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Tori Amos: timeline
[before] [1963-1968] [1969-1974] [1975-1977] [1978-1983] [1984-1989] [1990-1992] [1993-1994] [1995-1996] [1997-1998] [1999-2000]  [2002-2003] [2004-2005] [2006-2008] [2009-2010] [2011-2013] [2014-2017] [2018-2023] [future & now]
1978 - 1983
* The Amos family moves into the Rockville United Methodist Church's parsonage in Rockville, Maryland.
* Ellen develops an obsession with Bette Davis and decides to try acting. She plays the lead in a school production of Gypsy, and performs in several other productions at school and at the Rockville Summer Theater. She also begins directing the children's choir at her dad's church, and even writes musicals for the children.
* Ellen gains more local attention and gets numerous jobs playing at weddings, government functions, and church benefits.
August 22, 1978
* Ellen turns 15 and begins 10th grade.
"I listened to some of the songs I wrote at that time, and it was very interesting. There were some really good ideas in the songs, not in the lyrics, after all, at age 15 I had rather different ideas. You are thinking in a different way when you made the experience, but the music was good." [Visions - September 1992]
* Experiencing pain in her jaw, Ellen discovers she has a bone deformity.
As she speaks, Amos clasps in her hands an Eeyore tea mug. In between sips, she presses it to her jaw to ease the discomfort of a bone deformity that's troubled her for two decades. "When I was fifteen, I thought it was a brain tumor... Well, of course I did!" The condition is sufficiently grave to give Amos headaches she compares to the pain of a tooth abscess. Surgery is not an option, and since painkillers do not agree with Amos' constitution, she simply gets "Tiger Balmed-up" backstage before every show and iced down afterward. The condition is "a little, tiny handicap," according to this survivor. "It's so boring for everybody - and I hate to bore people." [Rolling Stone - June 25, 1998]
"You don't know this, but I have chronic, chronic TMJ. I've had it since I was 15. Part of my jaw doesn't go into the bone - which is a hook and pulling my skull to the right. And what happens is my right side goes into spasm and my neck and shoulder get almost paralytic. And so, I have braces at night I have to wear and I can hardly talk. I can't do interviews in the braces although they would help me. That's really where my handicap is - or because you can't say handicap anymore, it's my physical challenge." [Student Advantage - Winter 1998]
"Every 30 seconds I click my jaw back into place - I've had braces and bite plates, but I still get chronic nerve pain." [She (UK) - May 1998]
* Ellen sings and plays piano on It's a Happy Day, a song written by Camilla Wharton. Contraband provides the backing music. The song is pressed to a 45rpm disc, but is never widely distributed.
"When I was 15, my father stopped acting as chaperon and I found myself working with women who were in their late twenties, and chatting to gay men all night, interrogating them about their sex lives. I got to see a different side of things. Then I'd go to junior high the next morning and it was a totally different experience. I learned to create these different sides to me to deal with it all." [Melody Maker - November 16, 1991]
* Ellen gets a home synthesizer and begins sending demo tapes to record companies.
* Ellen is invited to perform at the University of North Dakota Indian Association's Wacipi Festival.
August 22, 1979
* Ellen turns 16 and begins 11th grade.
"...I had an eleventh-grade teacher called Mrs. Barrett, who kept giving me C's on my writing. I'd say, 'Why are you giving me C's?' I was really demoralized. And she said, 'Because you can do better. Go read Sylvia Plath.'"[Rolling Stone - October 31, 2002]
"I had the best year of my life when Ms Barrett taught 11th grade English at Richard Montgomery High School. She was young, but seemed timeless because she was quite ferocious and very controlled. She took me to new places in my imagination, with writers such as Tennessee Williams, Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Plath. Although I wasn't an unworldly Little House on the Prairie kind of girl, she shocked me. As a minister's daughter, I loved it.
"I always wanted to be a composer. Ms Barrett told me: "Don't just arm yourself with Pat Benatar, take Virginia Woolf, too." I could play the piano from the age of two, and at 13 I was playing piano bars six nights a week. I made more than $500 a week. With Ms Barrett, I worked harder than I had ever worked before. I wasn't going to give up my job, so she had a chat with me. She said: "You're better than a C and you're going to raise that grade."
