Mitchell Torok

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Mitchell Torok
Born (1929-10-28) October 28, 1929 (age 90)
Houston, Texas
GenresCountry

Mitchell Torok (born October 28, 1929) is an American country music singer, songwriter, artist, author and guitarist, best known for his 1953 hit "Caribbean".[1] He also wrote "Mexican Joe", which catapulted Jim Reeves to stardom. They began to write together and charted many top 20 hits.

Torok reached the Billboard charts several times: in 1957 with "Pledge of Love" (Billboard Top 20), written by his wife, Gail Redd; in 1959 with an updated version of "Caribbean" (#27 on Billboard); with "Redneck Nat' Anthem" by Vernon Oxford in 1976; with Jerry Wallace and their song "This One's on the House" (Top 20); and with Bill Phillips's "I Can Stand It (As Long as She Can)". In 1960, Torok's recording of "Pink Chiffon" topped out at No. 60 on Billboard. His last hit record was "Instant Love" in 1965, produced by Jimmie Bowen.

Early life and education[edit]

Torok was born in Houston, Texas, United States,[1] to Hungarian immigrants Miklós and Irén Török, with an older brother named William. He was playing guitar by the age of 12,[1] and attended Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, from 1948–1953 on a football and baseball scholarship. He majored in art and minored in world history, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in art and journalism.

Career[edit]

During the summer of 1950, Torok played baseball with a team from Garrison, Texas (the Bulldogs) and also pitched for the Minden Redbirds in Minden, Louisiana. During that period, known for his guitar playing and singing in Houston, he was also hired to write a special song for the Conoco Oil Company in Houston. It was titled "Continental Roll Along" and was used as a promotional recording given to company employees to celebrate the company's 100th birthday.

He also recorded his first session in Houston with a duet partner named Sally Lee. These masters later wound up on Imperial Records. In 1948, Torok enrolled at Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches, Texas on a baseball and football scholarship. During the next two years, he performed his own morning radio show on KSFA and KFRD, in Rosenberg and KTRE in Lufkin. Impressed by the rolling East Texas hills, Mitch recorded two singles for the FBC label in Rosenberg, the "Nacogdoches County Line" and the "Piney Woods Boogie".

One of Torok's idols, Hank Williams, died suddenly on January 1, 1953. Prior to graduating in May, Torok was struck by the pall of sadness that enveloped the country music industry and its many fans.[citation needed] Inspired by a need for some happy songs, he immediately penned a happy-go-lucky song titled "Mexican Joe," which he wrote in thirty minutes, initially intending the song for another one of his idols, Hank Snow.[1] But, a new record producer and label owner from Hollywood, Fabor Robison, happened by Nacogdoches and found Torok and the song. Torok wanted one of Robison's supposed heavy West Coast artist to record his song. He reluctantly gave it to him and his Abbott record label, to be recorded by one of his own struggling artists, the then unknown Jim Reeves, in Shreveport. (Torok, feeling the chances of Reeves' record hitting were small or nonexistent, planned to use the Jim Reeves record as a "demo" to send to Hank Snow.) Reeves had been hired to be an announcer on KWKH and the Hayride Show, but not allowed to sing. Torok's song, "Mexican Joe", was recorded by Reeves and it became a number one hit, and spent seven weeks riding the top of the Billboard Country Music Charts.[1] Torok was then signed to Abbott Records.[1] A month later wrote his own number one hit that became popular in both the Billboard Country and Jukebox charts, and remained at the top for four weeks. The song was "Caribbean".[1] It remained on the country chart for 24 weeks, also a top five hit on both the Best Sellers and Disc Jockey charts,[1] as well as being a No. 13 hit in Australia.

