WHERE: Waterfest Concert Series, Oshkosh WI
WHEN: Thursday, September 1, 2016 Gates open at 5:30 PM
COST: Reserved VIP $40, General Admission $20, Admission before 6 PM $15
The music of Grammy award-winning rock band Toto blends touches of rock, progressive rock, jazz, pop, R & B, and funk. Having grown up together in Southern California, members of Toto maintain a close relationship even today. The band’s philosophy is one of a total team effort, in which individual musical contributions from all are both encouraged and appreciated.
Toto has seen numerous personnel changes since its formation in 1977, including the passing of brothers Jeff and Mike Porcaro, but the exceptional quality of the music has remained consistent. Through the years, individual members of Toto have been in high demand for their outstanding musicianship and have performed on an astounding 5000 different albums of various artists. Toto has toured extensively all over the world and is currently playing dates throughout the United States. The band maintains a huge international fan base.
Toto is best known for hit singles “Rosanna,” “Hold the Line,” “Africa,” “I’ll Be Over You,” “Pamela,” “99,” and “I Won’t Hold You Back.” Toto IV (1982) received critical acclaim and earned Toto the distinction of being the first group to earn six Grammys for one album. Toto XIV (2015) was the band’s first studio recording in 10 years. It has been described as a genuine return to the early musical stylings of Toto combined with modern elements. This September the band will release a special concert film, Toto: Live at Montreux 1991, which features Toto at the Montreux Jazz Festival after being invited to perform there by iconic producer Quincy Jones.
For laughs, be sure to check out the video of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake performing “Africa” during one of their hilarious Camp Winnipesaukee summer camp sketches on the Tonight Show.
Members of Toto include Steve “Luke” Lukather (Guitar/Vocals), David Paich (Keyboards/Vocals), Steve Porcaro (Keyboards/Vocals), Joe Williams (Lead Vocals), along with the addition of touring members Shannon Forrest (Drums) and Leland Sklar (Bass).
I phoned Williams recently at his home in California.
Jane Spietz: Toto has a whole new generation of devoted fans following the band.
Joe Williams: It’s extremely gratifying just to be a part of something that has endured as this band has. Especially with all of its incarnations and members passing away. It’s a bizarre, typical kind of family story. It’s incredibly exciting. Who wouldn’t be completely honored to be in a long-lasting thing like this?
JS: What is the story behind the name of the band?
JW: (Laughs) It’s so funny. Some of the guys who’ve been around the whole time have their joke answers, and then they have their convoluted answers. It’s hysterical. When Lukather’s not in a great mood, and we’re all little bit tired and somebody asks that question in the audience, we just say ‘oh, it’s the dog in the Wizard of Oz.’ Which I suppose it is. But the true story is when Toto was recording their first songs in the studio for the first album back then they used these huge, two inch 24 track tapes which lived in these enormous boxes. They had to have vaults filled with these things for all the artists that were working on their music. Somebody complained that the tape boxes of the total recordings were not labeled. So Jeff Porcaro, the drummer at the time, went into the vault and just wrote ‘toto’ on all the boxes. From what I understand, that is the real story of how the band got the name. (Laughs)
JS: How did Toto’s distinct sound evolve?
JW: It was really David Paich and Jeff Porcaro. Their affiliation and their work together from the time there were kids playing in high school bands. They developed it together. They developed this really interesting combination of sounds. It was mostly R&B. If you go back and listen to Boz Scaggs’ first album and a lot of Steely Dan stuff, we’re talking about those guys. They played on all those records. So there was this real R&B feel which you even hear in songs like “Hold the Line” and “Rosanna.” A few of the other members came in and added some texture. As a guitar player, Lukather’s influences were a little bit more rock and perhaps fusion oriented, but then again he also has a great ballad side to him. So David Paich and Jeff Porcaro were responsible for the sound you know as Toto.
JS: The four current members of Toto all take turns at singing lead vocals, writing songs, and everybody plays an instrument. Bonding and teamwork where everyone contributes to the music.
JW: It is remarkable. It’s the best working situation. Making the latest album was very difficult. We’ve been close for so many years, but again everybody came in and brought something to the table. Brought either something musical or vocally or lyrically or production wise. It’s extremely balanced in terms of the collaborative process, at least with the four of us. We seem to have a really good method.
