Metal Perspective Webzine Interview January 16th 2011
OK, most likely I’m more of a fan than I am allowed to, but it’s a rare privilege and a real honored for me to interview one of my most favourite singers and founding members of TOTO, Robert Troy Kimball. Welcome to our webzine, Bobby.
Hello Stefan. Glad to be here with you to do this interview (via the internet), and it’s a great honor for me as well. I took great pleasure in reading your interesting questions in Jimi Jamison’s interview, and I actually learned a few new things from that interview about my friend, Jimi, whom I’ve know for about 30 years. We’ve been very good friends and mates for a long time. I appreciated learning new things about his character from your interview.
Born in Texas, but raised in Louisiana. You’ve been into music since a very young age. Do you come from a musical family?
I do. My Mother played piano, and had “perfect pitch”, so just about anything she heard on the radio or an album, she could sit at the piano and play it almost perfectly. I enjoyed watching her play so much, I started teaching myself to play when I was about 4 years old. My oldest brother had a band called “The Rockers”, and when I was 8 years old, all of the younger brothers of my older brother’s band formed a group called “The Rebels”. We would play during the 30 or 45 minute breaks of “The Rockers” gigs. It felt so great , and then, by the time I was 12 years old, I was playing night clubs. I had to have a note from my parents to get into the clubs, and my parents were very gracious about letting me, a 12 year old, go out and stay all night playing gigs in clubs. I would sometimes get home just in time to get ready for school. The other guys in the band were in their mid- 20’s. I guess it was fun for the crowd to watch the little kid onstage in a club. I had a great time during that era of my life, and learned a lot about playing in bands and working the night club circuit.
It’s true, I was born in Texas (because my home-town of 3000 residents had no hospital). The closest hospital was just 15 miles away in Texas.
I think it was more my destiny to be a musician, because I loved music so much, and there were so many clubs around my home. These clubs were there because the drinking age in Texas was 21 years old, and in Louisiana, it was 18 years old. As you can well imagine, there were thousands of Texans coming across the border on the weekends to go to the clubs in Louisiana. There were at least 4 clubs that had about 5000 capacity. Every weekend they were packed with people. At that time, I thought 5000 people in the crowd was just normal. I was in this mode for several years, and played in some really great bands. Now, the drinking age in Louisiana is 21 years old, so that situation doesn’t exist anymore. It was just a very lucky time in my life.
Growing up in Louisiana, a melting pot of funk, soul, blues, Cajun, must have shaped your way of singing. How much have your influences affected your music? And what were they?
When I was about 15 years old, I was in a 10-piece band (with a 5-piece horn section), and we played all Black music, Soul, and Funk. I learned a lot from singing songs by some of my early influences (and I’ll only name a few here). First and foremost, Ray Charles was the first musician who convinced me that I had a desire to sing and play music, because the first time I heard him, he captured my soul. I had one of the most fantastic honors of my life when I got a call from a producer who asked me to sing a duet with this vocalist he was producing, and there were 3 spots on the end of the song that needed vocal-fills. He filled those spots with me, Joe Cocker, and Ray Charles. The day I was doing my final part on the end of the song, Ray came in, sat on the couch, and listened to me sing. When I walked into the control room, he glanced over my way and just said “Yeah man”. I was thinking to myself, “I can die now, because I’ve now been validated by my greatest hero in music”. I was devastated by the news that Ray had passed away. Toto was rehearsing for our last tour, when Quincy Jones called us from the hospital and told us Ray had just passed away, and this was only about 5 minutes after it happened . There was total silence in the rehearsal room at that moment. Everyone in Toto loved Ray Charles.
Some of my other influences were singers like Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and so many more, I could fill several pages with all of them. I took a little piece from each one of their voices, and used the parts that struck my soul, and combined them all to make my voice sound original. I know where all those parts come from when I sing them.
Ray Charles. You’ve often described him as your icon. You also released a tribute album in 1993 made up entirely of his songs. Did he ever let you know his impressions on it?
He did know about the CD, but I never got a chance to talk with him about it. I would have loved to have discussed it with him, because I’m certain he was always busy with other things, and one doesn’t just run into Ray Charles very often, so we never got a chance to talk about it.
I would be remiss in this interview if I didn’t mention another person who influenced me early on. It was a shoe-shine guy from the little town of 3000 people where I grew up in Louisiana. I watched him pop his shine rag to a New Orleans 2nd-line beat, and then I would go home and try to emulate his rhythm on the piano. We eventually became friends, and I was proud of that fact. I had the terrible misfortune of seeing him get killed by a train when I was about 12. This was a very bad moment in my early years, because I had learned a lot from him, and he was a good friend.
