bobby Cole in Las Vegas. I loved it, but I was only 32 or 33. It was the first song I suggested for this album. I played it for [coproducer] Ethan Johns and told him I feel it’s right to record now. And he said, “Do you really want to admit to that?” Yeah. I am growing old. There’s no getting away from it. I’m not frightened of being my age. I’m proud of being 80 and still alive and kicking on stage. I work out every day. My voice, thank God, is in great shape.
How do you account for that, considering so many singers lose range and agility over time?
I never got into the drug situation. I never smoked. I did drink quite a drop, mind you. But I’ve curtailed that. I can’t really deal with a hangover anymore, so I don’t drink at all except on special occasions. I drink plenty of water. I get enough sleep. When an ear, nose and throat doctor in L.A. took nodules off my vocal cords in the ‘80s, I asked what I could do to prevent this from happening again. He said to cut out performing two shows a night. I took his advice, and it gave me a new lease on life.
Surrounded by Time has dark tones that seem tied to 2020, but did it precede COVID-19?
We finished before the lockdown. A lot of it was live, with the musicians in the room at the same time. I didn’t know the pandemic was going to be so heavy. It’s amazing these songs are even more relevant than when I recorded them.