July 1 – Pablo Cruise-d Towards Top 10

Did they sell this one at marinas? If there wasn’t already a term for it, someone would have had to come up with the phrase “Yacht Rock” for the song, and group, that hit the top 40 this day in 1978 “Love Will Find A Way” by Pablo Cruise. I mean, they even incorporated a palm tree into the band logo and for the album cover, used an ocean sunset image! The single would go on to be one of the San Francisco band’s two big hits and one of the defining moments of that specific, usually California-based easy listening sound of the decade.

Pablo Cruise had started in the Bay Area in ’73, as a quartet. Guitarist and lead singer David Jenkins and keyboardist Cory Lerrios still run the group, almost five decades later though drummer Steve Price and bassist Bruce Day have moved along, as have Mike and Steve Porcaro of Toto who appeared on the record, but weren’t full members. Neither was there a “Pablo Cruise,” the band name was just something they came up with. They say “Pablo represents an honest, down-to-earth individual, and the ‘Cruise’ his fun-loving and easy attitude towards life.”

The song was written by Jenkins and Lerrios and certainly captured the zeitgest of the era. It was the lead single off their fourth album, Worlds Away, which ended up being their only top 10 album and one of two of theirs to hit platinum status. As allmusic would put it, the album with its “jazz-influenced pop sounds” “groove like Player in a Hawaiian shirt with a deep, dark tan.” “Love Will Find A Way” rose to #6 (tied for their career best with “Whatcha Gonna Do?”) , #5 in Canada and #8 in Australia, making it their biggest international hit.

Although it’s been awhile since they had a hit record, Pablo is still cruising, a popular act on oldies and Yacht Rock tours with the likes of Ambrosia and Christopher Cross.

November 11 – Toto Found Path Was Paved With Gold

Storming their way above Kansas on the charts, Toto made their debut this day in 1978 with their first top 40 hit, “Hold the Line.” Over the next five or six years, they’d put together an admirable string of hits (making the top 40 ten times over the next ten years) and win six Grammys, and end up darlings of pop radio twice with their now 4X platinum hit “Africa” (which recharted in 2018 thanks to its use on the TV show Stranger Things and a cover version done by Weezer).

The success is not that surprising when one considers that Toto was something akin to a music All Star Team. It featured some of the best and most in-demand session musicians in California at the time, like Steve Lukather and brothers Steve and Jeff Porcaro. Jeff, the drummer (who passed away in ’92) worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Elton John and Steely Dan. Lukather, a guitarist, played on over 1500 albums (!) including hits from the likes of Earth Wind & Fire, Olivia Newton John and once again, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. As he put it, Toto were essentially Jackson’s “house band” during his time of greatest success.

This single, as well as “Rosanna” by them was written by David Paitch who had co-written Boz Scaggs hits’ “Lido Shuffle” and “Lowdown.” “Hold the Line” went platinum in the U.S. and was a top 5 hit there and in Canada while getting to #1 in South Africa of all places. It helped their eponymous debut album sell upwards of 4 million copies and established them as one of the premier radio-friendly rock acts of the era. Curiously, while it might sound like a relatively straight-ahead pop/rock song, drummer Jeff Porcaro said they had more lofty inspirations. He says it was musically created by amalgamating “heavy metal guitar chords” and a “Sly hot-fun-in-the-summertime groove” and that his work on it was “me trying to play like Sly Stone’s original drummer.”

October 21 – Rock’s Anonymous Guitar Great

Chuck Berry, mentioned in our other piece today, was one of rock’s pioneering guitarists. Today we wish a happy 63rd birthday to one of the most prominent, but lesser-known, guitarists of the late-20th Century, Steve Lukather.

Lukather is best-known as the main guitarist in Toto (and the only original member of that band in the current incarnation of it), but even if you don’t listen to Toto, you’re almost certain to have heard him. You probably even have albums in your collection with him on them…there are well over a thousand of them to choose from!

