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Tori Amos

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Tori Amos

Tori Amos (born Myra Ellen Amos on August 22, 1963) is an American singer, pianist and songwriter. Tackling a wide range of subjects, including sexuality, religion, patriarchy and personal tragedy, she has built a devoted following. She is probably best known to the wider public for a dance remix of "Professional Widow", her sole single to reach number one on the European Billboard charts. Classically trained, Amos’s voice and mostly piano-based music has frequently been compared to that of Kate Bush, [[Bj?] and Joni Mitchell.

Contents

Biography

Early years

She was born Myra Ellen Amos (called Ellen) to Dr. Edison & Mary Ellen Amos on August 22, 1963 during a trip from their home in Georgetown to North Carolina, at the Old Catawba Hospital in Newton, N.C. When Amos was 2?, her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland where she began to play the piano and attend her father's church every week. By age 5, she had written her first song. During these years, she spent formative time with her maternal grandfather, who was part Eastern Cherokee (an Eastern Cherokee with some European ancestry). In 1968, she was given a full scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory of Music, which she was the youngest person ever to attend. At age 11, her scholarship was discontinued due to the growing influence on her of popular music. Two years later, she began studying at Montgomery College and began playing at piano bars, many of them gay, chaperoned by her father. Reverend Amos began sending tapes of the songs she'd written to record companies at this time. She first came to local notice by winning a county Teen Talent contest, and her picture was published in a local paper. The song she sang was called More than Just a Friend. By the time she reached high school, she was well known in the DC area. During her years at Richard Montgomery High School, she was elected Homecoming Queen, Most Likely to Succeed (female), Most Talented (female), and Best All-Around (female) and became involved with the drama group. As a high school senior, Ellen Amos co-wrote Baltimore with her brother Mike for a competition involving the Baltimore Orioles. This song won the contest and became her first single, released as a 7" pressed for family and friends. At around this time she adopted the name "Tori," after a friend of a friend told her that she looked more like a Tori than a Myra Ellen.

Y Kant Tori Read

At age 21, Tori Amos moved to Los Angeles to pursue her music career. While there she managed to get several acting jobs, including a Kellogg's Just Right cereal commercial (for which role she beat out a then-unknown Sarah Jessica Parker). After playing a bar one night, she gave a ride home to a patron, who sexually assaulted her – an experience that would feed into her influential song "Me and a Gun". She also met Steve Caton, who played guitars on her albums through To Venus and Back (1999). In 1985, Amos formed Y Kant Tori Read – the name a reference to Amos’ facility with playing by ear at Peabody and her difficulty with playing from sheet music – with Caton, Matt Sorum (later of the Cult and Guns N' Roses), and Brad Cobb. A year later, Atlantic Records gave Amos a 6 record contract. In 1988, her debut album Y Kant Tori Read was released and was panned by critics. Amos was devastated, and started working with other artists (including Stan Ridgway of Wall of Voodoo, Sandra Bernhard and Al Stewart) as a backup vocalist. She also recorded a song called "Distant Storm" for the film China O'Brien; in the credits, the song is attributed to a band called "Tess Makes Good" with "additional vocals by Ellen Amos".

Little Earthquakes

Atlantic Records told Amos that she had to produce another record by March 1990. When she presented them with her initial recordings, they were rejected on the grounds that the "girl and a piano thing" wasn't going to sell. Extensively re-worked and expanded with the help of Steve Caton, Eric Rosse, Will MacGregor, Carlo Nuccio, and Dan Nebenzal, the record ended up full of raw, emotive songs recounting her religious upbringing, sexual awakening, struggle to establish her identity, and her rape. The Atlantic executives changed their minds upon hearing the edited version, and relocated Tori to England to launch the "new" album, which was released under the title Little Earthquakes. Atlantic's European counterpart, East West, worked hard to promote the record. It was trailed by a promotional single featuring the emotional, unaccompanied desolation of "Me and a Gun", which received considerable critical attention. When the album was released in the UK, it went straight to #1. A month later, it was released in America to breakthrough critical success. The accompanying singles were "Me and a Gun", "Silent All These Years", "China", "Winter" and "Crucify". During this time, Tori recorded the song "Happy Workers" for the Toys movie soundtrack. A remix of the song is also included on the soundtrack.

