Sunday, December 2, 2012

25 Years of Tora Tora

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25 Years Of Tora Tora
Meister in Memphis

***This was originally intended to include a personal interview with Anthony Corder, but due to the inability to coordinate our schedules, please consider this to be part #1 of my adventures with Tora Tora with part #2 to follow in the near future***

In 1989 I was a sixteen year old kid and my best friend and I worked part-time at the local movie theatre. When we saw the movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure for the first time we were blown away.  We would often spend our days off during the next few weeks hanging out at the theatre and sometimes catching the movie up to three times a day.  It was the coolest thing to us with all the rock and roll references and silliness of the plot including lines like "Put them in the Iron Maiden!", "Be excellent to each other" and the whole "excellent/bogus" routine.  As a result, I purchased the soundtrack on cassette and listened to it repeatedly.  Actually there was one song in particular that stood out for me among the rest, so much so that on the day I took my driver's license test I listened to it right before I got into the examiner's car to calm my nerves.  That song was of course Dancing With A Gypsy from Tora Tora.  Loving the tune as much as I did, it only made sense that I searched out the band's full length album.  Right away Surprise Attack had my intrigue with the awesome cover art depicting a young lady, wrapped only in a towel in front of a bomber plane.  I remember being stunned when I heard the whole thing, I loved it so much and it became my soundtrack for quite a while that summer, spreading over even into the friends who didn't normally like the hard rock genre.

Tora Tora was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1985 consisting of Anthony Corder (vocals), Keith Douglas (guitar), Patrick Francis (bass) and John Patterson (drums).  They used to play for friends in garages and eventually moved up to a rented warehouse where they would throw parties and play their music.  They entered a battle of the bands contest and won out above over sixty other bands to claim the prize.  The guys took this prize money and bought studio time, recording an EP called To Rock To Roll.  They only made one cassette pressing and sold out immediately.

Their blues based and Led Zeppelin inspired southern hard rock was certainly catchy and after signing with A&M Records they unleashed upon the unsuspecting public, their eponymous début record entitled Surprise Attack in 1989.  It cracked the Billboard Top 200 at #47 on the strength of singles like Walking Shoes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=5k9UDRO43Vc), Phantom Rider (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=8p-BfRFPGR0)and Guilty (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=CWkvi-gT4Q8).  Guilty is one of the best hard rock songs that I've ever heard and it has aged well, still sounding great today.  That same year saw them contribute a track to the feature film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure which became a surprise hit movie, even spawning a sequel.  My Tora Tora journey began here with the purchase of that soundtrack and the song Dancing With A Gypsy

They followed up with Wild America in 1992, maybe a long time between albums at a point when the grunge attack was beginning to descend upon the music world.  It did not fare as well as its predecessor sales or chart wise only hitting #134, but it contained a more mature approach and evolution to the song writing.  The lead track was Wild America and seems to be written about their experiences on the road, reminding me of the Saxon classic And The Bands Played On from their Denim & Leather album.  Wild America saw the quartet incorporate a more southern blues sound to their metal by introducing horns, sax and piano work to this collection of songs. A video was produced for Amnesia (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=UR9RV9TNcBg) and got some radio airplay, but it did not push the album to the heights it should have achieved   I once, even up here north of Toronto, heard it on the radio, albeit it was 2am.  It's different than it's predecessor  but every single track here still rocks, maybe even more so than Surprise Attack, just in a different way.

A third album was recorded, but with some re-structuring including the sale of their record label and the explosion of the Seattle scene, the reportedly titled Revolution Day would not surface and was shelved.  Sadly Tora Tora disappeared, after coming so close to the eagerly sought after breakthrough of fame and fortune, but falling just short of the mark.

In 2008 all four original members, Anthony, Keith, Patrick and John re-united to play a sold-out show for the 20th anniversary of their recording contract.  They also sold a special limited edition EP containing nine songs after the performance entitled The Warehouse...20 years Later. This EP included some of the tracks from the "lost album" as well as a couple from the To Rock To Roll EP and Surprise Attack. This performance led them into a spot at the huge hard rock festival Rocklahoma held annually in Oklahoma later the same year. The year 2009 saw them play another show at The New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street in Memphis and also sign a deal with FnA Records.