Steve was born in California and began to teach himself guitar at age seven. His first musical loves and influences were mostly jazz artists and to this day his style of play is considered more “chordal clusters”, a jazz technique than that of a normal rock lead guitarist. He liked the playing of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page as a kid, as well as jazz players like Al DeMeola, but mainly was turned on musically by the Beatles – Meet the Beatles especially. He liked John, but particularly loved George’s guitar work.

As a teen, he met the Porcaro brothers, Jeff and Steve, and David Paitch at school and they invited him to be in a new band they were putting together. That ended up being Toto. They were already getting jobs doing session work, and soon got Lukather gigs doing the same, starting with Boz Scaggs. By the end of the century, Lukather had worked on albums from artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Joni Mitchell and won a Grammy for co-writing the song “Turn Your Love Around” for George Benson. And of course, there was Thriller. Lukather described Toto as Michael Jackson’s “house band” and he played lead guitar on a couple of tracks on Michael’s megahit, and rhythm guitar and bass on “Beat It”. Besides guitar, he can play keyboards a little, and evidently, bass too. Gibson Guitars call Lukather one of the 10 Best Session Guitarists of all-time, and a testimony as to how well he plays, he got to perform the song “Little Wing” for Les Paul at that legend’s 90th birthday party.

Inside of Toto, his role has mainly been limited to the six-string parts, but he has written a handful of their songs and the hits “99” and “I Won’t hold You Back Now” were both written and sung by him.

Since 2012, he’s been a part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band when they’ve toured, and that ensemble usually perform three Toto songs – “Rosanna”, “Hold the Line” and “Africa” – at most of their shows. He has lots of time for it, since he’s not doing much session work these days. That he says, is a function of the world more than his age or interest. “There is no ‘session guy’ thing anymore,” he said recently, “It’s not like the old days when I was doing 25 sessions a week. All the studios are gone. The budgets are gone.”

He found time to write a memoir in 2018, The Gospel According to Luke which tells “outrageous and hilarious” stories like how Barbra Streisand bullies people in the studio and why you don’t want to invite Elton John to a party as well as “the dark side of the American dream” like “the crashing and burning of Michael Jackson.”

Not much is known about his homelife but his website notes he has four kids. While Toto hasn’t done much of late, they are advertising an online, streaming concert coming up on Nov. 21.

September 2 – Steve Has Famous Friends

Happy 63rd birthday, Steve Porcaro. Unfortunately the youngest of the talented three Porcaro brothers won’t have them around to celebrate – he’s the only surviving brother.

He, Jeff and Mike formed the band Toto with David Paich back in the late-’70s after becoming some of the most in-demand session musicians in California.

Rather like the Carpenters, they were born in Connecticut but found fame in La-la Land. Steve learned to play drums as a kid, but whereas his brother Jeff stuck with them, Steve turned to keyboards by his tween years… and got very good at them. Steve had played keyboards for Boz Scaggs and Gary Wright (he was on Wright’s tour promoting his smash “Dream Weaver”) before Toto and performed that function admirably in the band.

Unlike his brothers, he seldom took vocal duties but he did write a few of their tunes – and helped inspire one of their biggest hits. In the early-’80s his girlfriend was actress Rosanna Arquette, although they’d apparently split up before “Rosanna” hit the charts. Although she was Steve’s girl, his best friend David Paich wrote the song (oops! No risk of problems there!) and Bobby Kimball actually sang it!

It wasn’t the only big ’80s hit he had a major part of. He also wrote “Human Nature” for Michael Jackson. Quincy Jones brought the Porcaros in to help on the Thriller album, and while Toto was working on finalizing “Africa”, Steve wrote the melody and most of the lyrics for one of MJ’s biggest hits.

since Toto’s heyday, Steve joined Yes for session work and worked on a solo album for Chris Squire of that band. As well, his daughter Heather has Hollywood in her blood and dad helped her with her debut album in 2009. since then she seems to have concentrated on acting more than music. Maybe some musician will be writing a song about her before long.

