Toto’s David Paich opens up about Mike Porcaro’s battle with ALS: ‘Hanging in there’

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Toto has reformed over each of the last three summers to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, after bassist Mike Porcaro was diagnosed with the motor neuron disorder most commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A portion of the proceeds from their shows are going to Porcaro and his family.

Band co-founder David Paich, in a new talk with Alun Williams of Chambers of Rock, says Porcaro — the middle brother of Toto members Jeff Porcaro and Steve Porcaro — has been getting getting progressive worse, though his spirits are good.

[MIKE PORCARO DIES: Mike Porcaro, the Toto bassist who has tragically died of ALS at age 59, is remembered by friends and family including Steve Porcaro, David Hungate and Steve Lukather.]

Porcaro, who participated in early sessions with Toto but didn’t take over officially until after David Hungate’s departure in 1982, played bass with the band through 2007 diagnosis. He also added cello on the Toto IV track “Good For You,” in ’82 and on “After You’ve Gone” from Mindfields in 1999.

Porcaro first experienced numbness in his fingers during a tour five years ago, and was initially replaced by Leland Sklar before Toto initially disbanded in 2008. Two years later, Steve Porcaro, Steve Lukather and Paich announced that they would begin touring again as a benefit project in Mike’s honor. Nathan East has been appearing as guest bassist since.

Toto just completed a celebrated European tour, and begins a U.S. leg on Thursday — with stops in California, Nevada and Arizona. A complete listing of upcoming dates and sites is included below.

As for Porcaro, Paich tells Chambers of Rock’s Williams: “I’d like to say Mike’s doing better but Mike’s — the words I can use are: Mike’s hanging in there. Mike has a great attitude. In general, it’s the prognosis that isn’t great, you know …”

Fifty percent of patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease live at least three or more years after diagnosis, according to Johns Hopkins. Twenty percent live five years or more — and up to 10 percent will survive more than 10 years. Current research into ALS is sparking hope for lengthier life expectancy, however.

“He’s kinda been going downhill for the last three years here,” Paich says, “’cause it’s a very slow degenerative process. But, again, Mike mentally is fantastic and if you talk to him his spirits are up and he’s — he’s great and he’s like the old Mike Porcaro, except that he’s disabled, he’s in a wheelchair and can’t move … You know? Can’t walk and can’t play which is a total … just a heart breaking drag, you know what I mean?”

That’s pushed the band to keep going, Paich tells Chambers of Rock: “We’re trying to get out there and make people more aware of ALS and to try and raise money here and give his family a little comfort zone here — ’cause we’re not doctors, we can’t cure what he has but we can help his family a little bit.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Toto. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: STEVE LUKATHER OF TOTO: We asked Lukather to dig into his role in a staggering number of hit projects — from Boz Scaggs and Olivia Newton-John to Larry Carlton and Michael Jackson. But you don’t talk to the legendary guitarist without talking about Toto. So, we also found out more during the latest SER Sitdown on the complicated history of the band’s lead singers, and what the future holds for Toto after the departure of two Porcaro brothers. Oh, and why Lukather still keeps a copy of Meet the Beatles in heavy rotation, even today.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: TOTO: Critics hung soft rock around their necks after the success of tunes like “I Won’t Hold You Back,” “99” and “I’ll Be Over You.” But Toto was never so easily identifiable. A closer listen uncovers a musical pallette that brings in heavier guitar sounds, funk, soul, R&B, jazz, even prog rock. Top 5 hits like “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna,” and “Africa,” each as listenable as they can be, scarcely hint at that kind of complexity. Can this legacy be saved? That’s where we come in.

DEEP CUTS: TOTO, “ALL US BOYS” (1979): I can’t call myself a fan of every one of their releases, but I can point to several times where Toto was able to channel their vast musicianship and flair for writing compelling songs into mainstream bliss without sounding so compromised. The place I’d point to most strenuously is their second album Hydra. I really need to do a review on the entire album to set the record straight, so to speak, on this largely forgotten gem that I regard as their best. That’s best heard here, as “All Us Boys.” In a band that was serious about its craft, especially on Hydra, “Boys” always got a smile out of me because it was a tune where they let their hair down and just be a fun-loving garage band. And were pretty damned good at it.

ONE TRACK MIND: STEVE LUKATHER ON “I WON’T HOLD YOU BACK,” “99,” “I’ll BE OVER YOU,” AND OTHERS: Lukather provides insight into “I Won’t Hold You Back” and “I’ll Be Over You,” both signature ballads for Toto, and refutes the idea that he hates another of them — “99.” He also talks about how, despite the fact that his band never got the critical praise it deserved, the legendary Miles Davis tried to lure the guitarist away from Toto.

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