David Paich, Grammy-Winning Artist/Songwriter And Co-Founder Of The Band TOTO, Talks About His Classic Hits And New Solo Album, Forgotten Toys

David Paich
David Paich
(photo credit: Alex Solca)

For over four decades, David Paich has been a successful and acclaimed artist, songwriter, producer and musician. He has won six Grammy Awards, and he’s known for being a co-founder of the legendary pop/rock band, TOTO. He wrote or co-wrote the group’s three biggest hits— “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna” and “Africa”—and he’s played a creative role in all of TOTO’s albums.  In addition, he has written hit songs for several other artists including Boz Scaggs (“Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle” and “Miss Sun”), Cheryl Lynn (“Got to Be Real”) and George Benson (“Lady Love Me”).

This week (on Aug. 19), Paich is launching a new part of his career, as a solo artist. He is releasing his first solo album, Forgotten Toys (released by David Paich and the Players Club/Mascot Label Group). This album is a collection of seven songs that showcases Paich’s lead vocals, his songwriting, his keyboard playing and production. Notably, he recorded this album with the help of such renowned music friends as Joseph Williams & Steve Lukather of TOTO, Michael McDonald, Don Felder, Brian Eno, Ray Parker Jr. and Steve Jordan.

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with David Paich of TOTO, who tells how he wrote the band’s classic hits “Rosanna” and “Africa” for their Grammy-winning album, TOTO IV.

The songs on Forgotten Toys display Paich’s songwriting and musical skills in a few different genres. The second cut “willibelongtoyou” is catchy pop/rock tune that’s in the vein of TOTO, whereas “Queen Charade” is more blues/rock and “Lucy” has a jazz sound. Also, there are two graceful, melodic ballads: “First Time” and “All The Tears That Shine.”

Paich began his music career in the early 1970s, when he was a teenager. He grew up in Los Angeles and his father, Marty Paich, was a top composer, jazz pianist & arranger. When he was 15, he started playing on demo sessions, and when he was 18, he played keyboards on the hit “Diamond Girl” by Seals & Crofts. Soon after, he played organ on singer/guitarist Les Dudek’s album, which was produced by Boz Scaggs. Scaggs was impressed by Paich’s playing, so Scaggs invited Paich to write with him for his album Silk Degrees, which turned out to be a multi-platinum album. It contained six songs that were co-written or written by Paich, including the classic hits “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.”

Here’s the lyric video of David Paich’s new song, “Spirit Of
The Moonrise.”

Following this success, Paich was in demand as a songwriter, session player and producer. He co-wrote the hits “Got to Be Real” for Cheryl Lynn and “Lady Love Me” for George Benson. He also played keyboards on many hit songs for Michael Jackson, Steely Dan, Bryan Adams, Aretha Franklin and other artists.

It was in 1977 that he formed TOTO with Steve Lukather, Jeff Porcaro, David Hungate and Bobby Kimball. The band released their first album, TOTO, in 1978, which contained their debut hit “Hold the Line,” which was written by Paich.

The band followed up with their albums Hydra (1979) and Turn Back (1981), but it was their fourth album, TOTO IV, that was their greatest achievement. This album was certified 4x platinum in the U.S. and sold a massive 12 million copies worldwide. TOTO IV featured their biggest hits: “Rosanna” and “Africa” (with Paich singing lead). Impressively, the album received six Grammy Awards in 1983, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year (for “”Rosanna”) and Producer of the Year.

Over the years, Paich has written and played on over a dozen studio albums for TOTO, plus several live albums. And for decades, he toured steadily with the band.

David Paich Interview

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with David Paich. He discusses his new solo album and his extensive career with TOTO, He also talks about his songwriting, producing and the studio sessions he played on for other artists.

DK: You’re releasing your first solo album, Forgotten Toys. How did you decide to release your solo album?

David Paich: I had been contemplating it for a while. Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams (of TOTO) had been working on their own solo records, and they were urging me to come out with a solo record. At first I was reluctant to, because I’m satisfied mostly with the work I do with TOTO. But I had these pieces floating around, and I decided to work in my recording studio at my house. It was during the pandemic, and I was able to take time and start putting pieces together. I kind of dusted some of the so-called toys in my closet, and I found that it was like a puzzle. So I brought Joseph Williams in, who’s a great friend and co-writer and co-producer on this album. And once we got a taste of putting these songs together like a puzzle, and hearing the outcome of them, I started to like it. So it got very addicting and I kept working on one after another. And finally, I had seven little pieces here, and I decided that I want to leave people wanting more, as opposed to overwhelming them with too many cuts.

Here’s the audio of David Paich’s new song, “Queen Charade.”

DK: I like your new uptempo songs, “willibelongtoyou” and “Spirit In The Moonrise.” Can you talk about writing those songs?

