Toto could have easily phoned this one in and nobody would have blamed them, or even criticized them. After 38 years in the studio and on the road, through chart-toppers and slow-sellers, through lineup changes and solo careers, through tragedies and triumphs, what’s the big deal about the last record in a label contract? It had been 10 years since their last studio effort, and the music business had changed so as to be nearly unrecognizable—not just to Toto, to anyone. With more than 500 million collective records sold among the band’s members, there’s nothing left to prove. Phone it in. Leave YouTube and Twitter to the next generation. So much easier.
But that would never happen. Not in a million years. Paich, Lukather, Porcaro, Hungate, Williams, now with drummer Carlock—these guys are musicians, artists, playing as well as they ever have, writing as well as they ever have. Instead of turning in 12 half-worked tracks with a surefire single and calling it a day, they set out to follow up Toto IV, their 1982 seven-Grammy smash that was one of the defining records of the decade. The album is Toto XIV, due out on March 24, and it’s good. Old-school good and new-school good.
“Once we got into it, we said, ‘If we’re gonna do this, let’s make a great one,’” says Steve Lukather in this month’s cover story. “A lot of people say bands our age don’t have any good ideas left, they used them all up. We said, ‘No, no, no,’ we gotta break down that myth, and we had CJ to push that little extra performance and get the best out of us.”
Co-producer/multi-instrumentalist/budding psychologist CJ Vanston is the guy who brought this cover story to Mix. Though he’s most regularly associated with the Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer extended family, dating back to Spinal Tap, he’s so much more than that. Google him if the name is unfamiliar. His relationship with Toto goes back to playing in cover bands in Chicago, through session keyboards on Kingdom of Desire, on to co-producing solo Lukather. A little less than a year ago he called to say what an amazing time he just had touring with the band through Eastern Europe, playing to crowds of 8,000 to 12,000, recording dates for a DVD, 35th Anniversary: Toto Live in Poland. He also said they were in the middle of making a new record, and it was amazing, invigorating. They were writing in his own Treehouse Studios, recording in the control room, everybody was involved. The playing, he said, was off the charts, as good as he’d ever heard them.
“Toto is playing to 10,000 people in Poland?” I said. “They’re having a ball,” he answered.
They’re having a ball. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s what inspires a Band of Brothers to push each other, to get the best out of every member, to strive for an opus when it would be far easier to drop off a product.
Over the next several months, as Vanston and I chatted, I couldn’t stop thinking of one of my favorite scenes in all of movies, from Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, as William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and their outlaw brothers deliver the best badass walk to a final showdown that’s ever been caught on film. The world had changed, the next generation had assumed authority, but they were still the baddest boys in the West. And they still had something to say. While it didn’t end well for the outlaws, that’s not my point. It’s the walk through the abandoned town’s streets that I remember. Toto XIV is Toto’s swagger-walk down the streets of the record business. And it no doubt is going to come out significantly better for them.
One final note: Jeff Porcaro and David Paich founded Toto, Mike Porcaro played bass for many years, and Steve Porcaro holds down the keys. Heather Porcaro, daughter of Steve, took this month’s cover shot.
Tom Kenny, Editor, Mix