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Exclusive! Interview With Anthony Corder & Patrick Francis of Tora Tora

By Arkansas Cracker, Contributor
Thursday, September 25, 2003 @ 2:32 PM

Memphis Rockers Tora Tora May

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Anytime our usual “Where are they now?” discussion comes up, one band is always mentioned rather quickly… Tora Tora. They came roaring out of Memphis in 1989 led by lead singer Anthony Corder’s bluesy, soulful vocals and backed with a heavy sound and loud guitars. On the strength of such radio friendly rockers as “Walking Shoes”, “Phantom Rider”, and “28 Days”, Tora Tora gained a large following and looked set to make their mark. Then, after releasing 2 hard rocking CDs they seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth, another presumed victim of the grunge movement. In addition to Anthony Corder, the band consisted of guitarist Keith Douglas, bassist Patrick Francis, and drummer John Patterson. On a recent visit to Memphis I heard a familiar sound rising up from the downtown amphitheater. Low and behold it was the unmistakable voice of Anthony. The following night, as luck would have it, I was also able to catch Patrick Francis’s new band in action. I got a chance to sit down with Anthony and Patrick to hopefully find out just what the hell happened to Tora Tora, what they’re up to now, and talk about some of the music they left behind for us to continue to enjoy.

KNAC.COM: So what are you guys currently up to?
ANTHONY CORDER: Right now I'm in a band with a guy, Hal McCormick, that I've been with for about 7 or 8 years, called Uprisin. We've been in the studio working with Chris Scott. We just started this thing about 6 months ago, I guess. I actually do acoustic stuff a lot now, too, because I'm in school to get into entertainment law. I've got two sons, one will be 3 in October and the other son is 14 months old, so I'm really grounded right now and family oriented.

KNAC.COM: Homemade Flavor? Is that the band name for the acoustic stuff?
CORDER: Yeah, I've been doing that with Hal for about 8 years. We actually just got together to write songs and didn't think anything would come out of it. We just kind of clicked right off the bat, coming from the same background and stuff. I guess right after Tora Tora broke up I wanted to go back to where everything came from, the blues and stuff. We had worked with the Memphis Horns and I got really into them and I kind of backtracked them into the "Memphis sound", you know Otis Redding, Stax, and that vibe and of course having Beale Street here. So I went down a lot and started hanging around Beale. I was really kind of lost when we stopped playing but I've got a good friend, James Govan, that plays down at Rum Boogie during the week and as soon as things happened with Tora Tora he was the first person I went to and I was like "What am I going to do man?" and he just said "you're a singer man, you're gonna keep singing". He was a great influence. I was in a whirlwind. He made me feel good about staying in music.

So there's a little club called Murphy's in midtown and we had Monday nights blocked out and we had like a revolving band. We had from horn sections to keyboards to 2 drummers, mandolin, steel guitar... whoever showed up. That was a big deal for me because when we came along as Tora Tora we did covers and we were butchering them ya know, so we said screw this we'll write our own, that way nobody will know if we're screwing up. We were lucky enough that when we came along we were rehearsing at a warehouse and throwing parties and word got out and people would come to just hear our music. That's how we got signed. I went back to the jams and started doing the blues stuff like Elmore James and Buddy Guy. I did that for a while then I met Hal and he's been a great player to be with. We do the Homemade Flavor stuff. Patrick actually played with us for 4 or 5 years. We went out to L.A. and cut some stuff as Route 61. It's a work in progress.

KNAC.COM: What happened with the Route 61 recordings?
CORDER: It's never been released that I know of. I don't think it's even on the Internet. Hopefully something will be out soon as Uprisin though.

KNAC.COM: So what's your story Patrick?
PATRICK FRANCIS: First and foremost I better say I got married this summer to Ashleigh and that's going great. We have a lot in common. Who else would let me hang guitars and Iron Maiden posters in the living room?
CORDER: Wait a minute, I've got to put my wife and kids in too now, Anita, Jackson, and Isaac. That's my group. My new band I'm working with I like to say.
FRANCIS: I'm playing in a band called Rail. We've been together about a year. We're playing nu-metal, very modern metal. We're tuned to "b", tuned down real low like these cats are doing these days. That took a while to get used to because I kept pushing my strings over to the side of my neck because it was so floppy. We've cut 6 demos at Ardent Studios, about to cut 4 more. We've shopped it, got a few bites but back when me and Ant were doing it, 4 songs was all it took but these days everybody has to send a buttload of music because they want to make sure that's not all you can do. But Rail is doing real good, it's heavy. Todd Poole, ex-Saliva drummer and Roxy Blue singer, is in the band. Back during the day I wouldn't say we were bitter rivals, but we were definitely rivals. We laugh about it now because Todd will say, "Man, 10 years ago I would have slit your tires if I had got the chance," and I say, "Same to you, bud". Yeah, but that's rock ‘n roll.

