By Thom Jennings firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — This weekend Toto and Michael McDonald will be performing across the border at the Niagara Fallsview Casino on Friday and Saturday night. They may sing a song or two together, but few people may realize that McDonald was almost Toto’s first lead singer.
During a recent phone interview, Toto founding member David Paich recalled the first time he heard McDonald sing.
“Jeff Porcaro told me about this great singer from St. Louis that was performing at a bowling alley. Mike was playing this little Wurlitzer right where they were setting up the pins, and then I heard this amazing voice. Next thing I knew he was playing in Steely Dan with Jeff and when we formed Toto, Jeff said we need to get him as our lead singer. I called Mike to be our lead singer and he had signed with the Doobie Brothers four days earlier.”
Toto almost landed another famous singer, Eric Martin of Mr. Big. When I interviewed Martin a few years ago, he related to me how disappointed he was that he didn’t land a gig with Toto.
“It came down to him and Joseph Williams and Eric has a great voice, but we were looking for someone that could sing our existing material. The band was divided, we took a band vote and Eric got some votes, he is an amazing talent and there are times I imagine what Toto would have sounded like with him. I would make music with him anytime.”
Paich also helped clear up a mystery surrounding the song “Rosanna.” During an interview in 1988, that is still available on YouTube, Paich said the song was not about actress Rosanna Arquette.
“I was writing the song at my house in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and I roomed with Steve Porcaro and he had just met Rosanna Arquette after most of the song had been written and I just tagged her name in the song. While the song may not be about her, the name came from her and I may have had a crush on her at the time. That is the true story.”
It is well known that Toto is comprised of some of the best session musicians in Los Angeles, including guitarist Steve Lukather and the late Jeff Porcaro, who was the band’s first drummer.
“There are urban legends that we were just session musicians that got together to make more money. We were already making a lot of money; we got together because we wanted to make music we wanted to hear on the radio.”
The band’s songs dominated the radio in the 1980s and during the MTV era, especially big hits like “Africa” and “Hold the Line.”
Even as Toto’s music climbed the charts, Paich continued to do session work, and he recalled one of his most memorable sessions on a song called “The Girl is Mine,” featuring Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.
“When I got to the studio I saw George Martin and Geoff Emerick, The Beatles producer and engineer and Quincy Jones and Bruce Swedien, Michael’s producer and engineer, and Michael was there so I was pretty much in a daze. Then McCartney walks in and sits at the piano and I had to pinch myself. Whenever I meet a Beatle, I am awestruck. There was some great jams there, they jammed on Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Was Made to Love Her.’ “
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.