Holding the line

Holding the line

You know their hits all too well and sing loudly when you hear “Hold the Line,” “Roseanna,” “I Won’t Hold You Back,” “I’ll Be over You” and, of course, “Africa.”

With more than 35 million records sold and six Grammy Awards, global sensation Toto has returned with a brand new studio album properly titled Toto XIV. With a new record comes a new tour, with a stop Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion as they share the stage with fellow rock act Yes.

Based in Los Angeles, Toto formed in 1977; their self-titled debut a year later sold more than 2 million copies. Then came albums Hydra, Turn Back, and the 1982 monster Toto IV, which featured “Roseanna” and their first No. 1, “Africa.”

Toto became global superstars and also had a Southeast Texas connection. One of the vocalists, Bobby Kimball, who is no longer with the band, was born in Orange and was raised in Vinton, La.

But original members David Paich (lead vocals, keyboards) Steve Lukather (guitar, vocals) and Steve Porcaro (keyboards vocals) keep Toto alive and well along with Joe Williams (vocals), who joined the band in 1986.

The Examiner spoke with Paich before the tour started some two weeks ago. Born in Los Angeles, Paich, who has an Emmy Award, grew up in a musical home; his father Marty worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr. and Aretha Franklin, just to name a few.

Aside from spending time with Toto, David followed in his father’s footsteps and became one of the most sought-after producers and songwriters in the music industry, working side by side with Michael Jackson, Boz Scaggs, Cher, Rod Stewart, George Benson, Andy Williams, Pink, Joe Cocker and many more.

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With a history of classic hits, was it concerning to put new music out not knowing how the fans would react?

We go through many conversations, and we begin on a very visceral level when we start writing songs. When we finally get a few new songs that sound modern and current to us, we then begin looking at the whole picture and ask what songs would the fans want to hear? Take for instance “Chinatown,” which is very reminiscent of the Toto IV album in 1982. We wanted to appeal to our older fans as well as getting new ones.

With so many songwriters in the group, how did the writing process go?

Things have changed, but it’s more like we did with the Toto IV record. In the very beginning, I was doing the brunt of the songwriting because it was new to everybody. I started to encourage others to start writing like Steve Lukather did with “I Won’t Hold You Back,” and Steve Porcaro had “It’s a Feeling” and later went on to write “Human Nature” for Michael Jackson. A talent pool like that is a great thing to have. I always patterned us off of the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac — two groups that had multiple writers and artists within each group. There was a lot of collaboration on this new record, and that’s what really makes it sound like Toto. I know when I go to concerts, I want to hear older hits and standards, so the rule of thumb is don’t play too many new songs off the new album. But we have been playing four or five new songs, and the crowds have been responding incredibly to it.

I have some favorites, but I still have the 45-rpm record of the song “Africa.”

Wow, do you really? We actually had that entire album ready before that song was written. I had this one extra song I had co-written with Jeff Porcaro and I wanted him to do this African loop and make it to really authentic and totally different. We were bold and daring and had nothing to lose. I would normally put this on a solo record, if I had been doing one at the time, or send it to someone else to record. It took a little while to collaborate, but it was different and Toto had never done a song like this before, so we stuck it on the end of the album. We started getting calls from New York that disco clubs were playing the song, and it became a pleasant surprise to us. Needless to say, it has found it’s own legs and Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake have since sung it during a sketch on his show. Family Guy also did a little something with the song and I was also asked to sing “Africa” for the United Nations when they gave an award to Bishop Desmond Tutu. I performed it with Paul Simon’s band. I atribute that song’s success to the collaborative effort of my band.

Looking back, how did Toto withstand the test of time?

One of the things is not to try to be relevant and just be yourself. I know I am disappointed when I hear a favorite band or artist of mine trying to be so current that you don’t enjoy anything on the record that you originally loved them for. One thing that is idiosyncratic about Toto is the ability to make a turn on a dime and do different kinds of music while adjusting to the times. Our experience with other artists has allowed us to navigate through musical history. It’s been a journey.

With your father in music, was music always something you wanted to do?

Believe it or not, my parents had a side business to breed quarter horses. We would go to Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico and Los Alamitos in California. I was a stable boy and at one time I wanted to be a blacksmith and shoe horses. I also wanted to be a rodeo clown. I entertained that for a minute then realized my love was piano and music. My father was a musician, and I enjoyed being around his friends that hung around all the time like the jazz greats Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

Where do you find most satisfaction — producing or performing live?

I love being on stage, especially when you have a great crowd. It fuels you. When you are in the studio, there is hardly any reaction when you do something. It could be the greatest thing on earth and people are just staring at you with blank faces. I still have fun … making records. It’s fun to tweeze and tune the fine points of audio. I like sitting in front of big speakers in a studio and analyzing the arrangements. I had the fortune of producing my first jazz album last year for Quincy Jones for a young guitarist named Andreas Varady. I was able to sit back in the booth and hire great musicians and let him play the songs.

How was the experience working with not only Michael Jackson, but with his brothers, the Jackson 5?

It was great. That family is one of the most talented I have ever seen. I knew Michael was talented, but I had no idea the other brothers were as equally as talented as dancers and singers. I used to see them rehearsing dance steps in my house, and it was like watching Motown pros. Each one treated me with respect. When Michael was with the Jackson 5, he was more of a member of the band. They would make him take the back seat. They picked on him like siblings, but it was all in fun. I have fond memories of working with all of them.

Any future plans after this tour ends?

We want to keep touring to promote the new album. Probably hit Japan, Europe and back to the United States.

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