Worth the trip to Blue Ash

Toto at Summit Park

By Alan Sculley

Photo: Steve Lukather, Toto guitarist/singer; photo: Darek Kawka

In 2008, Steve Lukather figured he had played his last show in Toto.

Despite a variety of personnel changes (including four lead singers), the death in 1992 of drummer and founding member Jeff Porcaro and the frequent absence of founding member David Paich from 2005 through 2008, the group had stayed together since its formation in 1977, with a hiatus from 1993 that lasted into 1995 being the only interruption in the group’s career.

But by 2008, Lukather was done with his long-time band and ready to move on to other projects.

“It wasn’t even the band anymore,” Lukather said, looking back at the pre-breakup edition of Toto. “It was like everybody was a replacement guy except for me because of illness, really because of illness. David Paich’s sister was dying from a lung disease. She’s gone now. Mike Porcaro got ALS. He couldn’t play. And that’s a really debilitating, awful disease. We’re still helping the family there. And I was with a singer who couldn’t sing and we didn’t get along at all. So, I was drinking myself to sleep every night. It was a very unhealthy time in my life. My marriage was kind of falling apart and I was having a baby anyway. For me it was either I leave or I die.”

Ironically, it was Mike Porcaro’s ALS illness that initially put Toto back together and has the group in the midst of what is looking like another productive extended run.

“Paich called me,” Lukather said, recalling the 2010 call from his close friend since high school.  “‘We’ve got to go out and do one for Mikey. He needs some money.’ I go, ‘Yeah, he does. I’m all in. But Joseph Williams [the group’s singer from 1986 to 1989] and Steve Porcaro have got to be there and you’ve got to be there with me. Then I’m in.’”

Those band members signed on, along with drummer Simon Phillips and bassist Nathan East filling Mike Porcaro’s slot for a reunion tour of  Europe to benefit the group’s ailing bassist.

That was all it took to get Toto back on track and the band members to start making further plans.

“It was so much fun and Joseph was singing so good, we were all just laughing,” Lukather said. “I must say these are guys I’ve known for 40 years and we’re doing this for the right reasons.”

What has come as a surprise is the degree of success Toto is now having. For years, the group has had a strong following in Europe and has done major tours in that region.

But now, Toto is gaining traction in other countries, including the United States and Britain. This spring, the group released a concert DVD/CD set, Live In Poland, and watched the DVD hit No. 1 in those countries. The album features the band’s early hits such as “Hold The Line” (from the group’s 1978 self-titled debut album) and “Rosanna” and “Africa” (from its most popular U.S. album, 1982’s Toto IV).

“We’re like all of a sudden, where did this come from?” Lukather said. “It’s a great gift. I’m looking up at the sky going, I don’t even know how or why, but thank you very much.”

What’s more, the band is setting its sights on releasing a new studio album early next year.

Lukather said it will have the classic Toto sound – even if that means risking the wrath of critics who have long dissed the group for having an over-produced, commercially calculated sound.

“We’re not trying to be trendy or to get a bunch of rappers to come out and s***,” Lukather said of the new album. “It doesn’t sound like a bunch of guys throwing together a record to make some money and go on the road. We’re going, ‘This s*** ain’t coming out until it’s right.’ And it’s the big, insane production that everyone’s grown to love or hate. We’re not denying who we are.”

In the meantime, there’s a current tour with Michael McDonald, which reunites Toto with a friend of some 40 years.

“Michael is an old, dear friend,” Lukather said. “Michael was in Steely Dan with Jeff Porcaro when we were in high school. We actually asked him to join our band originally. He says, ‘Man, I would love to, but I just joined this band called the Doobie Brothers,’ and he played the song ‘Taking It To The Streets.’ That history went down its way. We played on the first [McDonald] solo album with ‘I Keep Forgettin’ and all of that stuff. That’s us. And he’s sung on some of our records and we’ve always been friends.”

Given their long-time connections, it’s no surprise McDonald and Toto will share the stage at times during each show.

“It’s a real co-bill thing, like he comes out and plays with us and we play with him at the very end,” Lukather said. “It’s one big happy family.”

Toto will perform on Saturday, Aug. 23 at Summit Park, 4335 Glendale-Milford Rd. in Blue Ash. The show is free and open to the public. For more information, please visit totoofficial.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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