Toto on “Africa” and their band’s four-decade journey
It’s been 40 years since the song “Africa” unexpectedly became a global sensation.
It will take a lot to get away from you
There’s nothing a hundred or more men can’t ever do
I bless the rains in Africa
I’ll take time to do the things we never had
Toto, the group that gave life to “Africa”, did not think they would have a hit. They almost left it out on the album.
Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz asked Toto founding member Steve Lukather, “Did you say if ‘Africa’ was a hit you’d walk down Hollywood Boulevard naked?”
“I said that !” he smiled. “I really said that.”
“Sunday Morning” caught up with Lukather and David Paich, another of Toto’s founding members, as well as longtime vocalist Joseph Williams – serious musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously.
Williams said, “There were always multiple lead singers in the band. Dave always sang lead vocals.”
Paich said, “We finally found a lead vocalist, or a top vocalist.”
Lukather chimed in, “What are you talking about? We were all stoned!”
But the reviews weren’t high on them. Lukather recalled, “They said our music sounded like a tangerine leisure suit.”
These guys have the last laugh. With packed concerts, 40 million albums sold and a streak of hits spanning decades, Toto may be the coolest “uncool” band in history.
“I wouldn’t give up, man,” Lukather said. “I didn’t want to give it up.”
It all started in Los Angeles, with high school buddies Paich, Lukather and brothers Jeff and Steve Porcaro sending demos to record labels.
They needed a name.
One of them was watching “The Wizard of Oz” late at night, and Dorothy’s dog became a temporary solution…or so they thought. “When we got our contract it said ‘Toto’,” Paich said. “We haven’t had time to change our name!
“The name didn’t help, I don’t think,” Lukather added. “It’s easy to pick on a band called Toto.”
No matter the name, this group had talent. One of the first songs they recorded, “Hold the Line”, entered the Top 5 in 1978.
Toto was on the chart, but four years and three albums later the pressure from the record company was mounting. Lukather said, “They got out right away. Like, ‘If you don’t get out now, you’re done.'”
“‘You’re one-hit wonders,’ or something like that,” Paich said.
“We said, ‘Well, we should just go back to doing what we’re doing, and just write good songs and record them,'” Lukather said.
So they did, with “Toto IV”, in 1982, recording nine songs for the album. They just needed one more. The last added: “Africa”.
To watch the official clip of “Africa”, click on the player below:
All these years later, “Africa”, streamed over a billion times on Spotify, is more popular than ever.
Williams said, “This song has had so many different lives over the years, and been covered and performed on TV and in movies. And new generations are finding it all the time.”
Some wondered how white musicians could capture the spirit of a continent they had never visited. Paich, however, calls the song totally ambitious. “I just wanted to see the world,” he said. “It was just kind of me writing, ‘What if? What if?'”
I stopped an old man on the way
Hoping to find old forgotten words or old melodies
He turned to me as if to tell me
“Hurry up my boy, he’s waiting for you there”
In 1982, “Africa” reached No. 1, overtaking the album’s lead single, “Rosanna” – the track inspired in part by then-unknown actress Rosanna Arquette.
Listening to the song, Arquette said, “It really takes me back to the 80s!
“I was dating and was with Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro,” she said. “And the first time I heard it, David Paich sat me down at the piano bench and he asked me to sit next to him, and then he started playing the song and he told me watched to see my reaction. I was very shy. I was like, ‘Oh, wow. Like, thank you!’ ”
Paich recalled, “I had just met Rosanna Arquette at my house when I was working on this song, and I didn’t have a title for it. And I just ripped her name off because she was so sweet at the time. – and still is! – and it stuck with me.”
“You needed a three-syllable name?” asked Mankiewicz.
” I did it. And it was perfect!
Toto has released 14 studio albums, but that’s only scratching the surface. As session players, producers and writers, the members of Toto have worked with hundreds of artists, from Olivia Newton John and Cheryl Lynn to Michael McDonald. They are everywhere in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. When you hear “Beat It,” Eddie Van Halen has the lead, but all the other guitar parts are by Lukather, who has played on, he says, between 1,500 and 2,000 albums.
Toto overcame these sarcastic criticisms. What matters to them is the connection, with their fans and with each other.
Williams said, “Being able to play with my friends, believe it or not, you’re better at your playing and your singing, and you’re looser, all at the same time.”
Paich said, “It’s a testament to the commitment, I think, of the band. And the integrity of the music that continues to propel everyone forward.”
Lukather said: “I never thought it would be such a long drive, and that he would still be doing so well.”
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Publisher: Steven Tyler.