Friday, May 7, 2004

TOTO from left: Mike Porcaro, Bobby Kimball, Steve Lukather, David Paich and Simon Phillips.

TOTO flies high
on tour

In the late '70s and early '80s, TOTO was atop the charts and the pop music world.


With the Honolulu Symphony Pops orchestra; Matt Catingub, conductor

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow

Tickets: $25, $35, $45, $55 and $70

Call: 792-2000

"We were living the life," says Bobby Kimball, dubbed "the voice" of TOTO, which performs tonight and tomorrow night with the Honolulu Symphony Pops. "It was not much more than a snap of a finger and you could make anything happen that you wanted.

"We figured that anything worth doing was worth overdoing."

The group's 1977 self-titled album had three hit singles "Hold the Line," "I'll Supply the Love" and "Georgy Porgy." The debut album earned them a Grammy nomination in 1978 as Best New Artist.

The second album, "Hydra," featured one of their biggest hits, "99," a song inspired by the George Lucas movie "THX-1138," about a futuristic society where people had numbers instead of names.

"TOTO IV" went platinum with the mega-hit singles "Africa" and "Rosanna," songs that made the band a household name.

But the sweetest year was 1983. While their fourth album was still selling millions, TOTO was the big winner at the Grammy Awards. The band received nine nominations and took home six Grammys.

When the group accepted their final award, they dedicated it to Los Angeles Times music critic Robert Hilburn, who repeatedly criticized TOTO for what he considered its slick and simplistic music.

"Hilburn never really liked the band," Kimball says in a telephone interview from his Encino, Calif., home. "Once, he used two full pages with a big corner-to-corner slash through the story, comparing TOTO to The Clash, which is about two universes apart from what we do."

TOTO's last laugh may be on the veteran critic -- the band has never been more popular, performing far more these days than at the height of their earlier successes.

The group just finished a three-month tour with the Belgium Symphony Orchestra, and 54 nights in a show billed as "Night of the Proms." After the Hawaii concerts, TOTO will perform in Puerto Rico and extensively in Europe again.

"The last three years we've been on tour almost solid," Kimball said. "Everyone felt we were dead in the water about six years ago when I first got back with the band, but we started touring, then cut an album. It set off a chain of events."

TOTO's renewed popularity with original members Kimball, Steve Lukather (guitar) and David Paich (keyboards, vocals), plus bassist Mike Porcaro and drummer Simon Phillips, isn't difficult to understand, Kimball's return notwithstanding.

"Great musicianship doesn't go out of style," Kimball said. "Fads come and go, but being a great musician, knowing your instrument and voice, never disappears from the scene."

KIMBALL CAME from the Louisiana area and had several bands that played clubs from Phoenix to Florida. While playing in one of these bands, he was called by a friend who played with Edgar Winter's White Trash and asked to sing with their band.

After signing with CBS Records and doing one album, the band broke up. But during his subsequent time with S.S. Fools, Kimball met Paich, David Hungate and Jeff Porcaro, who had been playing with Boz Scaggs during a time when Scaggs had reinvented himself as a white soul crooner, with hits like "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle."

Paich and Porcaro mapped out a plan for a new band called TOTO, and Kimball was invited to be its singer.

But some of those '80s excesses caught up with Kimball and the group fired him.

"I don't mind talking about when it's over; the rabbit died, man," Kimball says, laughing. "I got fired for very good reasons ... I was shot out of the cannon. It helped me."

TOTO went through several singers before Kimball got a call from Lukather in 1998, asking if he would do a promotional tour for a new album. Kimball jumped at the chance.

"I had been in the wings, waiting to do something with TOTO again," he said. "I idolized that band."

Today, Kimball said the band's "having more fun now because everyone comes to the party clear-headed. We concentrate on being the best we can be and take the music, the business of making music and entertaining the audience, very, very seriously. "

Hawaii will be a homecoming for the band, which made their concert debut in 1979 at the Blaisdell Arena as the warm-up act for Peter Frampton.

"We had never done a concert before, and as a band, never played more than three songs in a row," Kimball said, laughing. "We had to get our act together, so we played the Kauai Resort for two weeks, then blasted through the Blaisdell gig and the rest, man, is TOTO history."

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