Tom Jones (not to be confused with the Welsh-born singer who uses the same name) is part of that increasingly rare breed of songwriter/lyricists. He's also a notably successful one, based on the hundreds of recordings that exist of "Much More," "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain," and "They Were You," all co-authored by Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt in their most successful work, The Fantasticks. Tom Jones never set out to be a lyricist. Born to a poor family in Littlefield, Texas, his early interest in entertainment derived from radio, as a means of forgetting about the relative poverty in which his family lived, and also his sickly existence as a child. He later gravitated toward theater and movies, and by the time he entered Texas State University, he had the goal of becoming an actor. When that proved out of his reach, he turned to directing as a goal, and it was only reluctantly that he began writing lyrics for other students' songs. Among those with whom he collaborated on various projects as an undergraduate and graduate student was Harvey Schmidt. The two eventually ended up sharing an apartment in New York City during the mid-'50s.
Jones enjoyed some limited success during this period, writing sketches -- most notably for a young actor/comedian named Tom Poston -- but generally didn't do much more than eke out a living in the city. It was with Jones, however, that the future solution to his career aspirations and monetary worries originated, in the idea of adapting Edmond Rostand's 1890 play Les Romanesques to music; having first encountered the work as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin in the late '40s, from 1951 through 1955, Jones worked on it under the title "Joy Comes to Dead Horse," utilizing a Western setting, in collaboration with composer John Donald Robb, with results that neither felt were satisfactory. They'd parted company in 1955, and Jones turned the idea over to his friend and roommate Schmidt. The two struggled to get their songs and sketches heard and sold, without much success, but by 1959, "Joy Comes to Dead Horse" had evolved into The Fantasticks. In 1960, it opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York's Greenwich Village, where it was still running 41 years later. By 1964, the off-Broadway play was in its fourth year, and the songs "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain," and "Much More" were on their way to becoming pop standards, as widely performed and recorded as the biggest Broadway hits of the same period. Jones, as author of the book, could also take pride over the ensuing years as dozens, and then hundreds, and ultimately thousands of student and regional productions of the work were licensed.
In 1964, Jones and Schmidt made the leap to Broadway success with 110 in the Shade, a musical that dealt with their Texas roots and included "Gonna Be Another Hot Day." They later co-authored I Do! I Do! (which yielded the hit "My Cup Runneth Over"), Celebration, and Philemon. The composing team was still working together at the outset of the 21st century.