Under The Pink

After touring throughout 1992 in support of Little Earthquakes, Amos went to New Mexico to write her second solo record, Under the Pink. It debuted at #1 in the UK and #12 in the US charts on its release in January 1994. It disappointed some critics, however, who considered it a step sideways rather than forwards from Little Earthquakes. In February, she began the "Under the Pink" tour. Four tracks were released as singles: "God", "Cornflake Girl" (a #4 single in the UK), "Pretty Good Year" and "Past the Mission", which featured the vocal contribution of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. The Australian edition of the album included "More Pink", a collection of B-Sides including a cover of the Joni Mitchell song "A Case of You".

Amos also contributed the song "Butterfly" to the soundtrack for the 1994 movie Higher Learning as well as a cover of the R.E.M song "Losing My Religion".

In June, 1994, Amos co-founded RAINN, The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. RAINN is a toll-free help line in the US which connects callers with their local rape crisis center. In 1995, Amos, duetting with Robert Plant, contributed the song "Down by the Seaside" to the Led Zeppelin tribute album Encomium.

Boys For Pele

Soon after the "Under the Pink" tour, Amos released her third solo album, Boys for Pele. Mystical, experimental, and substantially longer than the first two albums, it garnered mixed reviews. The erratic lyrical content of its songs seemed unduly indecipherable to some fans, and the instrumentation, including church bells, bagpipes, and a gospel choir, kept it away from the mainstream scene. The accompanying tour was known as the "Dew Drop Inn" tour; as on the album, Tori performed on harpsichord in addition to piano. The single "Caught A Lite Sneeze" was a hit in the UK, and the Armand Van Helden remix of "Professional Widow" became a massive club hit.

The movie Twister released in 1996 included one of Amos' songs, "Talula" also found on the Boys for Pele album.

Also in 1996, Tori began her own label, internal to Atlantic Records, called Igloo. Her first signing, which she co-produced, was the band "Pet" headed by lead singer Lisa Papineau. Their self-titled debut album included the song "Lil Boots" which was also featured on the The_Crow:_City_of_Angels soundtrack.

From The Choirgirl Hotel

Her fourth solo album, From the Choirgirl Hotel, was released in 1998. A departure from earlier records, it was much more lavishly produced and featured arrangements which expanded considerably on her core piano sound. Again reviews were mixed, but the album was generally feted by Amos’ fans. The lead single "Spark" became a substantial hit in the spring of 1998, and was followed by "Jackie's Strength" and the club hit "Raspberry Swirl." The accompanying tour, Amos' first with a full band, was known as the "Plugged '98" tour. Another tour followed in 1999, the "Five and a Half Weeks" tour with Alanis Morissette.

To Venus And Back

Next, Amos planned to release a live album. She decided to write a small amount of new material to be included as a bonus disc on some releases; ultimately, however, she produced a double album's worth of material which was released in 1999 under the title To Venus and Back. The album included a live disc as well as a disc of new studio material. This was sparser both in production and arrangement than From the Choirgirl Hotel, but like that album featured overt dance music influences and a relatively subdued piano sound. Its closing track "1000 Oceans" was much closer in spirit to her early songs, and quickly became a fan favourite and a live fixture.

Strange Little Girls

Amos took a break from both touring and writing in 2000, and returned in 2001 with Strange Little Girls, an album of cover versions of songs written by men about women. This time, the reviews were quite uniform: most critics saw the album as a mixed bag, praising the unlikely reworkings of Eminem's "97' Bonnie and Clyde" and Slayer's "Raining Blood", but panning the sprawling, messy version of John Lennon's cryptic "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and the rocky, fuzzy version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold". The accompanying "StrangeLittleTour", Amos’s first solo tour since 1994, was acclaimed particularly for its solo renditions of Boys For Pele, From The Choirgirl Hotel and To Venus and Back material.

