Toto (1978)


They deserved to win that 1979 Grammy for Best New Artist. But the award went to A Taste of Honey, a disco group that has not exactly gone down in history, despite the resounding success in record stores and on the airwaves of Toto's debut album. The critics, however, went for the throat, something that soon became the norm with very few exceptions, leaving the group standing on the threshold of recognition that would have to wait until 1983. “The most misunderstood band in the world”, complained their leader, Steve Lukather, on one occasion. But at least no one doubted his talents as a guitarist from the very first chord, or the abilities of his bandmates, Jeff Porcaro, Bobby Kimball, David Hungate and David Paich.

The latter was one of the chief culprits, for better or worse, as the composer responsible for eight of the ten songs on the record, including their first big hit Hold the Line. But there were others the music press headed by Rolling Stone accused as responsible for an inconsistent album that ultimately didn't make the grade. Songs like Manuela Run were singled out. The band defended itself by calling attention to their outsider status at a time when the Clash and Sex Pistols were the points of reference.

Both sides had arguments they could make in their favor. Toto didn't clearly establish a style or direction for the band with its blend of so many elements drawn from funk, rock, pop and any number of sub-genres they felt like adding to the mix. In truth they wouldn't achieve that group sound until their well-rounded IV album a few years later. Of course, that also meant the guitars on I’ll Supply the Love, the distorted riffs masterfully providing the dance floor hooks, were not as fully appreciated as they deserved. Neither were the more restrained stylings on Georgy Porgy, another disco hit, where Lukather shines underneath Porcaro's inspired keyboards.

What cannot be disputed is the quality of one of rock and pop's most influential bands over the last two decades of the 20th century. And those early criticisms have faded away into the annals of historical errors over time. In 1978, the emphasis fell on the meticulous, polished production and the instrumental skills of the Toto members, a reputation largely centered on the group's guitarist.

The encyclopedias tell us that Steve Lukather played on over 1,500 records as a studio musician, not even counting his individual career with Toto and as a solo artist. He is also well-known for usually only needing one take to record his part. That isn't the important facet of his biography but it sums what his role and influence was in the music from the '80s on. His style is very simple: play with the intensity of Jimi Hendrix and the virtuosity of Al Di Meola, providing the flexibility of jazz in the context of rock. You also add to that an unmistakable personal sound that, four decades after the Grammys left him with a bittersweet taste of honey on his lips, enabled him to boast five of those awards in his collection. The ironies of fate.