David Paich Talks Toto, the “Yacht Rock” Label, Working with Steely Dan and His New Solo Debut, ‘Forgotten Toys’

Rock Cellar Magazine

Toto‘s string of hits reads like a soundtrack of the 1970s and ’80s: “Hold the Line,” “99,” “Rosanna,” and “Africa,” the No. 1 smash that has logged over one billion streams worldwide. All of these hits were written or co-written by keyboardist David Paich.

Despite his musical legacy, Paich has yet to release a proper solo record — but he’ll do just that on Aug. 19 with Forgotten Toys. The LP is an eclectic mix of rock and jazz, a reminder of Paich’s skill as a singer, songwriter, arranger and instrumentalist.

Throughout the record, Paich is joined by his bandmates, guitarist Steve Lukather and singer Joseph Williams, along with Brian Eno, Michael McDonald, Don Felder, Ray Parker Jr. and Rolling Stones touring drummer Steve Jordan.

Paich and Lukather are the only members to perform on all of Toto’s studio albums, which have sold over 40 million copies. Like Lukather, Paich established himself as a go-to session musician before co-founding Toto in 1977. Paich has worked with superstars such as Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart and Steely Dan. The six-time Grammy Award winner has contributed to over 2,000 albums in his career — truly a consummate artist.

Click here to pre-order Forgotten Toys on CD from our Rock Cellar Store
Click here to pre-order Forgotten Toys on LP from our Rock Cellar Store

Paich, who arranged songs on Michael Jackson’s Bad and Thriller albums, has said, “One of my greatest memories is collaborating with Michael Jackson on the best-selling album of all time, Thriller. Helping arrange the Jackson/Paul McCartney duet, ‘The Girl is Mine,’ is still a musical highlight in my career.”

Paich has limited his touring with Toto since 2018 due to health concerns, but remains as musical director and continues to make occasional onstage appearances.

He traces his musical journey back to his childhood when he was encouraged by his father, Marty Paich, a renowned jazz musician and arranger. We spoke with Paich shortly before the release of Forgotten Toys.

Rock Cellar: This is your first solo album over a long career. What got into you to do it?

David Paich: I know, what got into me? A lot of prodding and support from my bandmates, Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams. I’ve been trying to do some different songs and show a different side of me on this album. I don’t get to sing too much on my band’s albums because I have such a limited range, so it’s challenging to come up with material for me to write and sing. This afforded me the opportunity to do that.

Rock Cellar: What inspired the album’s title?

David Paich: Originally the title was Broken Toys, but my wife said it sounded a little too negative. She said, “how about Forgotten Toys?” She said that’s more truly what they are, forgotten — they’re not broken.

These songs that I had in my old trunk, I had to dust them off and bring them out again and rediscover them and maybe put them into a puzzle and frame them with some of Joseph Williams’ music, my co-writer on some of them.

Also because of the COVID pandemic, it afforded us the time. Everybody was in town and there was more time to work on solo projects. Of course, we were able to do it via screens and everything like that. It did work.

Rock Cellar: You’ve said that “Queen Charade” was inspired by working with Keith Richards. Tell me more about that.

David Paich: I’ve been a Beatles and Stones fan since the very beginning, I don’t hide that at all. I love both bands, but Keith Richards influenced me at a very early age. I tried to play piano like he plays guitar, he uses these great suspensions.

I know Steve Jordan had been producing Keith Richards’ solo records and I said, “God, I’d really love to work with Keith sometime.” And finally, I got a call and I went and saw Dave Natale, who was our front-of-house engineer when we opened for Tina Turner over in England. He greeted me at the door and I had no idea that I was going to be overdubbing, I just thought he was going to let me see Keith work in the studio for a little bit.

But he ended up asking me to do an overdub of a song, “Suspicious,” on Keith’s 2015 record, Crosseyed Heart. So I was very honored, and just had my mind blown that I was standing next to the great Keith Richards and got to do an overdub.

Rock Cellar: “Lucy” is a jazzy track. Did your father’s career as a jazz musician influenced your music?

David Paich: My father was a great jazz musician. He was a piano player, but he was also an arranger. And he arranged music for a lot of singers like Mel Tormé. So that was a kind of memory of my childhood, my dad working with Mel Tormé, which is why I brought his son James Tormé in. He’s a great singer and scatter.

I brought him in to sing a little bit of scatting on the record and to give it that flavor. Definitely, something that’s been marching around my head for a long time now.

Rock Cellar: Tell me about some of the key contributions other musicians made to the album.

