Interview April 2010 Hard Rock Service
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Hi Bobby! Thanks very much for a possibility of talking. Let's begin from what the Hard Rock Service readers know you the most - years of being a vocalist for legendary rock band Toto. In what circumstances have you joined the group formed by Jeff Porcaro and David Paich? When exactly it was?
It was about 1977 when I was asked to join Toto. I had moved from Louisiana in 1974, to sing with some of the musicians from "Three Dog Night" after the 3 singers left the band. The players wanted to stay together and form a new band, so they did. A very good friend of mine, Jon Smith (From "Edgar Winter's-White Trash Band"), who I had played in two bands with in Louisiana, was the sax player in the new band out in LA, and he called me to come out and sing with this band "renamed: S.S. Fools". We did one album on CBS Records, and had a lot of fun, but financially, it was a disaster, so I eventually had to quit that group and seek a way to support myself. The great thing that happened for me in that band was, I got a chance to meet Jeff Porcaro & David Paich, because they were at most of our rehearsals. Three Dog Night was one of their favorite bands as well, so they would come to our rehearsals to hang with the band. Jeff, David and I became friends. After I left S.S. Fools, Jeff and David decided to put their own band together, and I was lucky enough to be called by them to be the singer. I think the combination of the group's very slick studio style, and my Louisiana Blues vocal style, fit together to make a very different sound in the industry. The band Toto was an instant hit.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Who came up with the band's name and what was the inspiration?
That's a question most of the guys in Toto hated answering, but the truth of the matter is, Jeff and David were watching "The Wizard of OZ", and thought the little dog's name "Toto" was unique enough to use as the name of the band. To syllables, two vowels, two consonants,.....and easy to remember. Some of the guys in the band hated the name, but I thought it was fairly clever to choose a name that was always right on the tip of your tongue.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: During your first period of being Toto's vocalist, four classic albums came out. Which of them do you consider the best and why?
That's a very tough question, because I liked all 4 of the first albums. We took a lot of time, thought, and effort, recording these different albums, and each one is like trying to choose between which one of your children you love the most. If I had to pick one, I would have to say it would be a very close race between the first "TOTO" album (because that was our very first taste of fame as a group, and it was a hit right out of the box), and the "Toto IV" CD. This is the CD that made Toto a household word, because we were nominated for 9 Grammies (as a band) based upon the strength of the song "Rosanna". It's was a monumental occasion for us to win 7 of those nominations (one was won by Steve Lukather for "Turn Your Love Around") in one night, because it was a precedent-setting event. No band had ever been nominated for 9 Grammies, and no band had ever won 7 Grammies in one night. If I really had to choose, it would be the "Toto IV" CD that I would consider the best, due to the success it brought to the band.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Without a doubt, the most successful album Toto ever had was 'Toto IV', that brought you six,..... (7, counting Steve Lukather's Grammy for "Turn Your Love Around") Grammy awards for the band in one night. How do you remember the awards ceremony, which in result became one of the most triumphant moments of your career?
It was one of the most exhilarating nights of all of our lives. I had thought, with 9 nominations, the vote would be too spread too thin, and we may not win any awards at all. However, about the time they called us up for the 4th or 5th Grammy, we were all so energized and caught up in the moment, we could hardly speak. When you set a precedence no one else has ever achieved in an arena the significance of The Grammy Awards, it's very hard to know how to react. Needless to say, we were on Cloud-9, and totally in a daze about the whole thing. Surely one of the most exciting nights I've ever experienced.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Touring with Toto especially during that first period, there must've been tons of anecdotes or funny/interesting stories you might like to share with our readers...
Surely you must realize, that with this kind of success, there are so many interestingly funny things that go down while you're out on the road touring, however, along with the great times caused by sheer up-rooting of the normal lives we had all been living, there were also equally unpleasant times we needed to deal with. All great moments and brilliant successes are accompanied by problems and down times that are equally balanced. It certainly makes you appreciate the good times more when they're more prevalent. Needless to say, there were actually more good times than bad, but nothing I would want to discuss in an interview. Maybe I'll write them in a book, where I can go into more detail, and explain the reasons behind what would cause such upheavals.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: The critical point of that era was a recording process of "Isolation" album, during which you left the band. What was the reason of your departure? There are some misconceptions about how much material have you sung from "Isolation" as well...