The Levee Band, which would later become Louisiana’s LeRoux (a.k.a) LeRoux after you left. Was it your first professional job in the industry? What do you recall from these days?
The first time I saw “The Levee Band“, I went up to Jeff Pollard, the guitarist and lead singer at that time, and asked him how much it would cost me to get into that band. I loved the whole vibe of this group, and after joining them, there were some member changes, and the band got a whole lot more exciting. It was the first time I had played with a band at a dance club, and the people would all come in and drag the chairs out onto the dance floor, and then we would play a concert instead of a dance. I can safely say it was the first band I really fell in love with, and it was a very tough decision to leave them when I did. I got a phone call from my good friend, Jon Smith (Sax player with “The Edgar Winter White Trash Band”), and the opportunity to fly to California and sing with some of the members of “Three Dog Night” was presented to me at that time. The band was called “S.S. Fools”, and at most of our rehearsals, David Paich & Jeff Porcaro were present. They were considering producing the band at one time, but both of them were in very high demand doing studio work. I couldn’t believe the drummer from “Steely Dan” and the writer/keyboardist from “Boz Scaggs” band, were sitting about 4 feet from me at our rehearsals. It was exciting, to say the least. This is how I met David and Jeff, and this largely, played a great part in my being in Toto later on.
After I left “The Levee Band”, they split up for a few months, then, got back together as “Louisiana’s LeRoux”. This is also a great band, and I was so happy to know that they decided to carry on with the band. We’re all still friends, and when I was inducted into “The Louisiana Musicians Hall of Fame” on May 16th, 2010, I got a chance to sing with “Louisiana’s LeRoux” at the ceremony. It was great fun, and I was happy to see my old band mates.
S.S. Fools. They were formed by former members of Three Dog Night with you on lead vocals. The album featured compositions by you, David Paich, Boz Scaggs and Stephen Stills. What went wrong with that short-lived band?
“S.S. Fools” recorded one CD (CDs were a brand new thing at that time), and I thought it was a really fun recording. The guys from “Three Dog” were making most of the decisions at that time, and they chose to go with the same management that handled “Three Dog Night”. I can’t say, but that may not have been the best choice for a new band. When we began to tour, the money was very short, and the guys who were not from a famous band were making practically nothing on that tour. However, the Three Dog guys were getting regular checks for hundred’s-of- thousands of dollars. I found myself not being able to survive financially on that tour, so I left the band in the middle of the tour. I really hated having to go, but it was a necessary for me to get on with other things to make a living. I was doing a few club gigs, here and there, around LA when I got a call from David Paich about the possibility of joining Toto. That was one of the most fantastic days of my life, to even know I was being considered to play with Jeff and David.
Then TOTO came. How did this occur? Is it true that you were the chosen one among Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins?
My first introduction to Jeff Porcaro and David Paich, who were the founding members of Toto, happened at some of the first rehearsals of S.S. Fools. They were great friends with most of the members of the band, and I was so shocked that the drummer from “Steely Dan”, and the main writer and keyboardist for Boz Scaggs were even in the same room. We got to know each other very well, and it was such an honor to meet some of my musical heroes.
When Boz started the next album after “Silk Degrees”, called “Down Two, Then Left”, David and Jeff had already decided they wanted to put their own band together. They could have gotten any players or singers they wanted in that band, because they both had incredible credentials with CBS Records, and it would have been foolish to turn down an offer to sing or play with the likes of this kind of talent. I was told that Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins were being considered as Toto’s lead vocalist, but they were both deeply involved with their own bands, and Toto was a new up-and-coming band without any albums out yet. I was so honored to get a call from David and Jeff, who asked me to come to the first meeting at “Studio 55” to do a bit of jamming, and see if we all fit together as a band. Things seemed to work out well, and I must say, it was the most exciting moment of my life in music. I made a cassette recording of that day, the very first time we were all in the same room for the very first time. It’s one of my treasures to this very day. I recorded several of the sound-checks before our concerts, and a lot of our rehearsals, and I probably have more recorded material on Toto than anyone. I’m a collector of these things, and someday, I’ll let the fans hear some of these recordings. Sometime, the band was at their best when they were just jamming, and I have a lot of that on tape.
You Are The Flower. One of my firm faves off the mega classic TOTO debut. Your song. What’s been the inspiration behind it?
