Interview: Robert Cavuoto
Toto will be releasing a very special concert DVD/CD; Toto: Live At Montreux 1991 on September 16th via Eagle Rock Entertainment as this show was the last tour with Jeff and Mike Porcaro before their untimely passing .
The band Steve Lukather [guitar/vocals], David Paich [keyboards], Jeff Porcaro [drums] and Mike Porcaro [bass] were energetic and in touch with their audience’s desire to hear new material as well as some of their classic hits. As they blazed through the show the smiles on their faces was evident that this would be a monumental show; a rare snapshot of the band as a four piece with Steve Lukather on lead vocals and guitar. There was also an undeniable chemistry between them as they complements each other’s playing as well as the songs. It was a time of rebirth for the band, and the Montreux stage proved the perfect opportunity to test drive the new songs. Fans could feel the electricity in the air as the band took the stage.
Just prior to the band’s current 2016 US tour that starts on August 12th, I caught up with Toto’s keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter David Paich to discuss about this unique Montreux show and sneak peek at what fans can expect on this tour as well as their upcoming 40th Anniversary tour.
Robert Cavuoto: Over your career in Toto you must have filmed a significant number of concerts, in your opinion what makes this concert special?
David Paich: It was such great concert; we sounded the way we did in high school as a four piece. It had the burning energy of Mike, Jeff, Steve and myself. That’s the way we sounded and played. We were laughing so hard and everyone was having such a great time. We are trying now to get back to that loose energy. Watching it after all these years was a pleasure and warmed our hearts to see Jeff and Mike.
Robert: Is it tough to watch the concert with the passing of Jeff and Mike?
David Paich: Actually it put a smile on our faces as it keeps them immortalized. Their music and performance lives on. They have never really left me in spirit. I talk to them every day and know they are with me every day; whether I’m playing or doing anything because they are my brothers. I have to be honest when I say, we as a band miss them dearly not only the way that they played but the brotherhood. I’m so grateful that they were able to capture this performance because it’s just another link to the Toto legacy and another piece to the musical history to remember the four of use in Montreux. It was an honor to be asked to play there by Quincy Jones and Claude Nobs. We played a song there called “Higher” that we used to do in high school by Sly and the Family Stone with a Tina Turner tempo, just the way we played it in high school, fast and burning! If people want to go back in the Toto Hot Tub Time Machine they can get a glimpse of us, the DVD is it right there!
Robert: Tell me about Toto’s approach to playing unreleased songs, how was that perceived by the Montreux audience?
David Paich: It went over incredibly well. In Montreux you don’t have to get up there and play all your hits, it’s the type of forum to try out new things. The crowd is very open and receptive to it. They welcome new music with open ears and hearts. We felt very confident and comfortable as we were surrounded by our other fellow musicians who were doing the same and having fun doing it.
Robert: Has having multiple singers in Toto’s legacy been a challenge to the band and how did you strive to overcome it?
David Paich: I have mixed feelings about it. It’s great to keep the original line–up, and I wished in a perfect world that it would have worked for a longer period of time, but over time you have to be able to adjust. When something isn’t working we had to make a change right here. Being musicians we are used to working with different musicians and singers. We thought it was important to keep the nucleus of the band together and move forwards. Toto is greater than any one member. Our identity is that it’s us playing together; Steve and I have both sung on several of the hits and tried to keep it together. There are other bands that have gone through similar things and we watched how they kept the nucleus of the band together and the music going. Right now we are playing better than ever with Steve Lukather, Steve Porcaro, Joseph Williams, and myself all guys who grew up together from the same neighborhood. When I see us now, I think we are all together playing like we did in high school.
Robert: When you are creating music and coming up with songs, whose voice do you typically hear in the back of your head or do you write for your own voice?
David Paich: Interesting question [laughing]. I can hear my own voice because I can sing like Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins or Sting in my own head [laughing]. They are four of my favorite singers. Unfortunately there is only one of each of them. There is a fault voice that I use in my head when I’m playing a chorus and starting the words. Then I start screaming to it at the top of my range when no one is around. Or singing in falsetto to get it out there and hear a melody than I can cast it for the right people. That’s fun off writing in private. Part of my enjoyment is having the ability to cast for different singers or guest singers like Michael McDonald. For a singer and songwriter like myself with a limited range, having talented singers like Joseph and Steve to execute anything that I’m hearing in my head is incredible.
