May , 2013
By Vinny Cecolini
Still Holding The Line
JAM Magazine Interviews Multi-Talented Musician David Paich
As the sun sets on an athlete's Hall of Fame-worthy career, fans, media and even detractors will cheer them on as they build upon their stats, break records and reaches milestones.
During their 35-year career, the musicians that comprised Toto have accumulated amazing statistics as well. With each band member doubling as a session musician, it's estimated that they have contributed to more than 5,000 records, with combined worldwide sales totaling a half a billion copies. As Toto, they've released 18 CDs and sold more than 35 million copies. Just a few of the band's hits, turned classic rock radio staples, include "Hold the Line," "Roseanna" and "Africa." Unlike fading star athletes, however, Toto's Hall of Fame career continues. Entering their fifth decade of creating music, the band shows no sign of slowing down or petering out.
In addition to Toto's overwhelming success in America and abroad, especially in Europe, there has been drama and heartbreak. Until the return of vocalist Joe Williams, the band experienced difficulty maintaining a lead singer. In 1992, founding member and drummer Jeff Porcaro died suddenly from heart failure. A few years ago, bassist Mike Porcaro was forced to retire following the onset of ALS (the dreaded Lou Gehrig's disease). But while 2006's Falling in Between was originally meant as Toto's swansong, the current lineup of keyboardist David Paich, guitarist Steve Lukather, singer Joe Williams, keyboardist Steve Porcaro, drummer Simon Phillips and bassist Nathan East now look to the future with anticipation.
JAM: I remember like it was yesterday the first time I heard "Hold the Line". I was playing Chinese handball on my Brooklyn street corner when the WPLJ disk jockey introduced the debut single from a new band called Toto.
David Paich - Music is the soundtrack of people's lives. I've heard many people over the years say to me, "I know exactly what I was doing when that song came out."
JAM: The first time I heard Steve Lukather's iconic riff, I froze, wondering, "What is this?"
Ironically, my East Coast friends, including (studio guitar legend) Waddy Wachtel, admitted that when the song was released, they hated us. They thought we were going to do something progressive; something new; something interesting. They said we recorded "A freaking doo-wop song. We were so mad at you that we wanted to throw things at you. We wanted to remake the guitars and show you how it was supposed to be made."
JAM: "Hold The Line" launched Toto's career.
It was the first song Toto recorded on day one, with singer Bobby Kimball and guitarist Steve Lukather, and boom! When we listened back to that first recording, we knew we had a band. By that time, I had heard myself on radio, playing with Seals & Crofts and other artists, but to hear Toto on the radio for the first time. We had just finished the song and it was already on the airwaves. I was in my sister's apartment at the time and I was screaming. I started calling everyone so I could tell them. It was that adrenaline rush of hearing yourself; the realization that it's you and they're playing your music on the radio.
JAM: It was your recording as opposed to your studio performance on another artist's recording.
Listen, hearing yourself play on another artist's song is fun, but "Hold the Line" was ours. It was great to hear those other recordings and say, "Hey, I'm part of that artistry." But it was even more exciting to hear something you had written; something you and your band mates produce and did entirely yourselves. That was back when radio stations in Cleveland and Seattle would break a record and then it would quickly spread across the country.
JAM: Sadly, that has changed.
Indeed it has. There are no more program directors. The job is now done with "Tweets," which I guess is similar to people calling into a radio station, but not quite as exciting.
JAM: Do you feel the music industry has reached a point where it's trying to recreat itself?
Yes, and at the same time, it has created a level playing field for bands not backed by big public relations firms. Thanks to social media, the artists can now stay in touch; connect with their fan base. It's a sign of the times.
JAM: What has been the key to Toto maintaining their large European following?
When it comes to music, I believe Europe has always been slightly ahead of America. Even when Jazz started to happen during the '50s, Europe was the first to notice. That's why so many Jazz musicians headed over there. In Europe, fans are fascinated with details. It is a lot like how we're speaking right now. The articles in the European media are often very personal. But Toto is very lucky and very fortunate to still be around after 35 years, though my daughter recently said, "Dad, after the kids grow up, the new kids come in." So you also have to keep in touch with your own hood.
JAM: Will you keep in touch with your hood by touring in the U.S.?
