’Dogone It: The REAL Truth About Bobby Kimball’
The experienced Los Angeles session team of Bobby Kimball (vocals), Steve Lukather (guitar), David Paich (keyboards), Steve Porcaro (keyboards), David Hungate (bass), and Jeff Porcaro (drums) first decided in 1978 to begin functioning in their own right as a band. Since then they have gone on to become one of the most beloved musical outfits that this business could have ever imagined.
Toto (1978) contained the smash hit ’Hold The Line’, but the band's most commercial period was 1982/3 when the Grammy Award-winning Toto IV generated two international hits with the atmospheric ’Africa’ and ’Rosanna’ - as well as the US #10 single, ’I Won't Hold You Back’. The latter won Grammy’s for Record Of The Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance and Best Instrumental Arrangement.
The following year, Kimball and Hungate were replaced by, respectively, Dave Fergie Frederikson and Mike Porcaro. Sales of Isolation and the band's soundtrack to the science fiction movie Dune were poor, but with a new lead singer in Joseph Williams, the band reached # 11 in the US with ’I'll Be Over You' from 1986’s Fahrenheit. Two years later ’Pamela’ reached US #22 from the album, The Seventh One. By then, Steve Porcaro had returned to employment in the studios from which Toto had emerged.
In 1990, Jean-Michel Byron briefly replaced Williams, before Lukather became the band's vocalist. Jeff Porcaro died in 1992 after a heart attack caused by an allergic reaction to pesticide. His replacement on subsequent tour dates was British session drummer Simon Phillips. In 1995, the band released the blues-tinged Tambu, which attempted to steer their sound away from mainstream pop/rock. Kimball returned in 1999 after a 15-year absence, although the subsequent Mindfields (1999) and Though The Looking Glass (2002) didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Into 2003 and more importantly it is Toto’s 25th Anniversary as a musical force and to celebrate this fact they have just released 25th Anniversary: Live in Amsterdam on Eagle Records. Taking some time out with original lead singer, Bobby Kimball whilst he relaxes in his Belgium hotel room, he politely steers his vision away from his hotel movie [‘Frantic’] and gets ready to have quite possibly hismost open and honest chat to date! Firstly, we discusses the band’s latest tour over there in Belgium, ‘The Night of the Proms.’ ”Well, one thing we’re learning out here is that it’s just as easy to play with an orchestra as it is to play with a whole band. It’s really fun to play with the orchestra as they have a great ensemble with a 50-piece choir and a 80-piece Orchestra. And we’re completely sold-out every night for three months. So, we’re having a blast out here.”
So, getting straight to the point, why DID you choose to leave Toto for those 15 years or so?! ”Ahh, somebody told you that was MY decision, did they?” he laughs. ”Well, how nice of them. Well, how very kind, but no, it was not my decision actually. We had a meeting one day and I think everyone was going crazy in the mid-‘80s with the substance abuse thing and I was a victim. I was one of those and thank God someone stopped me dead in my tracks when THEY asked me to leave the band.”
Well, that’s very honest of you! ”Well, if you want further honesty, I think it was the teapot calling the kettle black and that’s all I’m gonna say about it,” he laughs. ”But no, everyone was a little bit crazy back then and I think there was more to it than I think we all knew. Because, you don’t win seven Grammy’s and then fire the lead singer. You try to fix that operation if it gets broke.”
Were there any bad feelings upon your return? ”When I got back with Toto some of the other lead vocalists that Toto had hired had their own fan bases and I got slam-dunked by a couple of those people! But, you can’t let any of that stuff stop you or effect your performance.”
OK, now, what’s the TRUE story about how the band got it’s name … and don’t tell me it had anything to do with the damn dog from ‘The Wizard of Oz’!! ”OK, you want me to give you the insight on that? We had an interview with Rolling Stone magazine and it was the biggest interview we’d had as a band and we gathered over at Jeff Porcaro’s house. Our bass player at the time was David Hungate and Dave is not really one to do a lot of talking in an interview. I mean, he doesn’t start a fight but he knowS how to finish one and if you ever want to do any verbal jousting don’t do it with him! We went through about two or three hours of interviews and at the end they asked him if, as he hadn’t said anything, if he’d like to make any comments? He then said that we really got the name because Bobby Kimball’s real name is Robert Toteaux! And that one point made every rock ‘n roll history book when they start talking about the band ... and it’s the only thing that’s bullshit,” he laughs. ”And Steve Lukather always says in interviews that it’s still the truth!”
