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The Guardian (UK)
Thursday, January 12, 2012

The first time I was paid to play live
Tori Amos


by Nige Tassell

I'd been kicked out of the Peabody conservatory in Baltimore at the age of 11 and lost my scholarship because I wasn't Peabody stock any more. I had real issues that they weren't teaching contemporary composers. They said the Beatles would be gone and dead within 30 years, and no one would care. It was 1974, I was 11, and it was good to be right! My minister father was really distraught. He had these dreams of me being a concert pianist and then going into religious music. I just looked and him and said: "Dad, this music is just not moving me." He said: "Well, if you're going to go into that world, you need to get a job."

At 13, I was ready. I had a repertoire of a couple of hundred songs -- things you hear on the radio. That's why I'd got in trouble. Instead of playing Brahms, I was playing other things. So I got dressed up, put on my sister's high heels. My dad wore his clerical collar. We went down to Georgetown, in Washington DC, to Mr Henry's -- a gay bar. I had to be chaperoned! My dad sat in the corner and drank Shirley Temples. I played there for tips until I was 15. People were really receptive at Mr Henry's. They requested a lot of showtunes, and put me through my paces -- they told me how to not look like white-trash: "No, you can't go from church to hussy!"

There were church members who complained later when it all became known and got written up in the papers. But when they criticised him, my father would say: "What safer place is there for a 13-year-old girl than a gay bar?"


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