Stuff is Still the Issue: Talking to Tori’s archivist

Little Blue World; vol. 6 n°3 fall 2006

Saturday 27 August 2011, by Lynne Stahl

In May 2002, LBW was lucky enough to score an interview with perhaps the world’s foremost Tori trivia guru -her astoundingly dedicated archivist, Billy. Since meeting Myra Ellen Amos thirty years ago, he’s amassed and detailed a mind-boggling collection of everything Tori, even before she was Tori. We recently invited him to talk about his experience just a little bit more. We settled on a list of several burning questions, and he responded with gusto, much to our delight.

LBW: You first met Tori in 1976, when she began playing at Mr. Smith’s, and you began saving her set lists and various artifacts. When and how did this collection go from pastime to “profession?”

1981, though profession is a tad overstated. That year, Tori performed twice at a well-known local club in Georgetown. On June 11th, she was booked as the opening act for Tom Rush at the Cellar Door on the corner of 34th & M Streets. Her nine songs set that evening included the songs: Stay with Me Tonight/As I Look at You/Hard Lovin’ Woman/How Can I Touch You Again/Serenade Me/All the Mothers in Town/Just Ellen/A Moment in Time and Carry Me On. Other name acts at the Cellar Door over the years included Miles Davis, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Jeff Walker, Brewer & Shipley, Jose Feliciano and many, many others.

December 29th of that same year, she returned as the headliner for the club, though this time the establishment was now simply known as “The Door.” This time the set list grew to 22 songs: The Long and Winding Road/Piano Man/Love Has No Pride/Landslide/Don’t It Make My Eyes Blue & Desperado/Shadow of a Lonely Man/You Needed Me/Do It Again & Evergreen/First Love/Send in the Clowns/Dreamin’/Midnight Blue/Someone to Lay Down Beside Me/Just Ellen/Love is a Rose/Help Me Make It Through the Night/Something in the Way She Moves/The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be/Tomorrow at Noon/Lose Again/Songbird/More Than Just a Friend.

That Tuesday night, December 29th, after the performance, her mom, dad, sister Marie, brother Michael, my wife and I had gone back upstairs to the artist’s dressing room to keep Tori company while she unwound and got her things together to head home. I remember leaving the dressing room upstairs and going back into the club to retrieve the soundboard cassette tape that had been left in the mixer. To get to the stage, you had to go outside, and then walk between the stairs dressing room and the artist’s entrance downstairs. When I returned to the dressing room, I handed the tape to her sister.

Perhaps another twenty minutes or so passed before we all grabbed out coats and headed down to the 34th street exit to go home. Marie plunged her hands into her coat pocket to pull out her gloves and pulled out the soundboard tape, saying “What are we going to do with this?” Without hesitation, Tori said, “Give it to Billy; he’s my little archivist.” That was the first time I went home and actually said to myself, “Hum, how can I organize this stuff to keep track of things for the long term?”

Understand now that Tori, her family and I had already been friends for five years at that point. In fact, this past June of 2006 represented exactly thirty years from the day we met at her Mr. Smith’s audition. I married in June of that same year (1981), and Tori was the soloist at our wedding, singing “Ave Maria” from the balcony of old Holy Trinity Church. As a professional photographer, I did a lot of publicity for her during those first five years that was used promotionally on billboards outside the lounges she would perform in, such as The Tiffany Lounge, The Mauberry House, The Birchmere, The Carlton and the Myrtle Beach Hilton Hotel in South Carolina. One of my many images that has been published over the years carries the photo caption “At the Wacipi Indian Festival (age 15).” Nonsense. I took that shot by candlelight while she sat at her dining roo table in the Rockville house after one of Mrs. Amos’s home cooked meals.

Additionally, working in a visual field with access to typesetting equipment more sophisticated than the church rectory’s aging manual ribbon style typewriter, I was able to help Tori polish her resume and have it professionally printed rather than mimeographed like an elementary school geography test [smile].

As the daughter of a minister, and with a brother and a sister all existing on a minister’s wage, Tori did not have much in the way of recording equipment back in these early days. Between the ages of twelve and sixteen, she had, as I remember, but the one four-track machine that she used to engineer her demos on and maybe an old “shoebox” type mono cassette machine with a built-in condenser mike that set on top of an upright piano in the living room.

