Interview with Bobby Kimball (Toto)

Bobby Kimball, lead singer with AOR giants TOTO caught up with Metal Express Radio on the eve of their forthcoming European tour.

2006 has been a great year for you with a new album, Falling In Between, released earlier in the year and a successful tour of Europe. Looking back, how do you feel 2006 has gone?

For my tastes, I think the album is probably one of the best CD’s that we’ve done. We’re in a different line of music today; everyone is. Music has changed so much over the 28 years that we’ve been together. How do you judge an album’s success now? I don’t know. I look at the musicality, the songwriting, the effort put into making it, the thought process of writing the songs, and to me this is one of the better albums that we’ve done. I don’t judge it on record sales; I don’t judge it on popularity polls or anything like that. I have to take a look at the music on the CD and see what change it has made to my life and I’m really happy the way it turned out.

Falling In Between received great reviews in the music press … were you pleased with the reaction?

Absolutely! You know we got rave reviews for this CD and I don’t know if it’s just because we’re a bunch of old guys making some really great music. I think people do recognize that the music on the CD is really a work of art and that’s what we were going for. We convinced ourselves before we went into the studio that we weren’t going to come out with another CD until it came out as best as it could possibly be. We went into the studio without any songs and we decided to do our absolute best to jam at our hottest level and create some things that were really musical and signature Toto. We wanted to make it the best we could possibly make it and I think we achieved that.

It must give you a sense of pleasure to see the flavor of the month bands disappearing off the face of the earth while you are approaching your 30th anniversary.

We’ve never been a flavor of the day kind of band. We’ve never gone in the studio once and set out to be a certain kind of thing. We’ve always gone into the studio to try and satisfy ourselves and I think that’s where your true identity comes from as musicians, not trying to go with the flow or go along with what’s on the radio because we don’t do that well. What we do best is to use our musical skills and vocal skills to do our best at what we do. If we followed the trends we’d be a Rap band or a Techno band by now!

Quality musicianship is central to Toto existence. What do you make of these reality TV shows/Pop Idol type of talent shows? Do you think they are detrimental to music in the long term?

You know, they are finding some pretty good talent and I’m hearing some pretty good singers on there. Maybe it’s a good approach to help some people that wouldn’t otherwise step out there. I think they’re doing a good thing in one sense and in another they’re not allowing an artist to go through all of the changes that you need to grow your character so you miss a few character steps. If you come from some hick little town, which by the way, I did, then it can be tough. I came from a town of around 3000 and was thrust into L.A with the skyscrapers and all that, but I had a chance to go through changes slowly and I wasn’t thrust up on stage on television and into interviews and so forth. I had my chance to go through all the steps. I’ve just been watching the news about Miss America. She came from a small town and they threw her into New York and the next thing you know she’s scoring around with the party crowd so they took away her crown immediately.

Falling In Between is your first album for Frontiers Records. Are you pleased with how they have handled you so far?

Absolutely! You know Frontiers is basically our distribution label and Falling In Between is on Toto Records. We decided to leave Sony Records, who we’d signed to way back in the late ’70’s. We hadn’t been able to strike a better deal with them and hadn’t been able to communicate with them. They didn’t actually get behind us anymore as once again as we weren’t flavor of the day. They wanted brand new artists that they could pull in and make a couple of hit CD’s and push them out of the other side. We were one of their stable bands and they didn’t think they needed to put any money behind us or give us the push that they were supposed to. When they came back and asked us to re-sign, we told them absolutely not. I don’t know how many bands had done that, we may have been the first, but we said thanks but no thanks. We decided to form our own label and own our own product for any redistribution and re-release so we now only deal with distribution companies. Frontiers have been a very good innovation for us, and they’ve done a very good job and we really like the owner of the label. They’ve done a good job for us and hopefully they’ll continue to do so.

You have really come up with a diverse selection of material on the album. It seems to head in a heavier, and at times, more progressive direction, yet still retains the elements that make Toto so unique. Would you like to explore this direction further or will your next album be different again?

