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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] [2001] [2002-2003] [2004-2005] [2006-2008] [2009-2010] [2011-2013] [2014-2017] [2018-2023] [future & now]

1984 - 1989


* Ellen works at the Marbury House's Lion's Gate Taverne, a small hotel bar every Monday through Friday night, 6 until about 11:30.

May 11, 1984

* An article about Ellen Amos appears in The Washington Post:

Amos, who is also occasionally known as Tori, may very well be a famous pop star someday. [The Washington Post - May 11, 1984]

[From here on in the TIMELINE, we will be using Ellen's stage name, Tori.]

July 1984

* Tori damages her vocal cords and can't sing or talk for two weeks.

August 22, 1984

* Tori turns 21 and begins "mastering the energies."

September 10, 1984

* Tori moves to Los Angeles, California, to pursue a music career.

Setting up her own little studio in a tiny apartment situated, interestingly enough, behind a church in Hollywood, the twenty-one-year-old set to work immersing herself in the local music scene. With her usual verve and unflagging interest in everyone and everything around her, Tori soon familiarized herself with the best and the worst that L.A. had to offer. Within three weeks, she had assembled a band and had them booked at the downtown Sheraton. Tori's first experience of playing with a group was less than inspiring, as "one showed up drunk. One showed up stoned. One didn't show up at all one night. It was a bummer." Tori decided that, at least to make ends meet, she would have to depend only on herself and began playing solo in a string of Hollywood lounges and bars. [All These Years]

"I had the weirdest set of rules in my head. Like, I was OK with doing some stuff, but not others. It doesn't hold water now, but if you dissect it, you could see I didn't want to be anybody's guinea pig sexually. I was like, practise on someone else. And the whole thing with being with an older man, I guess I did have a period of that, I was with a guy who was 11 years older than me when I was 21 in LA and before that I was with a failed cat burglar. And sexually, they were both definitely not practising on me, which was good. But I'm not a sexual creature." [Boyz - September 15, 2001]

December 1984

* Tori goes back to Maryland to visit her family for Christmas.

January 1985

* Tori returns to Los Angeles. While working as a bar entertainer, playing piano and singing as usual, a guy asks Tori for a ride home and rapes her.

"I'll never talk about it at this level again but let me ask you. Why have I survived that kind of night, when other women didn't? How am I alive to tell you this tale when he was ready to slice me up? In the song I say it was 'Me and a Gun' but it wasn't a gun. It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn't needed more drugs I would have been just one more news report, where you see the parents grieving for their daughter... And I was singing hymns, as I say in the song, because he told me to. I sang to stay alive. Yet I survived that torture, which left me urinating all over myself and left me paralysed for years. That's what that night was all about, mutilation, more than violation through sex." [Hot Press - February 23, 1994]

"The biggest mistake I made [after being raped] was not seeking help from people who understood... But then nobody was there for me on the night it happened. I had to call the East Coast and wake people up to talk. I called 20 people. I talked about it for roughly seven days and then just cut off the experience, not knowing that in doing that, I was letting it take control of me inside." [Hot Press - 1992]

August 22, 1985

* Tori turns 22 and drives a Capri.

"What I know about Judy Collins is that I had to sing Send in the Clowns seven times a night when I played the Marriott. And ya know, as lovely a song as it is, seven times a night for 14 years..." [BAM - March 11, 1994]

"When I used to play piano bars - like the Marriot's airport-lobby bar in Los Angeles - there were dress requirements. I was not allowed to wear leather or plastic, which was difficult in the '80s. So to find dresses to play in for happy hour was a tall order. I would change in the back of my Capri - I drove my Capri because I couldn't afford a mustang - after work, so my friends couldn't see that I had worn this God-knows-what floral print." [Us - January 2000]

* Tori edges out the then-unknown Sarah Jessica Parker for a [Kellogg's Just Right cereal] commercial, works as an extra on a Raquel Welch commercial for Crystal Light - and is told by the director that Miss Welch would like her to "tone it down, please." She is turned down for a role as a background band member in Howard the Duck, so she slinks off to her regular gig as happy-hour entertainer at the downtown-L.A. Sheraton, where she sings "Send in the Clowns" and "Feelings" in her best "Love is a Battlefield" outfit. These are some of the outrageous slings and arrows endured by Tori Amos after she moves to Los Angeles, trying to make it as a singer/songwriter. The sum total of her experience at that point was playing piano bars in the Washington, D.C., area - here she is, a big-haired hopeful living in a scuzzy one-room apartment off Hollywood Boulevard, "making friends with the palm trees." Adrift in Hollywood, sick of day-job degradation and music-industry rejection, Amos ditches her beloved piano to form a pop-metal ensemble called Y Kant Tori Read. The band, which plays but one live show, is signed by the same Atlantic Records staffer who brought you Twisted Sister and Skid Row. [Rolling Stone - June 25, 1998]

Late 1985

* Tori meets Steve Caton, who ends up playing guitars on her first six albums, and contributing enormously to her musical vision.

