INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND PATRICK CLEMENT
Bobby Kimball is a Texas-born American singer, best known as the first (and longtime) frontman for the rock band Toto. In 1974 Bobby moved to Los Angeles, where he formed a new band called S.S. Fools. They released one album but split up shortly thereafter. About half a year later, Kimball was asked by David Paich and Jeff Porcaro to join five session musicians to form the band, Toto. Kimball sang on the first four successful studio albums by Toto but parted ways with the band in 1984 during the recordings of the ISOLATION album. Bobby Kimball then relocated to Germany for a solo career and to work as a session singer. In 1998 Kimball rejoined Toto and stayed until the members went their separate ways in 2008. Lately, Kimball has been touring around the world with the ‘Legends-Voices of Classic Rock’ package with other legendary singers and band-leader Tommy Denander. Tonight Kimball performed solo with the band at Helsinki’s On the Rocks club, and after the show, we had the pleasure to sit down with him and discuss various topics.
WHAT’S GOING ON
Metal-Rules.com: All right, let’s start with current things; what’s going on, Bobby?
Bobby Kimball: What’s going on? Weren’t you at the concert? We just did a concert here in Helsinki, and it was really fantastic. It was really fun. The audience in Scandinavia is always amazing. I love it. But yes, right at the moment, I’m working on four solo CDs. One for Frontiers Records, one for a movie that I wrote, one with another friend of mine with whom I wrote the ALL I NEVER NEED CD in 1999, and another one with Bill Champlin, who’s one of my best friends. I’m working on four solo CDs.
Metal-Rules.com: It sounds like you are going to be a busy man?
Bobby Kimball: I am the busiest person, you know. I’ve been home for eight days in the past four months. I’m starting to forget my wife’s name. You know, I was touring in the Far East. I came back and went to San Francisco, did two concerts 10 hours later. I came back from San Francisco, went to Paris and I did a television show in Paris. Then I went back to Los Angeles. I flew to South America and toured in seven different countries for a whole month. I was in a different country every day. Then I came back to Los Angeles for one day and flew to Germany and rehearsed with a band called Floyd Reloaded, and I played the whole month of January with Floyd Reloaded. Then I went to Los Angeles for three days and then… I came back to Scandinavia and started touring with my band. Then we did four dates in Scandinavia, and when I left Norway, I went to Budapest, and the first thing I did was I had dinner with the prime minister of Hungary. He’s a really nice guy. Viktor Orbán. He wasn’t necessarily just there because he was a fan, it was a Government-supported concert for a huge crowd down there, and the whole stage was full of very famous people, Chaka Khan was singing with me, Jack Bruce, Ian Anderson, Nick Van Eede from Cutting Crew, Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Randy Brecker from the Brecker Brothers, Bill Evans, a great sax player, and John Helliwell from Supertramp, the sax player… There were about 15 big names on the stage. It was an amazing concert.
Metal-Rules.com: What songs did you sing there?
Bobby Kimball: Actually, I did “Hold the Line” and “Rosanna,” and all of those people I was just telling you about recorded CDs with a guy named Leslie Mándoki. Leslie has been a friend of mine – the group is called Soulmates. All of these people I just mentioned, and they came in one at a time or two at a time, whatever, you know, we did CDs together for 20 years, and actually, Steve Lukather was on some of the Soulmates’ albums. Everybody played with this guy. Leslie has been a very good friend of mine for 20 years, and I was the first Soulmate. I introduced him to Steve. But, anyhow, it was his 60th birthday, so at the end of the concert, I introduced Leslie because he had been introducing everyone else. I introduced Leslie as one of my best friends and one of the people who introduced me to all of those people on stage. That was a fantastic moment. I wanted to show him my appreciation. It was a really, really phenomenal concert. I was Soulmate number one. There’s about 30, you know?
Metal-Rules.com: You’re currently living in Germany, right?