February 5 – A Musical Meeting Of The Continents

On this day in 1983, Toto hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart for the first time with what would be their signature tune, “Africa.”  They’d come close before; “Rosanna” the year before topped out at #2 in the U.S. The pair of singles helped their fourth album, appropriately entitled Toto IV go on to be their biggest hit, being a #1 hit in Canada and Australia and a top 10 in the U.S., UK and most of Europe.

The group had started out as a bunch of well-respected studio musicians in L.A. who worked with the likes of Steely Dan and Seals and Crofts and hit the charts with their first album (and the single “Hold the Line) right around when punk was breaking big. Critics didn’t care for them but the public liked them well enough. As Steve Lukather of the band remembers, “we’d all come from this background of serious musicianship…we’d all studied music. They (critics) grabbed us to hold up as the antithesis of (what is cool.)”

Critics be damned, the record won Toto seven Grammys including Record of the Year and went on to sell about six million copies. “Africa” itself is now 4X platinum in the U.S., ranking it favorably with the decade’s biggest hits. Perhaps surprisingly, neither of the pair that wrote “Africa” – Jeff Porcaro and David Paich- had been to Africa when they made the record. Porcaro says he’d been influenced by visiting the African pavilion at the World’s Fair when he was a boy, finding the authentic African drumming he heard there “like a religious experience.” Paich was inspired by a TV show he’d seen on the problems of the continent, and says the suffering there “both appalled and moved me” and he just tried to imagine what it would be like to be there in person.

Most of Toto, fresh with the knowledge of mixing together 69 separate tracks on three different recorders, went to the studio to help Michael Jackson record Thriller next.  Surprisingly, there’s now a postscript to the story of “Africa.” The song had a major resurgence in popularity in 2018 after ’90s slacker-rock stars Weezer recorded a cover version. They did that in response to a teenage fan’s Tweeted suggestion that they do so. The song became a surprise hit, getting to #51 on Billboard (their best showing in 13 years) and leading them to put out an album of all covers (including A-ha’s “Take on Me” and Iron Maiden’s “Paranoid”) . The attention garnered the Toto original a renewed popularity on radio and helped bump its sales even more.

November 30 – Michael Thrilled Many

Michael Jackson thrilled much of the world releasing his sixth solo (and second one since leaving Motown records) album, Thriller this day in 1982. The story of Jackson and Thriller is enough to fill a book, but to review, it’s sold at least 65 million copies worldwide, making it probably the most popular record ever, it’s 33X platinum in the U.S. second only to the Eagles Greatest Hits , one of only 11 albums ever to go “double diamond” in Canada (The Wall is another), is diamond in France with over 3 million copies sold there and sat on top of the charts Stateside for 35 weeks on and off into 1984. Especially good for Jackson, since he’d negotiated a deal which arguably paid him the most royalties of any singer at the time – about $2 per album sold, which was double what many received in the early-’80s.

Perhaps most remarkable, the album only has nine songs but seven were hits… in fact, only “The Lady in My Life” and “Baby be Mine” weren’t! It also opened up MTV for Black artists, “Billie Jean” being the first such record to be on that station in heavy rotation. Although this is on Epic Records, his stature grew in 1983 when 33 million watched him on an NBC-TV special honoring Motown.

While Jackson’s musical vision and talent is clear, like some other artists, much of his genius seemed to lie in knowing how to find the talent needed to compliment his own. While MJ did the singing, clapping and wrote four tracks himself (“Beat It”, “The Girl is Mine”, “Billie Jean” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”) The record label got super-producer Quincy Jones to produce Thriller and help shape the songs and then brought in a veritable all-star team of talent to help out as session musicians. Among them, Jackson’s sisters Janet and La Toya who both added backing vocals, Eddie Van Halen who did the memorable guitar work on “Beat It” and of course Paul McCartney to duet on “the Girl is Mine.” Then there was the funky Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson who played bass on several tracks, well-respected sax player Lenny Williams (who’d worked with the likes of George Benson and Al Jarreau previously) doing his thing when horns were needed and Toto. Lots of Toto!

