Toto may not be the most successful or well-loved rock band in the world, but their story is
unlike that of any other.
For a while, Toto actually ruled the airwaves, but sadly their sunshine days were all too
Beyond that, the rest of the band's history is riddled with discord and tragedy.
Here's the long, strange, and tragic real life story of Toto.
Many people like to say that a close friend is like their brother, but they tend to forget
just how often brothers fight.
Just ask Toto.
When drummer Jeff Porcaro co-founded the band, he quickly asked his brother, keyboardist
Steve Porcaro, to join in.
After original bassist David Hungate left the group in 1982, another one of those Porcaros,
Mike, jumped from occasional Toto cellist to full-time Toto bassist.
But that combination was a bubbling cauldron overflowing with searing hot animosity and
Speaking about the band's early days, Steve later told Classic Rock:
"I felt undervalued.
Jeff and I were always at each other's throats.
Mike got along with both of us.
But Jeff and me really bumped heads."
Although he recalled Jeff getting frustrated if Steve couldn't reach his perfecting standards,
he claimed there was definitely something brotherly going on, since he'd hear Jeff singing
Steve's praises whenever he thought his brother wasn't around.
There's a strange phenomenon in the music world, in which some of the most hated bands
inexplicably reach the very highest levels of commercial success.
They can sell tens of millions of records and win endless accolades for their work,
but still, for some reason or another, they seem to be universally despised.
Let's just call it the Nickelback Paradox.
Toto are cursed with this paradox, too.
The band's 1982 album Toto IV spawned two of the most popular radio hits of all time
in "Rosanna" and "Africa," which went to #2 and #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively.
In 1983, the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences bestowed multiple Grammy Awards on
the very popular band, including Album of the Year, Producer of the Year, and Record
of the Year for "Rosanna".
Despite all that, however, Toto struggled to be respected in the industry.
Critics already couldn't stand the band, for example; Rolling Stone labeled Toto IV:
"...about as real as a Velveeta-orange polyester leisure suit."
Meanwhile, Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times claimed there was:
"...a disheartening lack of depth or daring in the group's music."
Toto's David Paich once shot back at the band's enemies, telling People magazine:
"Critics are just fools with no credentials or credibility."
"I think we've grown and matured to know that if you've been in a band for ten years like
Toto has that you're gonna be picked on by critics."
The band didn't just talk the talk, either.
Band member Steve Lukather later told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"We're the only band in history to turn down the cover of Rolling Stone.
We knew they were going to do a hatchet job on us."
Like many of the world's most popular bands, Toto split lead vocals duties among its members.
But although many of Toto's members took their turns behind the microphone from time to time,
it was Bobby Kimball who served as the band's primary singer for its first four albums in
the late '70s and early '80s.
As it happened, the late '70s and early '80s, were also a time of widespread cocaine use,
perhaps more so than any other era in rock 'n' roll.
Band member Steve Lukather told Classic Rock that while Toto dipped into the white stuff
back in the day, it wasn't all that big a deal.
"We were not the only band that did blow.
We weren't as bad as most.
But thanks to Mr. Kimball, that became like our badge of honor."
In other words, Kimball was doing too much coke, so much so that Toto's Steve Porcaro
says it ruined his voice.
He later said:
"The bottom line was Bobby couldn't sing.
I stayed up all night.
We all did.
The next day my throat would be like ribbons.
But I didn't have to sing.
Bobby had to, and he just wasn't delivering."
And so, in 1983, right after its peak of commercial success, the other members of Toto elected
to fire Kimball, right around the same time that Kimball also went on trial for a 1981
incident in which he allegedly sold four ounces of cocaine to an undercover cop.
As it turned out, Bobby Kimball's distinctive vocal stylings were a key part of Toto's sound...and
After he was forced out of the band, Toto's fortunes took a steep downturn.
While Toto IV peaked at number 4 on the Billboard album chart, won a number of Grammys, and
went multi-platinum, the group's 1984 follow-up Isolation stalled at number 42.
It's often tough to replace the lead singer of an established band, and it was a heck
of a tall order for Kimball's immediate successor, Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen.
A veteran singer with the likes of rock bands like Trillion, Survivor, and La Roux, Fergie
certainly had the chops and experience to roll with Toto, but it just didn't work out,
he left the band after Isolation, replaced by singer Joseph Williams.
Sadly, in June 2010, Frederiksen announced that he'd been diagnosed with an inoperable
form of cancer.
Less than four years later, the former Toto singer died at age 62.
It's a rare band in which the leader is the drummer, seeing as how they're stuck behind
a mass of snares and hi-hats at the far back of the stage.
But they do exist.
Fleetwood Mac was definitely Mick Fleetwood's baby, latter-day Genesis was drummer Phil
Collins' vehicle, and, coming in a respectable third on that short list, Toto was Jeff Porcaro's
band all the way.
He formed the band in the first place, and bandmate Steve Lukather would later label
him Toto's "figurehead."
So it was understandably devastating to the band when Porcaro suddenly died at in August
1992, at the age of 38.
"To know Jeff was to love him most, to the friends who knew him, we miss him very much
and always will."
Just what caused a seemingly-healthy, relatively young guy to drop dead depends entirely on
who you're talking to.