Paich: “willibelongtoyou”—that came from a chorus. Joseph had a chorus, and I’d been working on a verse for a song that had not been written yet. I was playing around with the verse, and then I heard Joseph’s chorus that he recorded at his house. I juxtaposed them and they fit perfectly together. Then Joseph and I came up with some extra music that helped transform it, and the same thing happened with “Spirit of the Moonrise.” I had several pieces together but I wasn’t sure how the puzzle should work, so Joe arranged them out of the pieces I had. And it really sounded great.

When it comes to TOTO’s stuff, I don’t get to sing on too many uptempo songs because we have such great singers in the band. So the challenge was writing a melody that could be sung in a lower register and still have the impact that it needs to have. And just for insurance, I brought in Mike McDonald to sing a couple notes that are higher than I can sing.

DK: It must be nice to have friends like Michael McDonald available to help you out.

Paich: It certainly is (laughs). He’s one of the great friends…I’ve known him for such a long time.

DK: I also like your ballad “First Time,” which has a pretty melody and good harmonies. How did you write this song?

Paich: “First Time” was probably one of the oldest tracks that I have. There’s a little synth/flute sound that plays a riff, and I wrote the chorus on that riff. Then I brought Joseph in to help me finish the lyrics on it. “First Time” is a song about coming of age. I have a daughter who is now in her 30s, and it’s been very transformative watching her come of age and grow up into a woman. It’s a father’s wish for his daughter, and I wanted to share the experience. And that’s my daughter making her singing debut as a cameo on the song.

DK: I want to ask you about the early years of your career. I read that you grew up in Los Angeles, and your father was a top composer & musician. How did you get started with music and learning to play piano & keyboards?

Here’s the video of TOTO’s hit, “Rosanna.”

Paich: My father, who was a jazz pianist, was arranging for singers like Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, and he was always playing the piano. So when he would go away for a break, I started tinkering around on the piano when I was about five years old. Then I got interested in drums; I wanted to be a jazz drummer when I was about six. Then I got back into playing piano when I was eight. And my father said, “Well, if you’re gonna take this seriously, you need to take some lessons.” So I started taking piano lessons, and I started getting better. Then when I was around 15, I started doing demo sessions. And when I was 18, I worked on a hit record called “Diamond Girl” by Seals & Crofts, and that launched my career as a session player.

DK: Before you worked with TOTO, you wrote with Boz Scaggs the hits “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.” How did you connect with Boz?

Paich: Working with Boz was so important to the blossoming of my career and TOTO’s career. (TOTO drummer) Jeff Porcaro was called in to play on a song for guitar player (and singer) Les Dudek. Boz Scaggs was producing it, and they were looking for an organ player to fill out the rhythm section, so I got the call. And luckily I met Boz, and he was looking for a keyboard player to co-write with for his next album. So we went to my dad’s ranch up in Santa Ynez, and he had a little grand piano there. Boz and I wrote “Lido Shuffle,” “Lowdown,” “It’s Over” and “Jump Street,” and it turned out to be a transformative album and I think a very eclectic album for the time it was put out. And it solidified and validated the TOTO rhythm section, and we also went out and toured with Boz. So we got a lot of experience, and that was the launching of our careers.

DK: About a year later, you wrote & produced the pop/R&B  hit “Got to Be Real” for Cheryl Lynn. How did you write this song and connect with Cheryl?

Paich: My father heard about Cheryl, and he called Bruce Lundvall, a friend of his who was president of CBS/Sony Records. He said, “Work with her,” and she said, “Well, we’re looking for a producer.” So as it happens, my star was on the rise (after Boz Scaggs), so Bruce said, “Why don’t you and your son produce this artist?” So I got together with Cheryl, and the first thing I started playing was the riff on “Got to Be Real.” Then she started singing and it just took off, and later we added David Foster and Voila! we had champagne. We had the song there and I thought it came out pretty good.  During that time, I was making Cheryl’s record simultaneously with making TOTO’s first record. I was a busy lad.

Here’s the video of TOTO’s hit, “Africa.”

DK: How did TOTO get together and decide to form a band?

Paich: In between sessions that we were doing for other people, we would make deals to get studio session time on the weekends. Those days, you had to borrow favors to get studio time. So we worked out a deal where we got to do a couple weekends at Davlen Sound Studios, and Jeff and I went in making a couple tracks. One of the songs we made was called “Miss Sun.” On the original demo it was just me and Jeff, with Luke (Steve Lukather) coming in and playing guitar. And Voila! that was the beginning of TOTO right there. Right after that, we started rehearsing. “Hold The Line” was the first song that I wrote for TOTO. We decided it was time to try to strike up a deal, so we found managers who were working with CBS, and the rest is our story.