I had started some vocals on that CD, and I had done a lot of the backing vocals as well (which were kept on the CD). It was not my choice to leave the band, because I was "asked to leave". We all make our mistakes in this life, and I was in the middle of one at that moment. Truth be known, my leaving the band when I did, ended up being a good thing for me. It was the edge of the mid-80's, and I don't think I even knew anyone who was not into some sort of bad habits with drug experimentation. That had a lot to do with my departure, but I ask you now, ......the band wins more Grammies than any band in History, and right in the middle of the 5th CD, and they ask the lead singer to leave the band. I'm not so certain of this, but doesn't that mildly indicate this decision may have been a bit "drug induced"? That's how it felt to me. The whole band was doing a bit too much experimenting with some pretty evil, mind-altering substances. I guess it was a good thing for me, because it more than likely saved my life. It put me in a very bad position, because of how much I loved the band, and it also changed the course of the band, because they had not thought things out very well, and didn't have an immediate replacement for me. This put CBS Records in a quandary about what to do the Toto. It was a real stumbling block for the band. I felt really bad for them, and I had a very tough time dealing with my own situation as well. I had to come to terms with the fact that it was over for me, and they had to get my replacement and have someone copy my vocals before they could release the CD. Luckily, they found a really good singer, Fergie Frederikson, who came from a band in Louisiana I had helped put together many years before. There were a lot of different singers in Toto over the years, until 1998, when I was asked to rejoin the band and that lasted for about 10 years until the dissolution of the band.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: In 1984 you left the band, to make a long-awaited comeback in 1998. How did it felt to be back in the saddle again, to join forces with your old bandmates again?
Nobody was happier than me, to be back with the best band I had ever been with. I hold, forever, a very special place in my heart for Toto, and all of it's Past and Present Members. You could say that it's some of the most fun I've ever had in my life, and nobody can take those times away from me. I will continue to do whatever makes me happy (singing, playing keyboard, writings songs, touring,.....etc.), but Toto was the most fun I've ever had. I love them all, and I only wish them my very best in every way.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: During your absence in the band, different vocalists were singing with Toto. What was your attitude towards singing Toto songs from those eras, the songs you didn't participate in?
For the most part, I loved almost all of the Toto songs, even the one's I didn't get to sing on were close to my heart. I've toured and sung many songs I didn't originally sing, but it was only because I thought the songs were very worthy of being added to the repertoire. If I go out and sing on tour, I sing Toto songs, and a lot of other cover songs from artists I respect and love their songs. It just makes for a more complete show, and a lot of fun for me. I love a very wide variety of songs from different artists, and if a song moves me, I'm sure I'll have fun adding it to the set list.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: In 2002, Toto released a cover album "Through The Looking Glass". Was it's release in your opinion, more of a tribute the band wanted to pay to your idols, or a filler in your discography?
I would have to admit, it was a little bit of both. It was our 25th anniversary as a band, and we didn't have a CD written. We had a band meeting and decided to choose some songs from various groups and artists who had influenced each of us. All of us brought a list of the songs each of us thought were pertinent, and eliminated all but 11 songs. Picking those 11 songs from so many choices was truly the hard part. Love it or hate it, still it was a fun CD for us to do. Some of the fans weren't so wild about that idea, but I still like doing some of those songs.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: How do you compare "Mindfields" and "Falling In Between" - two records released in the last period of Toto's career - with the classic four albums?
The difficulty in this sort of comparison is not necessarily about the content of the CDs, but the time-frame they were released in. Personally, I loved "Mindfields" & "Falling In Between", but these CDs came out when the Record Business had totally done a flip-flop in their manner of doing business. When we released the 1st 4 albums (which were the ones which put Toto on the map, so to speak), bands were releasing and selling albums to make money, and touring to promote the albums sales. When the latter CDs ("Mindfields & Falling In Between") you speak of were released, a new order had befallen the music industry. Bands were then recording Cds, not necessarily to make money from sales, but to promote their live tours, where they were now making the bulk of their money. Everything had changed with the advent of the "computer piracy era". Once you put out about 100 CDs, all of the songs ended up on the internet, and there was no need to buy the CD anymore. If the band spent $300,000-$500,000 to record a CD, they had better be ready to do a lot of touring to make up for the losses they were going to suffer from the record budget they had just thrown down the toilet.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: In 2008, the end of Toto was officially announced. What was your attitude towards it?
