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Toto

A so-called hard-rock band of noted session men who’d, together as a unit, paid their dues on the soft-rock circuit under the auspices of STEELY DAN, BOZ SCAGGS et al, Van Nuys, L.A.-based musicians, David Paich (keyboards), David Hungate (bass) and Jeff Porcaro (drums), enlisted Jeff’s kid brother Steve Porcaro (keyboards), Steve Lukather (lead guitar) – both from Still Life – and singer Bobby Kimball, to begin recording sessions in 1977.
Adopting their moniker, partly from the dog in The Wizard Of Oz, and partly due to the Latin meaning of “in toto” translated as “all-encompassing”, the sextet subsequently signed a lucrative worldwide deal at Columbia Records. When the Paich-penned debut single `Hold The Line’ (a schizoid tapestry of funk and prog-rock riffs) garnered immediate airplay and duly soared into the Top 5, the platform was set for the eponymous million-selling album, TOTO (1978) {*7}. Their bland blend of air-brushed melody and high-pitched, hi-hat soft-rock went down a storm in America’s heartlands, although their follow-ups `I’ll Supply The Love’ and the soulful `Georgy Porgy’ (the latter showcasing the voice of Cheryl Lynn), stalled outside the Top 40.
Their signature tune still echoing around the airwaves, the single `St. George And The Dragon’, from their 1979 sophomore set HYDRA {*5}, was hardly a ready-reckoner to boost sales. Despite a follow-on Top 30 entry, `99’ (the concept taken from the creepy George Lucas flick THX-1138), the record was bracketed in with BOSTON, FOREIGNER and The DOOBIE BROTHERS. When generic third album TURN BACK (1981) {*5} was caught one place short of the Top 40, and no other hit singles (`Goodbye Elenore’ and `If It’s The Last Night’) venturing beyond the Top 100, bosses at their label were sharpening their proverbial daggers.
Aware of the backlash but ready to return to their previous day jobs, TOTO were on their last legs to produce the Midas touch on TOTO IV (1982) {*7}. As in their previous outing, Paich had been coupled along with a permutation of the other players, although its classic opening salvo `Rosanna’ was down to the man himself; ditto third big hitter, `Make Believe’. Incidentally, the lady in question was not actress Rosanna Arquette (dating Steve Porcaro at the time), but a conglomeration of girls the author had known over the years. With both Paich and Kimball taking on lead vocals, the AOR-styled `Africa’ went one better than its predecessor and scaled the US charts, generating further sales of the multi-platinum album and its spawns throughout the globe. TOTO were now worthy contenders to the arena-rock throne.
As Hungate opted out to spend more time with his family, bassist brother Mike Porcaro was taking his place on tour; and on the band’s fifth long-awaited fifth set, ISOLATION (1984) {*5}. Minus Kimball, who was apparently dismissed for drug issues, the unenviable spotlight rested on the voice of Dennis “Fergie” Frederiksen (ex-ANGEL), while the gold-certificated JOURNEY-esque album only produced a major hit in `Stranger In Town’; `Holyanna’, `How Does It Feel’ and the UK-only `Endless’ all flopped.
Stranger than sci-fi fiction itself, cult film director David Lynch had chosen TOTO as the surprise package to work on DUNE (1984) {*5}. What swung it was probably the fact that Paich’s father Marty was commissioned to conduct the accompanying Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the attendant Volksoper Choir, while original composer BRIAN ENO was afforded only one track.
Opener `Prologue’ was as it suggested, dialogue to completely bamboozle the listener about “spice” and the film’s plot; DP’s `Main Title’ theme was segued in for balance. The quirky `Robot Fight’ was another short-n-sweet ditty, while `Leto’s Theme’, `The Box’ (and others) continued the romantic-ish, orchestral reprises. `The Floating Fat Man (The Baron)’ was as near to the sound of scoresmith RICK WAKEMAN as they could get away with, but all too often the decent uptempo pieces were cut short. It was no surprise when the OST failed commercially, having been released a month on from their previous Top 50 set.
TOTO’s fortunes dipped as the decade wore on, while Fredericksen’s berth was taken by Joseph Williams for their return to the Top 40: FAHRENHEIT (1986) {*5}. Roping in big gun MICHAEL McDONALD, who supplied backing vocals for one of two major hits, `I’ll Be Over You’ (the other was `Without Your Love’), the corporate jazz style of MILES DAVIS and David Sanborn couldn’t quite play them out of trouble.
