The original members of Toto were L.A.-based session men who had played with everyone from George Benson to Boz Scaggs and wanted to create something they could call their own. They scored a hit straight out of the gate with the album rock hit "Hold the Line" from their 1978 debut. Their biggest success, however, came in the early '80s with a pair of smash hits, "Rosanna" and "Africa," plus the breakout, six-Grammy success of the Toto IV album. The band endured some major personnel shake-ups over the years, and in 1992, founding drummer Jeff Porcaro died unexpectedly, but Toto continued working, even as the individual members kept their lucrative session careers going.
Toto was formed in Los Angeles in 1978 by David Paich (keyboards, vocals), Steve Lukather (guitar, vocals), Bobby Kimball (vocals), Steve Porcaro (keyboards), David Hungate (bass), and Jeff Porcaro (drums). Paich was the son of arranger Marty Paich; the Porcaros were the sons of percussionist Joe Porcaro. The bandmembers had met in high school and 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 songs for and performed on Boz Scaggs' Silk Degrees, the multi-million-selling 1976 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 October 1978, and it hit the Top Ten, sold two million copies, and spawned the gold Top Ten single "Hold the Line." The gold-selling Hydra from 1979 and Turn Back from 1981 were less successful, but 1982's Toto IV was a multi-platinum Top Ten hit, featuring the number one hit "Africa" and the Top Tens "Rosanna" (about Lukather's 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, and Toto IV won 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 Hungate. Lead singer Kimball quit and was replaced by Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen.
Toto's fifth album, 1984's Isolation, went gold, but was a commercial disappointment. Frederiksen was replaced by Joseph Williams, the son of the conductor/composer John Williams, for 1986's Fahrenheit. 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; Lukather became the group's lead singer. Jeff Porcaro died of a heart attack in 1992, 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. The group added British drummer Simon Phillips. Tambu, released in Europe in the late fall of 1995, appeared in the U.S. in June 1996. For 1999's Mindfields, Bobby Kimball returned to the lineup after a 15-year absence.
The group kept active during the 2000s, releasing the 2002 covers album Through the Looking Glass and a 2003 live album to commemorate their 25th anniversary. Following 2006's Falling in Between, their first set of originals since 1999, and an accompanying live double album, Lukather announced that he was disbanding Toto. Barely any of the original members remained with the group, and he felt it was time to focus on his solo career. In early 2010, Toto re-formed to play a short European tour benefiting bassist Mike Porcaro, who suffered from ALS. The lineup included Lukather, Paich, Steve Porcaro, Simon Phillips, and Joseph Williams. Feeling reenergized, the group announced both a 35th anniversary tour in 2013 and plans for a new studio album. Harking back to their early years both in title and sound, Toto XIV arrived in March 2015, just days after the death of Mike Porcaro. ~ William Ruhlmann & Timothy Monger