According to a story published in the Los Angeles Times on August 7, 1992, Porcaro was
working in his yard in the San Fernando Valley, spraying plants with pesticide, when he fell
By the time emergency workers arrived, he wasn't breathing, had no pulse, and his heart
After briefly reviving him, authorities transported Porcaro to the hospital where he was pronounced
A Los Angeles County Coroner spokesman attributed the death to a heart attack caused by an allergic
reaction to inhaled pesticide spray.
But that's not the end of the story.
When the Los Angeles County Coroner released its official report on Porcaro a few weeks
later, it ruled Porcaro's cause of death to be occlusive coronary artery disease, in layman's
terms, a hardening of the arteries, brought on by long-term cocaine use.
Tests found no trace of pesticide in Porcaro's system, but they did reveal traces of cocaine,
along with cocaine byproducts.
However, Toto band member Steve Lukather wasn't happy with this conclusion at all, and disavowed
the coroner's report as well as the news organizations that went ahead and published it.
He later told Classic Rock:
"It was irresponsible journalism.
They found one one-hundredth of a microgram of cocaine in Jeff's blood.
That's like two crystals on a f---ing matchstick.
That ain't gonna give somebody a heart attack, believe me.
The rest of us were doing a hundred times more than that and we all lived to tell the
Lukather claims that Porcaro's premature death was brought about by a long-standing heart
condition and a smoking habit, though nothing about that ended up in the coroner's report.
"He was probably smoking a cigarette or a joint.
He didn't have gloves on.
That's how the chemicals got into his skin."
Although Toto topped the charts and dominated rock radio in the early '80s, the band subsequently
drifted into semi-obscurity thereafter, the fate of so many artists who were once on top
of the world.
But that doesn't mean the group disbanded.
After the hugely successful Toto IV, the band released eight studio albums and four live
albums, a new one arriving in stores every couple of years or so, well into the 2000s.
Toto stayed an intact touring band for more than 30 years too, all the way until 2008,
which marked the first time the group ever officially disbanded.
But by that point, things had become too much for Steve Lukather, so he made the decision
to break up the band.
As he later told Classic Rock, neither musical nor personnel reasons caused the split.
Instead, he needed to end the band to deal with a slew of personal issues.
"I was drinking myself to death, I was losing my marriage, my mother was dying.
It was a bad time.
I needed to get myself together or I was going to end up killing myself."
Happily, Lukather says, he soon managed to turn things around.
"I quit drinking, went to a shrink, exorcised some demons."
Some of the biggest and most influential acts in rock history have been sibling acts, and
so was Toto.
In 1982, a third Porcaro brother, Mike Porcaro, joined drummer Jeff Porcaro and keyboardist
Steve Porcaro in the band.
While he'd contributed his cello skills on a few Toto IV tracks, he became an official
member of the group in 1982 after the departure of original bass player David Hungate.
And so he stayed, playing bass for Toto on record and on stage all the way until 2007,
when he had to quit the band after suffering from some serious health issues.
After noticing a numbness in his fingers while playing the bass, Porcaro sought medical treatment,
and doctors diagnosed him with ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, a devastating
and ultimately fatal degenerative neural condition that slowly robs the body of its ability to
speak, eat, and breathe.
After coping with ALS for eight years, Mike Porcaro died in 2015 at the age of 59.
Toto was a band for some 40 years, and with a length of time like that comes a number
of natural changes, band members arrive, band members leave, and people formerly or currently
associated with the band fall away.
Sadly, an inordinate number of Toto's musicians have died.
Luckily, Steve Porcaro is still with us.
But that doesn't mean time has left him unscathed.
Steve Lukather later explained to Classic Rock that Porcaro had had a tumor removed
from his brain that was thankfully benign.
Unfortunately, the operation to remove the tumor also caused Porcaro to go deaf in his
And while it's certainly wonderful that Porcaro survived the ordeal of a brain tumor, it's
also tragic that a man who makes his living from music would be partially robbed of the
gift of hearing.
Like so many other bands had done before them, the remaining members of Toto's classic line-up
reconvened for a 2015 tour, ostensibly in support of Toto XIV, their first album in
But the real reason the band got back out there is a lot more depressing: They had no
In 2008, Toto suspected that its label, Sony, owed them unpaid royalties for digital downloads.
An auditor confirmed that notion, and in 2010, the band sued Sony, seeking more than $600,000
In addition to filing unsuccessfully for a dismissal of the suit, Sony then countersued,
demanding $500,000 from Toto, who the label said it overpaid in royalties over the years.
Unfortunately for the band, in 2014, a judge ruled that the label didn't owe them any money
If Toto needed cash before it sued Sony, they certainly needed it after it lost an expensive,
years-long legal battle.
The group then recorded Toto XIV, an act Steve Lukather later said was, quote, "born out
He told Smashing Interviews Magazine:
"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.
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."
"Even when things weren't going particularly really well, man…"
"...we hung in there, and now, all these years later, who knew we'd be sitting here?"
If nothing else, you've got to give them props for that.
Check out one of our newest videos right here!
Plus, even more Grunge videos about your favorite stuff are coming soon.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the bell so you don't miss a single one.