KNAC.COM: So Surprise Attack was relatively successful, and then came Wild America and it looked like stardom was headed your way... then it was over. What happened to you guys?
FRANCIS: The dreaded "N" word... Nirvana. Grunge music just put a halt to ‘80s hair bands, like we were categorized. I felt with Ant singing we were different than everyone else. We were a metal band but we had a very soulful singer. You didn't see that much. It was a good mix. We wrote a 3rd record but it just wasn't marketable at the time.
CORDER: We worked on the 3rd album for like a year I think. We kinda got lost in the corporate wheel. All the sudden we were just somebody's assigned project. Our A & R rep had left the company. That had a lot to do with it, too.
FRANCIS: A & M had dropped everybody except Soundgarden, Sting, and Janet Jackon... cleaned house.
CORDER: They'd sold out to Universal during the Surprise Attack tour. Business is business; they had to do what was best for them. We just had to roll with the punches at the time. But they always did a good job. They were really good to the band.

KNAC.COM: So what ever happened to the record Revolution Day and will it ever be released?
FRANCIS: Like we said, music changed, kids changed, and we stayed the same. It just didn't work.

KNAC.COM: No chance it will be released then?
FRANCIS: Probably not.
CORDER: It may be on the Internet somewhere, but I haven't heard that.

KNAC.COM: Of all the bands Tora Tora played with, who gave you guys the least amount of respect and who was the coolest to you?
CORDER: The coolest is easy, LA Guns/Dangerous Toys tour. Dangerous Toys was from Texas, us from Tennessee. We kinda had the southern thing goin' on.
FRANCIS: When we pulled up to the hotel the first day, Tracii Guns was in the lobby waiting on us and he was like, "It's so good to have you on this tour, we couldn't do it without you." So from the first day we were intermingling. We were all in each other's dressing rooms. It was great.

KNAC.COM: Ok, who gave you the most shit?
FRANCIS: Fortunately, our road experiences were great. Bonham gave us a little shit once in a while. They trashed one of our dressing rooms and we got the blame for it and the bill for it. Finally they 'fessed up but I guess Jason has enough money to buy a university. We were playing Radford University. Very nice place. I had a run-in with Dana Strum up in Canada at the Winnipeg show with Slaughter and Sass Jordan. We couldn't take our own gear. When I got there I saw Hartkey cabinets and an SVT amp and I thought great! That's exactly my rig and I started messing with it ya know and Slaughter's tour manager came over and said, "Dana said don't even look at that rig. There's your rig over there," and it was a ratty piece of shit. So this was a festival and I was thinking, dammit don't do this to me. That's about as bad as it got. The rest of the guys in Slaughter were great.

KNAC.COM: Let’s touch on some of the other tours you did. How about the tour with Kix?
FRANCIS: We got off on Kix, our very first big tour. We listened to their CDs before every show. We’d turn it full blast and just run through the place screaming.
CORDER: They turned us on to their crowd, too. They had a great rock ‘n roll crowd and we got a chance to go back and play in front of their crowd at Hammerjacks in Baltimore. It was nuts.

KNAC.COM: The Wild America tour with Lynch Mob and Warrant?
FRANCIS: It was too short really to have any stories. It was only about a month. I remember George Lynch was very cool.
CORDER: Yeah, I remember hearing him warm up every night. God man, he could shred that damn thing. He was great.

KNAC.COM: What about the Surprise Attack tour with The Cult and Bonham?
FRANCIS: Overwhelming because it was our first and only arena tour. There’s not much more fun than playing arenas every other night.
CORDER: The first night was Houston’s Summit, I think?
FRANCIS: Yeah, that scared us to death, but by the second night we were into it.

KNAC.COM: Tora Tora and Roxy Blue both got their shot out of Memphis in the ‘80s. What other bands from that scene do you think truly deserved a shot but never got it?
FRANCIS: Somebody that did get a deal but didn't get the push was Eric Gales. This guy could have ruled the world if the right people got a hold of him. He and his brother Eugene, they didn't get any push at all. We all thought he would take off.

KNAC.COM: Oh yeah, he's a great guitar player. So what would you guys say is one of the best highlights and one of the biggest low points of Tora Tora's career?
FRANCIS: For me the first time is always the best. The Tora Tora experience was so much fun that I am busting my tail to try to do everything to re-live it with the new guys I'm with now.
CORDER: For me it was the signing the contract and going into the studio to do the first record. It was the greatest high in the world. It was Paul Ebersol's first record so he was all fired up. Also for me was playing a big Mud Island show. Coming back home for the first show for Wild America with Roxy Blue. Something magic about that night, biggest crowd ever at Mud Island.

