Grammy Award winning band Toto will be making a stop on their summer tour at the Hard Rock Rocksino on August 31st. This tour is being billed as “An Evening with Toto” so fans can expect to hear songs from their latest release Toto XIV, classic hits, and fan favorites.
Lead singer, Joe Williams, recently spoke with NEO Music Scene to discuss his career and Toto’s upcoming appearance at the Hard Rock.
Greg Drugan: Hi Joe, it’s great to speak with you today. How are you?
Joe Williams: Very well, thanks.
GD: Where did you grow up?
JW: I grew up here in SoCal in Santa Monica. Spent the first eight years of my life here in Los Angeles, and moved to England when I was eight and spent three years there and then moved back to Los Angeles.
GD: Were you in choir or band growing up?
JW: You know, no. I was in band in the form of rock bands and dance bands or party bands. Most of the schools that I went to, and I went to a lot of different schools due to family travel, but there wasn’t really any choir or I probably would have joined.
GD: Do you play any instruments?
JW: Yeah, I play piano. I’m a self-taught piano player since I was a kid. I can strum a few chords on guitar, but my instrument is the piano.
GD: Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
JW: Well, McCartney for his voice, and obviously Beatles songs. Loved Zeppelin and loved high tenor male singers. At the same time I was a huge Stevie Wonder guy. A lot of R&B and a lot of rock; I was way into Yes for a time when I was a teenager. So it made me a pretty good fit for the band Toto because their music is a combination of Yes and R&B.
GD: Do you remember the first rock concert you attended?
JW: The first rock concert I attended was The Monkees in the Hollywood Bowl in like 1967.
GD: Was that that one where Jimi Hendrix opened up for them?
JW: It may have been, but I don’t remember. I don’t think so because I would have remembered that! (Editor’s Note: Hendrix opened for The Monkees in 1967, but only played 8 east coast dates before quitting).
GD: Your father is the composer John Williams; did you ever go into the studio with him as a child?
JW: Always! Are you kidding me? I used to fall asleep under the podium. My mom used to pick us up early from school and take us to a session and we would sit and watch. It was just a normal part of our world back then. It’s still just as exciting as it was all those years ago. It’s incredible what he’s able to do! To put paper in front of 100 different people and to have it come out as this perfect choreographed sound. It’s amazing to watch him work, especially now. He’s 84 years old and he still conducts and swings his arms around like he did when he was 40.
GD: He’s written so many great pieces; do you have a favorite score that he has written, or a couple that stand out to you?
JW: It’s difficult to say, but there are a couple of pieces that hit me more emotionally where I hear more of his emotional state in his writing. You would have to know him well to know what I’m talking about. So I would pick two; the movie The Accidental Tourist, which was a very small intimate relationship story with a very minimal score. A piano oriented melody that’s one of my favorites. It’s very emotional and I can see all of his depths when I listen to that music. In terms of the big bombastic films, I was a huge Raiders of the Lost Ark fan.
GD: Did you know the guys in Toto before you auditioned for the band?
JW: My father and David Paich’s father were colleagues and worked together before I was born. So I’ve known that family my whole life. Pretty much the same is true for the Porcaro’s. They moved out from the east coast when I was like 6 or 7. But I really didn’t hook up with them until my teenage years. Then Steve Lukather and I met when I was 14, and he was one of my brother’s closest friends. Then over the period time of ’73 to ’76 I was a singer in another band and we would go out and play high school dances. And of course Steve and the Porcaro’s had their bands and we would always be crossing paths. So I’ve known them all at least 10 years before Toto.
GD: You joined the band in ’86; what was it like going on your first tour with Toto?
JW: It was incredible! I don’t know how else to describe it. First of all, I knew them all so I was comfortable in that way. But at the same time I was completely star-struck and a bit shell-shocked to be singing these songs that were huge hits. It was weird. Then another side of me was difficult because I was taking over for somebody who was sort of an iconic sound, so that was tough. The whole thing was a very bizarre combination of feelings and emotions back then.
GD: Was that a world tour that you went on the first time?
JW: We did. When I first joined the band, management sent Mike and I to Japan to advance our shows that we were going to be doing there. Then we did a huge winter European tour which was bizarre because I had never done anything like that before. Then Japan and Asia, and we did a few dates in the states.
GD: You ended up leaving the band in the early ‘90s; how did you end up being the singing voice of Simba in The Lion King?
JW: It was sort of a weird convoluted story. In my years of doing session work I met people along the way. A guy that I became friends with became the head of music at Disney. He called and they were looking for a session singer that could come in and re-voice the singing stuff for the movie Aladdin. I said sure, I would love to do that. One of the reasons I got calls like that was because I used to imitate people. One of my first jobs was a show in Vegas where I used to imitate people and singers. They sent me a tape of the actor who was doing the singing in Aladdin. So I studied it and I tried to give my best version of his tone and try to re-sing the stuff and sound more of a pop singer rather than a Broadway kinda thing. Everybody loved it but the director, so I didn’t get the job. Anyway, jump a year later and Chris Montana over at Disney felt bad, so he asked me to come over and sing some demos for a new project called The Lion King. The songs were by Elton John and Tim Rice but they weren’t exactly sure how they were going to utilize those songs lyrically in the film. So I went into the studio and recorded all of the songs they had. Then it took another year and they asked me to come in and record just a couple of lines from one of those songs which was “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and I went in and replaced what was there. They were talking with my wife about another song because they didn’t know how it was going to work because the range was higher than the actor’s voice. My wife convinced them to give me a shot at it and it was “Hakuna Matata.” I was thanked and paid for the session and given no guarantee that it would be in the film. Then when the film came out, I went to see it with my wife and was very surprised to hear myself in there.
GD: That is a cool story! You re-joined Toto in 2010; how have things changed since your first go around and how are your relationships now?
JW: Well they are different and they are the same. We’ve known each other for so long it’s more like brothers. All the same kinds of things you get with siblings but we all still enjoy each other’s company. That’s a good thing. For myself, I can say that there’s a level of maturity that I didn’t have in the old days. That came from having the responsibility of having a family. When the opportunity came back again, I knew that I was going to take it seriously.
GD: I’m glad you’re back. This tour is being called “An Evening With Toto”; what can fans expect from this show?
JW: The good news is that in the past few years the gigs we’ve done around the states had to be short because we were playing with another act. So the beauty about “An Evening with Toto” is that you guys are going to get the full two hour concert that we normally do in Europe. There are going to be a handful of songs that weren’t in the last show. It’s a nicely paced show.
GD: You guys released Toto XIV a few years ago, are there any plans for new music?
JW: We are! The plan is to have some new material on a kind of celebration of the 40th anniversary album. It will have some of the hits re-mastered. We are actually re-mastering all of the albums, every single one of them that have ever been made. We are going back into the studio and re-mastering them. We will record probably half an album of new material to put on there to celebrate the 40th anniversary.
GD: Great! We definitely will be looking forward to that. You guys will be here in Cleveland at the end of August and I am looking forward to the show!
JW: Yes, absolutely! We can’t wait!
GD: Thank you so much for your time and I’ll see you soon.
JW: No problem, thank you!
Toto will be performing at the Hard Rock Rocksino on August 31. Tickets are available at the Hard Rock Box Office or www.ticketmaster.com. For more information on the band go to: www.totoofficial.com.