Toto to rock the Britt Festival

Bobby Kimball is at home in Los Angeles, enjoying a three-day break from Toto's spring/ summer tour.

"It's been fabulous," the singer says in a telephone interview. "We're playing to sold-out houses."

The multi-Grammy-winning rock band reached a pinnacle of success in the early 1980s when the album "Toto IV" sold in the millions and yielded the hits "Rosanna" and "Africa." Kimball says for some years the band has focused on Europe and Japan, where they are still a monster act.

"We weren't trying to ignore the U.S.," he says. "It just never seemed to jell."

He pauses. "We're not spring chickens anymore, either," he says with a laugh.

Toto started in 1976 when drummer Jeff Porcaro and keyboardist David Paich, L.A. studio musicians who had been working with the likes of Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs, decided to form a band of their own. They turned to guitarist Steve Lukather and keyboardist Steve Porcaro, who were high school pals, and David Hungate, a fellow session man.

Hungate later left the band to be replaced by Mike Porcaro. Jeff Porcaro died of a reaction to garden pesticides in 1992. He was replaced in the band by drummer Simon Phillips.

Kimball left the band in the mid-'80s at the height of its success.

"Drugs were involved," he says. "I hurt me a lot." He returned a decade ago and has been aboard ever since.

"It just felt right," he says.

The newest band member is keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, who was discovered when he was still a youngster by Stevie Wonder. "Greg is one of the most talented guys I've ever met," Kimball says. "Everything about the guy is spot on. When he comes to the party, it really becomes a party."

Kimball thinks Phillinganes sounds like Wonder. When he first joined the band they were in Europe on tour.

"During his keyboard solo we called his wife and sang to her," he says. "You couldn't tell it wasn't Stevie."

Bassist Mike Porcaro has been forced to sit out this tour because of a medical problem with his hand. Filling in on bass is Leland Sklar, who has played with everybody from James Taylor to Phil Collins.

He says Sklar is an old pro and a quick study.

"He learned the whole shot in five days," Kimball says. "He's also one of the most fantastic bass players I've ever heard. He's got a feel for everything."

Kimball was the outside kid from Louisiana when he came to join the others 30 years ago.

"We were rehearsing in a garage," he says. "Five feet away were guys that had been playing with Steely Dan and Three Dog Night."

The group's eponymous first album was released in 1977. It included "Hold the Line," which quickly became a hit.

"I was lying in bed," Kimball says. "I had my alarm clock set for the crack of noon. The light was blacked out so not one ray of light could get in.

"The alarm was set to a radio station. All of a sudden 'Hold the Line' was playing. I thought my roommate was playing it. The guy said, 'That's Toto,' and I completely freaked out."

Among other Toto highlights was working on the movie "Dune" with director David Lynch.

"He's a character," he says. "He should be in his own movies. He asked the band to dinner, and he drove us to the Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake. Fantastic."

The drive-in, near Warner Brothers Studios, was the original version of what later became a chain.

Kimball says after all these years, he can still hit the high notes in the original keys.

"I don't like changing the key," he says. "The best thing is to make sure you can come to the party. Right now it's more fun than ever. As you get older you appreciate things more."

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