Torok became a member of Louisiana Hayride on KWKH-AM in Shreveport.[1] In 1954, his song "My Arabian Baby" appeared as the B-side of Snow's hit "I Don't Hurt Anymore".[1] Torok gained a No. 8 country hit with "Hootchy Kootchy Henry (From Hawaii)"[1] and in 1956, after joining Decca Records in Nashville, he had top ten success on the UK Singles Chart with his and Gail's song, "When Mexico Gave Up The Rhumba" and "Red Light, Green Light".[2] This success led to a four-month tour of the United Kingdom in 1957,[1] headlining at the London Palladium. His shows included English comedian Dickie Henderson and Shirley Bassey. It marked the only time Torok has performed with a full pit orchestra with written arrangements on all the songs, led by Torok's own conductor, Maurice " Tex" Bromley, at the on-stage piano with him. In the next few years, Torok made further recordings for Mercury, and RCA. His last US chart entry was "Instant Love" for the Reprise record label in 1967.[1]

Prior to that, he had two other hits on the Billboard Hot 100: "Pledge of Love" hit No. 25 in 1957, and "Caribbean" hit again in 1959, peaking at No. 27.[3] In 1960, "Pink Chiffon", also on Jamie/Guyden peaked at No. 60 and, in 1996, this song was used as main title music in RKO Pictures movie Laura Smiles (2006).

Torok continued to write songs, working in partnership with his wife (who has used both "Gayle Jones" and "Ramona Redd" as pseudonyms, the latter being her maiden name).[1] Their songs were recorded by artists including: Skeeter Davis, Kitty Wells, Hank Snow and Willie Nelson, Jerry Wallace, Billy Walker, Barbara Eden, Glen Campbell, Dean Martin.[1] Clint Eastwood sang their song, "No Sweeter Cheater than You" in the Warner Brothers Honky Tonk Man movie. They also wrote the title song "Look Out, Ol' Norwood's Comin' Home!" for Glen Campbell's Paramount movie Norwood, and five other songs on different Campbell albums, including "Arkansas, a tribute to Glen's home state.[4] Hank Snow recorded Torok's songs: "Caribbean", "Dogbone", "My Arabian Baby" and "The Mysterious Lady From St. Martinique" on one of his last RCA albums.[1] "The Redneck National Anthem" was a top 20 hit for Vernon Oxford in 1976.[4]

Combining his art and music, Torok was commissioned to paint a 110-foot, five-panel mural titled "The History of the Grand Ol' Opry", which was on display in the Ryman Auditorium until it was remodeled for live performances. The mural served as a fund raiser for Hank Snow's Abused Children's Foundation while there, as tourists made donations after viewing the mural. He then created the "Elvis-a-Rama", which consisted of a 12-foot-high, 125-foot-long mural with a 22-minute light and music show depicting his life, from his truck driving days in Memphis to his death in 1977. It has been shown in Nashville, in Branson, and recently in Las Vegas, and has been signed by over 50,000 Elvis fans.

Mitchell and his writing-partner, wife Gail also created a tribute to Nashville's 200th birthday while writing for Cedarwood Music, with a 12-song LP recording titled Nashville, filled with songs based on Music City's history.[1] They also wrote, produced and performed on a Texas history album, titled The Ballads of Texas.[citation needed] Torok has also written a book and accompanying CD, titled Jim Reeves, Me & Mexican Joe, which tells the story of how the song made its way to Reeves. Torok also created smaller artistic tributes to Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, Dolly Parton, Big John Merritt and other smaller creations. Gail died in Nashville in 1985 and Torok is now semi-retired on the coast of Texas, his home state where he still paints and is writing several albums.

Personal life[edit]

Torok married Gail Redd, a beauty queen from Lufkin, Texas, in 1951.

Discography[edit]

  • Caribbean – 1960 (Guyden)
  • Guitar Course (Instant Fun) – 1966 (Reprise)

Singles[edit]

Year Title Chart positions
US US Country UK
1953 "Caribbean" 1
1954 "Hootchey Kootchey Henry (From Hawaii)" 9
1956 "When Mexico Gave Up the Rhumba" 6
1957 "Red Light Green Light" 29
"When Mexico Gave Up the Rhumba" 30
"Pledge of Love" 26
1959 "Caribbean"A 27
"Mexican Joe" 102
1960 "Pink Chiffon" 60
1967 "Instant Love" 73
  • A"Caribbean" also peaked at #26 on R&B Chart.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 447/8. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
  2. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 562. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  3. ^ Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. 7th edition, 2000; ISBN 978-0823076901
  4. ^ a b "Mitchell Torok". Muze UK, Ltd. Retrieved 2009-06-28.[dead link]