On the one hand, there are Toto’s critics. Rolling Stone, for instance, suggested that one of the group’s LPs was “about as real as a Velveeta-orange polyester leisure suit.” Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times has written that “there’s a disheartening lack of depth or daring in the group’s music.”
On the other hand, there is the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which just awarded Toto five Grammys, including the prestigious Album of the Year award for Toto IV. Only seven other acts—including Stevie Wonder and Henry Mancini—have won as many at once. And there are the fans, who’ve bought more than a million copies of Toto IV and propelled three tunes from the album, Make Believe, Rosanna and Africa, to the Top 40.
Snaps chief arranger and composer David Paich, 28, “If someone we respected musically said something was wrong with our sound, we might listen. But critics are just fools with no credentials or credibility.” Adds drummer Jeff Porcaro, 28, “They don’t like us, and they probably never will.”
The group is, in fact, generally as independent and feisty as its namesake, Dorothy’s canine companion in The Wizard of Oz. Essentially an all-star team of L.A. session musicians, the six band members have played behind such talents as Joan Baez, Christopher Cross, Michael Jackson and Olivia Newton-John. “I don’t mean to blow our horn too loudly,” says Jeff Porcaro, “but individually and collectively we’ve made a bigger contribution than any other bunch of musicians in pop. We’ve played on literally thousands of albums.”
Porcaro and his brothers, bassist Mike, 27, and keyboardist Steve, 25, make up half the group. Their father was a semipro percussionist who also ran a drum store. He taught all his boys to read music. By the time they were attending Grant High School in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, they had their own garage bands, with names like Flood the Tennis Shoe. “There was never a doubt that they would have a successful music career,” says Papa Porcaro. “They’ve been working toward it since the first grade.”
David Paich is another second-generation pro. His father, Marty, is a noted Hollywood conductor and arranger for the likes of Mel Tormé and Ray Charles.
The Paich-Porcaro connection began when the two fathers worked together on Glen Campbell’s TV variety show in the late ’60s. When his boys told Joe they were searching for a keyboard player for one of their bands, he suggested they contact David Paich.
Guitarist Steve Lukather (called “Luke”), 25, was another Valley boy whose father, William, was another assistant film director. Luke connected with the other members when he played in a band with school chum Steve Porcaro.
The Porcaro boys became full-time musicians soon after high school graduation. Jeff and Steve Porcaro, Paich, Lukather and an old pal, bassist David Hungate, began working many of the same sessions and became an unofficial band, tailoring its sound to back and fill behind its star employers. Explains Paich, “Because the groups that were recording often didn’t know how to play their instruments, we’d give the group whatever sound they wanted.”
The sixth member of the original Toto is vocalist Bobby Kimball, 35. He grew up in Vinton, La., where he variously studied premed, worked construction and sang nights in honky-tonks before moving to L.A. in 1975. There he joined a band called S.S. Fools and met Jeff in the studio the first day.
“We had a plan,” reports Paich. “We set out to get as much experience as we could working with other people.” The career break they’d been waiting for happened in 1976 when their musical contributions to Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees album helped it sell almost five million units. “People would ask if we’d ever thought of getting a band together,” says Jeff with a laugh. “We’d say, ‘Gee, what a good idea,’ and we made our move.” The group released its self-titled debut LP in 1979; it sold three million copies worldwide.
The band says that an all-for-one spirit has kept intra-group and sibling rivalries from emerging. (Hungate quit the group last year to spend more time with his family in Nashville; Mike Porcaro, who had been a session player, replaced him.) For one thing, there’s no preening, out-front star. Explains Jeff, “We want our tunes to be heard, and not have people digging the clothes we wear or whether we’re good-lookers. We’ve learned to depend on each other and really don’t have time for petty differences.”
All six live in the Los Angeles area. Lukather is the only married man. Steve Porcaro shares his home with actress Rosanna (The Executioner’s Song) Arquette. “No, she was not the inspiration for Rosanna,” he says. “It was written by David…unless it was wishful thinking on his part.” David and Jeff are both divorced and each has a daughter living with his ex-wife. “Our girlfriends understand what comes first for us,” says Mike. “That’s one of the reasons we’re with them.”
Another preoccupation for the group is that Kimball is awaiting trial on a drug charge in Los Angeles. He has pleaded not guilty. Says manager Mark Hartley, “We’re confident he will be cleared of all charges.”
Meanwhile the Toto-ites have just entered the studio to begin recording their next song collection. “A lot of people claim that the kind of music we make is outdated,” says Paich. “But one of the problems with this industry is that it’s always running after the next big thing. What really counts is staying power. We plan on being around for a while to prove our point.”