KNAC.COM: And a low point?
FRANCIS: When it ended I was just crushed. For like six months I just sat there and stared at my bass sitting in the corner.
CORDER: Yeah, definitely for me, too. For like two years I just tried to figure out where my head was at, knowing I wouldn't get the chance to get back out on the road and be in front of the people and play my music. That was a tough one to swallow.

KNAC.COM: Let’s pretend you got an offer to put Tora Tora back together and do a tour with, lets say Tesla for instance for a summer, would you do it? And how many original members would it take for it to be called Tora Tora?
FRANICS: We had a pact back in the day, if it wasn’t the four of us we weren’t gonna do it. But we still did it many years later.
CORDER: We had an opportunity to go up to Winnipeg to do a summerfest thing. The offer came in and we thought it’d be cool. We did a few shows with Hal McCormick on guitar. We tried it -- no offense to Hal, I love him -- but it just didn’t feel the same not having Keith up there. They have totally different styles.
FRANCIS: Plus Hal is so great that I felt guilty throwing Tora Tora stuff on him. He deserves his own shot.

KNAC.COM: Let's talk about some of the Tora Tora songs. Give me a memory about the following songs:

KNAC.COM: “Wasted Love.”
FRANCIS: The first song we ever did. What a classic. It was on our first 5-song EP.
CORDER: A local radio show pushed the hell out of it. Malcolm on Rock 98. The guy that signed us to A & M Records got off the airplane to see a showcase at our warehouse, got in the car, and they were playing it on the radio. He was like, "Man, these guys really have it together!"

KNAC.COM: “Walkin' Shoes.”
FRANCIS: A good representation of this band. A good metal sound but the most soulful singer in a metal band you'll ever hear in your entire lifetime.

KNAC.COM: “Riverside Drive.”
FRANCIS: We sat down here on Riverside Drive and wrote that, on a bench.

KNAC.COM: “Phantom Rider.”
FRANCIS: Locally, that was the song everybody would wait for. By that time, they would do anything Ant would ask them to. He’d just hold the microphone out and the entire place would sing it as loud as they could. I did it hundreds of times and it gave me the chills every single time.
CORDER: I wrote that song with Thomas Howard. We lived down the street from each other and he'd go walk his dog every night and we'd smoke a cigarette or whatever else. I remember having that intro and we'd be just like, "Wow man, that's a great song man." I remember just playing that in my bedroom and then hearing it all over the radio, it was great.

KNAC.COM: “She's Good, She's Bad.”
CORDER: It was called “Perfect Angel” the first time -- we reworked it. That was one we worked on a lot because I was singing different on that, just trying to stretch out a bit. I did a lot of screaming on that first record.
FRANCIS: Good album track.

KNAC.COM: “Love’s a Bitch.”
FRANCIS: My favorite song. I wanted it to be our first single really bad. We'd been playing it for a while. “Walkin’ Shoes” was a new song. Of course, the record company heard something my 19-year-old stupid ass didn't hear. “Walkin’ Shoes” ended up being a great choice.

KNAC.COM: “Wild America.”
CORDER: That was our overall view of our experience touring and being let loose like a pack of wild dogs on the world. We were like Vikings, rape and pillage, just going crazy. That song was just a tribute to the people and experience. It was great.

KNAC.COM: “28 Days.”
CORDER: I love the guitar riff Keith did on that.
FRANCIS: Well, it's about every 28 days... the menstrual cycle.

KNAC.COM: I've heard of it. How about “Nowhere To Go But Down.”
CORDER: We got a chance to go to L.A. and work with Stan Lynch, who was drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. We spent a week; we'd drive out to his house everyday. He had a great little studio there. We actually ended up writing 3 or 4 songs with him. We just sat around and listened to Jimi Hendrix records. Stan's a wonderful writer. We also wrote “Dead Man's Hand” and 2 more that were on Revolution Day. It was just a great experience. Musician friends of his were dropping in.

KNAC.COM: Well, word back in the day was that you guys were spoiled kids from well off families and when you decided you wanted to be rock stars that your parents bought you the best of everything and you never actually paid your dues. Any truth to that?
FRANCIS: Well, me and Anthony came from the different side of the railroad tracks than the other guys did. A couple of the guys were well off, yeah. But, we had to prove ourselves before Mr. D. would do stuff for us. He did a lot for us.

KNAC.COM: Mr. D.? Is that Keith Douglas’ father? Is that who you’re talking about?
CORDER: Right, it was his warehouse where we would throw parties. He didn’t know we were throwing them; we told him we were rehearsing. We got a soundboard and stuff from him. You know, getting going you need some financial backing. He was definitely there for us. All our parents were really supportive. They knew it was something we were really going for and we believed in it.
FRANCIS: Absolutely. Mr. D. was the man. We love him to this day.

KNAC.COM: Well, that’s it fellas. Thanks so much for your time!

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