Tori Amos (born Myra Ellen Amos 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 #1 on the European Billboard charts. Classically trained, Amos' voice and mostly piano based music has frequently been compared to that of Kate Bush.
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, Maryland where 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 which she was 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, and was released as a 7" pressed for family and friends.
Y Kant Tori Read
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' dislike of sight-reading music - with Caton, Matt Sorum (of 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 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 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 raw, 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".
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 #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 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. 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. 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.
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 accompanying tour 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 2000 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' 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.
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' 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 Acoin, a gay 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.
Tales of a Librarian
In 2003 Amos released a greatest hits album, Tales of a Librarian. Following in the footsteps of artists like Björk, rather than compiling hit singles and tossing them into a generic hits package, Amos chose instead to rerecord 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. With the addition of two new songs, the album featured what was effectively mostly new material even if the songs had been released previously in different versions.
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 Treasures".
Amos' acting has been limited to fringe performances. She has long been asked to audition for roles, notably the female lead in The Crow 2. 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 2004 film Mona Lisa Smile as a big-band singer.
A number of factors contribute to Amos' underground appeal: she is very popular amongst underground remixers, as well as the gay and lesbian community; in addition her songs have been covered by a number of artists including Faye Wong and Voltaire.
Inspired the character Delirium in Neil Gaiman's comic The Sandman.
Married to British sound engineer, Mark Hawley - the inspiration for her song "Northern Lad". A b-side, entitled "Never Seen Blue", is also said to be about him.
Year Title Label
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
2000 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 Epic/Sony