I had just read a book called “The Little Prince”, and it has a lot of pertinent information about living one’s life to the fullest. I also had a brand new daughter, and she seemed to fit into that picture. I basically wrote the song about her, using some of the things I learned from reading that book. It’s still one of my very favorite songs Toto ever recorded. It has a lot of great memories and deep meanings for me. I was so proud we did the song, and it always brings a smile to my daughter’s face, because she knows it’s about her. When she smiles, it makes me happy. She deserved that song.
You left TOTO right after IV. You once said “the whole band was doing a bit too much experimenting with some pretty evil, mind-altering substances.” Was that the real reason for your departure?
It was an “80’s thing” with the substance abuse. Practically all of the friends of the band were into something harmful, some more than others. David Hungate was not really into drugs, as I recall, but everyone else in Toto was. Some, more than others. I was guilty of being amongst those in the band, doing my share of abuse, but practically everyone was, so there was no reason to cast blame on anyone who was doing the very same thing as we all were.
Toto had just won 6 Grammys, and Steve Lukather won another for co-writing “Turn Your Love Around” with Jay Gradon, and Bill Champlin. That night at the Awards Event, we set a new record for the number of Grammys won by a single group. Since we were a little over the top with the substance abuse then, the decision making and thinking was a bit unclear. Think about it,…..the band wins more Grammys than any band had ever won, and right in the middle of the next CD, decides to fire the lead singer. This was truly a “drug decision”, because we were on the path to becoming a Super Group after the Grammy recognition. By firing the lead singer, this was very confusing to CBS Records, and they basically turned their backs on Toto, and stopped promoting them. It became a problem for all of us, at that point, but the real truth of that matter was, leaving the band probably saved my life, because I had to change everything in my life to survive. The guys didn’t have a singer in mind at the time they let me go, and I thought that was a very bad decision. It was a terrible time for me, and everyone suffered from that action.
I was actually happy that they kept moving forward with the band, because I’ve always loved the music of Toto, and I’m sure I always will. Everyone seems to be doing well now, and I wish them nothing but the best of luck with their future.
You originally sang all songs on the Isolation album before they were redone by Fergie Frederiksen. Any chance the original recordings to see the light of day? Moreover, Fergie replaced you first on LeRoux and then on TOTO. A coincidence?
That’s a myth, because there were some songs that were not written when I was asked to leave the band. I did do some of the songs, and sang some of the backing vocals, which they kept on the album. However, they removed my lead vocals and replaced them with Fergie’s voice. Lucky for him, he had a great guide vocal to follow. I have some copies of the songs I did the vocals on, and someday, I may put them on my web site just so the fans can hear them. Actually, some of the songs on Isolation were co-written by Fergie, so those, I couldn’t have sung on.
Fergie has been fighting a cancer problem lately, but I got some good news, that he’s doing much better. He’s a great guy, and good vocalist. I hope he gets back to 100% with his health.
It was quite a coincidence that Fergie was my replacement, because he also sang with “LeRoux”. Then after he was asked to leave Toto, he sang in about 4 bands that I had sung with, then left. I sent him an e-mail and asked him to stop following me around. We had a big laugh about that one. I’m friends with almost all of the guys who sang with Toto, and I think that’s mostly because I know what they’re going through to be in that position.
1985 and Far Corporation. You collaborated with the likes of Simon Philips, Robin McAuley, Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy), Curt Cress (Saga) plus Paich (on the first album) and Lukather on both. A very successful debut on the European charts. Was it a creative time for you? Did your mother’s family origin help you with your decision to relocate in Germany?
This was a really fun CD to collaborate on. I met some friends who remain great friends to this day. I have to say, meeting Simon Phillips was one of the great moments for me. I was at the NAMM Convention singing with Robin McCauley last week. We still hang out a bit, and Robin is a good friend.
As far as my Mother’s family roots being from Germany, it did make the decision to move there for a while a bit easier. Her Father was born in Frankfurt. I really felt a kindred sprit from the people in Germany. I stayed there for about 4 months to do the first “Far Corporation CD”, but then came back The States. Not long after that, I moved to Frankfurt, and stayed almost 6 years. Some of my best friends, to this day, are in Germany, and many parts of Europe. I did a lot of traveling around while I was there, and made a lot of good friends.
During your European adventure, you started a record label (MMS) alongside Michael Berresheim. Is it still active?
That Label has been inactive for a long time now. I did 4 CDs on that label, and just after it fell apart, I came back to LA and did some recording with Toto. This was when the band was, sort of, forced to hire Jean Michael Byron. I think he’s a good singer, but I didn’t think he was a good choice for Toto. He was more of a mellow singer, and Toto is a very powerful band. The songs require a very powerful vocalist to match the music. I love Toto and their music, and I think it will always be my favorite band, whether I’m there or not.