You know, the next CD we do, we will do exactly the same as we did this time. We’ll go in with no songs and see what we come up with, so it’s pretty difficult to answer that question. Whatever we’re feeling at the time. Falling In Between is what we were feeling at that moment.

It’s an album that succeeds on different levels. There are songs that have an immediate impact and those that take a little more time to get into. Is it a combination that should see the album have some staying power in the long run?

It’s an album about a lot of different subjects and covers a lot of different styles of music. We have a depth of different sorts of music within our band. If you look at our band, I think Steve Lukather has played on over a thousand records and Greg Phillinganes has played with George Benson, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson. Not only was he writing a lot of stuff for them, but he was also responsible for the way this CD came out. We’ve all been on multiple CD’s and we’ve created a style within ourselves, and when we put that package together, we explode. It’s really fantastic being on stage with Toto and even more so in the studio as they’re so creative. It’s really difficult to put a finger on where the next CD will want to go, but you can guarantee that we’ll want a song in the vein of “Falling In Between” as that’s a hard-edged song. We’ll try to keep it really diverse and do our best to please our audience by pleasing ourselves. If you punch in any number on the CD, it’ll come up with a song you’ll enjoy.

“Bottom Of Your Soul” is classic Toto. Have you thought of releasing this as a single?

I love that song so much. That song was an accident, actually. If you’re on stage and make a mistake, then it is a mistake, but if you make it twice it becomes an arrangement! David Paich and Simon Phillips started jamming together one morning, and all of a sudden it sounded like something we should expand upon, and gradually layer by layer we added to it and we had the song and everyone fell in love with it, which ended up as “Bottom Of Your Soul.”

“Taint Your World” sees Toto at their heaviest, almost Van Halen-esq. You must enjoy playing that one live?

Absolutely, absolutely. Actually, all of these songs would be fun to play live, but you only have so many hours you can play, so you have to be very careful about your choices.

Talking of songwriting, how did you go about writing the material for the album? Do you each bring in your own ideas, or do you tend to jam as a group?

We often come up with songs by jamming along in the studio. It depends on who starts jamming on something. On “Falling In Between,” Steve Lukather started playing the riff and Simon sat down and started playing the drums and everyone else just fell into place. It doesn’t really matter who started something … maybe David or Greg or Simon will start something and everyone just falls in. That’s what I love about this band … whatever one of us is doing the others fall in behind. Everyone comes in and adds what should go in.

Simon Phillips not only plays drums and writes material, but he’s also engineered the album too. He’s a pretty versatile member to have in the band …

He’s an absolute genius. I think he’s totally in control. The band wouldn’t be the same without Simon Phillips.

There’s five lead singers on the album. How do you decide who sings what?

Well, we don’t have five lead singers as such, but everyone does sing on the album. The lead vocals tend to fall between Steve Lukather, David Paich, Greg Phillanganes, and myself. When we’re in the control room and we start listening to the tracks, it starts in there. We start putting melodies down and whoever’s voice fits the pattern, whether it’s a particular singer or a combination of singers, whoever’s voice fits the track, that’s where we’ll go.

Do you ever hear anything recorded by one of the other guys and think, “Hey, I want to do that now?”

There are songs that I would have liked to have sung, but in the past, like “Georgy Porgy,” but when I heard Steve Lukather sing it, I went, “Ha! No way am I going to sing that, this is the guy for the song!” I just can’t let my ego get in the way of that. You’ve got to have your tools and you’ve got to know how to use them and when to use them.

You have a number of guests showing up on the album. Ian Anderson adds his unique flute playing to “Hooked.” How did he become involved?

Ian is an old friend of mine and I’ve known him for several years, and I’ve done a couple of CD’s with him in Europe and there was a song that just had him written all over it, so when we finished the rough track of it, with no vocal ideas or anything, we sent it over to him and he played over the whole track and he said “Keep what you want, take out what you want, but make sure I’m on there for a little bit and make sure you don’t charge me anything!” He’s one of the nicest, funniest guys I’ve ever met.

What other guests do you have on the album?

