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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Toto revival continues thanks to ‘Stranger Things’ and Weezer

Toto, photographed in North Hollywood earlier this year, will perform their hits at Spokane Arena on Friday night, opening for Journey.  (Alex Solca)
By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

The world of rock takes its toll. There are many reasons bands call it a day: the rigors of the road, bruised egos, business disputes and debauchery, among many other issues.

Toto, which will open for Journey on Friday at the Spokane Arena, somehow continues after forming nearly a half century ago.

The classic rockers, which formed in 1977, are alive and well after the deaths of two members, the loss of another to dementia and one more to semi-retirement.

Drummer Jeff Porcaro died in 1992, and his brother, bassist Mike Porcaro, died in 2015. Vocalist Bobby Kimball suffers from dementia. Keyboardist-vocalist David Paich, who wrote or co-wrote such Toto hits as “Africa,” “Rosanna” and “Hold the Line,’ as well as Boz Scaggs’ smashes “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” decided to pick and choose live performances in 2003.

“It’s all worked out,” Paich said while calling from Los Angeles. “I’ll play some shows. I’m not part of every show but this version of Toto is excellent. A lot of people are coming out to see the band and for good reason.

Much of that is due to the revival of Toto’s “Africa,” which has appeared on the Netflix program “Stranger Things” and its soundtrack. “Who could have predicted that ‘Africa’ would become popular again but it has gone through the roof,” Paich said.

“Africa” has been streamed more than 1 billion times and is the third most streamed song in the UK behind Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and Queen’s “Bohemiam Rhapsody,” as of December 2022.

The Grammy-winning band received an unlikely boost from Weezer, who covered “Africa” in 2018.

Weezer’s paint by the numbers version became a shocking smash, topping the alternative chart.

Lukather, Paich, Jeff Porcaro and keyboardist Steve Porcaro were some of the most sought after session players in the business during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. When their breakout album Toto IV swept the Grammys in 1982, the members of the band played on upwards of 50 nominated songs.

Lukather’s credits include Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” and Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry.” The topper is that Lukather and his Toto bandmates were essentially the house band for Michael Jackson when the King of Pop crafted “Thriller” 40-years ago.

“Michael Jackson’s whole persona was weird but he was great to work with,” Lukather said while calling from Savannah. “(Producer) David Foster recommended me to Quincy Jones who took a shine to me. Quincy is like a casting director. He picked me to play on ‘Human Nature’ and I came up with the guitar part on the spot and then there was ‘Beat It,’ which was a debacle due to the editing process. I put a ton of guitars on it and did the overdubs and Ed (Eddie Van Halen) came in to play his solo.”

The highlight of the session for Lukather was Jackson’s duet with Paul McCartney for “This Girl is Mine.” “That was the first thing we did,” Lukather said. “(Beatles producer) George Martin and (Beatles engineer) Geoff Emerick were there and I was like a kid in a candy store. I got to ask all of my obsessive Beatles questions. It was amazing.”

Lukather was friends with the late George Harrison and still performs with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, which he will tour with in June.

“When I left Ringo’s band (in 2005), I recommended Steve Lukather to Ringo and Ringo said, ‘What’s a Steve Lukather,’ ” singer-songwriter-guitarist Richard Marx said while calling from Miami. “I told Ringo that he’s the guitarist from Toto and he’s amazing. Ringo said ‘Well, then that’s an All-Starr.’ ”

However, Lukather is certain that drummer Gregg Bissonnette recommended him to Starr. “But the bottom line is that I became great friends with Ringo and I have written songs with him,” Lukather said. “Everybody loves Ringo.”

It’s been difficult for Lukather since he’s lost a number of friends over the last month, such as David Crosby and Jeff Beck. “I’ve known Jeff since 1986 and there was no one like Crosby. Not everyone got along with David but I did. It’s amazing I met my heroes. It never would have happened if I wasn’t a studio musician.”

Once while attending an industry event with Eddie Van Halen, Lukather looked up and saw Led Zeppelin legend Jimmy Page. “He was pointing at us and I thought he was gesturing at Eddie, who was one of the greatest guitarists ever,” Lukather said. “That would make sense. But Jimmy was pointing to me. He said, ‘You were a session guitarist just like me. Most of these guys don’t know what it’s like being a session guitarist.’ ”

Lukather and Page laughed over drinks. “What I’ve discovered after meeting so many of my heroes in this business is that the most talented musicians are also the nicest,” Lukather said.

“Look at Paul McCartney,” Lukather said. “Is there anyone better and is there anyone nicer than Paul? Look at the songs Paul has written.”

Toto has written its share of classics, starting with the anthemic “Rosanna.”

“We had our backs to the wall just before ‘Rosanna’ was written,” Paich said. “Sony, which was then Columbia, told us that if we didn’t have a hit on the next album that we would be dropped from the label. So I put everything I had into constructing a hit record. I used a Spinners/O’Jays technique with the line with ‘Not quite a year since you went away.’ I added some Brothers Johnston (funk). I did what I had to do.”

There is no song that represents Toto like “Rosanna,” Lukather said. “If I had to have someone listen to Toto who never heard us, I would play ‘Rosanna,’ ” Lukather said. “It has all of the elements. There are great grooves, multiple singers and we jammed at the end. Not only did we stay on the label but ‘Rosanna’ won Record of the Year at the Grammys (in 1983). Who would have guessed that?”

Well, who would have guessed that the unconventional “Africa,” would top the charts and endure like few other songs? Like a number of hits in music history, “Africa” almost didn’t make the album, “Toto IV.”

“We never thought ‘Africa’ would connect with an audience,” Lukather said. “We thought it was the kind of song that’s the final track of an album at best. I remember laughing when David brought in the lyrics. He wrote about going to the Serengeti. I was like, ‘David, what are you talking about? We’re a band from North Hollywood and you have us in the Serengeti!’ ”

It was a rare Toto song that featured Paich as lead vocalist.

“I wanted to see what could happen with the song and it started blossoming,” Paich said. “It started to come together but I was told to save it for my solo album.”

If Paich had done that, “Africa” wouldn’t have seen the light of day until August 2022 when his solo debut “Forgotton Toys,” dropped.

“I’m glad ‘Africa’ came out 40 years ago,” Paich said. “It all worked out. I released my solo album since Luke and (Toto vocalist) Joe (Williams) are putting out solo albums. They said it was about time for me to release one.”

“Bridges,” Lukather’s latest solo album will drop in June. “When you hear it you’ll see that it sounds like a Toto record,” Lukather said. “I know that’s not surprising but that’s what it is. It comes out when I’m on tour with Ringo. I’m just about moving forward and keeping Toto’s music alive. I can’t complain. I’m still getting paid to play guitar and that’s a very good thing and the most important thing is that Toto is still together.”