Tori Amos Biography

Myra Ellen Amos, 22 August 1963, Newton, North Carolina, USA. Singer-songwriter Amos was compared early in her career to everyone from Kate Bush to Joni Mitchell. She began playing the piano aged two-and-a-half, and was enrolled in Baltimore’s elite Peabody Institute as a five-year-old prodigy. Legend has it that she was formally ejected for ‘playing by ear’ the songs of John Lennon and the Doors, following six years study. After failing an audition to gain re-entry, Amos concentrated on the bar circuit of Washington, DC, which she continued to do throughout her high-school years, gradually moving to better venues and adding her own material. In 1980, aged 17, she released (under her real name, Ellen Amos) her first single ‘Baltimore’/‘Walking With You’ on the MEA label (named after her own initials). She favoured cover versions such as Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’, Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ and Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, later staples of her 90s live set. Amos then adopted the first name Tori, after a friend’s boyfriend’s remark that she ‘didn’t look much like an Ellen, more like a Tori’. The dozens of demo tapes she had recorded since her early teens (mostly sent out by her doting father) failed to give her a break, and she switched tack to front pop rock band Y Kant Tori Read (a play on words that referred to her previous expulsion from the conservatory). Musicians in the band included guitarist Steve Farris (ex-Mr. Mister), Matt Sorum (future Cult and Guns N’Roses drummer), Vinny Coliauta (Frank Zappa), Peter White (co-writer to Al Stewart) and Kim Bullard (ex-Poco), but the production and material (largely co-composed between Bullard and Amos) did her few favours.

Amos lowered her profile for a while after this undignified release, though she did appear on albums by Stewart, Canadian songwriter Ferron and Stan Ridgway. As she remembers, ‘After the trauma I crumbled. I was very confused about why I was doing music.’ Nevertheless, she persevered in writing her own songs, and eventually a tape of these reached Atlantic Records’ co-chairman, Doug Morris. Though he saw the germ of her talent, he decided that her current sound was to the taste of the average American-FM listener, and sent Amos instead to the UK (and EastWest Records) so that she might enjoy a better reception. Amos moved to London in February 1991 and started playing small-scale gigs around the capital. Her ‘debut’ EP, Me And A Gun, was released in October 1991, and tackled the emotive and disturbing topic of her rape by an armed ‘fan’ as she drove him home after a gig. An acclaimed debut album, Little Earthquakes, followed in January 1992, although the comparisons to Kate Bush continued (not helped by a similar cover design).

Much of the following year was spent writing and recording a second album with co-producer and partner Eric Rosse. The result, Under The Pink, included a guest appearance from Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), and was recorded in his new home - the house where in 1969 Sharon Tate was murdered by Charles Manson’s followers. The first single lifted from it, ‘Cornflake Girl’, reached number 4 in the UK charts in January 1994. The follow-up, ‘Pretty Good Year’, reached number 7 in March, and with the album topping the UK chart Amos confirmed she was now a commercial force. She was heralded in the press, alongside Polly Harvey (PJ Harvey) and Björk, as part of a new wave of intelligent, literate female songwriters. This was cemented with the release of the sexually charged Boys For Pele. Quite apart from having a baby pig suckling on her breast on the cover, the lyrics were a powerful combination of artistic and erotic liberation. Armand Van Helden’s remix of ‘Professional Widow’ gained a huge club following and secured Amos a UK number 1 hit.

Several of the songs on 1998’s From The Choirgirl Hotel, were informed by Amos’ recent miscarriages, although by now she was relatively settled on a personal basis, resident in Cornwall, England with her husband Mark Hawley. The album proved to be her most mature and musically adventurous to date, Amos recording with a full band for the first time. A prolific songwriting burst led to the release of the double To Venus And Back the following year. The eclectic Strange Little Girls was a bold project on which Amos attempted some interesting cover versions, including the Beatles’ ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun, the Stranglers’ ‘Strange Little Girl’ and Eminem’s ‘97 Bonnie & Clyde’.

In July 2002, Amos signed a new recording contract with Epic Records. She made her debut for the label a few months later with the highly accessible Scarlet’s Walk, an album loosely based around the concept of a road trip across America. Follow-up album The Beekeeper divided opinion, with many long-time fans put off by the polished production and a number of distinctly ordinary songs. In 2005, Amos released a number of official bootleg live albums.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.