"Ms Barrett came to one of my shows recently [in 2003] and I cried. She told me that she has been teaching my work." [The Telegraph - October 25, 2003]
"I heard something a few months ago from a period when I was 13 to 17, and some of it was so exciting. I'd forgotten. They're a bit more progressive, honestly, than what I do now. I hadn't been diluted yet... I'd be proud to play you some of that stuff, especially when I was 16. Real exciting changes, no traditional choruses like you hear today out of my work. At that time it was completely about self-expression. It wasn't about, "What will they think?" What happens to a musician is that you either become a teacher, you become a church organist, you do your own music, or you play somebody else's in a lobby somewhere... Oh yeah, I wasn't going to be a teacher." [Keyboard - September 1992]
"I have no idea where some of the guys I worked with in DC have gone to. I heard one of them that I really loved has died... and I see his face and it makes me giggle. They would take me in the back on my break when I played the piano bar. I was 16 and they taught me how to give head on a cucumber and if I left any teeth marks I wouldn't get the customary ice-cream soda. And he loved flowers. He could arrange flowers ordinary into something extraordinary. He was extraordinary." [Q - February 1994]
"I had a repertoire of maybe 1,500 songs. I'd get a lot of show requests: Memory from Cats, Don't Cry for Me Argentina. I was a living jukebox." [Blender - November 2002]
August 22, 1980
* Ellen turns 17 and begins 12th grade.
[Click to read When I Was 17.]
"Those were priceless years for me [playing the bar circuit]. I mean, the performances themselves didn't necessarily help my composing, that I taught myself - trial and error, you know? But during that time I was associated with a few people, without whom I wouldn't be here today. One of them was a teacher at the college I went to when I was seventeen. He was a composer and worked for the National Symphony [Orchestra] and I had private lessons with him. I think if you were to ask him today, he probably wouldn't believe that he had influenced me in any way- back then I had this typical "fuck off" attitude about it! [laughs] But in reality he influenced me a lot, although I was only with him for a semester. We analyzed compositions together, and I could pick out which ones... Things like "Eleanor Rigby", but also classical stuff. He taught me to pay attention to the basic pattern and structure, and not just to rely on spontaneous ideas when composing. Sure there's something magical when you suddenly feel totally inspired and you think, Now is the right time to compose. But when you don't just rely on this magic it can happen that you have to wait three years until you feel yourself struck by that flash again. This teacher showed me how I could make something out of one tiny motif, from two measures for example, also when I think I have just these two measures and nothing else... He showed me that every song has to have its own character and that songs are just as different from one another as people." [Keyboards - June 1992]
Often she'd return from work after midnight, unwinding by writing songs at the basement piano. "I used to love going to sleep listening to her down there," says her mother Mary Ellen. [The Washington Post - March 22, 1992]
"It got to the stage," she sighs, "where I was sick of playing Feelings seven times a night at The Marriot. I thought I was going to kill the next person that asked me to play Memory from Cats."
* Ellen takes on a stage name: Tori.
"I just hated my name. If a guy even started to look at me and they heard my name was Myra Ellen, it just created... a limp dick immediately. I couldn't bear it. You wouldn't have believed some of the names I was going through at the time... I'll give you one. Sammy Jaye. Obviously that was my Dallas period. That was my late-70's prime-time soap opera name. Or it could've been my porn name. I'll remember that when I date Tommy Lee... A friend of mine at the time was dating some guy and she brought him to one of the clubs I was playing and he just looked at me and said, 'You're a Tori.' I just went, 'you know what? I am.' So from then on, I made out my cheques aka Tori. Then of course I found that it meant 'little chicken' in Japanese." [Q - May 1998]
"My friend, Linda McBride, came to see me when I was playing a club in D.C. I was 17 and a half, almost 18. She was 18. She came in with her new boyfriend. I think his name was Patrick. She was only with him for a week. She brought him in. She said, 'Hi Ellen. This is Patrick. What's goin' on?' I said, 'I'm still looking for my name.' And he looks at me, and says, 'Your name's Tori.' And I go, 'You're right.'" [BAM - March 11, 1994]
* Ellen and Mike Amos write a song called Baltimore in honor of the Baltimore Orioles. A 7" 45-RPM single is pressed and copies are given to friends and family. The record features Walking with You as the B-side.