So, after all this time just how HAVE Toto managed to survive in this sometimes all too fickle business? ”Well, I’ll tell you that our business is better than ever right now. I only can give you one concept and I think it’s the musicianship. We’re not your every day flavor-of-the-day band. We’re studied and practiced musicians that actually pick up their instruments and play them every day. We’re not just some manufactured sound that you walk in the studio and plug it into Pro-Tools and tune it, and stretch it, and shrink it, and heat it, and cool it … we actually play this stuff! And, we don’t hire other musicians to come in and set up for us and have a lot of things going on in the background that we didn’t actually do. We literally have played and sang everything that you ever hear and I think that there’s a big lack of that in the industry today. “
Through The Looking Glass seemed like one ultra commercial, yet completely out of left field album to me – am I right?! ”Yes, it was meant to be. And the best explanation I can give you is that we were going into our 25th year, we wanted to do a 25th Anniversary Tour and normally it takes us a good eight to ten months to record a CD. And we really wanted to be on the road during our 25th year … and I use the term ‘our 25th year’ loosely,” he gently laughs. ”So, we sat down at an inner meeting and brought together about 300 songs … 300 of our closest friends that had kinda influenced us and made us musically who we are. We then narrowed it down to about 50 songs and then through a process of elimination we eliminated down to those that were on the record. But, we had made a conscience decision to choose the songs that had influenced us the most during our careers and do a cover of those songs and ‘Toto-ize them’! That way we could get on the road during our 25th Anniversary.”
What did you learn from making this album? ”Well, during the process we did one song, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ that we found out wasn’t really copyrighted. It had been recorded by The Animals and about twenty other people, but no one had bothered to copyright it! So, we did a copyright search and now we pretty much own it,” he gently giggles.
Is there a new Toto CD of original music in the works? ”Absolutely. We’re working on it as we speak.”
OK, so will one of the songs include the chorus, ’Come back to me’?! ”Wow, how do you know abut that?”
I did my Toto homework! ”Jesus Christ, you must have been in my closet,” he laughs. ”You know what, we haven’t looked at that, but it’s such a great idea! Can we steal it?” he boldly laughs. ”It’s actually a fantastic song which we started on the very first album. But we only got to the chorus part and we never wrote a verse to it, but I’ve always been in love with that song.”
Any others like that? ”Yeah, there’s another one called ‘Red Sea’ that there’s a chorus vocal and a verse track to it, but we never filled in the blanks.”
Did you realize that this latest album Live In Amsterdam is the first album in your Toto career that’s had the band on the cover art?! ”Right, but in the past we’ve tried to make everybody think that it was a black band,” he laughs again. ”And we are at heart too. But, you know the first album cover Jeff Porcaro sat in the studio and started drawing out this sword, but we consciously decided not to put ourselves on an album cover. I mean, we don’t look like rock stars. We’re not your typical, long-haired, thin-lined band. We’re musicians and so it was a conscience decision not to put ourselves on the covers.”
Do you have a favorite Toto track to sing live and perhaps the one that you have to sing but would rather not?! ”Oh wow, you know to go to the second part first, there’s not one of the hits that I prefer not to sing. Because everywhere we go one of those songs absolutely puts the crowd on their feet. I would have to bow out of an answer on that one, but ‘Waiting For Your Love’ is one of my favorites. And one of them that we’re not doing that I would really prefer to do would be ‘Make Believe’ off the Toto IV album.”
What happened to your solo album, All I Ever Needed that was meant to come out in 2000? ”Well, it didn’t come out in the States. There’s a lot of bad karma around this album. I had a partner that no longer is my partner and it got released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and then there came a pint where it was getting released over the internet without my permission. So, as I say, there’s a lot of bad karma around that album on his part. But, you’ll probably see it again. I’ve recorded some more songs to put on it and I’m gonna re-release with the new material sometime soon.”
Is there either a Toto song or a solo song that YOU’VE written that is easily the worst song that you’ve written in your life?! ”What a question,” he laughs harder than ever before. ”What do you do, lay awake at nights and think about this crap?” he continues laughing. ”Well, I never wrote any of the big hits, but, well, ………. ‘Rock ‘n' Roll Connection’,” he laughs. ”Actually, I put that on the first Far Corporation album, Division One”
So, what were you thinking when you wrote it?! ”Jesus Christ, who knows what kind of drug stupor I was in,” he laughs.
So, I know what ‘fake’ name you checked into your hotel under for this tour, but how do you choose your hotel check-in names usually? ”There’s different methods, but I look on the internet for funny names sometimes … and they actually have a site called www.funnynames.com !”
So, we’ll probably find about twenty of your tour names on there!? ”Quite possibly so,” he laughs. ”You may even be able to find us out here tonight!”
If you were locked into a studio and asked to make a song with four other musicians who would they be? "John Lennon would write the song, on drums Steve Gadd, Earl DeRoy and Lenny Castro on percussion, Eric Clapton on lead guitar and on bass guitar would be Paul McCartney. The Beatles were one of my favorite bands.”
And what would the song recorded by you guys be called? ”Wow, well … I wrote a song called ‘Tanner’s Song' about a guy I knew way back in Louisiana. It’s a real funky song and I think this group could do it justice.”
Finally, describe Toto in three words ”World’s best band!”, he laughs once more.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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