Steve Caton says, "I was in L.A. in the early '80s, and I met Tori through [Guns N' Roses drummer] Matt Sorum. They were working on some things, and he and I had a project going, and he introduced us because he thought we would work well together, both stylistically and personally. She and I played in each other's bands on and off for a while before she hit as a solo artist... In the '80s, L.A. was the rock scene, in terms of meeting people and being in the right place at the right time. Anyone who wants to be a sideperson needs to consider geography. You need to be in that fold. And you obviously have a better chance of hooking up with a major artist in industry centers such as Los Angeles and New York than you do in Lawrence, Kansas." [Guitar Player - July 1998]

Steve Caton also says, "I started working with Tori sometime in late '85. We had a band called Y Kant Tori Read. Aside from the two of us, it included Brad Cobb on bass and Matt Sorum on drums. Brad has since gone on to making his own music, and Matt, as you probably already know, later achieved considerable success with The Cult and Guns N' Roses... I also had a band at the time called Climate of Crisis in which Tori sang background vocals. So for several years we were working with each other on a near-daily basis in one capacity or another, depending on who was wearing the front-man hat at any given moment." [Virtual Guitar - October 1999]

August 22, 1986

* Tori turns 23.

* Tori signs a recording contract with Atlantic Records.

"I have a disastrous record deal. I was signed in 1986 already. No one wanted me. So I didn't have much to say about it. Now I have to make six more records under this contract. I do negotiate after each record, but I have no choice. When I want to make a new record, they know they've got me. Despite this, I love Warner. It feels so reliable. We have fought so much through the years. I feel like they have kept me under contract because of our differences. Because they know I would piss on their desks when I don't get my way. But I try to stay fair." [Oor - May 7, 1994]


"Y Kant Tori Read was a band that already existed before I came to it. They had huge problems, the lineup changed constantly, and I thus recorded the album with different band members. I said to myself then, 'They've rejected me so many times, now I'll show them!' I wanted to prove something, but wanting to prove something to the world is no good motivation to make music." [Keyboards - June 1992]

"The band was together for about two years. We rehearsed three times a week and only played one gig. That's all we did - we stayed in the rehearsal studio, made a tape, got signed, and split up." [Keyboard - September 1992]

* Tori meets Eric Rosse,
who becomes her boyfriend/soulmate
for the next seven and a half years.

March 1987

* Tori begins writing songs for the Y Kant Tori Read album.

"Y Kant Tori Read was a pivotal point for me as a writer. Some of the things on it work, some of them don't. Cool On Your Island works more than anything else, and I wrote that, I think, with Kim Bullard, but you'll have to check the credits because I've been using too much deodorant lately...

"But the thing is, even after Y Kant Tori Read as a band formed, there was a jumping off point from what I was doing before I formed the band. But I think you would kinda see that that was just me writing with a band in mind. Then when the record company got involved, a lot of other people got involved. They felt the material was not accessible, and they were pushing us into another place. And I came up with some songs at the time to try and meet that demand. The band broke up as yet another producer walked in, because what we were doing wasn't really understood, so it took about a year and it all fell to pieces...

"Finally I hooked up with Kim Bullard, and he worked on the Y Kant Tori Read album, and we wrote a couple of things, But by then it really wasn't representative - whether you like Y Kant Tori Read or don't like it, it wasn't really representative so much as what the band was doing. You would obviously recognize my voice in it and maybe some of the writing, but it was a really different direction, and once the band broke up that direction was completely like: stop in the middle of the road and don't continue on this path anymore... ... But I do think that Etienne, as a song, was more of what I was doing before I came to L.A." [Performing Songwriter - September 1998]

August 22, 1987

* Tori turns 24.

"I will tell you something that almost happened. I was in this bar in LA in the 80s, and these two beautiful guys, underwear models, gorgeous, come up to me and said, 'Do you want to come home with us?' And I said, 'Obviously, I'm worried you've got a butcher knife and you're going to chop me up into 17 pieces. And I can't be tortured again.' And they said, 'that's the chance you take.' And I really couldn't go back. I think they were dicking with me... I think they were swinging. I do wonder if they would have been violent... if a guy hits me, I will literally grab hold of his throat, put my teeth into it and rip until he is dead." [Boyz - November 6, 1999]

December 1987

* Tori and Kim Bullard finish up writing songs for the Y Kant Tori Read album.