Fresh from recording their biggie, Toto 4, a good part of that band were in the L.A. studios with Jackson putting this one together. Steve Porcaro wrote most of “Human Nature” and played keyboards on it and two other songs. David Paich added more synthesizers on “Human Nature”and other songs and did the piano on “the Girl Is Mine” while Steve’s brother Jeff Porcaro drummed on about half the album. And Steve Lukather played guitar on a number of the tracks including, yep, “Human Nature”, which made that song in essence a Toto song with Jackson singing! Porcaro says it was inspired in him when his young daughter was complaining about a boy at school who pushed her and he told her the boy probably really liked her “it’s human nature” and the song built itself from there. He didn’t intend it to be a Michael Jackson song but when Quincy Jones heard it, he figured it was a perfect fit and the song was his. such is human nature.

The other significant figure in the album was Rod Temperton, a British songwriter who’d penned two of his big hits off his preceding album, Off the Wall. Temperton co-wrote the two non-singles, as it turns out but shaped the entire album by writing the title track. Love it or hate it, “Thriller” was probably the standout tune – in that it was highly original – on the record, and of course, the one the album took its name from. Temperton knew Michael loved campy old horror movies and wanted to write him a song that fit that feeling. He did pretty well doing that, and Quincy Jones loved the demo, except the working title which was :”starlight”. Someone suggested “Thriller”, and when Jackson sang that, it seemed to fit. the icing on the top was Vincent Price’s voice-over, which was a late addition when it turned out Jones’ wife was friends with Price and he liked the idea of doing something unusual like that.

Perhaps in retrospect, it’s only fitting that Jackson was signed to Epic Records. The album was epic in its reach. That company said of it not long back “Thriller has remained a global cultural, multi-media phenomenon for both the 20th and 21st Century, smashing musical barriers and changing the frontiers of pop forever.”

February 5 – When The Dark Continent Shone Bright

J.R. Cobb (today’s previous post) wasn’t the only session musician who’d turned his colleagues into a successful band in their own right. On this day in 1983, Toto hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart for the first time with the ever-catchy, ever-popular “Africa”It helped their fourth album, appropriately entitled Toto IV go on to be their biggest hit, being a #1 hit in Canada and Australia and a top 10 in the U.S., UK and most of Europe.

The group had started out as a bunch of well-respected studio musicians in L.A. who worked with the likes of Steely Dan and Seals and Crofts and hit the charts with their first album (and the single “Hold the Line”) right around when punk was breaking big. Critics didn’t care for them but the public liked them well enough. As Steve Lukather of the band remembers, “we’d all come from this background of serious musicianship…we’d all studied music. They (critics) grabbed us to hold up as the antithesis of (what is cool.)” Critics be damned, Toto 4 won 5 Grammys including Record of the Year and Album of the Year and went on to sell about 6 million copies.

Perhaps surprisingly, neither of the pair that wrote “Africa” – Jeff Porcaro and David Paich- had been to Africa when they made the record. Porcaro says he’d been influenced by visiting the African pavilion at the World’s Fair when he was a boy, finding the authentic African drumming he heard there “like a religious experience.” Paich was inspired by a TV show he’d seen on the problems of the continent, and says the suffering there “both appalled and moved me” and he just tried to imagine what it would be like to be there in person.

Most of Toto, fresh off their own commercial success and fresh with the knowledge of mixing together 69 separate tracks on 3 different recorders, went back to their roots. They went back to the studio to be session musicians, helping Michael Jackson record Thriller next. 