In 2009 Nashville, Tennessee based record label FnA Records treated fans to a CD release called Before & After.  This CD included the ridiculously impossible to find original six song EP (three of those songs would go on to surface on the full length début Surprise Attack in 1989), To Rock To Roll along with a couple of demo's from the unreleased Revolution Day album.  For a fan such as myself this was a very exciting release.  Wasted Love led off the CD and after hearing it I wonder why it never made the cut for the Surprise Attack record.  The next two tracks, while good, I can see why they got dropped.  The early recordings of Phantom Rider, Love's A Bitch and the original version of Walking Shoes are great tracks for any fan to add to their collection.  The closing four tracks are demos that were written for the "lost album".  The sound quality here is very good and it's obvious that the team at FnA did an excellent job of cleaning up the old demo reels and analogue recordings and it's great to be able to add these songs to my collection.

FnA Records, loving 80’s and early 90’s rock as they do would not let it go at that and together with the band they barraged the record buying public in 2009 with two more Tora Tora recordings and thank God they did!  One might say that three Tora Tora albums in one year may be a bit of overkill, given that the band only released two in their late 80’s heyday, but they’d be wrong.  These are welcome additions to the catalogue of “One of the best unknown bands in the hard rock genre” as I have seen them referred to.

Bombs Away was up first and in classic Tora Tora fashion depicted a young lady dressed in army gear and riding on a large bomb.  The full title for the release is Bombs Away: The Unreleased Surprise Attack Recordings.  Any track of this left over material from the Surprise Attack sessions would have certainly fit well on that début   Once again the team at FnA had some work to do and the sound quality of some tracks may seem a bit “off”, but barely noticeable except to the trained listener and that’s to be expected given that these recordings were found on old cassettes only.  The CD is a worthy listen and does contain a real gem or two.

Miss B. Haven' continues in the same vein with a similar sub title of: The Unreleased Wild America Recordings.  Again the tracks here are great rock, well written and would have easily fit on Wild America.  The song Serious has quickly risen in my playlist and in my opinion should definitely not have been left off of the original Wild America release.  Other stand-out tunes appearing here are Take It As You Like It, Ain't Nothin' To It, Bite The Bullet and Mary Wants Some.  If you're only going to pick up one of these 2009 FnA rare recordings discs, make this the one.  This whole album would have fit perfectly between Surprise Attack and Wild America.

Fast forward two years to 2011 and FnA and Tora Tora are back again!  This time they have dusted off the recordings for the unreleased or "lost" third album and brought it into the light, a real treat for fans.  This CD is the logical progression and continuation of the band and their bluesy southern song writing that began with Surprise Attack, continued through Wild America and now on to Revolution Day.  These tunes were originally penned back in 1994, but they feel fresh, although it may take a couple of listens to really get into them.  With this being the planned third CD, you have to wonder if there are as many leftover tracks from these recording sessions as we've previously seen from the other two releases, I sure hope so!  The title track leads the way, rocking into the southern flavoured Mississippi Voodoo Child, two great starters to an album.  Other killer tracks include the boogie of Little Texas, Blues Come Home to You, Memphis Soul and the ballad, Candle and the Stone.

This year marks 25 years since Tora Tora got their recording contract and to mark the occasion they held a performance at The New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street in Memphis.  By an odd twist of fate, a burning desire to finally see Tora Tora live and a rather expensive trip, saw The Meister leave The Great White North and venture down to Memphis, Tenessee for the show!

I landed in Memphis about 2:30pm the day of the show and after cabbing to the hotel for some much needed freshening up,  ventured out. I had the opportunity to walk the length of Beale Street, partly to locate The New Daisy and get my bearings in a new city and partly to check out the famous Beale Street.  A quick bite to eat at The Pig on Beale Street BBQ and I made my way back to the New Daisy Theatre to secure my spot in line. There was no chance that I was coming all this way and not being closer than hell for this event!  Bass player Patrick Francis and drummer John Patterson popped outside the doors and greeted a few of the fans that were lined up outside, posing for photo opportunities.  It's always a great thing when performers take a bit of time with their fans and it was certainly rather a touching experience
to watch John interact with the two young (age 10 approx) girls that were first in line, waiting with their parents.  One was a guitar player and the other a drummer, I overheard.  John gave them some inspirational words about playing music and then asked them their favourite Tora Tora song.  "Dancing With A Gypsy", they replied.  "Oh man, we haven't played that one in like 25 years!" laughed John.