I recently came across a bootleg CD which claimed to include tracks taped during the 1980 "Baltimore" sessions, as well as a set you apparently performed at a wedding. How much material did you actually record in those early days?
"I'd have to hear it to know if it really was the "Baltimore" sessions. I did a song called Baltimore, I did one called Walking With You, and then I did a couple of other things around that period that were seperate from that session. They were done in a church. Michael, my brother, was there - he's almost ten years older than I am - and I was about 14. Those were called, All I Have To Give, More Than Just A Friend, there was a song called Just Ellen and I can't remember the other one. I can hear it. The point is that I recorded a lot of things at that time. The "Baltimore Sessions" CD, I don't know if that's a tape that I did that day, or if it's an amalgamation of things done around that time. The thing I did at a wedding was something completely different - I was just being paid ten bucks to sing. The big requests then were Evergreen, We've Only Just Begun, The Wedding Song, you know. I did Baltimore in a studio, you know and I did the wedding things at a real wedding that somebody taped, probably with a terrible little tape recorder, and not just because of me, just taping the service. So it could've been a few years apart." [Record Collector - November 1999]
* The mayor of Baltimore, William D. Schaefer, gives Ellen a citation of merit for the song "Baltimore."
* Ellen is booked to play at the Capital Hilton for a month, and plans to work there again sometime in 1981.
* Ellen is voted homecoming queen... "Just remember Laura Palmer was also a homecoming queen." [The Washington Post - March 22, 1992]
"I'm the Queen of the nerds. I love nerds- by which I mean, not a cool, bitchin' person. I guess I was a cool nerd. I wasn't shuffling my feet in the corner of the playground, I was the homecoming queen, but then, all the nerds voted for me." [Vox - May, 1994]
"I was kind of a nerd in high school. I never really fit in, but I had a little bit of status because I was playing clubs. And I got along with the minority groups really well. I never liked bullies - I have a lot of time for the nerds of the world, the ones that don't make the cut. I'd hang out with the science kids - they can blow things up! I mean, what's cooler than that?" [Rolling Stone - June 25, 1998]
* An article about Ellen Amos appears in The Washington Post.
* Ellen graduates from Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. She continues to take only music-related courses at Montgomery College.
* Ellen also continues to write and record songs and send tapes to tons of record labels.
* Ellen gets a summer job playing at the Hilton in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as their chief entertainer.
August 22, 1981
* Ellen turns 18.
* Tori/Ellen is compared to Kate Bush for the first time.
"I'll never forget the first time I heard about Kate. I was playing in a club, I was 18 or 19 and somebody came up to me, pointed their finger and said, 'Kate Bush.' I went, 'Who's that?' I wasn't really familiar because Kate didn't really happen in the States until Hounds Of Love. I was shocked because the last thing you want to hear is that you sound like someone else. Then people kept mentioning her name when they heard me sing, to the point where I finally went and got her records. When I first heard her, I went Wow, she does things that I've never heard anybody do, much less me. But I could hear a resonance in the voice where you'd think we were distantly related or something... I must tell you that when I heard her I was blown away by her. There's no question... But I knew that I had to be careful, so I didn't voraciously learn her catalogue. I left the records with my boyfriend at the time, because I didn't want to copy her." [Q - May 1998]
* Ellen Amos plays at the Cellar Door in Washington, DC.
* Ellen works at the Sheraton-Carlton hotel in Washington, DC.
* Her first time.
"[It was] nice. I was almost 19, it was with somebody about eight years older, and it was really nice. It was a crush thing, and definitely a warm-hearted thing, it was really sweet. Some people talk like either you see fireworks or it was crap, and it wasn't either one, it was just good." [Boyz (UK) - October 12, 2002]
August 22, 1982
* Ellen turns 19.
