Becoming Relevant Again

Toto, the legendary Grammy-winning rock band, has a new album and a live show dedicated to its massive hits and new favorites.

Mike Mettler Arts & Entertainment

Toto, featuring (from left) David Paich, Joseph Williams, Steve Lukather, and Steve Porcaro, perform Sept. 9 at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.

Toto, the brainchild of first-call L.A. studio musicians, dominated both the charts and the Grammys with 1982’s massively catchy Toto IV, the $6-million-selling album that featured three indelible Top 10 hits: Rosanna, Africa, and I Won’t Hold You Back.

While their profile in the U.S. receded some as the millennium approached, Toto actually became an international touring sensation, and, thanks to the enthusiastic reception of last year’s acclaimed studio album, Toto XIV, the band has once again recaptured the interest of the American concert-going public.

“To me, the live performance is what it’s really, truly all about,” says Toto vocalist Joseph Williams. “That’s the first and most important medium to get our music across to people. The industry has flip-flopped. You used to go out on tour to support your album, and now you put out an album to support your tour.”

In addition to the aforementioned massive Toto IV hits, the band will also showcase longtime favorites like Hold the Line, I’ll Supply the Love, and Pamela, plus deeper cuts like Georgy Porgy and Afraid of Love Sept. 9 at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.

After speaking with Williams, Palm Springs Life also got on the line with Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro during a tour break to discuss the band’s upcoming set, how the art of recording has changed over the years, and what really sparked the catchy sound of Rosanna.

Steve, can you share any special memories about Palm Springs?
Steve Porcaro: Oh, sure — there are actually a couple. I got my first traffic ticket ever driving home from Palm Springs. A bunch of us went out there after school let out, sometime before we had graduated [in the ’70s]. We all went out there and just had the best weekend. We brought our girlfriends, and had an amazing time. And then I got a nice, heavy speeding ticket on the way home.

“One other time, I went there with some guys who had a bus company. We rented a bus that went to a few different places, some different clubs, and just had a wild night. We came home early in the morning. It was really great. We had a lot of (pauses)… fun times.”

That’s a nice way of putting it. Are you a golfer?
SP: I was. I was for a long time, but I haven’t played there for several years now. I don’t consider myself much of one anymore.

I feel that way too sometimes. (both laugh) You were born on the East Coast. When did your family get out to L.A.?
SP: I was born in Hartford [Connecticut]. We lived in the projects, and then we moved out to Bloomfield. That’s where I went to first, second, and third grade. And then in the summer of ’66, we moved. My dad, with a wife and four kids, drove out to LA to become a studio musician.” [Steve’s dad, Joe Porcaro, ultimately became a noted studio jazz drummer, recording with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Lalo Schifrin, and Stan Getz.]

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it worked out for everybody in your family.
SP: (laughs heartily) You know what? That’s true.

Steve Pocaro comes from a talented studio-musician family, including his late brothers Mike and Jeff.

The guys in Toto dominated something that really doesn’t exist anymore — the studio system.
SP: You know, it’s really true. It’s kind of heartbreaking. I had this kid who was a hardcore Toto fan come to L.A. with his family on vacation, and I met them for lunch on their last day here. He announced in front of his family that he was going to do this life — he was going to move to L.A. and be a freelance studio musician. You don’t want to be discouraging to people, but I had to explain to him, when you look at album covers and see all of our names there, that ‘thing’ doesn’t really exist now, you know?

Right, because nowadays, you can record music pretty much anywhere.
SP: I know! I was the first guy in the band dying to have a home studio, and not have people breathing down my neck when I worked. I didn’t mean for everybody to do it! (laughs) It’s one of those things where my wishes have come true, believe me, but then there are those times where you look around and go, ‘Where is everybody? I could use some encouragement right here.’ You miss that camaraderie of people meeting in the same place at the same time.

“I know why I needed to have my own space to be able to record on my own and have the place kept and maintained, but you sure do miss the guys being there too sometimes.”

Was there one specific recording or passage you made in your home studio where you went, “OK, this is why recording at home makes sense to me”?
SP: Oh, absolutely: Rosanna. That was the first time they made a slave tape for me that could sync up with the rest of the tracks, the one that let me go record on my own.

Initially, of course, the guys in the band said, ‘We’re not going to keep what you use. You’re not an engineer.’ But what they didn’t know was Geoff Workman, the guy who had co-produced the third Toto album [1981’s Turn Back], was an amazing guy in terms of teaching me about the very basics of recording and structure. My question to him was, ‘If I record something on my own, why couldn’t it be used?’ So I made sure everything I recorded was recorded properly — and they used every single thing I recorded. A good 85 percent of my synths on Toto IV were done by myself that way.

In the live set people are going to see at Fantasy Springs, is there a particular highlight for you to play personally?
SP: A lot of bands like us who come to Fantasy Springs still release new albums, but they know the second they start playing the new stuff, that’s going to be the bathroom break for everybody. People start heading to the exits, so there are some bands that don’t play stuff from their new albums. They just don’t. They have so many hits, and they know that’s why the people are there to see them, and that’s what they play.

“But Toto, we’re really proud of this new album, Toto XIV. It wasn’t a going-through-the-motions kind of thing at all. We’re really anxious to share it with everybody. Of course, we love playing the hits — and we’ll be playing plenty of them — but we love playing challenging new things like Holy War and Great Expectations. They’re really fun for us, and we hope a lot of the crowd likes them too.”

Toto, 8 p.m., Sept. 9 at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84-245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio, 800-827-2946,