Best known for hits like Hold the Line, Rosanna and Africa, the band Toto has met with huge commercial success over the decades – albeit with mixed critical reception. Despite the often scathing reviews, this Grammy Award-winning group has sold over 40 million records globally.
In 1977, a group of old friends from Ulysses S. Grant High School in Los Angeles began recording an album together. Within a few years, Toto became one of the best-known bands of their era, releasing 14 studio albums in their 43-year history.
The tragic deaths of brothers Mike and Jeff Pocaro led to many changes in the group, which has had thirteen members over its lifetime. Toto broke up in 2008, reformed in 2010 and took a hiatus shortly afterwards. But its popularity endures – and the band has even proposed a worldwide tour for 2021, named Dogz of Oz.
Read on to find out some of the strangest details about this unique rock band.
20. Toto’s Africa plays constantly at a secret desert location
In 2019, Namibian artist Max Siedentopf created a sound installation that uses solar batteries to play music endlessly.
Siedentopf’s chosen tune for this project was Toto’s hit song Africa, which came out in 1982.
He placed this unusual six-speaker system at a secret spot in the Namib Desert – the oldest desert in the world.
He told the BBC: “I wanted to pay the song the ultimate homage and physically exhibit Africa in Africa.”
“Some love it and some say it’s probably the worst sound installation ever,” he said.
“I think that’s a great compliment,” he noted defiantly of both his fans and critics.
19. Toto composed the soundtrack for Dune
Toto has only composed the music for one film – the 1984 box office bomb Dune.
With the exception of one song by Brian Eno, the band scored every note for this science fiction cult classic.
30 pieces were used in the PEG reissue of the soundtrack, including The Sleeper Has Awakened!, Paul Takes the Water of Life and Robot Fight.
Steve Lukather played guitar for the soundtrack, with David Paich and Steve Porcaro on keyboard.
Mike Porcaro and Jeff Porcaro were the percussionists, and Mike Porcaro also recorded the bass guitar part.
The group recorded the symphonic rock soundtrack along with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Volksoper Choir.
18. The band members play almost every song on Michael Jackson’s album Thriller
Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller broke records when it held the number one spot for 37 weeks.
It remains the best-selling album of all time – but Toto’s role in the album is still relatively little-known.
Toto members were heavily involved in the instrumentals, working on almost every tune on the album.
Toto’s founding member Steve Porcaro co-wrote Human Nature with Jackson. As a single, it was also a top ten hit in the USA.
Meanwhile Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather played guitar and drums on Beat It and The Girl Is Mine.
For the latter tune, the Toto gang also worked with Paul McCartney, in what became the first single from the Thriller album.
17. John Williams’ son became their lead singer
- Evelina Gustafsson CC BY-SA 3.0
- Matt Becker BY-SA 3.0
- Maltesen CC BY-SA 3.0
Joseph Williams isn’t the first name that comes to mind when Toto is mentioned – he didn’t feature in any of the band’s most famous hits.
But he became the lead vocalist for Toto’s sixth and seventh albums, and you can hear him in tunes like Stop Loving You.
Williams has featured on eight Toto albums in total, including 40 Tours Around the Sun, which was recorded live in Holland.
He first joined the band from 1986 to 1988, and returned in 2010. When the band reformed a second time in 2020, Williams and Lukather were the only members of the most recent line-up to return.
Williams is the son of composer John Williams, who wrote the soundtracks for Star Wars, Jaws, Superman and countless other blockbusters.
Like his father, Joseph Williams is a film and TV composer. He penned music for the series Roswell, The Lyon’s Den and Miracles.
16. They claim to be the only band to ever refuse the cover of Rolling Stone magazine
“We’re the only band in history to turn down the cover of Rolling Stone,” Steve Lukather once told the St Louis Post-Dispatch.
“We knew they were going to do a hatchet job on us,” he added. Despite its commercial success, Toto often struggled against poor reviews and disdain from the press.
Released in 1981, Toto’s album Turn Back was a commercial failure everywhere except Japan.
Selling 900,000 copies worldwide, the album failed to produce any singles that broke into the charts.
It drew some of the harshest criticism the band has faced, with AllMusic critic William Ruhlmann saying it should have been entitled ‘Fall Back’, to reflect the band’s studio jobs they can fall back on.
Another critic suggested that music fans should ‘Turn Back’ if they intended to buy this album.
15. Before their Dirty Dancing fame, Patrick Swayze and Cynthia Rhodes appeared in the Rosanna music video
In the music video for Toto’s 1982 hit Rosanna, you may well recognise the title character as Cynthia Rhodes.
She stars in a bright red dress, dancing through the streets in this West Side Story-inspired video.
Rosanna was partly inspired by the actress Rosanna Arquette, who dated Steve Porcaro in the 80s.
Rhodes later won fame in Staying Alive and Dirty Dancing. She also starred as Tina Tech in 1983’s Flashdance and officer Karen Thompson in Runway.
Less noticeable in this music video is Patrick Swayze, who is one of the back-up dancers.