Yes, this summer we will be co-headlining a tour with Michael McDonald.
JAM: Haven't you played with Michael McDonald?
Yes. Our drummer Jeff Porcaro discovered him. Jeff took me to a bowling alley in North Hollywood and Michael was the entertainment. Jeff made Steely Dan aware of him and then Mike jumped to the Doobie Brothers. At one time, we wanted him to be our singer, but when I called him, he had just signed a four-year contract with the Doobies. The signing happened no more than 10 minutes before I called him.
JAM: Wasn't this before Toto recorded a note of music?
We were recording demos, but we were still putting the band together and had just started our singer search. Mike's name was one of the first that came up. I can't say enough good things about him. He is an icon. He's a very funny guy and a terrific talent.
JAM: Why has Toto experienced such trouble holding onto a lead singer?
Eddie Van Halen called it "LSD: lead singer disease." I don't envy any of Toto's lead singers. It's difficult to be the band's singer, because we've worked with so great ones. To be Toto's perfect singer, you have to be all of the singers we've ever worked with wrapped up in one. You have to sing ballads, hard rock, funk - it's asking too much to ask you to be a combination of Kenny Loggins, Leo Sayer and so many more. I always wanted to mold singers into the voice that I didn't have and sing my phasing. As musicians, we're able to wear all of these different hats, but as a singer, it's difficult to sound like someone else.
JAM: A familiar voice is back in the fold.
We're lucky now. Joseph Williams is back with us and he's singing better than ever. There are a lot of good singers in bands these days. Because of YouTube and singing lessons, people are once again taking singing seriously as a profession and really taking care of their voices. I'm a big fan of Joe Cocker, who I've worked with. You don't hear many of those guys anymore. Everyone is clean now. They sing correctly and there is no smoking or drinking whiskey.
JAM: When Cocker performed on the Tom Jones' mid-70s variety show, my father turned to me and said, "It's nice that Tom let's this physically challenged man perform." My dad didn't realize it was how Cocker expressed himself.
It was similar to classical pianist Glenn Gould. He was so obsessed with the music, he almost became ill. Cocker becomes possessed when he performs. It's what endears him to us. The first time I worked with Joe in the studio, he certainly did not let me down.
JAM: Did Toto's refusal to stick to one musical style or hold onto a singer hurt the band's popularity in the States?
Back in the day, the artists didn't say, "Let's wait until you get over your problems. We have to keep this band together because we've struggled together." We didn't pay any dues by playing clubs with our original singer Bobby Kimball. Jeff Porcaro and I believed, if you couldn't show up for a session we'll move on. Now, I see what a drastic change it must have been for Toto fans to see Fergie (singer Dennis Hardy Frederiksen) replace Bobby. As session musicians, we played behind great singers and created hits, so we figured the band could take any singer and mold him into what we wanted to. But if Mick Jagger was not the singer of The Stones, or Stephen Tyler wasn't the singer of Aerosmith, I wouldn't want to hear those bands. In hindsight, if I had to do it all over again, we would probably have taken the time to nurture the band and keep it together, seeing that it's so hard to capture that definitive sound. You learn and sometimes you have to move on. Some of your decisions are good and some of your decisions are questionable.
JAM: Ironically, if you listen to Toto's entire musical output, there is a definitive sound.
Yes, because of Joseph Williams. Our 1988 single, "Pamela" was our return to radio, which had a lot to do with his sound. That song might have climbed to number one at the time, because it was quickly moving up the charts. But there were problems at the Sony headquarters. The company closed their doors for two weeks and fired the president. All the songs heading up the charts suddenly fell off.
JAM: Once the European tour ends, what will be your role in the band? Have you ended your retirement?
I'm back. I'm a fulltime member of the band. I've reinstated myself. When I got married and decided I wanted to stay married and I have a child, I realized I couldn't tour 365 days a year. Then I found myself at the epicenter of a devastating mid-'90s California earthquake. My home and studio were totally destroyed. At the time, the San Fernando Valley was like a warzone. The National Guard was on the street trying to keep people from looting and there were no hotels, no schools; nowhere to move. I was displaced for three or four years. Then, my sister fell ill and she needed me to be on her support team. I told the guys I had to jump off of the road. I told them, "Hey, if you want to keep touring, fine, but I can't keep up the touring pace." So they did that. I joined them on and off and a couple of my friends, including a guy I call "Kobe," because he is so good, Greg Phillinganes, helped me by going out on the road. I rejoined Toto in 2008 when we decided to close what we thought would be the band's final chapter. We did it in Japan with Boz Scaggs as the opening act and brought him out on stage toward the end of the show.