Bobby Kimball: I moved to Frankfurt when I left Toto. One of the reasons – I went there to record a CD with Frank Farian. He’s a big producer in Germany. Simon Philips was the drummer on that CD. We did the first single off that CD – it’s called THE FAR CORPORATION. Simon Philips was the drummer, and the first single was “Stairway to Heaven.” The first television show we did – there were eight bands on the television show, and they were all set up in a big circle, but we didn’t know who the other bands were going to be. So, we were first. I walked up and grabbed the microphone and started singing “Stairway to Heaven” and standing about maybe three meters in front of me when I grabbed the microphone – the camera was about three meters from me – and right next to the guy with the camera was Robert Plant. Oh, my god, this is impossible. After we did the show, Robert came back and took pictures with us. He’s a fantastic guy. He really is a fantastic person and a super nice guy. Also, we played in the Wisconsin festival with Toto, and Robert’s solo band warmed up for us. After the concert, we all hung out together. He’s really a great guy. It was fun.
Metal-Rules.com: He’s a really down-to-earth type guy, right?
Bobby Kimball: Yes, he is. That is the only way to be. You can’t be a person that orders other people around. You don’t want to do that. What I want to be in my life – only one thing – happy. I want to be happy. There’s nothing like being happy. You can be wealthy. You can be crazy. You can be all these other things, but the wealthiest person in the world is the happiest.
Metal-Rules.com: It is an important thing to be happy and positive.
Bobby Kimball: Yes. It is. If you got a smile on your face and you’re feeling good, my god, you can’t get any better than that.
BOBBY KIMBALL BAND
Metal-Rules.com: You’re now touring under the name ‘Bobby Kimball Band,’ which features your long-term partner Tommy Denander. It seems that your cooperation works just fine.
Bobby Kimball: Tommy is incredible. Tommy’s one of the best guitar players I’ve ever worked with, and he’s one of the nicest people I know. He’s a great guy. I’ve known him since 1992. He actually called me. He found my telephone number and called me, and we used to talk for two or three hours at a time on the phone.
Metal-Rules.com: Originally, he was a fan of yours, right?
Bobby Kimball: He was a fan, but now I’m a fan of his. And he is my favorite guitar player.
Metal-Rules.com: Overall, this whole band is coming from Sweden. How did you pick up these guys for this band?
Bobby Kimball: Through Tommy. Tommy called me and said, “We would like you to come over and do 12 concerts with us in December 2011.” So I did. No, I’m sorry, 14 concerts. We did 14 concerts in 13 days. And every day we were doing a concert, and the band just kept getting better and better and better, and they said at the end of the tour, “Can we be the Bobby Kimball Band?” I said, “Oh, I don’t have to beg you?” Please. Please be the Bobby Kimball Band. That’s an honor to me.
ROCK MEETS CLASSIC AND RAIDING THE ROCK VAULT
Metal-Rules.com: One thing you’ve done over the years has the Rock Meets Classic thing. Tell me something about that?
Bobby Kimball: Rock Meets Classic was formed by a guy named Manfred Hertlein. And in 1994, I think, was the first Rock Meets Classic, if I’m not mistaken, and I was the first – Gary Brooker from and me… Procol Harum, “Whiter Shade of Pale.” I did one hour. Gary did one hour with the orchestra. It was fantastic. Then, later on about 2009 – it was Manfred’s 50th birthday, and his office called me – they had stopped doing Rock Meets Classic. I got a call from his office, and they said, “Can you come over and sing three or four songs for Manfred’s birthday because we’re bringing in all the bands?” I got up and played the piano and sang solo. Then I went and sat with Manfred. I said, “Manfred, why are you not doing Rock Meets Classic anymore?” He says, “No, no, no, no more.” And about three days later, I got a phone call. He says, “We’re going to do Rock Meets Classic in 2010.” I was on there – it was me, Lou Gramm and Dan McCafferty, the singer from Nazareth. Dan is a killer.
