Toto are still holding the line

Ahead of their Live at the Marquee show, Don O’Mahony chats to Toto’s lead singer Joe Williams about the band’s storied and stormy past — and their continuing success
Toto are still holding the line

Perhaps as a result of being a band who have had something of a floating line up over their history as well as being a project that was not exclusive as core members maintained careers as session musicians, Toto are that rare kind of band who have sold millions of records, but whose members you would pass obliviously by on the street. Keyboardist David Paich and drummer Jeff Porcaro had already played together as session musicians on numerous when they decided to form the band. It must be said they have been ridiculously successful session musicians, working with everyone from Steely Dan to Michael Jackson. It is said that Toto band members can be heard on an astonishing 5,000 albums that together amass a sales history of a half a billion albums.

But they have fans — die-hard fans — and they have passionately held views on Toto. It has been reported that the band’s 2002 cover album Through the Looking Glass upset fans because they felt they should have been releasing new material instead.

And in August 1990, a headline screamed: “Former Toto singer upsets fans by using band’s name at club,” when original vocalist Bobby Kimball, who had been fired from the band six years earlier, started booking shows under the Toto name.

Even so, Kimball has his own fans and Toto’s third vocalist and current member Joseph Williams is well aware of those having encountered some resistance from fans when he first joined the band in 1985. In fact, he maintains there still is resistance.

“I mean there’s still die-hard Bobby fans,” he points out. “There’s still fans that are of the original sound, or the original four records, that kind of thing. But that’s okay. I got used to that very early on. What helped for me along was Europe. The albums when I joined, those albums, especially The Seventh One, did as well as the fourth album did over in The States. So, for instance, Pamela and Stop Loving You over in Europe were as big as, I’ll say Rosanna — maybe not Africa — but as big as Rosanna was over in the States. Now if you combine Rosanna and Africa, they’re probably much, much bigger. But at the time, The Seventh One was pretty big, so I felt really good about being in the group, especially when we would travel abroad.

“The band never really did very much touring in the US. We just sort of started doing that again back in 2010 and have started to build up some better audiences here in the States. Occasionally I’ll run into a snide comment here or there but I’m used to it. It’s no big deal.”

Williams is certainly the philosophical type. I speak with the Los Angeles native in mid December, as bush fires rage in the region, destroying many homes. “You know how it is,” he opines. “Everywhere you go there’s always going to be something, you know. We have beautiful blue sky most of the time and very mild weather, but it’s constantly dry here so we have the stuff that we have to deal with too.”

The son of celebrated film composer John, Williams is marginally the baby of the band. Even though he joined the band a number of years into their successful career and after the phenomenal high point of their Triple Platinum-certified Toto IV album, Williams at least had the benefit of knowing the members.

“I grew up with these guys before there was a Toto,” he explains. “So I knew them all anyway. My family goes back with David Paich’s family before I was born. Our fathers were colleagues. They worked together on separate projects before I was even born. And Lukather [Steve, guitar]? I’ve known him since he was 16, so that was three or four years before Toto started or something like that. So I knew them all anyway. I followed the band; I was following the success of Toto.

“Anyway, they were having troubles with their singers so they in my opinion it was a mistake — but they fired their original guy, Bobby, after the Isolation album and they decided they weren’t going to stay with Fergie [Frederiksen], the second singer. A mutual friend of ours suggested to JeffPorcaro that they talk to me so that was pretty much it. I went in and spoke with them and we hung out. And I went into a rehearsal studio and we just hung out and laughed and I started goofing around and doing my imitation of Bobby and that was pretty much it. We just decided to give it a go”

Williams is generous enough to acknowledge that without Kimball and Frederiksen there would be no him, but he is equally respectful of his bandmates, observing: “You know one thing that I don’t think people maybe know or realise — I think the diehard fans do — but that Toto is really just like an instrumental band that decided to put a singer in there.”

Toto play Live at the Marquee on Saturday, June 15.

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