Lately it seems that Toto is finally getting the respect they always deserved. Back in 1977, after doing sessions in L.A. for a number of top acts and appearing on many hit records together, keyboardist David Paich and drummer Jeff Porcaro decided to write, record, and tour for themselves, soon adding Steve Lukather on guitar, Bobby Kimball on vocals, Jeff’s brother Steve Porcaro on keyboards, and bassist David Hungate (later to be replaced by a third Porcaro brother, Mike). Some critics at the time complained that Toto was too slick, or just a passing phase. But after more than forty years of touring together and recording their own hugely popular albums—and despite the far-too-early deaths of both Jeff and Mike Porcaro—they continue making records and touring the world to this day, and are possibly more popular than ever.
This past May, Legacy Recordings (a division of Sony Music) released the definitive All In CD box set, which features eleven remastered Toto studio albums, the previously unreleased Live in Tokyo 1980 EP, and a full album of previously unreleased material, Old Is New, which features Jeff Porcaro on a number of tracks. Also included is a twenty-four-page booklet, which contains new essays on the band as well as previously unseen photos.
Jeff Porcaro has long been hailed as one of the greatest drummers of all time. To get a taste of how revered he is by your fellow MD readers, for instance, check out this month’s Readers’ Platform. For this article we go even deeper into Jeff’s gifts and ask Steve Lukather to choose five of his own favorite Toto tracks that feature the drummer. “Man, that’s an impossible question, because everything Jeff ever played on was magic,” says Lukather, who’s been traveling with the band (which now features Shannon Forrest on drums and Lenny Castro on percussion) in between tours with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Cliché as that statement may be, it doesn’t diminish its truth.
“Ask anyone who was ever on a session with Jeff,” Lukather continues. “I was honored to be on so many. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him. There was only one Jeff Porcaro, and I got to be in a band with him. He was one of a kind, and no joke, I believe God touched him. He always made us all sound better. He made everyone sound better on everything we ever did together—on any record he played on.”
“Rosanna” (Toto IV, 1982)
I was there when it all came together for the first time. David Paich’s first version was a Bo Diddley type of groove, and Jeff said, “No, no, check this out!” and he started playing the song’s now iconic groove. We all scrambled to get a chord chart together and started jamming to it. The record is the second take. The jam at the end was never even [discussed ahead of time]. Jeff broke it down, and off we went. We’d been listening to Bernard Purdie on Steely Dan’s “Babylon Sisters” and John Bonham on Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain” a lot, and Jeff just made [the half-time shuffle groove on those songs] his own.
“These Chains” (The Seventh One, 1988)
This is a Toto deep cut. I picked this one because the groove Jeff plays at the end is so insane—just the hi-hat work alone. He came up with stuff like this o the top of his head all the time. It was a marvel to watch it go down. He was so effortless. And again, the second take was the record as I remember it.
“Mushanga” (The Seventh One)
I didn’t pick this for the song itself, but for Jeff’s part. He came up with this on the fly. This is a lesson all its own, and I remember him shedding the idea of it at rehearsal and me saying, “Man, that’s a wicked part. What’s it for?” Then Paich came up with the riff on the first part of the song, Jeff played that beat, and it was perfect and spectacular at the same time.
“Jake to the Bone” (Kingdom of Desire, 1992)
Jeff burns on this one. I love it for many reasons. It takes him out of his usual wheelhouse. He could play some crazy shit. I used to come early to rehearsals, and he was usually there before me, shedding when he thought no one was listening. The man had insane chops. I would throw the door open and say, “What the f–, man—you have to do that in front of a crowd!” He would smile and look at me and say, “Nah, man, f– that shit.” [laughs]
“Mama” (Hydra, 1979)
This is a classic Jeff groove. His finesse is flawless. We cut this one live as a four-piece. All the solos and the [basic] track were live. We never rehearsed for records. We would show up, and Paich usually had a gem or one of us had something. This is one of my favorite Paich compositions and one of my favorite Toto tracks. I’m not sure what style of music this fits in; we all had so many influences. It’s just what we sound like when we jammed.
While we had Luke’s ear for his top five Porcaro Toto tracks, we picked his brain for five more, this time from Jeff’s abundant catalog of sessions, many which Steve played on as well.
“When I Need You” by Leo Sayer (Endless Flight, 1976)
Leo was a friend of ours, and we did a lot with him way back, but this track gets love not only for the song but also for the way Jeff played it. It’s where he placed the backbeat and that slow tempo. This is the kind of playing that made Jeff a legend. Listening, it seems simple, but it’s not. Many drummers then and now talk about this track and the art of playing a very slow ballad.
“We’re Waiting” by Boz Scaggs (Down Two Then Left, 1977)
I love this track for many reasons. For one, Jeff is the only guy that could make Syndrums cool! Plus he plays his ass off on this obscure track.
“Mother” by Pink Floyd (The Wall, 1979)
Jeff didn’t get credit on the record, but it was him making 5/4 seamless and flowing on “Mother.” I’m sure he got that on the first take. He was that good, every time.
“Black Friday” by Steely Dan (Katy Lied, 1975)
Jeff was in Steely Dan when we were in high school. He was recording Katy Lied, and we heard the basic tracks. We started jamming to the tracks Jeff let us hear, and Jeff would come sit in with our high school band, which was Mike Landau on guitar, John Pierce on bass, Carlos Vega on drums, Steve Porcaro on keys, Charlie, Lori, and Gina on vocals, and me on guitar. Jeff and David Paich would sit in with us at high school gigs. Jeff’s playing is world-class on this. Dig the fade.
“Gaucho” by Steely Dan (Gaucho, 1980)
Steely Dan, come on! Really all of Jeff’s SD stuff is mandatory listening. This is finesse at its finest. I miss him so much.
To learn more about Steve Lukather (and Jeff Porcaro), check out his autobiography, The Gospel According to Luke.