Tori AmosTori Amos (born Myra Ellen Amos August 22, 1963) is an American singer, pianist and songwriter, whose work deals with the darker side of human nature. Tackling subjects including sexuality, religion, heritage 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 #1 on the European Billboard charts. Stylistically bleak and mostly piano-based, with stripped down arrangements, her work has most frequently been compared to that of Kate Bush.
Photo by Michael Whitehead
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. At the age of 2 1/2, Amos's family moved to Baltimore, MD. At this age, Amos began to play the piano and attend her father's church every week. By age 5, she had written her first song. Around this time, she began to spend time with her maternal grandfather, who taught her about her Cherokee heritage. A year later, she was given a full scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory of Music as the youngest person ever to attend. At age 11, her scholarship was discontinued due to her growing influence by 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 and became involved with the drama group. As a high school senior, Ellen Amos wrote Baltimore for a competition involving the Baltimore Orioles. This song became her first single, as a 7" pressed for family and friends. At age 21, Ellen Amos changed her name to Tori and 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 (she beat out a then-unknown Sarah Jessica Parker for the role). After playing a bar one night, a patron asked her for a ride home. She obliged and was raped - an experience later recounted in detail in the 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' inability to sight-read music - with Caton, Matt Sorum (of Guns N' Roses ), and Brad Cobb. A year later, Atlantic Records gave Amos and her band a 6 record contract. In 1988, their eponymous debut album Y Kant Tori Read was released and was panned by critics. Amos was devastated, and started working with other artists (including Peter Gabriel, Sandra Bernhard and Al Stewart) as a songwriter and 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."
Atlantic Records told Amos that she had to write another record by March 1990. When she presented them with her initial recordings, it was rejected on the idea that the 'girl and a piano thing' wasn't going to sell. The record was full of raw, emotive songs recounting her religious upbringing, sexual awakening, struggle to become herself and her rape. They changed their minds, and moved Tori to England to launch Little Earthquakes as she had given it to them. Atlantic's European counterpart, East West, worked hard to promote the record. It was trailed by a promotional single headed by the raw, emotional, unaccompanied 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.
After touring throughout 1992 in support of Little Earthquakes, Amos went to New Mexico to write her second solo record, Under the Pink. When it was released in January 1994, it debuted at #1 in the UK and #12 in the US. 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. Under The Pink's singles were God, Cornflake Girl (a fluke #1 single in the UK), Pretty Good Year and Past the Mission.
In June, 1994, Amos co-founded RAINN, The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. RAINN is a toll-free help line in the US that connects callers with their local rape crisis center. In 1995, Amos duetted with Robert Plant to contribute the song "Down by the Seaside" to the Encomium tribute album to Led Zeppelin.
After the "Under the Pink" tour, Amos wrote her third solo album, Boys for Pele. Substantially longer than the first two albums, it garnered mixed reviews. Some thought it contained some of her best work to date, others thought the length added little but filler material. The accompanying tour was known as the "Dew Drop Inn" tour.
Her fourth solo album, From the Choirgirl Hotel, was released in 1998. A departure from earlier records, it was much more heavily produced and featured much more prominent accompaniment to the basic piano sound. Again reviews were mixed, but the album was generally feted by Amos' fans. The accompanying tour was known as the "Plugged '98" tour. Another tour followed in 1999, the "Five and a Half Weeks" tour with Alanis Morissette.
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 in some releases; in fact she produced an album's worth of material, and the album became a double album, To Venus and Back (2000), with a live disc and a full disc of new material. This was sparser both in production and arrangement than From the Choirgirl Hotel, but like that album featured clear dance music influences and muted the piano sound. Its closing track, 1000 Oceans, a track much closer to the early albums in style, was to become a fan favourite and a live fixture.
Amos took a break from both touring and writing in 2000, and returned in 2001 with Strange Little Girls, a covers album. The concept was to take songs written by men about women and sing them from a female point of view. Reviews this time 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" was Amos' first solo tour since 1994, and was acclaimed particularly for its solo renditions of Boys For Pele, From The Choirgirl Hotel and To Venus and Back material.
In 2002 Amos released her eighth major label release, "Scarlet's Walk." Described as a "sonic novel," the 18 track album was landmark for various reasons. Stylistically, Amos put drums and bass guitar on the forefront using her piano playing as an accent rather than as a highlight. The album's theme was about Amos' alter ego Scarlet and her cross-America trip post September 11, 2001. Through the songs Amos explores the history of America, American people, Native American history, pornography, masochism, homophobia and misogyny The first single, "A Sorta Fairytale," was in the top ten for radio and sales. It was also released in the U.K. with a B-side called "Operation Peter Pan".
The second single for the album, "Taxi Ride", was an homage to late make-up artist Kevyn Acoin, a gay friend of Amos'. Originally envisioned as (if only in part) a tale of an HIV+ person, while Kevyn (who himself was not HIV+) was still alive Tori played it for him to his approval. A contest was held online to create a music video for the song, and it reached the top 20 in American radio airplay. The third single, "Strange", was remixed to have a country and western feel and was sent to radio.
In an attempt to prevent internet trading of the album, Amos and 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, and expected to be returned in forty-eight hours. If an attempt to open the player was made, it and the disc inside would shatter. The success of this attempt was so great that the record industry began to follow suit.
In an additional incentive to buy the album rather than download its contents illegally, the CD itself served as a key to access "Scarlet's Web," a web site that featured several songs ("Tombigbee", "Seaside", "Mountain") and many photographs and journal entries that were not available otherwise.
In 2003 Amos released a greatest hits album. Following in the footsteps of artists like Bjork, instead of compiling hit singles and tossing them into a generic hits package, Amos went a different route. She brought many of her own favourite songs from her 10 plus year career back into the studio; those that she thought were left unfinished when initially released. With the addition of two new songs, the album featured what was technically mostly new material even if the songs had been released previously in different versions.
Two things that very cleary signify Amos' underground popularity are thus: she is very popular amongst underground remixers, as well as the gay and lesbian community, and she is one of the most often covered artists of all time (having songs covered by a diverse group of artists including Faye Wong and Voltaire.
Atlantic/East West Records: