Fortunate Sun: A Conversation With Steve Porcaro of Toto

In a recent interview with Smashing Interviews Magazine, Toto co-founder and guitarist Steve Lukather was asked about band’s future following the conclusion of its smashingly successful “40 Trips Around The Sun” tour, which wraps in late October.

In typical Lukather fashion, the answer was as honest as October air.

“We’re finishing this tour, and I don’t know what’s going to happen after that,” he said. “As of Oct. 20, Toto ceases to exist in its current form. So that’s all I know. We’re just going to take a long break and relook at it down the line maybe. Maybe we’ll see. Right now, we’re just going to have fun and go kick ass one last time.”

If that’s not a good enough reason to make sure you’re in historic Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines this Saturday night to catch Toto in action, then nothing is.

The world-renowned group, consisting of Joseph Williams (vocals), David Paich (keyboards, vocals), Steve Porcaro (keyboards), Steve Lukather (guitars, vocals), and touring members Lenny Castro (percussion), Warren Ham (saxophone), Shem von Schroeck (bass) and Shannon Forrest (drums), has racked up astronomical numbers within the music industry that simply cannot be ignored.

As individuals, Toto’s band members can be heard on more than 5,000 albums. Those albums have sales exceeding 500,000,000. Dream Team-style numbers.

Then there’s bread and butter of course, the Toto music, that fine-line mix of pop, instrumentation and unique vocal deliveries that gave listeners “Rosanna” and “Africa” and “Hold The Line,” each a classic that has, and will, stand the test of musical time.

Porcaro, a co-founding member himself, admitted in a recent interview with ListenIowa that yes, the band is indeed in need of a break. After a two-year and spare change tour, what band wouldn’t? It would be easy — and understandable — if the band were in cruise control, counting down the days until they can head home and sleep in their own beds every night. But that’s the case at all, said Porcaro.

“We’re slapping the set around and having so much fun,” he said. “The band is really loose, and we’re able to be ourselves. It’s infectious.”

In a good way. Catch it at Hoyt Sherman Place Saturday night.

ListenIowa: Toto is out on the “40 Trips Around The Sun Tour” now, and recently returned from Europe. How was the reception there, and how does it compare to the U.
Porcaro: It’s amazing in Europe. Toto does really well there. We’re rock stars over there. Here, I’ve been back in the band nine years now, but I was out of the band for 27 years. The band kind of gave up on the States, really. Things got bad with the record company here and them giving the band zero promotion. Things go so bad that people didn’t even realize that Toto was releasing albums anymore. All those years, people thought Toto had broken up, but they were really alive and well and touring Japan and Europe.

LI: You’ve been touring for more than two years straight now. A tour of that length for any band can be a grind.
Porcaro: It is a grind. (laughs) We need a break really bad. (laughs)

LI: So how do you approach touring differently now than in the70s and 80s, to help lessen that, if you’re able?
Porcaro: There’s not all that insanity now of the late night partying in the 70s and 80s when you’re young and can get away with some of that stuff. The cliché is that they pay us for the other 22 hours. The other two hours, I would pay them. Now, it’s so much fun, but there’s all the traveling, and missing your kids, and not being around. I miss my studio when I’m away. (laughs) I love being a studio rat. But it’s fun to do the gigs. The band is so tight now. The gigs have been really fun, and everything has really gelled.

LI: Are you guys going to take advantage of that, write some new material maybe, and keep it rolling?
Porcaro: There are no plans to get in and do a new album. I’m going to get in and do my second solo album, but Toto is going to take a little break.

LI: You guys released a box set called “All In” earlier this year. One of the CDs in it is “Old Is New,” which has some unreleased material. I was just listening to one of those tracks, “Devil’s Tower.” That’s a solid song. How does that not make it onto “Toto IV,” or whatever time period it was written?
Porcaro: That was an amazing time period back then. Songs were just pouring out of everybody. A lot of bands are searching for material, and it’s always a big challenge to come up with an album’s worth of it, especially after you’ve been on the road. And then there’s the grind of having to do it every year. That was never the case with us. We had so many writers in the band. There was always material. And we didn’t do a lot of looking back. When we’d start on a new album, we wouldn’t even consider the things were didn’t use the last time. There were so many new things. The material was flowing so easily.

