Toto is one band that came out of the gates as a supergroup. Comprised of session musicians who had played on some of the greatest tracks in music history, the band debuted with an album that took fans by storm.
Their first hit, “Hold the Line,” was a radio juggernaut. For the rest of the ’70s and into the ’80s, Toto continued to release blockbuster hits, including “Rosanna” and “Africa” becoming a multi-generational favorite among pop and rock fans.
That history is at the heart of their current tour, one in support of their anniversary celebration, the CD and DVD collection 40 Trips Around the Sun.
The Future is Murky
Their history is secure, but now their future is in question as a lawsuit against the band has created a crisis, something that Toto stalwart, guitarist Steve Lukather, has called bittersweet. He managed to talk about it somewhat obliquely in a recent phone interview, clearly angry but also reflective.
“This may be our last hurrah thanks to litigation,” he said. “A horrible person sued us, and now we all have to sign papers and see what happens next. It’s a traumatic time, and we have to go away for awhile and see what comes next. But if this is the last run, I’m going to go with a big-ass smile on my face.”
The lawsuit likely at the heart of this crisis was filed in 2018 by the late drummer Jeff Porcaro’s widow, seeking money she felt was due to her late husband’s estate.
It is also equally likely that this is not how the Porcaro family sees things since Jeff’s brother Mike, who died in 2015, played with the band until his battle with ALS forced him to retire.
Brother Steve continues to play with Toto to this day.
Regardless of the legal situation, the brotherhood of Toto clearly extends beyond the Porcaros, and Lukather still feels the sting of those losses.
“I lost my brothers,” he said. “This band survived 43 years of insanity and a lot of great times, too. I don’t mind the fight. The business side of music sucks sometimes, but we all have issues. So let’s talk about something happy.”
Ringo and Writing
At the time of the interview, Lukather was still on the road with his most high-profile side gig, playing guitar for Ringo and His All Starr Band, something he has done for more than seven years now.
“It is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s great to go out there and leave all the shit behind me. Sometimes I get so frustrated for humanity, but then I’m out here touring with the Peace and Love Man. And he’s really like that, so that helps. Music is just such a great healer.”
Although going through some difficult times, Lukather exudes energy and enthusiasm, and fans got to see much of that up close when he released his memoir, The Gospel According to Luke. His humor is immediately apparent, but he managed to refrain from walking all over others to tell his own story.
“I’ve been on both sides of it because some people have written things, and I felt like, ‘Hey, that was a private conversation.’ I didn’t want to do that, although now there are a couple people I’d like to take another shot at. But negativity breeds negativity, and I’m not interested in that.”
The book not only regales readers with the early history of Toto but also with the many studio sessions Lukather and his bandmates played, being part of classic hits for everyone from Michael Jackson to Boz Scaggs, Aretha Franklin to Paul McCartney, and working with producers like Quincy Jones.
It wasn’t originally his idea to write the book in the first place, but now that he has, he may have another one in the thinking stages.
“I’ve been happy with how the book has been reviewed and received,” Lukather said. “Basically someone came to me with the idea of writing it, and I focused mostly on the studio years. I guess book number two could cover everything that’s happened in the last four years, but it might take me awhile to finish that one.”
Enjoying their Longevity
When the subject turns to the band’s longevity, Lukather is told that a text conversation between his interviewer and her daughter led to said daughter texting back the lyrics to “Africa.” His response was immediate.
“That song,” he said. “We get new kids listening to us all the time because of ‘Africa’ which is so funny because it was never supposed to be a hit. We buried it as a deep cut. It was the last song on the album. Dave [Paich] came in with the lyrics, and it was all kind of tongue in cheek. But it’s a catchy song, and it was a huge production for 1981. Forty years later, it’s just blown up. It’s been nothing but a positive in our career.”
With what may be their last tour, at least for the foreseeable future, Toto is enjoying something that began long ago, not as a means to be rich and famous but as a way to play music with their brothers.
“This is an example of, ‘How can I miss you when you never leave?’” Lukather said. “We’ve all known each other since high school. We all have outside projects so maybe it’s good to have a break. I’m just grateful for all the things we’ve been able to do. The Rolling Stone people hate us, but everybody looks at us differently. I feel pretty good about what we’ve done. And I feel like I’m 17. I still act like I’m 17, too, which is the scary part.”
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