Scarlet's Walk

In 2002 Amos released her eighth major label release, Scarlet's Walk. Described as a "sonic novel", the 18 track album proved to be a landmark for a variety of reasons. Stylistically, Amos put drums and bass guitar at the forefront, using her piano playing as an accent rather than a highlight. Thematically, the album explored Amos’s alter ego Scarlet and her cross-America trip post-September 11, 2001. Through the songs, Amos explores the history of America, the American people, Native American history, pornography, masochism, homophobia and misogyny. The first single, "A Sorta Fairytale", was a top 10 hit in the US. It was also released in the UK with a B-side entitled "Operation Peter Pan".

The second single, "Taxi Ride", was an homage to the late make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin, a friend of Amos'. A contest was held online to create a music video for the song, and it reached the top 20 in the US. The third single, "Strange", was remixed with a country and western feel and became another radio staple.

In an attempt to prevent Internet trading of the album, Amos, in conjunction with her husband and crew, invented a special kind of glue to bind closed portable CD players containing the album. These were then distributed to the press on the understanding that they would be returned within forty-eight hours. If an attempt was made to open the player, both it and the disc inside would shatter. The success of this attempt was so great that the record industry began to follow suit.

As an additional incentive to buy the album rather than download its contents illicitly, the CD also served as a key to access "Scarlet's Web", a web site which featured several songs ("Tombigbee", "Seaside", "Mountain") as well as various photographs and journal entries that were not available elsewhere. Tori was nominated for a Grammy for the packaging of the limited edition version of the album. It included a bonus DVD as well as collectible items such as charms, stickers, a map, and mock Polaroid postcards.

Tales of a Librarian

In 2003 Amos released a sonic autobiography--Tales of a Librarian-- ; (she does not believe in the term "greatest hits"). Instead of compiling hit singles and tossing them into a generic hits package, Amos chose instead to revisit the mixing of many of her own favourite songs from a career spanning over a decade, focusing on those that she thought were not fully realised in their original recordings. Recording under the premise that a librarian is a "chronicler," Amos pieced together the album, adding two new songs and two re-recorded b-sides-- tracks called "Angels", "Sweet Dreams", "Snow Cherries from France", and "Mary".

Welcome to Sunny Florida

In 2004 Amos released a DVD/CD set called Welcome to Sunny Florida. The DVD featured a full length live performance from her 2003 "On Scarlet's Walk" tour; the CD compiled several previously Internet-exclusive B-sides from Scarlet's Walk with some new tracks on a bonus disc entitled "Scarlet's Hidden Treasures".

The Beekeeper and Piece by Piece

In late February of 2005, Amos released The Beekeeper. The album deals with topics like death, adultery and romantic conflict, and makes brief reference to ancient Gnostic mysticism. It was leaked to the Internet over a month before its release. Early reviews described it as her most lyrically accessible, and reminiscent of her first album. The music is perhaps Amos' most melodic, and sees a move towards a more groove-based sound, evidenced by the appearance of the London Community Gospel Choir on four songs and Amos' whirring B-3 Hammond organ. "Sleeps with Butterflies" was the first single released from the album, with "Sweet the Sting" following in the summer. The accompanying tour, dubbed the 'Original Sinsuality Tour,' began April 1, 2005 and was Amos' first solo tour since 2001, bringing out piano and organ. The tour also encompassed Australia, Amos' first trip there to perform since 1994. The tour received rave reviews, and will continue into the late summer of 2005 through the US and Europe, including appearances in June 2005 at the Glastonbury Festival and Patti Smith's Meltdown festival in London.

In conjunction with the album, Amos released an autobiography entitled Piece by Piece; co-authored by rock music journalist Ann Powers, it delves deeply into Amos’ obsession with mythology and religion. It explores her songwriting process while telling the story of her progression into fame.

Conflict with the music industry

Conflict between Tori and the music industry has surfaced on various occasions. Atlantic Records, her label in 1994, wanted her record Under the Pink to be changed significantly before its release. She told them that it was not going to happen, and that if they brought it up again she would burn the masters.