JS: I was interested to learn that members of Toto’s management created a tree, so to speak, of all the artists that various members of Toto have worked with over the years and have contributed to many of their recordings.
JW: Everybody in the group is a stellar musician, and started their career here in Southern California doing sessions, myself included. I thought when I came out of high school was that I was going to get go to college and get a basic degree so that I could go into the Air Force, believe it or not. They started to get jobs singing commercials. That was the beginning for me. As for the other guys in the band, their reputation for being these incredible musicians got around so everyone was interested in having them come work on their records. Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones. All these people would come seeking out David Paich and Steve Lukather just for their incredible musicianship and talent in coming up with great new ideas.
JS: I must ask you about one of my favorite Toto songs – “Africa.” It is so beautiful and so inspiring. How did the idea for Africa come about?
JW: “Africa” is a masterpiece written by David Paich. The interesting story with that song that I heard was that nobody in the band wanted to have it on the record. They just weren’t hearing it as something that lived up to the other songs on the album, and of course it became a number one hit. It’s quite simply just one of those David Paich grooves. Real simplistic melody and his words are visual and his lyrics are very poetic. He loves to speak about locales and the feeling you get when you’re there. It just struck a nerve. Great, great song.
JS: Talk about Toto XIV, Toto’s latest release.
JW: It came about as a result of the contract the band had with the record company. An album was owed. Discussion was had about whether to fight it or just make an album. So we just decided, you know, come on let’s do what we do and just go in the studio and make a record. It was basically the four men that are now standing as the band Toto. It was just us. Everybody brought something to the table. Everybody’s influences came along with it. Obviously, we had David Paich, original writer and member of the group, so everybody’s hanging on his ideas. We were interested in doing some pieces that were similar to the band Yes – a little more progressive kind of thing. And then, of course, coming back to the soulful David Paich’s R&B stuff. There is a great song called “Chinatown” on that record that was actually written during the period of the first Toto album. We brought that back out and recut it. There is a nostalgic feel to the new album. It harkens back to the things that we loved back in the late ‘70s, while at the same time trying to bring something new and inventive to the process. I’m proud of it. It’s a really nice, fun collection of songs. Some of them are great to play live.
JS: I would like you to share a favorite memory.
JW: I guess the one that just stands out for some obvious reasons was on my first tour with Toto. I was quite excited and absorbing every second of it. I have some very clear and vivid memories just because it was so fun and new for me at that time. We were in Puerto Rico and lost power in the middle of the show. I felt a responsibility to entertain the crowd with no mic, no nothing. I brought my video camera out and started to do a striptease. At one point, I just turned around to see where the other guys in the band were, and they had all left the stage. So I’m standing there acting like a buffoon! (Laughs)
JS: What is on the horizon for Toto?
JW: We have a lot of great stuff planned. Beginning of next year, we’re going to be working on new material that is going to be released as part of a new best of album for the 40th anniversary which will be in 2018. Which will be supported with a tour that has much bigger production values. We’ve been banking a bunch of money so we can invest in our own production for the 40th anniversary. I’m looking forward to that. We are going to remaster every single Toto album that was ever made, which will be great. And there will be new material, which is always good news for me because I’m such a huge fan, especially of Dave’s writing. And I love working with him and writing with him. It looks like 2018 is going to be the ginormous touring year. Next year will sort of be a prep year. We’ll work on the production stuff and the new material. And of course we will do some touring, usually in the summer. But, 2018 is going to be the big year, knock on wood. And we’ll see what happens after that.
JS: Toto will perform at the 2016 Waterfest finale in Oshkosh on Thursday, September 1.
JW: We will be in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on my birthday, 9/1! Fans are going to hear all of their favorite hits, obviously. They’re going to hear some cool deep cuts that they may not have expected. They’re going to hear some new material from the new album. They’re going to enjoy some of Steve Lukather’s unique humor. (Laughs) And they’re going to watch some absolutely astounding musicians. They can expect everything they want from this band and more. I am happy that you were interested in taking the time to talk. It was absolutely my pleasure and honor. I can’t wait to be out there. It seems to me that every year for the last five years I’m always on tour during my birthday, so I’m used to it now!