Metal-Rules.com: I just find out that there will be another run or Rock Meets Classic shows in the spring?
Bobby Kimball: Yes, there is. Well, I’m the one that started it again because I kept asking him. I said, “Please. Do Rock Meets Classic again.” Because I’ve done “Night of the Proms.”
Metal-Rules.com: How do fans like when you are performing Toto classics with this band? How do they react?
Bobby Kimball: They love it. They congratulate me all the time.
Metal-Rules.com: Have you got any feedback from Lukather or Toto camp about this Classic thing?
Bobby Kimball: Of course… Bad feedback “laughs.”
Metal-Rules.com: You’re also involved with these upcoming Raiding the Rock Vault- shows in Las Vegas. Would you tell me something more about it?
Bobby Kimball: Well, the guitar player is Howard Leese, the original guitar player with Heart. He wrote “Barracuda,” but now he’s a guitar player for Paul Rodgers. And John Payne from Asia, he’s the leader of that organization, but they’ve asked me to come and sing for about two weeks next month. Yeah, I’ll be there. I’ll be there many times, actually.
Metal-Rules.com: So how you actually ended up there?
Bobby Kimball: Well, actually John did an album of 33 cover songs, and I sang on this album, so he wants me to come and – I’m just going to do three songs in Vegas.
Metal-Rules.com: The show, it’s about to run one year, right?
Bobby Kimball: Yes, but I’m there only for 10 days, but they’re going to bring in Jimi Jamison, Joe Lynn Turner, a ton of people. They’re going to be there forever “laughs” I’ll be going to Vegas, I think, on the 9th of March, the 9th through the 19th. But I’ll be back later on, yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: You’re best known for your work with Toto, but in fact, you’ve done a lot more in your long career, and one interesting thing is your session work with various bands/artists. You once did a session with the hard rock band Quiet Riot, right?
Bobby Kimball: I did. I sang a duet on “In the Still of the Night” with Quiet Riot. Spencer Proffer was the producer, and he called me up because I was living with his sister-in-law. He called me up, and I went and sang on this.
Metal-Rules.com: I do remember that Kevin (DuBrow) was actually very ‘afraid’ of you because he thought that you were going to take over his place at the time?
Bobby Kimball: It was a fun thing to do, and they’re great guys, you know. But…you know, any time, any time another lead vocalist comes in and works with the band that you’re working with, you always think, “Oh, my god, they’re about to take my place.” Whatever, but that was not true.
Metal-Rules.com: Right. How about your work with legendary Pat Travers?
Bobby Kimball: Pat Travers is a very, very good friend of mine. One of the better guitar players I know. Pat is a killer guitar player. You know I’ve done so many concerts with Pat, and he’s got such a fantastic tone. I walked up to him one night, and I said, “Pat, how on earth do you get such a fantastic sound out of this amplifier?” And he says, “Look at my guitar.” So I looked at his guitar, and he said, “Now, do you see it’s plugged into the guitar, and it’s plugged straight into the amp. There’s nothing in between.” He said, “My sound comes from my hand and my heart.” And it’s true. It’s just unbelievable the sound that he gets, but he’s just plugged straight in, with no effects or anything.
Metal-Rules.com: I remember that you were doing some vocals on Travers’ album BAZOOKA which also featured drummer Carmine Appice?
Bobby Kimball: Carmine’s a good friend. And his brother, Vinny, is a good friend, too. It’s an okay album. Anything Carmine and Pat would do would be fantastic. You know, they don’t let it go unless it’s really great.
Metal-Rules.com: Next name on my list is Glenn Hughes.
Bobby Kimball: Glenn Hughes, wow, he’s one of my original heroes. Glenn was with the band, Trapeze. I was with the band in Louisiana. It was just one of my solo bands in Louisiana when I was living there before I moved to Los Angeles, before Toto.. before anything musically in my life. I was listening to the album; YOU ARE THE MUSIC: WE’RE JUST A BAND. My, god, I was just crazy for Glenn Hughes’ voice, and I still am. He’s one of the best singers in the world. And then I finally met Glenn, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Metal-Rules.com: You did some sessions with him in the mid-’90s?