What is your opinion on Jean Michael Byron being a TOTO lead singer for 4 songs only (thank Gods)? Mike Porcaro remarked in an interview “that was the last time we listened to our record company” and Lukather added “it was like casting Pee Wee Herman to play Godzilla.”
I have to agree with both of them. Jean- Michael had more of a Michael Jackson voice (not a bad thing), but not necessarily what was best for Toto songs. However, he was a very good singer for the songs that fit his voice. Let’s just suffice it to say, he has a very good voice, but not for Toto.
You came back where you righteously belonged in 1998. What changed in your relationship with the other founding members in the years you’ve been away? To cut to the chase, what did TOTO mean to you?
At the time Toto began, they meant everything to me. It was the beginning of a fantastic voyage for me in the music business, and my feelings for the music of Toto, has always had a deep meaning in my life.
After the passing of Jeff Porcaro, Luke took over the lead vocals, and I’m sure that was a tough thing for him. He’s a great front man, and I’ve always loved his voice, but to sing almost all of the songs every night is a very tough job indeed. The manager called both me and Joseph Williams to go out and do a 5 date tour to support the “XX” CD. It was the 20th anniversary of the band, and Joe and I had a great time. Right after that, I was asked to do the next studio CD, “Mindfields”. I love this CD a lot. I was back in Toto for the next 10 years until Luke decided he wanted to start his own Solo band. Toto sort of dissolved then, and everyone went their own way. I wrote Luke to wish him the best of luck, because we all know how tough it is out there on the road these days.
Now, Toto is back out there touring with Joseph Williams. I was asked if I were mad about that, and all I can say is, Joe is a good friend of mine, and I only wish all of them my best. I have no bad feelings against anyone, especially Toto. It takes too much time to hate anything, or anyone. I’m staying very busy just getting on with my life, and having all the fun I can, playing music. I have several things I’m doing at the moment, and all of them are fun.
Let us talk about some of your numerous collaborations all these years. West Coast All Stars. A Joey Carbone idea to bring top class singers together for an a capella cover version of classic tunes. Was it fun? Is it a Vol 3 on schedule?
“The West Coast Allstars” projects were incredibly fun to do. The first CD, called “West Coast Allstars” and the singers were Bill Champlin, Jason Scheff, Joseph Williams, and me. It was the first A Capella CD I had ever worked on. The next one was called “Naturally”, and Tommy Funderburke was there instead of Bill. This also was a really fun project. It was mostly done for a Japanese release, but since then, these CDs have found their way around the world. We did all classic songs that everyone knows, and it’s all just vocals. I still listen to these CDs occasionally, and they still stand out amongst my favorites.
I don’t really see another CD from this project, but if it did happen, I would love to be involved.
Joey Carbone was the one who got the deal for us to do the CD projects, and he was the producer. He’s a very big name in Japan as a producer these days. Most of the time we weren’t working, we were all laughing ourselves to death. We did have a lot of fun doing the CDs.
Blame It On The Sun. You and Glenn Hughes on the Stevie Wonder classic, which I had the joy to listen to the other day on Youtube. Perfect sound. Where, when and how did this take place?
Glenn and I were called in to do a Radio Interview at a big station here in LA. It’s called “RockLine”, and it goes out all over the world. I think that took place about 1997. They asked us to sing a song together, so we chose “Blame It On The Sun”, because we both knew the song well. I thought it was a superb version, and I always have an incredible time singing with Glenn.
Maria Dangell and Heaven Of Milano. Is this duet going to be continued?
Maria is a friend of mine, and her producer asked me to help out on that one song. She’s a very good piano player and vocalist, so she doesn’t need any help from me. I hope to hear her next CD soon.
2010 was a very creative year as well. First of all, please tell us more about the Rock Meets Classic project.
“Rock Meets Classic” was created by a promoter friend of mine, Manfred Hertlein from Germany. The first one he did was in 1993, with me and Gary Brooker from “Procol Harum”, singing. Gary is a great talent, and sounds a lot like a white version of Ray Charles to me. I’m not certain how many times Rock Meets Classic took place after that, but I was on the “2010 RMC Tour” with Dan McCafferty from “Nazareth”, and Lou Gramm from “Foreigner”. My good friend, Philipp Maier, who is the conductor of the UAE Philharmonic was the conductor and arranger on that tour. We did about 16 dates in January of 2010. Very fun tour.
Mike Porcaro is going to release his first ever solo album Brotherly Love featuring the Tribute to Jeff concert in Koblenz 2002 with you on lead vocals. Any info about this forthcoming release would be much appreciated.