On the other hand, I had a stereo reel to reel recorder and several cassette tape recorders that gave us an avenue to make copies and record local performances, like her outdoor concert at Montgomery Junior College in 1979 and the summer concert series appearance at a government auditorium in August of 1980.

Obviously your archive is of immeasurable sentimental value -the passion required to maintain such a detailed collection is astounding. Are there a few particular items, events, or milestones that stand out to you and/or Tori above the rest? What would you save if, heaven forbid, the house caught fire?

Ultimately, I truly believe that the value of this collection is in its totality; its completeness. Sell off individual items, and they simply become collectables for the auction crowd. As a whole, The Archive serves as a living document; a complete window on the life, the career development of, this artist and her place in the industry relative to her peers.

The Archive is positive proof that artist Mark Armanski produced four rock art posters of Tori Amos. Fay Wong’s Cantonese cover of “Winter” was reissued by Polydoor. Warner Australia produced and distributed two double CD sets of Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink with separate catalog numbers where the basic difference was the album order. In 1992, East West Records pressed a CD single of “China” with all the wrong song tracks on the disc. “Glory of the 80’s” was released both correctly and incorrectly.

Boys for Pele was not only pressed in the US and UK, but also in Japan, Taiwan, Germany and France. (I actually have filed eight different pressings of this one title alone, not including CD singles or B-sides.) To Venus and Back was pressed in six different countries, including South Africa. There are no less than 108 promotional and sampler CDs, from all over the world, that contain Tori Amos copyrighted contributions. Tori Amos has contributed music to nine movie soundtracks. In 2003, Tales of a Librarian was published in Argentina. While Michelle Kwan skated to “Winter,” Roswell, The West Wing and Everwood have also used Tori Amos songs on their TV shows. How do we know this? Because The Archive has a definitive exhibit of every item.

The Archive unfortunately verifies the existence of the subversive side of the industry as well. There are seven unauthorized aftermarket box sets in circulation. At least one hundred and twelve bootleg recordings were formally available in the marketplace prior to the proliferation of the “bootlegged bootleg” generations that followed with the advent of the CD-R. A London company unfairly profits each year by releasing an unofficial calendar using Tori’s name.

Over these thirty years, The Archive has supported researchers’ efforts to produce a myriad of television programs about Tori, including MTV “Review” (show #140); VH-1 “Behind the Music II” - 1999, “Before They Were Rock Stars III” - 1998, “Before They Were Rock Stars 2000” (Show #33); American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): “Prime Time Live with Diane Sawyer”; and Cable News Network (CNN): “Newsstand Profile” -1998 and others. Additionally, The Archive has supported Tori’s publishing company, Sword and Stone, to safeguard and insure just royalty’s collections on a global scale through copyright registrations and filings with the Library of Congress, ASCAP, GEMMA and the MCPS-PRS Alliance, et al.

Milestones for me, I guess, have been measured in the years I still manage to be considered as part of the Amos family. My oldest daughter married earlier this year and Rev. Amos gave the invocation, a few well chosen remarks and a blessing for us that day. Mrs. Amos sat only two pews away throughout the ceremony. Tori was in lockdown in Cornwall with a project. I was particularly flattered when Herb Leonhard illustrated one of my early black & white portraits into the “Cornflake Girl” image used in Tori’s Lyrics book. Other than Tori’s parents, I was the only other person to receive special thanks on that publishing effort.

House fire? I’d likely perish God forbid that happen. To run back inside a burning building to rescue one artifact of this collection would be impossible. The searchable computer database outline that I created to track this project took more than two years to construct and keystroke initial data entry into. Mark & Tori’s wedding video is certainly irreplaceable. I cherish that old Tascam four track recorder from the early Maryland days. Earliest videos, too, seem so delicate, e.g. Kellogg’s Just Right cereal commercial, Crystal Lite, Hello Baltimore and others.

What’s the final destination of the Tori archive? Will it ever be put on public display, or will the family keep the items private?

Most likely the collection will remain private for the most part. Possibly one day the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame may induct Tori and use a piece or two in an artist exhibit. One thing for certain, you would need quite a bit of storage space. I personally feel that public display would not ultimately prove lucrative enough (long term) to be a viable proposition.

Lynne Stahl