June 22, 1988

* An article/interview with Tori about Y Kant Tori Read appears in Montgomery County's Gazette.

July 1988

* Y Kant Tori Read is released, and is a critical and sales failure. 3800 CDs, 3300 LPs, and 3200 cassettes are pressed.

"If I hadn't become a rock chick, I would be dead today, so long live hair spray." [Los Angeles Times - January 30, 1994]

"I walked into this restaurant and saw an acquaintance, and I went over to the table, and he was, like, pretending he didn't know me. And I felt these snickers 'cause my hair was totally pumped up 6 feet high, and I had my plastic boots that went up to my thigh and my little miniskirt. And I understood for the first time that I was a joke. And I walked out of that room going, 'They can laugh at me, but I'm walking out of this place with dignity. Hair spray and all.'"

With tears in her eyes Amos drove to the house of an old friend, "who had this old, old, black upright piano that was just like the one I started playing on when I was a little girl," she says. "I was a wreck, and I just said, 'Can I play your piano for a while?' I played for about four or five hours, and when it was all over, she said to me, 'Tori, this instrument is crying without you, and you're a mess without it. This is what you are. It's not about [the fact that] nobody thinks it's cool. You've done everything else, and look what they think of that.'" [Rolling Stone - June 30, 1994]

Billboard magazine used the word "bimbo" in a review of Y Kant Tori Read's debut album, and the record stiffled. Amos did not leave her apartment for a week. "I cried constantly; I was on my knees," she says. "From child prodigy to musical joke in twenty years - how do you reconcile that? So I went back to the faerie world." And to happy hour at the Long Beach Sheraton. Amos says she "got down and sucked the big Bose," rediscovering her self-belief in new, piano-based material that was to become Little Earthquakes. [Rolling Stone - June 25, 1998]

This is Tori's secret. Her fans think she does know their pain. Mainly because she's shared her pain with them. Shared her feelings of rejection, and shared her feelings of being a victim. Tori's big moment of rejection came in the mid-Eighties when she was trying to carve out a career as a rock chick, fronting a soft metal band called Y Kant Tori Read? Transvision Vamp-like, they were hyped by the industrty and then critically savaged. When their debut album came out, Billboard called Tori a bimbo.

"I walked into a restaurant called Hugo's in LA that I ate in all the time -- I mean, I lived there. And I walked in, and there were two tables of acquaintances of mine in the industry, and they ignored me" Tori recalls. "It's not like I'd call them friends, but I thought they were good acquaintances. One was a publisher -- and you know he would give one of his balls to have my publishing now -- and the other was an A&R person. One of them turned away and pretended I wasn't there. And the other one turned away and was sniggering with his girlfriend. And she was laughing at me. I had my hair all piled up -- six inches -- I had my boots on. I mean, now that I look back it was kind of sweet, this little thigh-high rock chick. But when you've been publicly humiliated, you're not even a cool cartoon character any more, you're a cartoon character that they're erasing... and they have the power to erase you.

"So I hid my tears behind my 17 applications of mascara -- you know, the waterproof kind -- and walked out with what little dignity I had... went home... sat on my kitchen floor for a long time. A few days later, I was still on my kitchen floor -- you know, you're in shock. All my ideas: coming to LA, wanting to be... it's not about music any more, it's about approval: am I OK?"

Eventually Tori called her friend Cindy Marble, then lead singer with the Rugburns, just another band from LA that never got signed. "And Cindy said, 'I think you need to come over here.' So I did. She had an old piano, and she said, 'Will you play for me? I really want to hear you play. I haven't heard you play in a long time.' And I played for her. Five hours. And she said to me: 'Tori, this is what you have to do. You play your piano and you sing your songs. That's what you do. And you've been trying to get away from it and be Lita Ford or somebody for the past five years, but this is what you do. Doesn't matter if it's hip or cool or not.'"

This is a friend worth having, I suggest. "Yes," Tori agrees. "This is a friend worth having. This is a beautiful soul."

So Tori reinvented herself as one woman and her piano sans thigh-high boots, and was sent off to London to be marketed as a sensitive singer-songwriter in a country which had never known her bimbo phase. [The Face - October 1994]

August 22, 1988

* Tori turns 25.


* Tori sings backup for Sandra Bernhard.