"At nineteen I certainly had experienced so many rejections with respect to my music that I began to doubt my music. I thought, perhaps the people are right, look for a band for you, play dance music, at the moment we are interested in heavy metal and so on. In the beginning I tried to discover new things, and perhaps to learn something, but then I let myself be infected with the virus of the everlasting questions. "What do you think of that?" When you always had success as a small child, you wonder, why today is no one clapping any longer? You become so addicted to the noise of applause that you lose your self-confidence and wonder what you have done wrong. And then you begin to convince yourself that what the people tell you is right." [Visions - September 1992]
July 4, 1983
* Ellen is fired from the Sheraton-Carlton. Thanks to her dad's constant mailing of demo tapes to every major record label, producer Narada Michael Walden expresses interest. According to All These Years, in July 1983, Tori writes a letter to Narada saying, "I know you're going on vacation. I always get bored on vacations. So to give you something to do, I'm going to continue to send you a tape every week up until the time I come out there. What can I say -- thoughtful is my middle name."
August 22, 1983
* Ellen turns 20.
"I had been sending out my tapes since I was 13 - for seven years. You have to understand seven years. That was almost half my life. So I'd gotten serious rejection, hundreds of rejections. They just kept saying the girl and her piano thing was over, [that] Carol King was the last." She eventually proved them wrong, but not before she compromised prodigious talent, squandered years of training and, even worse, she says, let self-doubt navigate her professional life. "I started to believe them, that maybe I was on the wrong path," she remembers. "That's where I just started to say, 'Well, what do I need to do to get signed, because I can't play clubs for too much longer.' I thought, 'Let me see if I can write in another medium.' And I really couldn't. Other people can, because if something comes from your personality and is a really truthful side of your persona, no matter how wacky it is, people buy that... I was trying to wear someone else's clothes." [Phoenix New Times - September 24, 1998]
* After mailing cassettes to Narada Michael Walden once a week since July, Amos flies to his studio in San Francisco to work with him on her first serious demos. The resulting tracks featured her voice tweaked up a vari-speeded notch to make her sound more girly - which she hated - and no record contract was forthcoming. [Q - May 1998]
Your next foray into recorded work was a number of demos you put down with dance producer Michael 'Narada' Walden in 1983 - what do you remember about those sessions and what were the songs you actually ended up recording?
"I went there to record songs I had produced in my own home studio with my own little drum machine and synth and piano. I'd been sending Narada tons and tons of demos, and he has them now - he could be quite cheeky and release them, but I'm hoping he doesn't. Anyway, because what was going on at the time in music had changed from that female singer/songwriter thing, to the British invasion - which had just happened - his choices about what I should record changed. I was going to record a few things, including a song called Married Men and one called British Invasion, but what we finally ended up doing was pushing it into an entirely different direction. Later on he ended up doing Sister Sledge, so, if you can imagine somewhere in between Sister Sledge and Boy George! The voice was speeded up to make it sound younger. This was just around the time when Madonna was emerging, her early years. The songs we recorded were, Skirts on Fire, Predator, Rub Down, Score, and I can't remember anything else..."
You sound embarrassed...
"Well, if you asked me when did I start chasing it, it would have to have been then. As soon as the words "rub me, baby" came out of my mouth... it's just not as cute as when Mike Myers does it - it doesn't have the same effect. But that was when I officially became an audio-whore - 1983."
You changed direction completely for Y Kant Tori Read.
"That was a strange time, because the New Wave scene was turning into the LA rock scene, so it was a really transitional time for making records. I wasn't as militant as I became after "Y Kant Tori Read" failed. But [producer] Joe Chicarelli taught me a lot of things - he had produced Pat Benetar and done a lot of groovy records, Oingo Boingo and stuff - a lot of simple fundamentals that you apply when you're in a producer situation. And that was a gift. Like, never do a take with the band right after they've eaten; don't do punch-ins because the tempo's going to slow down; or, if you're doing a substance, stick with that substance 'til you've done the overdubs!" [Record Collector - November 1999]
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