He later starred alongside Rhodes in Dirty Dancing, and is also known for 1990’s Ghost.
14. Sibling rivalry caused chaos in the band’s early years
Brothers Steve and Jeff Porcaro were among the band’s founding members, with their brother Mike joining the band officially in 1982.
The trio have said they often struggled with rivalry and sibling squabbles while the band was young.
“I felt undervalued [at the start],” Steve Porcaro commented to Classic Rock in 2015. “Jeff and I were always at each other’s throats.”
“Mike got along with both of us. But Jeff and me really bumped heads,” he said of Jeff’s perfectionist tendencies.
However, Steve added that he knew his big brother would often praise him behind his back.
Steve summarized Jeff in a 2013 interview with Music Radar: “From the perspective of his youngest brother, he was a hero/tormentor/supporter/bully/friend all wrapped up together like most older brothers!”
13. Toto regrouped to support a member with ALS
Born in 1955, Mike was the middle Porcaro brother. He played bass guitar in the band.
All three Porcaro brothers learned drums from their father, Joe Porcaro, the famous jazz musician.
But Mike only got stuck into guitar when his elder brother Jeff gave up after three lessons.
He dropped out of the band in 2007 after experiencing weakness in his fingers, and was later diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neuromuscular disease.
Toto split in 2008 – but then regrouped for a 2010 European tour, to raise funds for Mike and raise awareness about his illness.
Following his eight-year battle with the disease, Mike Porcaro passed away in Los Angeles in 2015.
12. Their album Toto XIV was recorded specifically to cover their legal fees after a court battle with Sony
Toto sued its record label Sony in 2008, after discovering unpaid royalties. In retaliation, Sony counter-sued, claiming the band owed them overpaid royalties.
After an expensive and lengthy court battle, in 2015 a judge ruled Sony did not owe Toto any money.
The band was forced into making the album Toto XIV to make up for their legal costs.
Speaking to Smashing Interviews Magazine in 2015, Lukather said the album was “born out of litigation.”
“When we came through the litigation, all the s*** left over from management that screwed us and all the other negatives, we decided to turn the negative into a positive,” he said.
“When we put our minds to do the record, we said that we had to make as good a record as we possibly could with all the tools and all the talent and all the experience we’ve had and not just phone it in for a check,” Lukather added.
11. They named their band after Dorothy’s dog
There’s an urban legend that Toto was named after the ‘real’ surname of band member Bobby Kimball.
Steve Lukather joked about this to the press, saying that Bobby was actually called Robert Toteaux.
Jeff Porcaro had recently watched The Wizard of Oz when the band began recording in 1977.
He picked the name of Dorothy’s loyal pup as informal name for the new band, and jotted it down on their demo tapes.
He particularly liked it after the guitarist David Hungate pointed out that “toto” was a Latin word meaning “all-encompassing.”
The group felt this name was ideal for its wide-ranging musical talent, encompassing many different genres.
10. Lukather said Toto has “taken more s*** than any band ever”
In 2005, Toto star Steve Lukather described some of his frustrations with the music industry in an interview with Todd Seely.
“I’ve heard all the criticisms,” Lukather stated. “We’ve taken more s*** than any band ever in history. I’ll put it to you that way. Ever. In history. Of anyone.”
He speculated that the band’s traditional training and technique had fuelled claims it was “soulless.”
He countered such ideas, saying, “F*** that s***. Anybody that says technique is bad is full of s***. They just can’t play.”
However, the star doesn’t seem to have taken any negative reception to heart, noting, “I can laugh at it now.”
“I’m to the point where I’m like ‘Come on, you can’t come up with some new criticisms for me?’” he said.
9. 95% of the world’s population has heard the work of a Toto member
According to Toto’s official website, the band member’s wide-ranging performances have reached the ears of 95% of the world’s population.
Altogether, Toto stars have featured on over 5000 albums, which have sold around half a billion copies.
Thanks to this extremely large discography, Toto members have also amassed a total of 225 Grammy nominations for their work.
This enduring popularity was proven yet again in 2015, when the band produced a new studio album for the first time in a decade.
Toto XIV debuted in the Top Ten for nine different countries, and it featured 18 musicians.
This thirteenth album was the band’s most successful work in the USA and UK since 1988, when their album The Seventh One was released.
8. David Paich wrote Africa before ever visiting the continent
Despite being Toto’s most recognisable hit, Africa was built on a National Geographic fantasy, according to Paich.
“I just kind of romanticized this story about a social worker that was over there, that falls in love and can’t — is having kind of a paradox, trying to tear himself away from Africa to actually have a life,” Paich explained in 2015.
He has admitted he never set foot on the continent before he penned this timeless tune.
The song’s slapdash approach to African geography has long drawn criticism, according to the Independent.
Among the song’s best-known lyrics is the line, “Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.”
However, rather than being an imposing feature of Serengeti National Park, Kilimanjaro is in fact located 488km away – which amounts to a hike that would last more than four days.