LI: Is there a vault of more unreleased material, then?
Porcaro: There’s tons of stuff. Some of the coolest stuff isn’t even necessarily songs. I wasn’t involved, usually, in the basic cutting of tracks. It would be my brother Jeff (Porcaro), bass, keyboard, etc. They wanted to get sounds, so they would just record the guys jamming all the time. Every single time. There must be 900 songs in there.

LI: Wow. Probably thousands of hours.
Porcaro: It’s unbelievable. At the time they would say they were just fooling around, but now, I could just be chopping up loops and doing stuff with them for the rest of my life. (laughs)

LI: When Weezer covered “Africa” last year, did you guys feel an uptick in popularity because of it at all?
Porcaro: You know, that was kind of just the cherry on this thing that had been going on for two or three years before that even. We were constantly being sent videos of “Africa,” whether it was a huge choir somewhere doing an a capella version, or two guys in a pizza parlor. They were nailing it. There was just always this trickle of people doing “Africa.” This was just the climax.

LI: Speaking of that song, the keyboard solo in “Africa” is one that everyone can whistle. It’s classic, and the mark of a great song. Do you remember the recording of that part specifically?
Porcaro: Oh, yeah. That’s pure David Paich. The solo on “Rosanna,” that was me kind of directing things, and leading the way. For “Africa,” that was me supporting David. We had a synth that you really couldn’t control it at all. There were only like four of them in the world. We had some time with it, so we had some friends of ours help us dial in some sounds that you hear.

LI: Back to Weezer. Then you turned the tables and covered their song, “Hash Pipe.”
Porcaro: Yeah, that was kind of my idea. Luke was on tour with Ringo (Starr), and we weren’t really doing anything right then. Weezer had actually done two of our songs, the other being “Rosanna.” I did a live appearance on Jimmy Kimmel with them, and then I was like, “Come on, let’s answer.” I was dying to work on something. I was all revved up. So I got together with Joe and found something that would be in the right key for him, which happened to be “Hash Pipe.”

LI: You left the band for a period of time and went on to do other things, one of which was to compose TV scores, including for the series “Justified,” with Timothy Olyphant.
Porcaro: Yeah, that was the last thing I did. My scoring career was up and down and wasn’t real consistent, but I got this great gig doing “Justified,” and I was very excited about it. A year later, Luke asked me to start touring with the band again. And I was like, “As long as you guys do it around my TV schedule.” I had just gotten this show. And then it lasted another five years. (laughs) For a musician to be able to jump from a TV show to touring in the summer with Toto, it was a blast.

LI: You also worked with Michael Jackson extensively.
Porcaro: Yes, I co-wrote the song “Human Nature,” and worked on just about every solo album of his except for the last one. It was fantastic. He was a really talented kid in the early days. There was none of the bullshit, none of the weirdness. That didn’t go on until way, way later. I mean, we still worked together, but things had definitely changed by then, and he had more security everywhere. But he was always good to work with.

LI: What do you think it is that has kept people interested in Toto for 40 years?
Porcaro: You have to say the musicianship, especially now. Most people thought, like I did, that Toto spent way too much time worrying about the instruments and the pop hits and the groove, which is fine, but they should have spent a little more time working on the lyrics. But it’s really the power of the songs. You have to give credit to David and Luke and the guys. They never stopped touring. They kept it alive and brought new fans. Now parents are bringing their kids to the show. You almost feel like you’re in a zoo with the kids. “Check out these real live musicians!” (laughs)

LI: Or a “This is how it’s done, kids.”
Porcaro: Yeah. You really see that. We’re still here! (laughs)