With only an hour left to wait until the doors opened, I met up with some facebook/Monsters of Rock Cruise friends in line.
After the thorough enjoyment of a beverage or two in line the doors opened and we stampeded into the auditorium and right for the front of the stage.  With about eight of us in our group we had no trouble getting a spot just to the left of centre stage.  After we were situated, select scouts were sent on drink missions and I headed off to the merchandise table.  I always buy something to support the band as I wish more people would do, so that we can keep these bands touring and making the music that we love, plus I had to meet Steve Lockett from FnA Records there anyway.  After a quick meet and
greet with Steve, I purchased a very cool looking Tora Tora concert T, secured an ice cold beverage and headed back to my group.

The opening band came on, a funky six piece unit, and while they were great, their style was not a very good fit for the bluesy hard rock about to follow, at least in my opinion anyway.  Finally it was time for Tora Tora to take the stage.  They opened up with the excellent Wasted Love track from the To Rock To Roll EP and/or the Before & After disc.  Right away they sounded tight and looked happy (especially Patrick, who was all smiles) to be playing on this momentous occasion of 25 years.  Surprise Attack's 28 Days was next and my entire group were singing and dancing along with every word.  While the song sounded great,
Anthony's tell-tale shriek was absent from his vocal performance, understandably mellowed over the years and simply not able to reach that high any more.  From there they burst into Amnesia and already I was having no regrets about making the long journey and finally seeing one of my all-time favourite bands.  Mississippi Voodoo Child from Revolution Day (the lost album) followed and sounded amazing right along side the beloved classics and why shouldn't it, having been written just a couple of years after Amnesia.  The next seven songs were all from the first two official releases, all being played spot on, keeping everyone in my groups shoes sliding, voices straining and horns high in the air.  It started with  Love's A Bitch and Cold Fever, before
the ballad Being There, then Lay Your Money Down and Dead Man's Hand both from the Wild America record, the title track to which I would have loved to hear that night along with the missing Dancing With A Gypsy.  I did however, get to hear Guilty, probably my all time Tora Tora favourite tune.  It had me bouncing up and down, screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs and I was not alone, what a rush!  Next we got Nowhere To Go But Down and then they went into To Rock To Roll, which, while still a great track was not from the beloved first two records and therefore allowing me a breath or two for a moment.  Revolution Day followed leaving City Of Kings to close out the regular set.

The three-punch encore consisted of the hit ballad from Surprise Attack, Phantom Rider and it was hard to hear Anthony singing for the entire theatre was right there with him.  How about a little classic Aerosmith?  No problem as the boys ripped through an awesome cover of the Toxic Twins' Toys In The Attic title track from the iconic 1975 Aerosmith record.

Their biggest hit, Walking Shoes, brought the curtain down on the 25th anniversary concert, but not the evening.  There was an after party at BB King's to attend yet.  Although it appeared that Anthony's voice had mellowed over the years and the tell tale screech of his youth was toned down quite a bit this evening, he and the rest of Tora Tora sounded amazing and did not disappoint!  One thing obviously hadn't mellowed over the years and that was their stage energy and love of performing!  I was on quite a buzz after the show (I did indulge in a few beverages, mind you) as I pitched in and helped Steve Lockett from FnA Records pack up the Tora Tora merchandise and we headed over to the legendary BB King's together.  On our way up the street to BB King's I ran into John outside the New Daisy Theatre and was able to get some autographs, a pic and chat with him for a few minutes.  We talked about the two little girls, who he said at one point were brought back stage to watch him play during the show, very cool John!  Once at BB King's the party was already under way and I got the chance to chat with all the band members.  Keith was absolutely astounded that I had come from Toronto, Canada to watch them play and he was very appreciative.  Anthony bought me a beer or two and generally made me feel very welcome, chatting briefly about his solo CD as he signed the cover for me.  Patrick Francis (bass) was
also a down to earth guy and it was great to watch them celebrating such a great 25 year milestone with their family and friends.  Patrick's wife (obviously an extremely talented baker) baked an awesome cake, depicting the album covers for the occasion as well!  Tora Tora has produced some excellent music in their past with hopefully more to follow in the future, but after seeing them in a live performance I have only garnered a new respect and appreciation for these Memphis rockers!

***Stay tuned for part #2 of my adventures with Tora Tora, including an interview with lead vocalist Anthony Corder coming in the near future***

Cheers,
The Meister













2 comments:

Dusty Sigvertsen said...

Awesome write up, Tora Tora is one of the most underrated bands of all time, they never really found the success they deserve. I still have the first 2 albums on cassette and they get thrashed quite a bit. Do you know if all their other albums are available on itunes at all??

Lisa Abell said...

I have a question about the drummer. I met a guy that said he was the drummer for this band but John Petterson was his stage name. Was there another drummer that filled in in the late 80s early 90s?

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