7. Lukather has a long-time rivalry with John Mellencamp
Steve Lukather has long criticised the singer John Mellencamp, whose best-selling tunes have earned him 13 Grammy nominations.
“I’m never gonna be in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame,” Lukather noted in 2005.
“… Because it’s a handful of a**-wipe Rolling Stone mentality critics who decide who gets to be in, and who doesn’t,” he said. “John Mellencamp?! What the f*** is that guy famous for?”
It comes as no surprise that this competitiveness hasn’t dwindled much at all over the decades.
In a 2015 interview with Classic Rock, Lukather described his long-time rival as a “douchebag.”
However, he went on to ask to the interviewer: “Please don’t make me sound like an a**hole. I just have a very colourful vocabulary.”
6. Band member Byron’s onstage antics drew heckling
Soul singer Jean-Michel Byron joined Toto in the late 80s, to record the album Past to Present 1977-1990.
While the band members had misgivings about Byron’s background in a different genre, the record label encouraged Toto to try working with him.
Byron was reportedly a diva, performing wild antics and dancing onstage. “We were mortified,” Lukather commented in 2013.
“Byron comes out and starts dancing around,” he recalled. “I’m looking at Jeff [Porcaro] with bulging eyes.”
“In rehearsal, Byron was just sitting there, but now he’s out doing this Michael Jackson on crack s***, with a golf glove on one hand, and my jaw was on the floor,” he added.
Byron’s contrasting stage presence reportedly drew heckling and obscene gestures from Toto’s devoted audiences.
5. A Toto tune was played on sweet potatoes
Toni Patanen, also known as Pupsi, has racked up over 8.6 million views on his YouTube cover of Toto’s Africa.
What sets his cover apart from the competition, however, is his unusual choice of edible instruments.
He carved a series of ocarinas, an ancient wind instrument, from sweet potatoes and squash for this tune.
The clip includes his intricate carving process as well as the unmistakeable tune by Toto.
In 2018, Weezer also covered Africa, reportedly as a result of an internet campaign by a 14-year-old girl.
She messaged Weezer constantly over Twitter with the simple request of this cover, which eventually included a cameo from Weird Al Yankovic.
4. The Ramones supported Toto on tour in 1978
Described as one of the most bizarre tour pairings of all time, The Ramones joined Toto for a 1978 tour.
They shared the stage for a single show in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in a vividly contrasting set.
Paste Magazine noted how stark the difference was between “the radical punk minimalism of The Ramones [and] the insufferable yacht rock of Toto”.
“We opened for Toto, who were so laidback that by the time they worked out what was going on, the Ramones had played their set and were off,” recalled Ramones tour manager Monte Melnick in 2016.
When Toto followed The Ramones, the band apparently issued an apology to the audience for their choice of backstage companions.
Bobby Kimball reportedly described The Ramones as a “horrible band” to the bemused and unimpressed audience.
3. One Toto member left for the Cirque du Soleil
As a keyboardist, Greg Phillinganes began filling in for David Paich in 2005, and soon became a full-time band member.
He worked on Toto’s twelfth studio album Falling in Between, which was the last to feature Mike Porcaro.
However, when Toto reformed in 2010, Steve Porcaro returned to play keyboard, and Phillinganes left the band.
In 2011, he became a musical director for the Cirque de Soleil, working on Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour for its three year run.
As well as Toto, Phillinganes has an incredible list of stage credits to his name.
He’s played with Stevie Wonder, the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson and Stevie Nicks, just to name a few.
2. Porcaro’s and Paich’s first band was called Rural Still Life
Jeff Porcaro and David Paich first became friends at Ulysses S. Grant High School in Los Angeles.
This institution has been described as a “rock and roll high school” by the LA Times.
Its list of musical alumni includes Mickey Dolenz, Jim Gordon and Kevin Dubrow as well as the three Porcaro brothers.
Both aspiring musicians, Porcaro and Paich started their first ever band as teenagers, and named it Rural Still Life.
They brought this group back to life in 1972, under the shortened name Still Life, and brought in Steve Lukather and Steve Porcaro to complete the line-up.
Steve Lukather was later promoted to be the band’s musical director, manager and live MC.
1. The band played on studio recordings with Steely Dan, Seals and Crofts, and Boz Scaggs
Toto first formed in Los Angeles in 1977 – but its members had already earned their reputation in the music world through studio recordings.
Throughout the 70s, bands like Steely Dan, Seals and Crofts, Boz Scaggs and Sonny and Cher were clamouring for future Toto members to join them in the studio.
Toto keyboardist David Paich was the son of the session player Marty Paich, and he won fame by co-writing Scagg’s Silk Degrees album.
Bandmate David Hungate first worked with Jeff Porcaro and Paich when the trio played in Scaggs’ backing band.
They also collected Bobby Kimball, a singer from the rock band S.S. Fools – which disbanded after just one self-titled album.
Thanks to their rich history in session music, Toto swiftly secured their first album with Columbia Records. Everything from small beginnings!