Bobby Kimball: You know, I did so many sessions with so many different people; it’s hard to remember them all. I’ve done thousands of sessions. Actually, when I first got with Toto, I started doing background vocals with a trio. The trio was me, Bill Champlin, Michael McDonald. We did hundreds of albums. This was before Pro Tools. Before Pro Tools, if you were going to do background vocals on an album, you had to do each chorus – they couldn’t cut and paste.
Metal-Rules.com: So it means that vocals had to be repeated many times over?
Bobby Kimball: That’s exactly correct, and everything was triple-tracked. Perfect. Michael and Bill and myself were a trio, and when one of us would get a phone call, all three of us would show up.
Metal-Rules.com: I know many albums that you guys did work on, but which was the hardest one to make?
Bobby Kimball: Oh. Actually, we did a CD, an album rather, no CDs then. But we did an album with the Memphis Horns, and this was about two years before the song “Minute-by-Minute” that Michael wrote. We all three sang that song about two years before the Doobie Brothers did it. The thing is, what they wanted was they wanted a voice that no one could recognize. So one of us would go and sing the lead vocal, and then the next one would go and sing over that lead vocal, and then the next one would sing over those, and then we’d mix them together so you couldn’t tell who it was.
Metal-Rules.com: Before you joined Toto in 1977, you were singing in a band called SS Fools. Would you say something about that band and how you then ended up to Toto?
Bobby Kimball: SS Fools. That’s the first band that I was a permanent member of out in L.A. I was called by a really good friend of mine, Jon Smith, a saxophone player with Edgar Winter. Jon called me. I was playing in Louisiana. He called me and said, “The singer from Three Dog Night just left the band. The band stayed together. They want to form a new group, and they need a vocalist.” And Three Dog Night was one of my favorite bands. I went to L.A. I sang with them for one year. We did a CD. It’s called SS Fools. At about half of our rehearsals, David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the two guys that formed Toto, were there. That’s how I met David and Jeff. Then I left SS Fools about six months later when Toto asked me to sing with them.
Metal-Rules.com: If we exclude Toto and SS Fools, you haven’t been a permanent member of many other bands, right?
Bobby Kimball: The Bobby Kimball Band “laughs” I am doing tours worldwide with different bands.
Metal-Rules.com: Have you ever got offers from the big bands to join?
Bobby Kimball: Oh, yes.
Metal-Rules.com: Would you mention some names?
Bobby Kimball: No, because the lead singers will freak out. I don’t want to do that. No. I’m not crazy. I want them to keep smiling, too. I’ve had some really good offers, but I prefer to make my own decisions, and I don’t want to have to be someone else; I don’t want to be what someone tells me to be. I want to be me. I got to be me. I’ve got to be me. When I go on the stage, I’m thinking of the whole band, not just me. It’s about everyone up there. I want everyone up on the stage to be happy and to have fun. That’s all that really matters to me. I don’t want to walk over and say, “You have to do this, and you can’t do this!” No. I don’t do that.
Metal-Rules.com: Your former band Toto is now having its 35’th anniversary, and they’re going to tour to celebrate the band’s history. What do you think about it since you’re not involved with it?
Bobby Kimball: Not only Toto, but it’s also my 35th anniversary..and the release of “Hold the Line.” But yeah, I don’t really care, but they do care that I’m out here. I don’t care that they care. It’s none of their business because I did sing “Hold the Line,” which was their first single, I am the original vocalist, and I did sing all of their biggest hits. Well, let me say this. When Toto asked me to leave in 1984, they used my voice as the background vocals from all four albums. I asked Steve Lukather one time I said, “What’s going on? I went to the concert and heard you guys, and I heard my voice in the background.” He says, “You’ve been on tour with us the whole tour. You have always been on tour with us because your voice is on the keyboard.” Which is okay with me; I don’t care.