Although still connected in a limited capacity and as a guest artist, Steve Porcaro had departed prior to 1988’s THE SEVENTH ONE {*3}. A commercial disaster in most people’s eyes, not even a thinly-disguised funky re-run of Rosanna under the MICHAEL JACKSON-esque Top 30 hit, `Pamela’, couldn’t bring TOTO back from the land of Ozzzz. Once again, the ageing soft-rock FM stability had won the day.
The ensuing few years was beset by personnel problems; in September Kimball returned to supersede Williams (later arrested on drug charges) on a few tracks, but with persistence from Columbia Records, South African frontman Jean-Michel Byron was chosen to cut four fresh tracks (including `Love Has The Power’ and `Animal’) on PAST TO PRESENT: 1977-1990 {*7}. As heads clashed and, known to be a bit of an annoying diva for band and fans alike, Byron was shown the door, while the cheeky Kimball tried to form his own personal Toto act.
Undoubtedly the biggest blow came with the sudden and mysterious death of Jeff Porcaro (the coroner’s report was a heart attack caused by cocaine use), although TOTO had already an album scheduled: KINGDOM OF DESIRE (1992) {*3}. Guitarist Lukather had now also taken the role of lead singer. Stand-in drummer Simon Phillips (from England’s JUDAS PRIEST), performed at the Universal Amphitheatre (December 14, 1992) for tribute set ABSOLUTELY LIVE (1993) {*4}, a double-set containing several hits and a closing cover of LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `With A Little Help From My Friends’.
TOTO’s first post-Jeff studio release, TAMBU (1995) {*3}, fell foul of the kind of directionless, unremarkable, if well executed soft-rock; its convoluted lyrical chin-scratching beloved of many ageing AOR acts. Once again Europe was chosen to release it first, with America coming a long-way-away second in June 1996, thus its 1997 nomination for a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical).
Matters hardly improved with MINDFIELDS (1999) {*4}, proffering even more artless lyrics and competently contrived and vacuous – with the added attraction of a returning Kimball – studio rock. It was therefore rather unnecessary for a concert set, LIVEFIELDS (1999) {*3}, except for the solo pieces attributed to each musician.
2002’s THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS {*4} was an enjoyable enough, if ultimately pointless set of tastefully selected covers, 11 of them in all, namely:- `Could You Be Loved’ (BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS), `Bodhisattva’ (STEELY DAN), `While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (GEORGE HARRISON), `I Can’t Get Next To You’ (Whitfield-Strong), `Living For The City’ (STEVIE WONDER), `Maiden Voyage – Butterfly’ (HERBIE HANCOCK), `Burn Down The Mission’ (ELTON JOHN), `Sunshine Of Your Love’ (CREAM), `House Of The Rising Sun’ (trad.), `Watching The Detectives’ (ELVIS COSTELLO) and `It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’ (BOB DYLAN).
Treading water while plans were afoot to keep on trucking, an up-to-date round-up of TOTO unfolded as 25th ANNIVERSARY: LIVE IN AMSTERDAM (2003) {*6}. Several years since their previous studio outing, and adding former ERIC CLAPTON/MICHAEL JACKSON sessioner Greg Phillinganes, FALLING IN BETWEEN (2006) {*5} was again received by grateful fans, although the media gave it mixed reviews. Without both stalwarts David Paich and Mike Porcaro (the former retiring only from the live aspect of the group, the latter sadly diagnosed with the debilitating ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease), FALLING IN BETWEEN LIVE (2007) {*5} was poignant in respects to the band splitting soon afterwards; Leland Sklar (ex-WAR) took over bass duties.
As a warm up to the inevitable TOTO reunion, and with Joseph Williams on board again (Greg left in 2008), the twilight Eagle Records issued 35th ANNIVERSARY: Live In Poland (2014) {*4}. Subsequently adding drummer Keith Carlock (for Simon Phillips) to JW, SL, SP & DP; with a 6th member place in the studio for a returning David Hungate, TOTO XIV {*5} was released on March 20, 2015. The significance of the date was, that five days before it hit the shops, Mike Porcaro had died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. While putting a dampener on the album itself, TOTO’s tight technique had moments in tracks `Orphan’, `Holy War’ and `Burn’.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2015

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