We have the Chicago Horns, Joseph Williams came in and sang with us on “Bottom Of Your Soul.” We’re really fortunate to have some of the people we’ve had come and play with us. We also had Tom Scott and how much better does it get than that? We had Lenny Castro, who is like the fifth Beatle to us, who has played with us many times. He doesn’t get to play live with us, unfortunately, as he has a very lucrative session career over here in L.A. It would be a loss for him financially to come on the road with us.

It’s good seeing Steve Porcaro making an appearance. It must’ve felt just like old times?

He played a huge part in this CD. As we neared the three-quarter point on the recording of the album, we’d send it over to Steve in his own studio and he’d come back a day or two later and play for us what he’d done and they were practically unrecognizable to us as he’d made them so much better.

Was his appearance purely on a guest basis or will he become a more regular feature in Toto?

Well, between you and me and everyone else out there, we’re planning on doing a 30th anniversary thing. I don’t know if it’ll be a series of dates or whatever, but there’ll maybe be a DVD or something and we’re planning on trying to bring back almost everyone that’s ever been in Toto. It would be too difficult for us to go out and celebrate our anniversary and not bring these guys out.

You are considered the voice of Toto by most fans … what did you think of Fergie Frederikson, Jean Michael Byron, and Joseph Williams who all had a stint in your shoes?

Jean Michael was just a flicker in the band. I can’t really see him coming back out on the road with us doing his thing for the 30th Anniversary. The other guys did some great songs in Toto and are part of the family.

Do you sing any of the material that was originally recorded by the other singers?

I do. For the last two tours, I’ve done four songs that I didn’t sing and it was quite a challenge too as these guys are great singers. Trying to capture someone else’s phrasing and attitude is challenging. We’ve done “Pamela,” “Home Of The Brave,” and we did some stuff off the Fahrenheit album from Fergies time in the band, and these were really fun songs to do. On the album Toto recorded right after I left I had done most of the vocals already. There’s a recording of that somewhere as they didn’t erase anything, they actually used my vocals as guide vocals for the album. There’s talk of putting that out as the fans have been begging us to do that, and I wouldn’t mind doing that at all. It’d be different.

Joseph Williams also shows up on the new album. Was it strange having Joseph singing on the album?

Joseph is a really, really good friend of mine and what a great guy he is. When Joseph came in to do his parts I knew he’d feel uncomfortable with me there watching so I went in and gave him a big hug and said that I’d see him later and I left him to rock on and the results turned out great.

You’ve actually worked together before on I Am Alive and 3 in the mid 1990’s

Yes, that’s right, we’ve done quite a few things together in the past. I don’t know if you’ve heard the West Coast All Stars albums that were released in Japan that me and Joseph did along with Bill Camplin and Jason Scheff from Chicago which was 100% a cappella, which was amazing. We did two albums together one called West Coast All Stars and the second was called Naturally.

Most of the guys in the band are seasoned session players. Do you think as a singer it’s harder to do session work as it’s the vocals that people usually identify with?

Actually my work load hasn’t stopped. I was in a trio with Bill Camplin and Michael McDonald when one of us would get a phone call to go and do a session. We’d call the other two and we let the producer go home as we could produce our own vocals. Where it would normally take them 6 to 8 hours to get out of three other singers we would put down on tape and triple tracked in about an hour. They knew they were going to get a fantastic blend, better quality and better ideas than they would have got out of anybody else. In the long run they had to pay us a little bit more but it was less expensive so the session work keeps on coming.

Gregg Phillinganes also made his first appearance on CD with Toto. How do you feel he has settled into the band?

Greg has added a spark to this band that I don’t quite understand yet. Firstly, he’s one of the most fantastic guys I have ever met, his history is glorious to say the least. He has created so many great things and you can feel it when he starts playing with the band as that spark happens, it’s indescribable. He and Dave on this CD were phenomenal. They were pushing each other so hard and I’ve never heard Dave play better. It’s like having a pace car which pushes you even more so you go the extra mile.

How did you come across him?

I met Greg in 2001 when we opened for Eric Clapton in Mexico City where we played in a 50,000 seater arena and I thought he was incredible. When Dave’s sister had her medical problem we had to replace Dave on the road so the fact that Gregg even considered doing this is amazing to us. He’s played with Stevie Wonder too so that enamoured me to him even more. His ability is almost unmatchable.

