After co-headlining runs the past two summers that found the group sharing the stage with longtime friend Michael McDonald in 2014 and then progressive rockers Yes last summer, Toto is doing its first full-on headlining run of the United States in a long time this summer, and it’s a well-deserved victory for the band, which regrouped in 2010 after taking a short break. Former vocalist Joseph Williams came back into the fold for the first time since the late ‘80s. Keyboardist Steve Porcaro also came back after a break of more than a decade.
The reason for the reunion was a poignant one. Porcaro’s brother Mike, a founding member of Toto and former bassist for the group, had been diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and singer-guitarist Steve Lukather and the members of the band wanted to play some shows to help generate some money for their longtime bandmate’s mounting medical bills. The renewed union of a bunch of old friends was something that they realized they wanted to carry forward after playing those initial shows for Porcaro’s benefit.
“You know, Joseph has really been a huge…..Joseph and Steve coming back were just a huge asset to the band. Steve’s touches were sorely missed. He does so much subtle stuff that really makes the sound of the band the way it originally sounded with the two keyboard thing,” Lukather explains in a conversation prior to the beginning of the tour. “Joseph’s voice is better than it ever was, and he’s a childhood friend too, so I’m looking around the stage at guys that I grew up with since I was like 15 years old. That makes a difference, especially a bunch of guys that have been through all that we’ve been through together, the good, bad and the ugly — and to still have the desire and passion to do this. Some guys go on the road, they don’t like each other or whatever, they’re just doing it for a check or whatever it is, which is fine, I guess. You know, everybody’s got to make a living, but there’s more to it than this. Because we can all do other stuff for money, if that’s what’s the case. There’s still something drawing us back to this band. There’s still something left to say. Otherwise we would have bagged it.”
When Porcaro got sick, before he passed [in March of 2015], that brought the band back together again for the right reasons.
“You know, we’re helping a brother out,” Lukather explains. “And within that, we rediscovered, first off, the fact that we’ve been lifelong brothers, through that intense sadness, it brought us together and made us realize, you know what? There’s not too many people in the world that A) get a second chance at this thing and B) still have a career after all of these years. We did a tour that was so successful and so much fun. We gave Mikey and the family some money and we said, ‘Do you want to do this next year again for fun?’ Everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah!’ Then it developed into this thing that we’re doing every year.”
And anyone in the United States who’s a Toto fan certainly won’t complain about the ongoing touring activity from the group, who had largely only been touring Europe and overseas prior to the reunion. The current touring run is bringing the band back to a lot of cities it hasn't played in many years. But it’s possible that there’s not many of those cities who have been waiting for more than 20 years for the group to come back around, a long drought that will finally come to an end when Toto plays at the Rocksino at the end of this month.
Both Lukather and Steve Porcaro have fond memories of Cleveland, where they played the Agora on their very first tour of the United States as Toto. The Agora show took place in February of 1979, was broadcast on both radio and television locally and eventually was broadcast overseas as well on Japanese television.
“Cleveland’s always been a special place. It really is a special rock and roll town,” Porcaro says during a separate interview. “We were there once when we were with Boz [Scaggs], we were there in Cleveland at Swingos and we were hanging out with the Tubes and it was one of the coolest nights. For some reason, we were both there for like three days and we both had time off. I forget what the situation was, but it was one of the coolest parties of my life. Seriously. It was just this great rock 'n' roll time period then and it was Cleveland. We love Cleveland, seriously.”
“I was 20 years old, man,” Lukather says with a laugh. “We were having the time of our life.”
“We were so excited to be up there. It was us living out our dream,” Porcaro remembers, looking back now on that first tour. “All of us watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show
and were hit like a ton of bricks. We all simultaneously pointed at the TV and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ That was the beginning of us living out our dream. You know, Lukather and I, we had a band in high school and stuff and David Paich and Jeff and my brother Mike, they were all [working hard] in the studios. There was a time period there where I thought that window of time when Jeff and Paich would start a band, I thought they were past it, to be honest with you. I thought that they were so busy. Luke and I, our careers were just starting, but Paich and Jeff were doing very, very well in the studio [as session guys] and it was a big deal for them to stop and turn down sessions to do Toto, but I’m really glad they did.”
But it's been more than 20 years since that last Cleveland show.
“You know, isn’t it scary,” Lukather asks, “just to say that out loud?”
“One thing that’s cool about this tour is that we were very upset, you know, we were going to do another kind of co-headlining thing with Boz, like we’d done the last couple of years with Michael McDonald and Yes,” Porcaro adds. “We were going to do the same thing with Boz and just kind of do a greatest hits set and get off. That all fell through, so now we’re doing an evening with Toto, so everyone gets to see our full two hour set.”
Which means deeper cuts and a few surprises — including a Cleveland-appropriate “Trower Power” moment from Lukather that’s one that you won’t want to miss. You’ll see what we mean when you get there. And of course, Lukather promises, you’ll hear all of those hits too, from “Africa” to “Hold The Line” and “Rosanna.”
