How Toto’s David Paich Returned to Making Music
For the bulk of his career, Toto’s David Paich has been playing on other people’s records, stacking up credits on around 2,000 albums – though he jokingly admitted recently that this figure might not be precise.
Regardless of the total, Paich's sessions work has snared six Grammy Awards and while helping to sell countless millions of albums. With Toto, the stats are more concrete: 17 albums and 40 million in album sales and over three billion streams to date. He had a hand in all three of their biggest hits, “Africa,” “Rosanna” and “Hold the Line.”
His solo debut Forgotten Toys began life as Paich belatedly took the time to go through his songwriting archives, finishing off some stragglers that had been waiting for a home. Naturally, a good number of his Toto bandmates are present, while he also enlisted some other friends, including Michael McDonald and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder.
I know you must be pretty excited about this new album.
It feels great. It’s like having a child, but not. I’m just really excited. I haven’t been this excited since we released our first record. I feel giddy, like I’m in my teens again. It’s great and it’s a good feeling of closure and accomplishment. It’s a feeling that I was able to do something during the COVID months, you know, put my time to use. The journey was the most rewarding part about it so far. Getting to work with all of these friends of mine and colleagues and have a one-on-one relation in the studio. [I got to] use musicians that I normally wouldn’t get to use on a regular album that I’d make. It was a labor of love and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Who was your prized get on this album, player-wise?
Steve Jordan playing on “Queen Charade.” He joined the [Rolling] Stones about a week after he played on my track, so I was very lucky to get him on that.
Listen to David Paich's 'Queen Charade'
How did you first meet Steve?
I used to do sessions with Steve. I met him on a Don Henley record [The End of the Innocence]. They had double drummers, I think. I think it was him and Jeff [Porcaro]. We started working together. I did the Funk Brothers with him. He started having me do the Emmy shows with him, which he was musical director and I was kind of co-musical director with him on the Emmys for two years. We always stay in touch musically and socially. He’s one of my closest friends. I love him dearly, and he didn’t let me down. He gave it that live touch.
It seems like the process for this album started pretty naturally, with you just listening to things.
That’s right. You just start reviewing the old material or little pieces, finding stuff. It’s tough too when you’re making a transition with your studio. My studio is constantly going from analog to digital. It’s all digital now. So you grab these old analog tapes that have been sitting around and you digitize them. All of the sudden, you realize that there’s little gems on there. Little forgotten toys that you forgot about that could possibly come to fruition.
Were there some things here song-wise that you had a personal attachment to?
“Lucy,” the jazz song that ends the record: My dad was a jazz pianist, so I followed in his footsteps. I was able to have a little reunion. My dad did a lot of records with Mel Torme back in the ‘50s and they were classic records. I met his son and thought it would be a good idea to bring him in to redo some of that Paich/Torme magic. He did not let me down.
Listen to David Paich's 'Lucy'
You, Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams have all been working on albums and while the songs could have gone to a Toto album, we got three records instead.
It’s interesting and we’ve talked about that – because when we’re together, we try not to make Toto records. It’s easy, because whoever is running the show, it just kind of goes in their general direction. I was inspired by Ringo Starr. When he did his first albums as a solo artist, the first people he enlisted were John Lennon and George Harrison. So I kind of used that as a blueprint as to how far I could go, bringing in my friends on my record, you know? They’re such craftsmen as musicians that they can chameleon-ize and fit whatever situation they’re in, playing-wise. It’s a win-win situation.
I think people were concerned when you stepped away from touring with Toto because of your health. How are you doing at this point?
My health’s very good at this point. I had been touring. We had gone out on a three-month tour into the coldest regions of like, Norway, Sweden, Finland and also, Germany. It was just a freezing winter. On top of everybody being sick on the bus with some kind of flu or whatever, my health started to dwindle on the road. When you get older, traveling on a bus for two months at a time, it’s hard to do. I had some other issues that I don’t want to go into, but I just had to take some time off. It was time for me to take some time off and recuperate from the road.
“Spirit of the Moonrise” has a cool mystical prog kind of vibe. What are the origins of that one?
The riff in the chorus [Paich imitates the riff], I had that when I started out. I’ve always been a big Fleetwood Mac lover. I liked the tempos that they get, these up tempos, so I wanted to incorporate that into the song. I ended up writing the verses and that song just all came together. It was great fun getting to make a song that feels like that. I brought in Mike McDonald and also, Steve Lukather, who just played beautiful guitar on it.
Listen to David Paich's 'Spirit of the Moonrise'
Did you meet Mike through the Steely Dan circle? How did you two connect originally?
I met Mike before that. He came out from St. Louis. Jeff Porcaro called me and he says, “You’ve got to hear this guy sing.” I think he was singing in a bowling alley. They had converted a bowling alley into a nightclub and he was singing there. He was just unbelievable. It was like a young Ray Charles. [Guitarist] Jeff [“Skunk” Baxter] got him the gig with Steely Dan and then, I think Jeff Baxter had been working with the Doobies, so he recruited him to the Doobie Brothers and that’s where I [got to know him]. I worked with him on the Doobies album Livin' On The Fault Line, which Ted Templeman produced. I learned a lot about producing from that album with Ted and Michael McDonald.
What did you pick up being around the Steely Dan guys?
They were perfectionists. They cast musicians and let them do kind of what they do. That’s the neat thing about Steely Dan, if you hire the right players, the player will instinctively know what to do. They always had this cynical sense of humor that was very funny in the studio. Jeff Porcaro and I got it; a lot of people didn’t get it. I definitely got [it that] these are hardcore New Yorkers. They kind of winced – they’d look out of the corner of their eye when they’re talking about L.A. and stuff with a little bit of cynicism in it. But they’re master musicians. I can’t say enough about the impact they’ve made on music. They’re so different than everybody else. That’s what I wanted Toto to do, if you want something a little different, here’s something over here. It’s not necessarily better or worse than anything but it’s just slightly different, for someone who wants something a little bit different. I think Steely Dan fit that category also, although I’m not comparing ourselves to them. It was just trying to be different. That’s what I learned from Steely Dan.
Listen to Paul McCartney Duet with Michael Jackson on 'The Girl is Mine'
What was the most interesting thing for you, watching Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney do their thing?
Just how masterful they are at what they do, which is to sing and perform. Those two live in rarified air. It’s just amazing. I mean, McCartney, there’s nobody better. He’s done so many hit records and is the greatest singer. Him and Michael together was sheer magic. We got to jam a little bit while we were getting sounds, so we were jamming on a couple of Motown songs. Paul would sing a couple of lines, but then Michael would answer him. Michael would just kill it, doing a couple of Stevie Wonder songs and stuff like that. It was a pinch-me moment, I was in the studio with George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. Definitely off my bucket list.
How much did that help you when it came to sitting down to work with them on the arrangement?
It definitely gave me the sense of how they used to work with George Martin – because George Martin was in the room on Paul’s behalf. When we laid out the chart, he was the guy who was standing over my shoulder saying, “Why don’t you do this?” Or “It might be nice if you modulate at the end of this” or “put some dynamics into this section here.” He was kind of giving me hidden clues on what to add to the session. His scores just came out and you can get all of his manuscript scores for all of the Beatles records, so I just ordered that. I can’t say enough about him.
Have you continued to work on stuff beyond this EP? Did the process light a fire for you creatively?
Yeah, I’ve been working. Lukather’s been doing a new solo album. I’ve been helping him and Joe out with that. I’m just trying to also write and keep my head fresh and keep practicing, and keep becoming the musician that I want to be.