Just think of those free tickets you can get now to Stevie Wonder shows !!

Ha! Ha! I think about that all the time. Stevie Wonder is one of my heroes.

What is his role within the band? Will he take more of an active role live if David Paich is not playing?

David will not be touring any more with us. David is still a member of the band. This is a band that just won’t break up. We go through different changes and everything., in fact I was out of the band for 15 years and they went through 7 or 8 singers including backing singers in that time. In 1998 they asked me to come back and no-one was happier about that than me. We’re one big family and we can’t get away from each other as I love these guys.

Talking of touring, following the release of Falling in Between you toured heavily around Europe. How did the shows go?

The European shows were phenomenal. It’s one of our best markets along with Japan. We are getting a market base here in the USA for the first time in about 20 years. We’re starting to tour here in the States for about 3 months. There are lots of bands that are huge over here but can’t get arrested in Europe and they are asking to warm up for us in Europe and for us to warm up for them in The States as they have a huge fan base over here.

Things have come full circle for you with the recent announcement of a further series of shows in Europe. How many shows will you be playing?

We are going to rework the set and we’re also planning to do a DVD live in Paris. Up to about 6 or 7 years ago we couldn’t draw flies in Europe but it’s changing now and we’re doing really well over here. One of our most memorable moments was when we played the Royal Albert Hall. That was the first show in the Falling in Between tour, what a way to come out of the chute !! Our fan base read like a “Who’s Who” of the music business. The after show party was phenomenal as I got to meet some of my heroes and it was truly fun. We start in England on 12th March and continue through to August playing in Germany, France, Holland, Italy and Denmark and all over Europe.

You will also be playing your first ever

show in Iceland, which is not really recognised for its Rock ‘n’ Roll heritage. Was it a surprise when that appeared on your tour schedule? Toto have never been to Iceland. When I was out of Toto I had a solo band and we played in Reykjavik so I know what it’s like there and I think it’s beautiful. It’s going to be a fun time as we’ll go to the Hard Rock café and they can see my name up on the wall !!

What about the Dubai International Jazz festival? Will you be headling that?

We’ll be playing at a 7 Star hotel. I’m not sure who else is going to be playing but I’m sure it’ll be packed with the right people. Our lighting director in Europe is Andy Doig and he sent us some pictures last week of a show he was doing in Dubai. It had all of the Asian participants from the Olympics there and it looks absolutely amazing and I think that’s where we’ll be playing.

Have you been approached to play at any of the European Rock Festivals this summer?

That’s yet to be determined. I usually look on the internet to find out where we’re playing so that’s a possibility.

Your Web site is always worth a visit, it’s packed with loads of stuff for the fans.

Yeah, it’s pretty good. We also have the Toto Network which is a subscriber thing which is pretty fantastic. It’s a whole different concept and not like the usual sort of website. We actually interact with our fans. We have these mobile camera phones that we point and shoot and then push another button and sends it straight onto the site. It’s very handy when we’re on the road and we get plenty of behind the scenes footage. If I’m backstage and not doing anything, I’ll run over with my little camera and shoot some footage and send it straight to the network and this is happening practically live.

You have to sign up and they’ll give you a password. You’ve got to check that out, it’s really funny. There’s stuff from the tour bus, from backstage and things on stage. You know I could put something on right now as we’re speaking, it’s that instantaneous.

It looks as though 2007 is going to be a busy year touring. Do you have any other plans as a band or as a solo artist?

Steve Lukather has blocked out a little time around September to work on some solo things. I’m finally going to get the chance to finish my solo project. I have two CD’s that I’ve been working on for a couple of years and I need a little time to finish those up. I don’t just work with Toto, I also work with about 3 other companies and I’m Vice President of a couple of them so my time is pretty much taken up. My dance card is well and truly punched!! I hope one of my albums will be out at the beginning of 2008. The songs are non competitive with Toto, they’re totally different in style. I came from around the Louisiana, New Orleans area and they’re more in that vein. So yes, hopefully there’ll be some solo activity from me in the next year as well as my work with Toto.



  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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