Metal-Rules.com: You did re-join Toto in 1999 and then stayed with them until the band broke up in 2008. Why did you decide to quit the band back then?
Bobby Kimball: Well, actually, we broke up because Steve Lukather decided to get the manager to tell everyone that he was going to take five percent of everyone else’s money. All of a sudden, the orders started. I don’t take orders. I don’t give orders because I want everyone around me to be happy. So, I called a band meeting, and everyone did a thumbs-down on the five percent thing. So Steve left the band, and we broke up. But when they got back together because I called a meeting, they decided to go with Joseph Williams, which is okay with me. That’s fine with me. And I’m very happy for Joseph that he can handle taking orders from Steve “laughs.” All I care about is having fun. And I’m having more fun now, and I’m working more than I’ve ever worked in my life with Toto or any other band.
Metal-Rules.com: So, you’re now free to do what you want to?
Bobby Kimball: Not only that, I’m making more money now “laughs” However, I don’t get a chance to go home very often, which is okay with me. You know, actually, I have Direct TV at home. They put the videos from Paris, the FALLING IN BETWEEN, and the one LIVE IN AMSTERDAM. They played them hundreds of times. I didn’t get paid. I’m not happy about that, you know?
Metal-Rules.com: Would I dare to ask, how is your relationship with Steve Lukather nowadays?
Bobby Kimball: Well, I care about him, but he doesn’t care about me. I care about all the guys in Toto. I think they’re really wonderful people. I think about them the same way as when the band got together at first. I really like them all, but I don’t like what they say about me.
Metal-Rules.com: You’re right. I remember reading numerous articles where some of your former bandmates claimed that you’re not able to sing anymore, stuff like that. It must have been a very offensive thing for you to read?
Bobby Kimball: It’s bullshit. You’re exactly correct. Steve Lukather has said so many bad things about me because he was on drugs, alcohol, constantly, and while he was saying these things – one of the funniest things – he was on a flight from L.A. to Amsterdam, and he took some sleeping pills and drank a lot of alcohol. Fell asleep. The plane hit some bad air, and he woke up, and they turned his seatbelt light on, and he jumped up because he had to go to the toilet. The stewardess came to him, “You have to sit down.” And he pushed her over the people across the aisle. And the marshals on the plane came and arrested him. They taped him to the chair. When he got to Amsterdam, they arrested him. You can’t do that on an airplane. That’s stupid. I felt bad for him. I really did.
Metal-Rules.com: How have you been in touch with the Porcaro family?
Bobby Kimball: I’m not in touch with them. But the sons of Joe Porcaro have been through such terrible things. Steve Porcaro, who’s playing with Toto again, had a brain tumor, and when they took the tumor out, he went deaf in his left ear, yes. But Jeff died, which was horrible. I freaked out when that happened. And now Mike has Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a horror for their parents. I feel so bad for them because they’re wonderful people, all of them. Yes. They’re very intelligent. They’re very nice. They’re just good people.
Metal-Rules.com: Do you know about the current state of Mike?
Bobby Kimball: I saw Mike about a year ago, and he was very sick; I feel really bad for him. But I don’t know… I haven’t been in touch with anybody from Toto. I’m keeping the smile on my face. Remember. I only want to be happy. I want to keep a smile on my face and work as hard as I can, and that’s what I’m doing. That’s all that matters to me. And God bless Joseph Williams because he is now dealing with the problems I had to deal with, and he’s doing a very good job. He’s a really good friend. I’ve done a lot of vocals with Joseph. But let me – Marko, let me say one thing. I love all the guys in Toto, even Steve Lukather. Even though he says such horrible things about me, I don’t care because my main purpose in life is to be happy. So I’m not going to sit there and argue and be mad and mean and terrible in my life. I just want to be happy.