Everyone in the band knew that we had 6 more weeks to be together. We were on the end on a 2.5 year tour from the "Falling In Between CD", and the discussion to end the band happened before we left to do the last 6 weeks. The last date was in Seoul, Korea, and it was a Super Fun night for all of us. It was a bitter-sweet moment for the band, but we knew in advance about it being the end, so we decided to make it a fun night, instead of a bummer finalization after 30 years of making great music, and being friends. My attitude to just about anything like this which comes to an end is, to look at it as a new opportunity to do other things. One great lesson in life is to realize that when one door closes in your life, another one opens with another opportunity. All we have in this life is a very short time, and I would rather spend that time in the most positive manner possible. Instead of looking back and rehashing the negativity and ruin, I much prefer to move forward and make the best of what lies ahead, remaining positive about the new life I'll embrace. I look at the split up of Toto as nothing more than the original members (only Luke and Myself at that time), going on to other things and seeking a better place in our lives. No dissent, just a matter of moving on. Luke has a great Solo band, and a really fine CD. At the moment, I'm working very hard to finish my Solo CD and get my Solo band out there. If the opportunity ever presents itself that most of the original members want to do a concert or a few dates together, I'm all for it.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: What's your favorite Toto song and album?
That's a very tough question to answer, but my first guess would be "Make Believe" (Toto IV) CD. I fell in love with that song the moment I sang it. My second choice is "You Are The Flower" on the first Toto CD. That song was written about my daughter. Another of my favorites is, "Waiting For Your Love" (Toto IV).
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Summing the whole thing up - how do you judge personally the periods of working with Toto?
What in your opinion was making the band unique? The most unique quality of the band was the combination of some of the very best players of their kind. The whole band was hand-picked, and each position was tightly held in place by the communication of musical ideas of players/singers melding ideas from each other while we were jamming. Nobody could really put a finger on where an idea came from, or where it was going to land, because everyone added their little piece to give the next player an idea to play off from. Working with Toto was the most outstanding time of my life, and I'll always have a very special place in my heart for the songs, the musicality, the personalities, and the way we moved so many lives over the years. It was like being in a family, and there good and bad times to deal with, but mostly, I only remember the great times we had, because of the reaction of the fans after a concert. It was some of the best fun ever, in my opinion.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Of course, let's not forget the other things that need badly to be covered. Looking back at your early days - what were your beginnings with music?
At what age have you started to think you want to be a singer? I would be very remiss about this answer if I didn't let you know, the very moment I heard Ray Charles sing, it moved me to the point of absolution about what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn't get that feeling out of my soul, or my mind, after hearing and feeling how much he had changed my emotional gravity towards singing. I began singing and playing keyboard at the age of 4 years old. I made it my life's ambition to create that feeling within myself. Ray Charles changed my life forever, and I owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for it. I started my first band when I was 8 years old, and started playing night clubs at 12. I had to get a note from my parents to perform in clubs, because I was too young to get in, much less, perform onstage. I wish I still had that note, but it got lost in the shuffle of moves from place-to-place over the years. One of the highlights of my whole life, was when I was working on a duet with a singer, Charles Veal, because I was told that Ray Charles would be coming in to sing a part on the end of the song. I was finishing my vocals one day, and much to my surprise, Ray came into the control room and listened to me for about 20 minutes. As I walked into the control room and passed Ray, he turned to me and said "one word",.................."Yeah". All of a sudden, I felt completely validated by my mentor, ........I could have died right on the spot, and my life would have been complete. It was the finest "one word compliment" I'd ever gotten. My hero, Ray Charles, had given me his blessing. It remains, to this very day, one of the most inspiring nano-seconds of my existence.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: From what I've read, your upper education wasn't really connected with music. Is it true you've spent a few years studying in the medical field at the university? Why have you eventually chosen to put your future elsewhere?
Growing up in Louisiana, there was very little hope of making a successful life in the music industry, because most of that happened in NYC, LA, and Nashville. Don't get me wrong though, because there are some of the best musicians I've ever heard in Louisiana, but really no music industry to push them forward into the World-Wide Music scene. My brothers had gone to the University, and both were very successful,...one in "Physics" (who worked on the first Moon Landing and received a commendation from JFK), and the other was in "Electrical Engineering". My parents wanted a Medical Dr. in the family, so I was the chosen one. I attended the University and studied Medicine to become a DR. for 5 years. I loved working in the hospital as a lab tech while I attended the University, but when it came time to make the final choice between Medicine and Music, I had to choose the road that made me the happiest. It was Music. My parents sat me down and tried to talk me out of that decision, but I convinced them that I thought I deserved the right to live and die with a smile on my face, so they relented. When Toto received our first Gold Album, I made sure to send mine to my parents. They were very proud of my decision then, and it made me feel very good too.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: How do you recall the first period of your music career, as singing in various - not widely known - bands...
