Amanda Marshall makes her much-anticipated return
After a lengthy period out of the spotlight due to legal issues with her record label, Amanda Marshall is back performing. Sheís at Casino Rama near Toronto on November 5th.
Everybodyís got a story that could break your heart. Just ask Amanda Marshall.
The wildly popular singer who set the music scene on fire back in 1995 hasnít been heard from much in recent years, which is why her concert at Casino Rama on November 5th is an occasion to look forward to.
And whatís behind that absence is Marshallís own particular heartbreak. Not the conventional kind, from a busted romance or a trip down the substance-abuse trail. None of that for Marshall.
No, her tragedy lies with firing her management in 2002, which then triggered a battle with her label and resulted in a series of legal actions that still arenít settled today and she isnít able to discuss.
ìLet me just say,î she begins in that wood-smoke voice of hers, ìThere are a lot of bands and performers whose careers are permanently derailed by spectacularly bad management. They just seem to vanish and one day you ask, ëHey, what happened to them?í î
But thatís the last stormy weather sentiment to pass Marshallís lips. Once the air has been cleared, the sun comes out and she definitely has a bright and shiny personality.
Judging to what she says, sheís been like that ever since she was born in Toronto on Aug. 29, 1972.
ìI was really, really, really enthusiastic as a kid. I was up for anything. I was hugely into music and theatre. I was a big musical theatre kid, I loved reading.î She pauses. ìOkay, I wasnít too much into sports!î A burst of laughter.
She happily recalls her elementary school days ìat the Montessori School on Sheldrake Blvd. My friends came from all over the city.î
When she was 10, her family moved to Halifax. ìIt was the first time I was the new kid at school. And I was the only new kid.î
And there was an added factor. Marshall is the child of a white father and a black mother. That had never been an issue in Toronto. Things changed in Halifax.
ìIt was the first time I ever had to deal with it,î she says with surprise in her voice. ìIt wasnít that awful, but it was still people saying things, calling me names, leaving me out. Iíd never known any of that.î
She chuckles. ìWell, I had known the food differences. Not only did my Mom cook food from the Islands, but she was a health freak back then. I never got a chocolate birthday cake; I got a carob one. And when I went to other kidsí houses I was very covetous of things like Cheez Whiz that Iíd find in their refrigerators.î
Marshall survived the years in Halifax, came back to Toronto to finish high school, but decided not to go to college. ìIn my mind, I had already committed myself to a career in music. I had done that a long time ago.î
So she set out at the age of 17, ìworking as a telephone operator by day and doing gigs by night.î Thatís where she met the late, great blues musician Jeff Healey, who took her on as his protÈgÈe and brought her on tour with him.
ìMy father saw how fast I was moving and he asked me, just once, ëAre you sure this is really what you want to do with your life?í but I didnít listen. When youíre that age and doing what you love, youíre just flying.î
Thereís been a generally accepted story that Marshall turned down a contract with a major record company when it was offered to her in 1991, but now, nearly 20 years later, sheís anxious to set things straight.
ìI did actually have a deal with Columbia,î she now admits, ìbut it became increasingly clear to me after signing with them that they didnít know what to do with me and I didnít know what to do for them, so we agreed to go our separate ways.î
But four years later she signed with Epic Records and her debut album, Amanda Marshall. broke big, really big, with six Top 40 songs.
Asked if she knew what had happened to her, she reaches back into her memory for a specific incident.
ìI was doing my first promo tour, sitting in a hotel lobby with a label representative, signing CDs. He was telling me how well things were going and asked me ëArenít you excited?í and even though I told him I was, he must have seen past my words and he shook his head. ëYou donít really have any idea whatís going on here, do you? You donít know how big youíre going to be.íî
And she didnít. To Marshall, her sudden fame meant ìthat I got to do two things I loved doing: travelling and singing. That was good enough for me.î
Even from the start, though, Marshall was putting her only particular stamp on things. The big hit from her first album was ìBirmingham.î a fairly brutal slice of life from the southern United States and she admits that, ìI got a lot of shit for it when it first came out,î but it was also the song that Elton John publicly admired, which gave her career a giant boost.
ìAll along, I wanted my songs to be about things, not just ëBaby, baby, yeah, yeah!í It wasnít important to me to be Madonna. It was important to me to do things than mean something.î
After two highly successful albums in the pop vein, Marshall changed direction to a more R&B oriented sound and more conversational lyrics with ìEverybodyís Got a Storyî.
The title track, one of her most enduring hits, came about when she actually ad libbed the phrase ìEverybodyís got a story that could break your heart,î in conversation and one of her collaborators said: ìThatís the kind of s— youíve got to write down . . . it speaks to people even when youíre not aware of it.î
Who knows where Marshall would have gone after that, but the next year the battle with her management began and, as she puts it, ìwhat was meant to be a small break turned into a much longer one.î
Marshall claims to be calm about the lower profile sheís had to keep while all the legal hassles continue. ìPeople in my business have a tremendous fear of being forgotten and feel they have to keep putting themselves out there in some capacity. I donít necessarily buy into that.î
But what about her famous line? Does she have a story that could break our heart?
ìSure, hasnít everyone? Itís inevitable. If youíre breathing, if youíre living, then something or someone is going to hurt you. But I think thatís what makes you stronger and much more capable of dealing with life.î
Five faves that have influenced Amanda Marshall:
ï THE POINTER SISTERS: They were huge in my house when I was growing up and they were the first concert I ever saw, at Massey Hall, when I was 7. I saw them again recently and what struck me was how much I stole from them!
ï FAME: That movie was a huge turning point for me. I saw it at the Cinesphere at Ontario Place and, as a kid, it legitimized the idea that pursuing a career in the arts was a noble thing.
ï DIONNE FARRIS: Her album Wild Seed, Wild Flower made a huge impression on me. It was hip-hop presented with a rock sensibility and it blew me away.
ï PATTI CATHCART: She sang with guitarist Tuck Andress as Tuck and Patti. I knew every one of their records note for note. She was such an amazing improvisationalist, my first exposure to that intimate, smokey, right-on-the-mic kind of thing.
ï MAYA ANGELOU: When we had just moved to Halifax and I was feeling pretty miserable, my aunt gave me a copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It transported me and made me feel a lot better about myself.
Amanda Marshall makes her much-anticipated return