After the release of her album From the Choirgirl Hotel, she had a meeting with the heads of the label. The people in positions of power there were changing and there was a serious confrontation. Amos questioned why her work was not being promoted properly and it was revealed to her that the label preferred to spend their money trying to break newer artists who they felt would make them more money. Amos demanded to be freed from her contract, but the label refused. Instead they chose to exercise their option to keep Amos on board until she had released an additional three albums (as stipulated in her contract). But because they felt their power had been challenged, they made it clear that they would intentionally do as little as they could do (legally speaking) to promote the works so that her career would be decimated by the time she had a chance to switch to a new label.

The label fully followed through on their threat. For example: artists usually provide the label with a section of seats to each of their concerts that can be given to local radio honchos in exchange for the promise that the artist's new work would be heavily played. Atlantic Records gave Amos’s tickets while requesting that other artists on the label be played as a return favor. This and other tactics were employed in a vindictive attempt to ruin Amos’s career, and it seemed to work temporarily, as album sales steadily declined.

Amos, however, managed to the beat the label at its own game. After a discussion with her spiritual muses, Amos experienced a sudden burst of creativity which formed into the 11 new songs on the first disc of her fifth album, To Venus and Back. In place of a previously planned album of B-sides, Amos released a double disc (including a disc of live material from her "Plugged '98" tour) thereby fulfilling two of her three remaining albums in a single release.

Ultimately in 2001, and with questionable intent, Atlantic records released a widely distributed press release listing the acts that they were "dropping from the label" due to alleged poor album sales. Among them were singer Poe and Amos; this was factually inaccurate. Amos’s contractual obligations had simply been fulfilled and neither side was interested in renewing the contract.

If Amos’s reputation suffered for Atlantic's insults, it did not do so for long. After establishing a new deal with Epic Records, she achieved her most successful American radio single to date.

Acting

Amos’s acting has been limited to fringe performances. She has long been asked to audition for roles, notably the female lead in The Crow: City of Angels. She appeared in the telesoap Trial by Jury in 1987 as a woman who was accused of killing her married lover. Also in the late 1980s she appeared in a television commercial for Kellogg's Just Right, a breakfast cereal. Most of her contributions to cinema have been musical. In 1998 she coordinated the soundtrack of the film version of Great Expectations, weaving breathy, ethereal vocals through the film's background. She made her first character appearance in the 2003 film Mona Lisa Smile as a big-band singer.

Fans

Tori Amos' fan base began building as soon as her first solo album was released. The tour to promote stunned audiences all over the world, and left them wanting more. Her fan base remains one of the most devoted of any artist, and they overwhelmingly report on how kind and generous she is when meeting in person.

Tori refers to her fans as "ears with feet,"and has been quoted as saying "don't ever call yourself fans; you're ears with feet". (source: http://groups.msn.com/ToriSpeak/tourinfo.msnw).

Tours

Amos is recognised as one of the most-toured artists in modern popular music. She has been performing in bars and clubs from as early as 1976, and under her professional name began playing clubs in London in 1991, but her first "proper" tour began in 1992. Since then, she has performed more than 900 "proper" concerts as part of tours, and was voted by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003 as the fifth-best live act. Her concerts are notable for their changing set lists from night to night.