Most of the bands I performed with in Louisiana were great bands. We were doing mostly cover songs of the "Hit's Of The Day". I was happy to do these, because that's where I got a chance to copy 100's of singers, and develop my voice. I took tiny nuances from every singer who moved me with something in their voice, and combined those into my own unique style. Luckily, I was singing songs, mostly black music, and some music from top British bands, and when mixed together, it had a totally different sound. I would sing soul/funk songs with a White singer twist, and it began to sound unique. I love both sounds, but when mixed together, they make a notable difference to the ordinary. I loved all of the bands I sang with down South. That was where I really got the fever to become a musician, and I'm glad it happened there. If it had been somewhere else, my life would have taken another course.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: The first position in your discography is S.S. Fools' LP released back in 1976. How do you recall the recording process of this album and also, the times of playing in this band?
I was called by my good friend, Jon Smith, who played sax with Edgar Winter's White Trash. Jon and I had been friends since we were 16 years old, and played in two bands together in Louisiana. When the singers left Three Dog Night, Jon joined those musicians, then called me to come out and sing with the new band formed from the musicians of 3-Dog. We recorded one album with Ritchie Podler and Bill Cooper (the team who produced all of the Three Dog Night hits), and we made a very decent album. After touring for a while, the financial situation was not up to expectations for the band, and I had to leave and try to become more financially stable doing other things. It was a shame, because that was a really great band, and we had potential. However, if you can't support yourself on what is being paid, you have a decision to make about correcting the situation. It was a very fun band, and I was singing with some of my greatest heroes in music, but it wasn't working out with the money. The best thing that happened during my term in S.S. Fools was, I got a chance to meet Jeff Porcaro and David Paich. They were at about half of our rehearsals, and when I left that band, David and Jeff asked me to sing with their new band, Toto.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Beyond your work with Toto, you're well-respected background singer. With whom have you co-worked in studio ?
That's would be a little hard to recall, but some of the more memorable people were Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross, Richard Marx, Chicago, The Tubes, Steve Cropper, Al Jarreau, Tom Jones, Quiet Riot, Leo Sayer, Edgar Winter, Dr. John, and mostly Toto on several CDs. In the beginning of Toto, a trio of singers emerged on the background vocal scene between Bill Champlin, Michael McDonald, and myself. When one of us would get a call to come and do backing vocals, we would all show up, and sometimes, even tell the producer to leave so we could triple-track the parts perfectly in about 1/3 of the time it would take other hired singers to do them. We did so many backgrounds during that time, it's hard to count them. What a great team it was, because we could write our parts out, and get it done in a matter of a very short time. Those were some very fun times in my life.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: One of the albums you sang at was Empires, a second solo album released by Jimi Jamison. In recent interview I've done with Jimi, he mentioned that you two are talking about making a duet CD. Are there any concrete plans connected with that?
There are. We will do 12 songs written by Richard Page, Randy Goodrum, Mutt LANG, & ROBERT SäLL (FROM THE "WORK OF ART" BAND) for Frontiers Records in Italy. These are two of my favorite writers. As a matter of fact, I just got the demo tracks of the songs today, so I'm now working on my parts for the CD. Jimi and I have been friends for about 20 years, and I can't think of anyone I would rather do a duet CD with. This is going to be a very fine piece of work, and I know it's going to be a lot of fun. Indeed it will happen.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: As a solo artist, you've released two great solo albums, Rise Up (1994) and All I Ever Needed (1999). How do you judge your both solo efforts?
These were different colors of my musical makeup. No doubt, I had a great time recording these CDs, and each has it's own personality. The "Rise Up" CD happened because I was good friends with Bruce Gowdy. Bruce had the tracks from his former band, "Unruly Child", and we added a few extra songs to those tracks and recorded the final takes in Germany together. I loved the songs, and it was such an enjoyable experience recording with Bruce. One of my favorite songs on that CD was "Woodstock", because from the moment I first heard the early versions of it, I felt it should be a bit more "Rock". I finally got my chance to do my version of it, and I still love the way it came out. I wanted to go to "The Woodstock Festival", but I was about to be drafted into the army, and couldn't leave Louisiana. As it turned out, an old football injury caused them to reject me from the draft. One of my good friends I was supposed to be with on the "Buddy System", which was what they were allowing at that time, (so newly drafted soldiers wouldn't feel so removed from their reality) was shot right between the eyes about 10 seconds after jumping out of the helicopter in Vietnam. I would have been standing right next to him. The "All I Ever Needed" CD was co-written with a great friend of mine, John Zaika. We wrote and produced the CD in record time. It was so fun to record this one, but unfortunately, we had taken in a 3rd partner on the project (who had NOTHING to do with the CD), and he ended up making off with the money John and I were supposed to make. The last communique I received from him had a paragraph about his losing everything (wife, money, daughter, respect from everyone who knew him), and he was looking for the highest building in Abu Dhabi to jump out of a window, and end it all. I guess you get what you deserve in this life. John and I are still working on some songs for a new CD to be released. I loved that CD, and had the great pleasure of hiring some of the best talent to do the tracks. Not to mention, Mickey Thomas sang a couple of songs with me, and he's one of my favorite singers. All together, I loved both works, and there are more to come soon.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: On Rise Up, half of the tracks had made it onto the Unruly Child self-titled release a few years before. Also, Mark/Marcie Free sang background vocals on that record. How do you recall co-work with him and the rest of the Unruly Child musicians?