JAM: It's sad, and in a sense, rather triumphant, the way Toto came back.
I know what you mean. It wasn't until three summers ago, when Mike Porcaro developed a terrible disease, ALS, that we decided to get together to do some benefits for him. Instead of staying in town, we decided it would be better for everyone, including Mike, to do a big tour back in Europe. We got together for what was supposed to be one month and one tour. It was so successful - we enjoyed it and it helped Mike out - that we made it an annual reunion. Everyone goes off and does their things for six and seven months and then for a couple of months out of the year, we get back together as Toto and tour. It is a lot of fun and we have time to be ourselves and do our own projects. There is nothing more fun than being in a rock band when you are on stage. Even at my age, it rejuvenates you. I am drinking from the fountain of youth. With the exception of Steve Lukather, however, we are no longer road puppies.
JAM: I always felt that the stage has a magic allure built into it that when it beckons, musicians feel compelled to respond.
I asked B.B. King once, "Why do you keep doing this?" He was doing something like 300 dates a year. He said, "What else are we going to do for a living? Work in a bank? We are unemployable!" He's right. This is all we do and we have to keep doing it. If Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Mick and so many others can hang in there and keep doing it, we can continue doing it a little while longer.
JAM: Are you saying that Toto will be celebrating a 40th and 50th anniversary?
We'll just get through this 35th anniversary for now. I don't want to come out with the aid of walker and announce to the crowd, "Hey, I'm here and I'm 90 years old." But Duke Ellington and all of those old Jazz guys still make music and there is no dishonor in it. It's a good way to make a living and it keeps you focused. When we play our show, we can't blink or fall asleep while we're performing. We have to rehearse and there has to be precision and focused. It's challenging and a lot of fun, especially because we get to go out and revisit all of our fans. The fans are the reason why we're still here. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have had the great career that we've had.
JAM: During Toto's formative stages, did you ever envision the band enjoying such a long, successful career?
If you would have said Toto would have been successful for 20 years, maybe. Back then, most musical artists didn't last that long. The Beatles barely lasted 10 years. We didn't think that far into the future. When you're young, you couldn't imagine doing this when you're 40. I thought I'd be back doing work on movies; Jeff would be doing studio work; and we all would have come to our senses. No one could have imagined this. 10 years is a long time, but to pass 20 years and get to 35! The Stones' most recent tour is called 50 and counting. They're unbelievable Thank you for raising the banner for all of us. Toto just might be the youngest of the older guys. Jack Nicholas always said, "Instead of playing the oldest guy in a group of young guys, I always wanted to be the youngest guy in a group of old guys." That's us.
JAM: Rock 'n' roll is still a young musical genre. The Rolling Stones break new ground with every new song they record and tour they undertake. Weren't The Stones considered old when Toto began in the mid-'70s?
As an artist, when you hit 35, people show up to your shows out of respect. Buildings, politicians and hookers gain respect after they've lasted so long. So do musicians. There is a new generation that looks at us as one of those bands from the '70s. We have moms and dads and nieces and nephews and now the kids have grown up and our audience is multigenerational. Now people are paying for two tickets instead of one. Parents are taking their sons and daughters to the shows.
JAM: I'm sure Toto will commemorate its 35th anniversary with live CDs and DVDs, maybe even a greatest hits set, but will the band ever consider recording new music?
It is funny you should say that, 'cause the last couple of times we've gotten together, someone has said, "And guys, why aren't we going in and cutting a new album?" I planned for (2006) Falling In Between album to be our last, like Toto's version of Abbey Road. But you can never say never with Toto. No one would be more pleasantly surprised than me if Toto decided to record new music. The important thing is to get material together and have a band that suits it. We also need time to do it, 'cause Toto albums take time. Although there is nothing currently on the table, we might surprise everyone.