  • Little Earthquakes Tour: Amos' first world tour began on January 29, 1992 in London and ended on November 30, 1992 in Auckland. She played on a Yamaha keyboard each night solo. The tour included 142 concerts around the globe.
  • 5.5 Weeks Tour/To Dallas and Back: Amos' fifth tour was North America-only. The first part of the tour was co-headlining with Alanis Morissette and featured the same band line-up as in 1998. Amos and the band continued for eight shows before Amos embarked on a series of solo shows. The tour began on August 18, 1999 in Fort Lauderdale and ended on December 9, 1999 in Denver, including 46 concerts.
  • Strange Little Tour: This tour was Amos' first since becoming a mother in 2000 and her first tour fully solo since 1994 (Steve Caton was present on some songs in 1996). It saw Amos perform on piano, Rhodes electric piano, and Wurlitzer, and though the tour was in support of her covers album, the set lists were not strictly covers-oriented. It began on August 30, 2001 in London and ended on December 17, 2001 in Milan, including 55 concerts. It is widely considered by fans her best tour.
  • Original Sinsuality Tour/Summer of Sin: This tour was Amos' first solo tour since 2001 and began on April 1, 2005 in Clearwater, with Amos on piano, two organs, and Rhodes. The tour also encompassed Australia for the first time since 1994, and the first part of the tour is expected to end on July 10, 2005 in Istanbul. Amos will go out again in August and September in North America for more solo dates. The tour, which still has dates yet to add, so far features 82 concerts.

Trivia

  • The character Delirium in Neil Gaiman's comic The Sandman bears a striking resemblance to Amos, all the more surprising since the character was created before Gaiman and Amos met and became close friends. Neil Gaiman's comment on this is "Delirium was created before I met Tori, but they steal shamelessly from each other". Since their meeting in 1991 Gaiman and Amos have collaborated on several projects. Gaiman also appears in many of Tori's songs. The character of Delirium was in fact based on another friend of his, Kathy Acker.
  • Married to English sound engineer, Mark Hawley – the inspiration for her songs "Northern Lad" and "Goodbye Pisces". A b-side, entitled "Never Seen Blue", is also said to be about him. They have a daughter, Natashya Lorien Hawley (nickname "Tash"), born on 5 September 2000.
  • The hurricanes striking the state of Florida in 2004 tossed a boat onto Amos’s property there, destroying her pier. Despite many pleas for help the owner could not be located and Amos eventually wrote a letter to officials stating that "perhaps our local craftsmen could come cut it into parts". After the letter the owner miraculously surfaced.
  • In November of 2004, Edison Michael Amos (Tori's brother) died in a car crash in North Carolina.
  • Following the #5 debut of The Beekeeper on the US album chart in 2005, Amos joined an elite club of female artists to have achieved five or more Top 10 debuts in the US - this club included Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, C鬩ne Dion, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Britney Spears, LeAnn Rimes, and Barbra Streisand.
  • In March of 2005, The Beekeeper became Amos' highest-charting album in Germany, at #8.
  • On May 18, 2005, at her concert in Melbourne, Australia, Amos performed a cover of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" in support of the Australian-born singer, the day after Minogue's breast cancer was announced.
  • Once while playing a benefit concert for RAINN, Amos was joined on stage by Maynard James Keenan of Tool, who sang "Muhammad My Friend" with her. She said that he sang to her and baked her cookies when she felt depressed.

Discography

Year Title Label Info
1979 Baltimore M.E.A. Records  
1988 Y Kant Tori Read Atlantic/East West Records  
1992 Little Earthquakes Atlantic/East West Records  
1994 Under The Pink Atlantic/East West Records  
1996 Boys For Pele Atlantic/East West Records  
1998 From the Choirgirl Hotel Atlantic/East West Records  
1999 To Venus And Back Atlantic/East West Records  
2001 Strange Little Girls Atlantic/East West Records  
2002 Scarlet's Walk Epic/Sony  
2003 Tales of a Librarian Atlantic/East West Records  
2004 Welcome to Sunny Florida/Scarlet's Hidden Treasures (DVD/CD Set) Epic/Sony  
2005 The Beekeeper Epic/Sony

Videography

Year Title Label Info
1992 Little Earthquakes WEA/Atlantic Records (VHS Only)  
March 17, 1998 Tori Amos: Live From New York (VHS only) PID Video  
November 17, 1998 Tori Amos: Complete Videos 1991-1998 Atlantic Records/WEA (VHS Only)  
April 8, 2003 A Sorta Fairytale Sony Music Video (DVD Only), in jewel case or DVD case  
May 18, 2004 Welcome to Sunny Florida/Scarlet's Hidden Treasures Sony Music Video (DVD Only), in jewel case or DVD case; DVD/CD Set  
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