This year marks the 30th anniversary of Toto’s first album. And though the group isn’t doing anything specific to commemorate it, singer-guitarist Steve Lukather says the milestone is certainly on his mind.
“When we started, we were hoping maybe we could squeeze 10 years out of it,” says Lukather, 49, one of a group of Los Angeles session players who formed Toto after playing and touring with Boz Scaggs during his successful “Silk Degrees” period.
“We were just very successful and we’ve hung in there, man. But I never thought I’d be sitting here 30 years later, having a conversation about this.”
Despite the disdain of critics — who attacked the band for everything from its name to hit ballads such as “Rosanna” and “99” — Toto has indeed endured, with Lukather holding the line through the death of drummer Steve Porcaro in 1992 and assorted membership changes over the years. These days, keyboardist David Paich remains with the band but has retired from the road, while bassist Mike Porcaro is sitting out Toto’s current tour with a hand injury.
Lukather, who remains active on the session scene when not on the road with Toto, says a combination of fan demand — particularly in Europe — and his own lack of interest in doing anything else makes it easy to keep Toto on the rock ’n’ roll yellow brick road. In addition to the touring, he’s overseeing the production of a new Toto DVD, “Live in Paris,” and recently finished recording a solo album.
“I’m a workaholic, what can I say?” confesses Lukather, the father of two grown children with a new baby on the way. “Right now I’m fronting a fantastic band full of dear friends. These are some of the best guys in the business. Between us all, we’re talking (about) thousands and thousands of albums of the greatest artists of the last 40 years, one of us, at least, is on it. So you can imagine how much fun it is to play together.”
One of those players in the current incarnation of Toto is a Detroit native, Greg Phillinganes, whose voluminous résumé includes work with Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan and Phil Collins. Lukather has been friendly with the keyboardist since both played sessions as teenagers, and when Paich decided to quit the road, Phillinganes was the easy first call.
“He’s always been bugging us about playing — ‘I want to be in your band, man,’ ” Lukather says. “So when Dave decided he was gonna step down from touring, (Phillinganes) was the call. Dave made the call, in fact, but I thought it’s a great idea.”
Although original singer Bobby Kimball, who was out of the band between 1984-99, remains, Lukather acknowledges that “this is a completely different version of Toto.” But he feels that his constant presence insures there’s been continuity between every lineup.
“I sang a lot of the hits,” he notes, “so vocally it’s still there and the style of the band is still there. You just got a couple of different cats who sat in and made it their own.
“It’s been accepted really well, too. We do a lot of jamming, but there’s a lot of the obligatory songs that one has to do. I mean, people pay money, they want to hear some of their favorite hits, and we oblige that, of course. You gotta listen to the people that pay ya, you know.”
Toto and Class Three Overbite perform Thursday (July 19th) at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32.50-$45. Call (248) 399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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