Comedian Sandra Bernhard saw through the spandex, though. Tori appeared on Bernhard's 1989 debut I'm Your Woman, on backup vocals. "Tori has always expressed an immense amount of talent," says Bernhard. "You can see it in her eyes and in her heart. That's why I asked her to sing with me on my first album. She is truly blessed." [Alternative Press - July 1998]

Tori says, "The American comedian Sandra Bernhard once made an incredibly sarcastic cover version of Little Red Corvette, where I sing the backing vocals. That's years ago, just after my hard rock LP Y Kant Tori Read flopped." [Samsonic - Sept/Oct 2001]

Tori refelects on the recording when she interviews Sandra Bernhard years later in Interview magazine. Tori said, "I remember being in the recording studio that day. You were jumping up and down, doing your record Without You I'm Nothing, and I came in to do 'oohs' for you on Little Red Corvette."

Sandra replies, "That's right. And they're great 'oohs.'"

Tori pauses and says, "Such a long time. And then I waited on you - remember? - at a Steven Spielberg tribute dinner. I was an usher-waitress... And you said to me, 'What are you doing here?' And I said, 'I'm an usher-waitress.' And you said, 'When are you gonna do something?" [Interview - August 1994]

* Tori records a song for the film China O'Brien called Distant Storm.

"No, I didn't write that song. Yeah, I did it to pay my rent that month. I did that for 300 dollars and I paid my rent. But it didn't have Tori Amos on the credits."

It said Ellen Amos, though.

"No. It said Ellen Amos?"

Yeah, in the "Additional Vocals" section of the credits, and the actual song was credited to somebody else.

"It's credited to Tess Makes Good. Yeah, I made them sign a contract that they couldn't use the name Tori Amos. I hadn't made it yet, but I just knew it was gonna haunt me one day. And I wasn't wrong. See, so I knew what I was doing. I made them sign a contract - I wrote it myself, too. I couldn't afford a lawyer, are you kidding? I just made them sign it. I said look, the only way I'll do this is if you can't use Tori Amos, you have to use another name. I think Y Kant Tori Read had bombed, but I knew that I didn't want to do anything that would come and haunt me and I needed the money." [Anthony Horan interview - November 2, 1994]

* Amos has also hinted that part of her psychological unburdening involved Carlos Castaneda-like experiences with Native Americans both in Los Angeles and New Mexico, where she supped the ritualistic brew.

"Yeah, there was a period in the late '80s where I was working with different shaman. Myself and a friend, Beene, would take ayahuasca - but it wouldn't be in the liquid form, it would be a freeze-dried pill - and mushrooms. Some of those trips were eighteen hours long and I'll never forget, once I ended up sitting by the bush trying to ask the flowers why they didn't like me. It's like, Why can't I be your friend? I was crawling out of my skin at that time. In my twenties I was really... I was just losing my mind." [Q - May 1998]

August 22, 1989

* Tori turns 26.

Fall 1989

* Atlantic Records gives Tori until March of 1990 to write another album of songs.

"He [Eric Rosse] was one of the first to encourage me. One time I sat at the piano and started to play, and he listened and then said, "I can't believe it! Why haven't you ever played this stuff? When will you show it to somebody?"

"But that I came back to the piano at all is due to one of my best friends; today she lives in a log cabin in Montana, but at that time she played in a band in L.A. It was during the time when I still earned my money in the hotel lobbies. One night I was at her house, and she had an old piano sitting in the corner, and I sat down and played for five or six hours, nothing but improvisation. When I was stopped she came in and said, 'Tori, you have to make an album, but with this stuff!'"

"I said, 'Impossible! Nobody wants to hear it.'

"And she said, 'What are you waiting for? Do you want go on wasting your talent?' I almost howled when she said that, I was so discouraged... [long pause] I owe her a lot." [Keyboards - June 1992]

"Seven years I would turn in tapes to record companies; after seven years of rejection of my own music, I believed them when they said, 'This girl-at-her-piano thing is never gonna happen... Get a band, do metal, do dance, do whatever' - and I did them all. I had my limit of how much rejection I could take. I didn't believe in myself enough."

"So I turned over my opinions to everybody else and refused to express what I was feeling in music anymore and invented this character for myself... I forgot that if it isn't in my heart or if I'm not getting off on it, maybe people could tell. I didn't think about that one. When Y Kant Tori Read bombed, I didn't have any respect for myself."

"I didn't even have a piano in the house. I'd trashed that before. So I rented this old upright and just started to write what I was feeling, and it became 'Little Earthquakes.' But it took Atlantic [Records] by surprise, obviously, when I turned in this music." [Los Angeles Times - January 30, 1994]

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