Songwriter, artist, musician, sports announcer, author, and a man with a big personality. Mitchell Torok seems to make things happen no matter what he decides to do in life. And, along the way, he’s rubbed elbows with some big time entertainers.
Torok the Songwriter
Torok started his career as a college student, writing a song that became a number one hit for legendary country singer Jim Reeves.
He wrote “Mexican Joe” while on a football scholarship at Stephen F. Austin inspired by Hank Williams' sudden death.
A true fan, Torok was sadden by William's death, but his sense of humor and talent led him to write a novelty song because of all the sad songs being written at the time.
He wrote the song in 30 minutes, never changing a word after the initial draft, crediting a Higher Power for helping him with it. With strong feelings that he had a hit, Torok wanted music legend Hank Snow to record it, but that was not to be; the man who produced the song had the unknown Reeves record “Mexican Joe” and it became his first hit. Torok's residual when the song was played on the radio was two cents, while record sales gave him one cent per copy.
At SFA, he earned a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts and Journalism. Although he won’t say how much he was paid, he does admit to the pride he and his wife, and co-writer, Gail were thrilled with their royalties, and were advanced $500 to purchase a “Baby Blue Plymouth” that they drove to the Louisiana Hayride each Saturday.
They continued to write and later penned songs for Dean Martin, Clint Eastwood, Glen Campbell, Hank Snow and many others.
Martin’s song, “Face in the Crowd” and “Let the Good Times In” were written by the Toroks and mentioned in Martin’s biography.
Their song, “Arkansas”, became the flip side of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind”when the state used it to promote tourism.
In 1953, with his own hit of “Caribbean”, Torok decided to hit the road, but after eight years, he gave it up to be home with his wife and two daughters.
Still writing songs, the Toroks wrote “Pink Chiffon”, a song that ended up Number 50 in Dick Clark’s Top 100 and in the movie “Laura Smiles”.
In 1959, Torok was invited to sing “Caribbean” on Clark’s television show, American Bandstand in Hollywood. Bobby Darin sang, “Mack the Knife” that night on the show, Torok recalls.
Torok's two classics “Mexican Joe” and “Caribbean” have been recorded by more than 50 other artists, and are BMI Award winners.
Elvis Presley, and Colonel Parker purchased the publishing rights to both songs, though neither was ever recorded by the star.
In the early 1970s, Torok met Campbell for the first time when Campbell came to sing harmony and guitar lead during Torok's session on Frank Sinatra's record label.
Three of the Torok's songs were selected for Campbell's movie “Norwood”, including the title song.
Over the years, the success of all the Torok's songs was impressive: “Mexican Joe”, “Caribbean” and “When Mexico Gave Up the Rumba” were all number one songs,and million sellers.
“When Mexico Gave Up the Rumba” was Number One in England, Ireland and Scotland.
Another of his creations, “Hoochy Koochy Henry From Hawaii” went to Number Eight, “Pledge of Love” hit the Top 20 in the Billboard Pop Chart.
Their song, “Redneck National Anthem” became a Houston favorite in 1976.
Torok The Artist
Throughout his life, Torok had a knack for art and loved painting. In 1977, upon the death of Elvin Presley, he was commissioned to paint a 12 foot by 110 foot mural for the “Elvis-A-Rama” where it was shown on Music Row with Dick Clark giving the recorded introduction. It took the artist a year to complete the project on 16 panels, each 18 feet wide.
Torok created the idea, and the public paid $2.50 to write a message on the wall below the massive painting, and after expenses, the profit was donated to chairty.
Torok is filled with stories about his college football days as a quarterback at SFA, the songs he wrote and the personal times he spent with big time song and movie stars.
Torok the Author
In 2002, Torok wrote his first book, Jim Reeves, Me and “Mexican Joe”, the amazing, untold story of the song that skyrocketed Jim Reeves into international stardom in 1953, including an audiobook.
Using his unquenchable sense of humor, he also created a book he titled “Redneck!” in 1976. After relocating to Alvin, he continues to write and paint, and is currently working on 10 new songs for a CD titled “Heroes, History and Romance of Towns on the Texas Gulf Coast”.
Some of his work is on display at the Goose Gallery at Gordon and Sealy. At this stage of his life, Torok enjoys painting humorous holiday decorative windows.