“Obviously, you know, we’ve got to play the songs people have grown up with and that’s not a problem,” he says. “But we get to play some new stuff and some of the deep cuts and everybody gets to stretch out and play a little bit more. It’s a little bit more relaxed, because nobody’s looking at their watch. And production-wise, with sounds and lights and all of that stuff, it will be pretty nice.”
The evening, as Lukather mentions, will feature a sampling of music from Toto XIV
, the band’s 13th studio album which came out last year and they’re understandably, quite proud of how it turned out, even though the circumstances of how it came about started in a slightly negative place.
“The 35th anniversary, we decided to do a DVD to commemorate that and then we found out our first manager signed something that we didn’t know about that if we did a live DVD, we owed this Italian guy a full studio record or we couldn’t put out the live DVD,” he says. “Now, we were trying to figure out how that happened — that was just bad management. We started getting into some litigation and it got really expensive and our lawyers go, ‘Look man, this guy’s going to pay you a fortune to do a record — do the record.’"
So the band ended up doing it like that and what started out to be a little negative situation turned into a positive.
"We said, ‘You know, if we’re going to do this, we’ve got to make a really good record, for the people that care. We can’t just throw a blues record together, get a check and tell everyone to fuck off,'" Lukather says. "That would be pretty lame. We owed it to ourselves to see if we still had a good one left in us and we threw down. We spent a lot of hours in a little room together, regrouping and figuring out how we wanted to do this and what you got was Toto XIV
, which to me, is something I’m very proud of. I wasn’t sure it was going to happen again. It was also great, because Joseph got another chance at the wheel and he certainly deserved that and proved that. We all had a blast and here we are going into our seventh year of doing this when we thought it was done. We’re going to see the 40th anniversary and beyond, I think.”
The current tour is a victory lap of sorts that makes Lukather personally very happy.
“You know, we took over managing ourselves. We have an incredible agency over at WME and we restarted the whole thing,” he says. “A lot of people told us, ‘No, no, no.’ And then when we took the ball back in our own hands, it became, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ So it’s really amazing, what you can do. The old cliche, if you want something done right, you do it yourself, really holds true. I sort of took over that aspect with a staff of great people and we made this thing happen, because I wasn’t going to take no for an answer."
The band was selling out arenas around the world and had nothing scheduled in the United States. Lukather says the current tour aims to correct that trend.
"The last mountain I want to climb with this band is to re-establish ourselves as an American band," he says. "We grew up in North Hollywood, you know? We’re not just thrown together studio guys — somebody started that rumor. We went to high school together, we grew up together and we’ve lost a few brothers along the way and our passion for the music has sort of intensified in their memory, of Jeff and Mike Porcaro. They’d want us to do this.”
And as Lukather has seen himself, what goes around, eventually comes around — even if it takes a bit of time.
"It’s the old story, if you hang in there long enough, you know?" he says. "I remember having a long conversation with Don Henley. We were working on his first solo album in 1980 and I’m going, ‘Don, what the fuck is it, man? Why does everybody hate us in the media?’ He goes, ‘Well, they hated us too and they hated Led Zeppelin.’ He goes, ‘If you hang in there long enough and take your punches, eventually they’ll come around.’ And I balked at that in 1980, but here we are, what is it, 36 years later, and he was right. We hung in there, man. We’ve taken our punches and we’ve survived just about everything there is. And since we were never really in style, we can’t be out of style. Actually, we’re the great underground band.”
The band is now in the beginning stages of preparing expanded remasters of the classic Toto catalog to release in 2018 as it crosses that 40 year mark. That same year, Lukather will release his long awaited autobiography, which he jokes (or perhaps, he’s completely serious) will be called The Gospel According to Luke
. There are plenty of other plans in the works too — and he’d like to host a cable music TV show, “where I can be me with my sense of humor, plus have a kick-ass all-star band and have people come on and play and people promote books, art and movies. I have a lot of friends in all walks of life, you know?”
With his forthcoming book, he’ll look to cover a lot of those experiences and friendships and being in a band with members who collectively, as he points out, have done quite a lot of things, not just Toto albums.
“They try to bunch us in with all of these like sort of bands. You know, they like to put everybody in a lump group of people and we never really fit there. Because of our pedigree and background. There’s not another band in history that’s done what we’ve done, even though we’re largely ignored by mainstream press. I mean, here’s a band that collectively, all of the people that have ever been in it and are still in it, there’s about five thousand albums, without exaggeration. And every style of music from rock 'n' roll to Michael Jackson’s Thriller
to Miles Davis to Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick and whatever [other] pop songs you can think of. We’ve kind of done it all, if you look at the collective discography of everybody, no one else has done that and we still managed to sell 40 million albums running uphill."
Lukather says the band is now reaping the benefits of their perseverance and hard work.
"We’re really enjoying this resurgence and interest in our band," he says. "Because right now, the only people that really matter are the people that follow you on, I hate to say it, but the people that follow you on Facebook. Those are the ones whose opinions you listen to. You don’t listen to somebody you know doesn’t like you. And everybody has a right to their opinion, that’s fine, you know, I can dig that. But they tried to kill us, and they couldn’t.”
Toto, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd, Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $47.5-$65, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.