I don’t know the release date, but that concert was first done as a benefit for Jeff Porcaro’s family. The concert was recorded, and now is going to be released to benefit Mike Porcaro. There were about 10 great drummers on that gig, and Alex Liggertwood (Santana), and Glenn Hughes, and myself were the vocalists. We all had a great time with some great players, and I’m very happy to help out Mike in any way possible. I hope the CD does really well in sales.
2011 brings another highly anticipated release of you, this time with Jimi Jamison. You and Jimi are good friends, you also sang on the Empire album. So, when is this out?
The CD will come out on Frontiers Records sometime in the Spring. Mat Sinner from “Primal Fear” is doing the mixes right now. Jimi and I finished singing the tracks right at the end of December 2010.
As you said, Jimi and I have been very good friends for a long time, and we’ve played a lot of concerts together. I always had loads of fun around Jimi. He’s a great talent, and one of my best friends. I’m sure when we do some touring to support the “Duet CD”, we’ll have even more fun than ever. The vocals were recorded at a friend’s studio, who played guitar with “Tower of Power”. He’s a really fine producer, and also a long-time friend of mine. I hope you enjoy the CD as much as we did while we were making it.
Who are the composers and musicians involved? Do you have a title for it yet and how is it going to sound?
I’m sure Frontiers will pick a title from one of the songs on the CD. The tracks were recorded in Germany, with Mat Sinner producing. Therefore, I’m not sure what musicians he used on the recording of the tracks, but they were very good. Mat is an excellent musician/producer, and he was also on the “2010 RMC Tour”. That’s where I first met him.
The songs were written by several different writers. I can remember some of the names from the lyric sheets, but not all of them. Some of the songs were written by Richard Page, Randy Goodrum, and Mutt Lang. These are some names most people would remember. The songs were almost all straight ahead “Rock and Roll” tracks. The songs were all well chosen, and I can’t wait to hear the finished CD. I also can’t wait to tour with Jimi to support the CD.
How do you make sure you do not repeat yourself when recording a new album?
Mostly, you should write songs about totally different subjects, and different “musical dynamics” in the rhythm and chords. This is true, unless you’re trying to do a “Theme Album”, which has the same thread running through all of the songs. Even in this case, you should make all of the songs totally different from each other. My favorite Theme Album, to this day, is “Tumbleweed Connection” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. This is a whole album of songs written by two incredible British artists, and the theme is about the United States Civil War. It’s a fantastic piece of work, and I still love doing some of those songs with just keyboard and vocals. There are no repeats on the record, but the theme holds up throughout the album.
After many years in the show business, who do you consider to be your true friends? Your longtime pals?
Most of my very best friends are some of my business connections. I’m involved with several different companies which I’m on the Board of Directors with, and I’m part owner of these companies. I’ve always loved making business connections, and seeing the possibilities in new products that will interest some of these companies. I know you’re looking for names of musicians, but I’m still friends with most of the people I’ve been in bands with, and I care a lot for them too.
Could you call up any memories from your one and only concert in Athens? Is there any chance seeing you again around these places?
Our promoter in Athens brought us out to some of the most incredible sites in Athens. Luke and I were there a few days early to do some promotion, so we got a chance to see more than the rest of the band. I thought Athens was one of the most fantastic cities in the world, with so much historical value. I would love to come there again, because it left me wanting to know so many other things about this phenomenal city.
A quote from your official site says: “To be what we are, and to become all we are capable of becoming, is the only fitting end to a life lived well.” Have you followed these words and made them part of your life?
I love that quote, and I’ve always tried my best to be all I can be at everything I do. I think if a musician is mostly interested in the music, and not the money or fame, they’ll probably live their lives to the fullest. When anyone begins to put the money and fame first, they’ve begun to head the wrong direction. If money and fame come from your love of music, then it’s OK to go for it, but you can’t let these things rule your decisions in your life. It’s the music that makes me happy, and as long as I’m happy and have good friends, I feel very wealthy indeed.
This long interview (you have to excuse me, but I had many things to ask a legendary singer) is coming to an end. Thank you once again for this huge honour, Bobby. All the best with your future endeavours.
It’s truly my honor to do this interview with you. I hope your readers enjoy it as well.
I’m in the process of putting together my own Solo Band at the moment. I want to release my Solo CD as soon as possible, and play those songs, and of course, some of the Toto songs that I sang. I can’t thank you enough for really doing your homework on the great questions you put forth here. It’s not so easy finding the right questions to ask about someone’s life, and I did enjoy this one. Hopefully, after my Solo CD comes out, we can do another interview about that piece of work. Once again, thank you very much for the great questions……………Bobby