I guess I answered some of this in one of the questions above, but Mark/Marcie Free is a World-Class singer, and it was a great honor to sing those tracks together. Unruly Child is a fantastic band, and I love everything they've recorded. The CD didn't sell very well, so that's what prompted mine and Bruce's decision to do the Rise Up CD using some of those tracks.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: I've came across a news/rumor that in 2008, you've made a brief cameo appearance in the music video "Brat Girls" by Donny B. Lord - playing the bodyguard of... Britney Spears. Is it true? Can you tell us more about it?
Donny is a neighbor, and we do a bit of music together. He drove by one day when they were shooting that video, and asked if I would do a cameo role on the video as a bodyguard for the girls. I just took it as a fun thing to do for a friend, and went ahead and did the part. It's only seconds long, but a fun time while it lasted. Being in that limo with those beautiful girls for a lengthy time really didn't hurt my feelings.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: On your official website, beyond usual stuff as discography, biography etc., there's one unusual thing - called Singers Corner. Can you tell us about this great way of helping the aspiring vocalists, that might interest some talented Hard Rock Service readers as well?
In "The Singer's Corner" there is no particular genre of singers who can put their work on my page. When working on that part of the page, I was thinking how cool it would have been to be able to get myself known to the general public, or a label, by showcasing some material on a web site. They didn't have that option when I was starting to sing, so I decided to make a space available for new writers and singers to flaunt their wares on a public site, so many people could see and hear what they had to offer in the way of talent. I've gotten so many "Thank You Letters and e-mails" from these people, it makes me happy and proud for each of them. It's sort of my way of giving back some of the gifts I've been given through the years.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: What also may interest our readers and - especially - your fans, there was a "Rock Meets Classic" tour in January 2010, including the performances from you, Lou Gramm, of Foreigner, and Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, along with The Bohemian Symphony Orchestra from Prague. You did all but one of the dates in Germany, and one in Switzerland. Are there any plans to do more of these kind of dates? What can the audience expect after a collaboration of three legendary vocalists and orchestra?
The way this concept started, I was on the very first "Rock Meets Classic" tour in 1994 with an orchestra and Gary Brooker (Procol Harem, of "Whiter Shade of Pale" fame), and it was a great success. The Promoter was Manfred Hertlein, and last year his office staff asked me to come and sing at his Grand Birthday Bash. I went to Germany and did 5 songs by myself on the keyboard. After I sang, I went and sat with Manfred, and we talked about doing another RMC Tour. About a week later, I got a call from him, and it all began to happen. I was very happy to be there, and my very good friend, PHILIPP MAIER, who conducts The UAE Philharmonic Orchestra was asked to arrange and conduct the tour. This made it even more fun for me. The tour was a great success, and it was fabulous singing with Lou and Dan. They're both great singers and very nice human beings. We had a ball. There will definitely be more of these dates in the future, and I would consider myself very lucky to be amongst the singers onstage with the next line-up of vocalists.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Talking about your future plans and concert schedule, is there any possibility to play in Poland someday? What are your music plans for the future in general?
I would love to play in Poland someday. If I can make that happen, I will. I've been to Poland many times, and found the people there are very friendly, intelligent, and have a true love of good music. Hopefully, I will see you there soon.
HARD ROCK SERVICE: Thank you for the interview - it's been a huge privilege to me! Can I ask you yet for a word or two for Toto fans in Poland and Hard Rock Service readers?
Even though I'm not in Toto anymore, I hope you all remain loyal fans of their band, and I especially hope you will come out and see my new band perform, not only my new songs, but the Toto songs I add to the set. I love you all, and I promise you will not be disappointed when I bring my band to Poland. It's a dream I hold in my heart, and one that I will make come true. Thank you for the great questions, and I hope you enjoy this interview.................Bobby