Robert: Was there ever an issue with who would take on vocals for some of the hit songs?
David Paich: No real wrestling matches but we do experiment with different people singing. Sometimes a person will write a song and then Luke will say he wants to take a crack at it, we love it. Anyone who thinks that they can nail it, we are all up for letting them trying. In Toto, variety makes things more interesting. I think everyone tried to sing “Africa,” I was the only guy that could sing that many words so quickly [laughing]. My experience growing up playing to Elton John really paid off. I got stuck singing the verses and no one else could spit out my poetry [laughing].
Robert: Turns out it worked in your favor!
David Paich: It certainly did, not bad at all.
Robert: Was there ever a Toto song that you thought would be a hit and wasn’t or vice versa?
David Paich: I thought “Ill Supply the Love” was going to be a hit. I also thought “Make Believe” off Toto IV was going to be a nice book end to our hit “Hold the Line.” I thought “Going Home” which was supposed to be on Past to Present, but ended up on Toto XX, was going to be a big hit as well. “Rosanna” we knew would be a hit as we were at the precipice of our career looking into an abyss as the record company thought we were one hit wonders. They said, “The first album was good but if you don’t follow it up with consecutive hits, your budget is going to dwindles as well as your support. We will give you one more chance to redeem yourselves.” I put everything I had, all my energy and work on this one song which was “Rosanna.” I said if this doesn’t make it, I’ll hang it up! Fortunately the record people liked the demos and said they will absolutely fund and support the album.
On the flip side of the coin with Toto IV the album was done, I had gotten some new gear from Yamaha, a CF80 and GS1. New instruments sometimes have the ability to help create new songs, because when you hear a sound you start to react to it. I found this nice brassy flute sound that you hear in the beginning of the “Africa” then came up with the riff. I thought it might be a nice song for the band Chicago. I was singing the melody to the verse as I didn’t yet have words or the chorus yet. When I sat down on my grand piano to work on the chorus, as soon as I sat down I started singing the lines that are actually in the chorus. I knew I was talented but this was truly a divine intervention as God had given me help for sure. So I really don’t take credit for that song as I had help from the man upstairs. It was an experimental song and when we finished it I told Jeff Porcaro I want to call the song “Africa” and needed an authentic African percussion loop. Jeff’s father who did work for National Geographic’s was expert at ethnic and world percussion brought in all these African instruments like walking sticks and cowbells and that loop was the engine of the song. We added keyboards, guitar, bass and guide vocals. We had Timothy Schmidt from the Eagles and Joe Porcaro help us out as well. Once it was done they said, “Now save it for your solo album!” I had no solo record planned so it was a nice way to say it didn’t belong on Toto’s record [laughing]. I pushed and I guess they liked it enough to add as the last track, like a post script note. The whole scenario then flipped on us as it started to get played in New York and the rest is history. I was quite surprised on how things turned out.
Robert: The band just celebrated their 35th Anniversary and you are approaching your 40th. Can you believe the band has survived and been successful for that long?
David Paich: I can’t, we tell each other every day that we are the luckiest guys in the world. We are living the dream. To make it four years is a big deal, to make it 10 years we said if it doesn’t work now, we will go back to what we were doing as session players, songwriters, and composers. The band kept getting bigger and by the seventh album we got “Pamela” with Joseph on vocals and were heading in the right direction. When Kingdom of Desire came out, we were playing 18,000 seat venues. We felt we accomplished the next level. We then lost Jeff Porcaro our brother who we started the band with; it was the real turning point if we should keep going. Steve Lukather and I decided that if we could get Simon Phillips to play drums for us we would keep going. He agreed and over 10 years he just became a member. I can’t believe all the time that has gone by. It seems like only 10 years ago we were all in high school and now here we are coming up on 40 years.
Robert: Any special plans that you can share about the upcoming 40th Anniversary Tour?
David Paich: I know that we will still be touring with this band and bring out a great show for the fans. I don’t want to give away too many surprises but it should be pretty elaborate. Let’s just say that old Toto fans are going to have a ball when they see the production as it will be a gala event. It will be a thank you to our fans for being there and welcoming all the new fans. Stay tuned for some surprises.