Surprisingly, there’s now a postscript to the story of “Africa.” The song had a major resurgence in popularity last year after ’90s slacker-rock stars Weezer recorded a cover version. They did that in response to a teenage fan’s tweeted suggestion that they do so. The song became a surprise hit, getting to #51 on Billboard (their best showing in 13 years) and leading them to put out an album of all covers (including A-ha’s “Take on Me” and Iron Maiden’s “Paranoid”) this past month. The attention garnered the Toto original a renewed popularity on radio and helped bump it past the 4X platinum level at home.

November 11 – Toto Stormed Onto The Charts 40 Years Ago

Storming their way above Kansas on the charts, Toto made their debut with their first top 40 hit, “Hold the Line.” Over the next 5 or 6 years, they’d put together an admirable string of hits and win 6 Grammys, and end up darlings of pop radio this year with a second go-round of their now 4X platinum hit “Africa” (which recharted thanks to its use on the TV show stranger Things and a cover version done by Weezer).

The success is not that surprising when one considers that Toto was something akin to a music All Star Team. It featured some of the best and most in-demand session musicians in California at the time, like brothers Steve and Jeff Porcaro. Jeff, the drummer (who passed away in ’92) worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Elton John and Steely Dan. Steve, a guitarist, played on over 1500 albums (!) including hits from the likes of Earth Wind & Fire, Olivia Newton John and once again, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And this single, as well as “Rosanna” by them was written by David Paitch who had co-written Boz Scaggs hits’ “Lido Shuffle” and “Lowdown.” “Hold the Line” went platinum in the US and was a top 5 hit there and in Canada while getting to #1 in South Africa of all places. It helped their eponymous debut album sell upwards of 4 million copies and established them as one of the premier radio-friendly rock acts of the era.

Curiously, while it might sound like a relatively straight-ahead pop/rock song, drummer Jeff Porcaro said they had more lofty inspirations. He says it was musically created by amalgamating “heavy metal guitar chords” and a “Sly hot-fun-in-the-summertime groove” and that his work on it was “me trying to play like Sly stone’s original drummer.”

Sep. 2 – The Brothers Most Have Never Heard Of…But Whose Music Is Everywhere

Happy 61st birthday, Steve Porcaro. Unfortunately the youngest of the talented three Porcaro brothers won’t have them around to celebrate- he’s the only surviving brother.

The Connecticut-born musician moved to California and with his brothers Jeff and Mike, as well as David Paich, formed the band Toto back in the late-’70s after becoming some of the most in-demand session musicians on the coast. Steve had played keyboards for Boz Scaggs and Gary Wright before Toto and performed that function admirably in the band. Unlike his brothers, he seldom took vocal duties but he did write a few of their tunes- as well as “Human Nature” for Michael Jackson. Quincy Jones brought the Porcaros in to help on the Thriller album, and while Toto was working on finalizing “Africa”, Steve wrote the melody and most of the lyrics for one of MJ’s biggest hits.

In 2016, Steve put out a solo album, but true to form, without the “Toto” name or another big star getting top billing, few noticed it.

Feb. 5 – Toto Visit New Places

On this day in 1983 Toto hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart for the first time with the ever-catchy “Africa”. It helped their fourth album, appropriately entitled Toto IV go on to be their biggest hit, being a #1 hit in Canada and Australia and a top 10 in the US, UK and most of Europe. The group had started out as a bunch of well-respected studio musicians in LA who worked with the likes of Steely Dan and Seals and Crofts and hit the charts with their first album (and the single “Hold the Line”) right around when punk was breaking big. Critics didn’t care for them but the public liked them well enough. As Steve Lukather of the band remembers, “we’d all come from this background of serious musicianship…we’d all studied music. They (critics) grabbed us to hold up as the antithesis of (what is cool.)” Critics be damned, the record won Toto 7 Grammys including Record of the Year and went on to sell about 6 million copies. Most of the band, fresh with the knowledge of mixing together 69 separate tracks on 3 different recorders, went to the studio to help Michael Jackson record Thriller next.