Toto was formed in Los Angeles in 1978 by David Paich, Steve Lukather, Bobby Kimball (born Robert Toteaux), Steve Porcaro, David Hungate and Jeff Porcaro. Paich was the son of arranger Marty Paich, while the Porcaros were the sons of percussionist Joe Porcaro.
The band members met in high school and then at studio sessions in the 1970s when they became some of the busiest session musicians in the music business.
Paich, Hungate, and Jeff Porcaro wrote and co-wrote songs for, and performed on, Silk Degrees – the multi-million-selling 1976 Boz Scaggs album that combined pop, rock and disco elements into a slick combination which heavily influenced mainstream pop music.
Toto released its self-titled debut album in September 1978, and it hit the Top Ten right away, sold two million copies and spawned the hit singles Hold The Line, I’ll Supply The Love and Georgy Porgy.
It’s easy to see why the public took to Toto so quickly and why the critics hated them. Their session musician studio skills allowed them to play any music style at the drop of a hi-hat: one-minute prog rock, the next hard rock, the next funky R&B.
It all sounded great, but it also implied that music-making took craft rather than inspiration and that the musical barriers which critics love to erect were artificial. Nonetheless, the members of Toto had already influenced the course of 70s popular music by playing on half the albums that came out of LA. All they were doing with this album was going public.
The gold-selling Hydra (October 1979) and Turn Back (January 1981) were less successful, but Toto IV (April 1982) was a multi-platinum Top Ten hit, featuring the number one hit Africa and the Top Tens Rosanna (about Lukather’s then-girlfriend, movie star Rosanna Arquette) and I Won’t Hold You Back.
At the 1982 Grammys, Rosanna won awards for Record of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Instrumental Arrangement with Vocal. Toto IV also won the awards for Album of the Year, Best Engineered Recording, and Best Producer (the group).
In 1984, a third Porcaro brother, Mike, joined the group on bass, replacing David Hungate. Lead singer Bobby Kimball also quit and was replaced by Dennis “Fergie” Frederiksen.
Toto’s fifth album, Isolation (November 1984), went gold but was a commercial disappointment. Frederiksen was replaced by Joseph Williams, the son of conductor/composer John Williams, for Fahrenheit (August 1986).
Steve Porcaro quit in 1988, prior to the release of The Seventh One. In 1990, Jean-Michel Byron replaced Williams for the new recordings on Past to Present 1977-1990, then left, as Lukather became the group’s lead singer.
In an echo of Spinal Tap, drummer Jeff Porcaro really did die in a bizarre gardening accident. He suffered a fatal reaction to the insecticide he was using. He died on 5 August 1992, aged 38, but was featured on the group’s next album, Kingdom of Desire.
By this time, Toto was far more popular in Japan and Europe than at home in America. The group added British drummer Simon Phillips prior to Tambu, released in Europe in the late fall of 1995, and in the US in June 1996.
The group members continued to perform session work during the band’s tenure, contributing significantly to the sound of mainstream pop/rock in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.
Bassist Mike Porcaro was forced to retire from the group in 2007 as a result of ill health. He died in March 2015 after a long battle with ALS (a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain).
Dennis “Fergie” Frederiksen