DK: You wrote TOTO’s first hit, “Hold the Line.” What inspired you to write this song?

Paich: I had left home for the first time and got an apartment. Then I got a Yamaha upright piano, and as soon as I start playing that piano, I started playing that riff. And I must have played it for two or three days, because people were knocking on my door saying, “Stop playing!” I was annoying everybody by playing that song. It was around then that TOTO decided to get together and have a rehearsal, listen to some new material, and see if we could actually be a band. So I brought that song in, and I taught it to (singer) Bobby Kimball, and Steve Lukather and Steven Hungate were there. And “Hold the Line” sounded just like the record the first time we played it. So we knew we had a good thing and it ended up being a Top 5 record.

DK: In 1982, TOTO had their biggest album, TOTO IV, which had the hits “Rosanna” and “Africa.” Can you talk about making that album and how you wrote those songs?

Paich: Around the time of our third album, Turn Back, the record company let us know that we were in an unfavorable situation with them—we were gonna get one more chance to write an album that had some hit singles on it. So I got down to work and said, “I’m gonna try to write the best song I’ve ever written.” I started writing “Rosanna,” and constructing it the way I wanted to put everything I knew about hit songwriting into one song. And the band are such good arrangers and good musicians, that it took on a life of its own and became the record that you hear. I think it’s a good demonstration of what TOTO sounds like, because you can hear all the players playing on it, and it just keeps on elevating as it goes along.

Here’s the video of TOTO’s hit, “Hold the Line.”

DK: Was “Rosanna” written about the actress, Rosanna Arquette?

Paich: Yes, I had just met her. I didn’t have the title of the song until I met her. She was walking through my kitchen with Steve Porcaro, who she was dating at the time. I met her, and I just started playing the song and singing “Rosanna” as the title and it seemed to fit perfectly. So she charmed her way into the song.

DK: TOTO is a band from L.A., but one of your biggest hits was a song called “Africa.” How did you come up with the idea for writing “Africa”?

Paich: In my mind and in my imagination, I always wanted to travel, which is one of the reasons I formed a band. You know, travel and see the world. I’d been watching travelogues of Africa on TV when I was growing up. And I romanticized it and was compelled to want to visit Africa, or at least write about it.

I had gotten a new instrument called the CS-80 from Yamaha, and it was like Stevie Wonder’s dream machine. It had all these fantastic sounds. So the first riff that I played when I turned the keyboard on [was the intro for “Africa”]. It was just magical—I had the sound (that you hear on the record), and sometimes sounds inspire you to write certain music. So I had that part and then I wrote the melody to the verses, and then it came down to the chorus. I started singing the chorus words, and I blurted out “Bless the rains down in Africa.” So I knew that I had the title of the song, and I knew that I wanted it to be inclusive of different aspects of my personality. It’s kind of a self-discovery song.

DK: Besides your songs for TOTO, Boz Scaggs and Cheryl Lynn, I also like the hit “Lady Love Me” that you wrote for George Benson. Can you talk about writing this song?

Paich: With “Lady Love Me,” (hit writer/composer) James Newton-Howard wanted to get together and write an R&B song. That was the first time we wrote a song together…he’s one of my best friends. We sat down and wrote “Lady Love Me,” and George Benson was looking for a song, so we sent that to him and he ended up recording it. It’s really satisfying to know that you can do that, outside of the context of whatever vehicle that you’re using. My vehicle is TOTO, but it’s great to do a song with Cheryl Lynn or Boz Scaggs or George Benson. It validates your goals and your process.

Here’s the audio of Boz Scaggs’ hit ‘Lowdown,” which was
co-written by David Paich.

DK: You also played keyboards on many great sessions, including several for Michael Jackson. What was it like playing on hit records for Michael Jackson?

Paich: Oh, that’s nothing but fun and sheer joy and focus. It’s great, because Michael gives you loads of freedom to do whatever you want, whatever you hear, and he says, “If you want to use a symphony orchestra or the Vienna Boys Choir or whatever.” I was just a keyboard player and I’m like, “Well, I understand what you’re saying, so we can employ some of that in our keyboard approach here.” So it was fun trying to interpolate Michael Jackson’s dreams into musical, concrete concepts. And he’s a perfectionist and the sweetest guy that you’d ever want to meet in the world. I can’t say enough good things about Michael as far as being an artist and working with him.”

DK: Thank you David for doing this interview. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about yet, that you’d like to mention for this article?

Paich: I just hope everybody goes out and gives Forgotten Toys a listen. And I want to thank all of our fans and friends and families that have been so loyal supporting us, and giving us their love for all these years. We couldn’t have done it without them, and we’re gonna keep on making music because that’s what we do.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima