Tora Tora charges into Phase II of music career

Courtesy of Tora Tora
Tora Tora includes Keith Douglas (from left), Patrick Francis, John Patterson and Anthony Corder.

Photo by File

Courtesy of Tora Tora Tora Tora includes Keith Douglas (from left), Patrick Francis, John Patterson and Anthony Corder.

Tora Tora 25th Anniversary

Saturday at the New Daisy Theater, 330 Beale. Doors open at 7 p.m. for this all-ages show. Tickets: $19, available at the box office, by phone at 866-468-7630, and online at www.newdaisy.com. For more information, call 901-525-8979.

From behind the desk where he works as creative director for a Nashville song publishing company, Anthony Corder, lead singer for '90s-era Memphis hard rock band Tora Tora, sees a constant stream of young music artists trying to make it in the business.

"I see them come in, and I remember being right where they are. They're waiting tables, struggling along, taking meetings, figuring it out, trying to do the artist thing," says Corder, who credits John Fry, head of Memphis' Ardent Studios where Tora Tora had an early development deal, with showing him the ropes of the music business. "I tell him every time I talk to him that that was like freakin' riding lightning. You guys gave us the opportunity to go and play our music every night in front of people. We were real blessed."

On Saturday, Tora Tora will strap themselves to the lighting bolt once again as the four-piece celebrates the 25th anniversary of its 1987 debut EP, To Rock To Roll, with a show at the New Daisy Theater, location of some of the band's earliest successes.

"We've known (New Daisy owner) Mike Glenn since I was like 16 years old," says Corder, recalling the first time the band played the venue in the mid-'80s at a battle of the bands where they had to play either three songs or 15 minutes. "I just remember walking out there freezing and staring at my feet for like 15 minutes. The band was like, you gotta look at the audience and start moving around."

Tora Tora's return to the New Daisy marks a continuation of the band's unlikely second chapter, the resumption — albeit halting as the 40-something members balance work and families — of a music career that seemed over in 1994 when A&M Records dropped the band after three records.

Following To Rock To Roll, Tora Tora, which also includes bassist Patrick Francis, guitarist Keith Douglas and drummer John Patterson, was one of the hottest bands in town, with a soaring brand of blues-infused Southern rock that seemed uniquely Memphis and tantalizingly commercial. The band signed with A&M and released Surprise Attack! in 1989, selling 200,000 copies and establishing their name with hits like "Walking Shoes" and "Phantom Rider."

The more experimental Wild America, featuring the Memphis Horns, followed in 1992 but was not as successful. The band was never allowed to finish their unheard third record.

Tora Tora's members went their separate ways after that, with only Corder staying in the music business, first with the band Homemade Flavor and then, after earning his master's degree from the University of Memphis, working behind the scenes. Though they were apart, the bonds between the band members remained strong.

"We were the little dudes who jumped in the 15-passenger van and took off for New York, our eyes wide as saucers," Corder says of the connections forged in those early years. "We were like a family. You had days when you woke up and you were just over each other and just trying to get through, and you had others you were so happy you didn't know what to do with yourself."

In 2001, the band reunited to play a benefit for an ailing member of their old road crew. Then in 2008, an invitation from heavy music festival Rocklahoma brought them together again. Since then, Tora Tora has managed to get together at least once a year, with momentum building to a head now with a series of anniversaries and record projects on the horizon.

Though it won't be available at Saturday's show, a limited-edition deluxe reissue of the first five-song EP is due before the end of the year.

"We've also talked about doing something from right now," Corder says. "Just to get together to see what happens."

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