David Paich: First of all, the first guy I called was Mike McDonald, who sang on the courses and did a couple of cameo shout-outs on “Spirit of the Moonrise.” Don Felder played slide guitar on “Queen Charade” as well as Steve Jordan, the drummer who’s currently with the Stones, who played drums on it. I was very lucky to get both of them, they’re dear friends of mine.

And on other songs I had people like Nathan East, the legendary bassist, he’s with Eric Clapton right now, and Gregg Bissonette, who’s with Ringo, Warren Ham’s with Ringo and of course Joseph Williams and Steve Lukather, my mates.

Rock Cellar: I guess you don’t have a leaf blower incident like Steve.

David Paich: No, I don’t. That’s unique to Steve.

Rock Cellar: You’ve worked as a session musician with many great artists. What makes a great session player? Can any good musician be one?

David Paich: Not really. It doesn’t take just being a great musician. You have to be diverse and you have to be able to sight-read pretty well. If you can’t, you have to be able to do what I do, which is just have a really good ear.

Really, it’s just fitting in and being familiar with all different kinds of music and being authentic. And feeling good at the same time, not getting nervous when the record light goes on.

David Paich (Photo: Alessandro Solca)

David Paich (Photo: Alessandro Solca)

Rock Cellar: As accomplished as you are, how is it looking across the studio at Paul McCartney?

David Paich: I still get a little bit of butterflies, but I’m seasoned enough to where it doesn’t bother me anymore.

Rock Cellar: Take me inside some of those sessions, like Steely Dan. They seemed very secretive. How did Becker and Fagen work?

David Paich: They were very possessive about their sounds and their process. Very few people were let into that inner circle. And you get to do that, you get to see what’s going on when you play with them. Where Fagen’s doing the rough vocal, and you can hear him singing while you’re playing.

Very quirky, very entertaining and very intellectual, Steely Dan is. I enjoyed working with them very much.

Rock Cellar: When you’re with the giants, like Paul McCartney, Elton John, do they share stories? Or is it all business?

David Paich: They do. Not so much stories, but Paul McCartney said when we finished playing “The Girl Is Mine,” he said, “You guys remind me of my band when we used to be mates and we’d drive around in a van all the time together, the four of us in the back of the car.” That was really endearing.

Rock Cellar: I’d imagine you’d want to pepper them with questions.

David Paich: Oh absolutely. I wanted to, but it wasn’t the time. I got George Martin aside by myself and asked him questions, different things.

Rock Cellar: Would you give me one great insight?

David Paich: I was talking to him about Lennon and McCartney, trying to find out how really great they were, and he told me they were unlike anything he’d seen before. It was like Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe. He said they were spinning out songs, and they were all hit songs, so fast that it was hard for anyone else to get songs on the album.

Rock Cellar: The term didn’t exist when Toto started, but now you’re classified as “yacht rock.” What do you think of the term?

David Paich: I kind of think of it as a little wink out of the corner of my eye, a little tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. I think somebody came up with a phrase to bag all this soft rock stuff on the radio. I’m in good company with Steely Dan and Mike McDonald and Kenny Loggins, so it doesn’t bother me at all.

Rock Cellar: You’ve had to step back from touring with Toto, but have appeared at times for a few songs. Any plans to continue doing that or perform solo?

David Paich: Not right now. I just came back from Amsterdam, where we worked the Ziggo Dome, which was 17,500 people. I did a one-time-off thing with that show. And I played a few places in the States, but until Toto gets its tour scheduled for next year, they’re going to be opening for Journey again, I might fly out and do a couple of dates here and there.

Rock Cellar: My favorite Toto song is “99.” What does the title mean?

David Paich: I got that from George Lucas’ science fiction movie, THX1138. It was in the future and people had numbers, they didn’t have names anymore. I thought that was an interesting lens to write a song through. I just named a fictitious girlfriend 99.

Rock Cellar: Let’s do a lightning round. Favorite session player.

David Paich: Larry Knechtel. The guy that did “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and many other sessions.

Rock Cellar: Favorite keyboardist.

David Paich: Greg Phillinganes.

Rock Cellar: The artist, past or present, that you would have loved to perform with.

David Paich: Rolling Stones.

Rock Cellar: What song of yours should more people have listened to?

David Paich: There was a song on the Falling In Between album called “Spiritual Man.”

Rock Cellar: If you were not in Toto, what band would you have been a good fit in?

David Paich: I’ve got to go back years, I’d say the Small Faces or the Rolling Stones.

Mastropolo is the author of New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock  and Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1737764547

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