Reggie: You produced the new Toto XIV album. Could you please detail for us your duties as producer on this long awaited release.
CJ: "First of all you start off with a unit of musicians that's unlike any other group in history. There's been no group of musicians that's more talented than these guys. So it's about harnessing talent, not creating talent. These guys already have everything in place. There's actually almost too many ideas sometimes. So it's about harnessing all that and keeping it in one place and getting to know all the personalities. Everybody's so brilliant. I engineer, I record, I mix and I produce. The reason why is I don't want another soul in here. I just want the band and me. That keeps it very intimate. That's what creates the environment for creativity, Everybody is comfortable in this room. So there's a lot of different roles. A lot of it is physiological, creating an environment where everyone is comfortable to create. A lot of it is nuts and bolts. Creating back ups. Making sure everything is recorded correctly. It's a lot of hats to wear. But I wouldn't trade it. I like having control over it all."
Reggie: So it was recorded here at the Tree House? Was there any additional recordings anywhere else?
CJ: "We went to Capitol (Records) to do the drums but everything else was done here, 80% of the record was done in this room. One of the most special things about this record is: I thought about the history of this band. These guys all went to High School together, Grant High School. They ended up in a garage rehearsing. I wanted to bring them back into the same room together. So I have a vocal booth, a beautiful vocal booth. Talk back, great microphone, and everything. I brought everything into this room. Into the center of the control room. This table comes out of here. The microphone stand goes right there (as CJ points about five feet from where we sit). I've got headphone stations there, there, there and there (as CJ points to various locations across the room). I've got six headphone stations. So we've got Luke, Paich, Steve Porcaro and me sitting in a circle while Joseph Williams is singing. I don't have to hold down the talk back button to talk to him. We're just talking to him right here taking one ear off the headphones going no, no, no. Sing that note. So it became this intimate situation. That's my biggest job as a Producer is to create that. Get the band back into the garage like they used to be. Not in a big studio, not someone in a vocal booth 50 feet away that you can't see. We brought everyone back together for good and bad. There were a lot of contentious moments where people don't agree on things. That is where the great art is made. If everybody agrees on everything then you haven't got a band, you haven't got a project. There was a lot of all of that but I wanted all of that to happen in one room."
Reggie: It's kind of like you're coaching an All Star team in sports.
CJ: "Absolutely! Fucking Super Heroes. Marvel Super Heroes. Everybody's great at what they do. You asked me about where we recorded this. David Paich has a beautiful recording studio. Some of the recording was done there. Joseph Williams is very talented, we all use Logic by the way all of us except for Luke. He doesn't use anything. Which is great. Steve Porcaro, David Paich, Joseph Williams and myself are all Logic users. So some stuff was done in Steve Porcaro's, some in David Paich's, Joseph did a lot of stuff at his house, tweaking. A real team effort that way."
Reggie: You worked on a couple of Luke's solo albums, "Transition" and "All's Well That Ends Well". How does your work on this Toto album differ from your work with Luke on his solo albums?
CJ: "Well Luke is a very strong personality. He is such a genius musician. He is very talented and adept in the studio too. So making room for everyone else is very important. The two of us are so acquainted the way we work. So really giving it up to everyone else and being open to their ideas was really important, which wasn't a problem or anything. I tried to focus on that."
Reggie: This Toto release has created quite a buzz on the internet and there was a huge buzz at the NAMM Show too. It's also been almost a decade since a new Toto album has come out and you produced this album. Talk about that please.
CJ: "I think it's been more than a decade for a real Toto record in my opinion because all of the guys haven't been together. We're calling this Toto V."
Reggie: You guys Luke, Paich, Joseph, Steve Porcaro and yourself?
CJ:"Yes. Toto IV was the BIG record. Then there was, well this will be XIV. However many records were made in between, but they were fragmented personnel. Some of it had a different direction that you wouldn't necessarily equate with the classic Toto sound. So we went into this trying to make Toto V. Not trying to sound like that years sound, not like 1982 or 1983. We weren't trying to sound like that but that sensibility. My background, I was in Michigan in cover bands playing bars. I was a stickler! We would learn Toto shit, Steely Dan shit, Stevie Wonder. All of it. But I was a stickler for learning all of the parts.
I'm a bit of a historian about this band. I think I have an almost wider view of the band than they do of themselves because I could see the whole thing. I'm calling this their Sgt. Pepper's. This record started because of some litigation. They owed a label (Frontiers Recods) another record. So it would have been really easy for everyone to just phone it in and get it over with. The first day everybody grouped together and just said 'we're going to fucking hit it out of the park!' This may be the last Toto record we do as a band. We don't know. Who knows? But everybody laid it on the line and that's why there's a buzz. Because you've got Luke, Paich, Steve Porcaro together again with Joe and his 20 year history with the band. Also David Hungate came back after 32 years. Are you fucking kidding me? He was AMAZING!"
Reggie: Toto welcomes back David Hungate and Lenny Castro to the Tour and they both played on the record. Joseph Williams has been back touring with the band for awhile but he is the singer on the new album. So I see now why you guys are calling this Toto V. With all these guys back this really solidifies Toto as a band.
CJ: "Well, I'll tell you another big part of it is Jeff and Mike (Porcaro) were in the room the whole time we were recording this record. What would Jeff do? What would Mike do? That came up a lot. So back to the Toto V thing. We were paying respect to that energy of this amazing band of musicians that there will never be a group of guys like this ever again ever in history. Paich told me that the year Toto won six Grammy awards they collectively played on records that were up for 49 Grammy's! So there will NEVER be anything close to that. So the experience these guys have from working in the studio with great engineers, with great producers, with other great musicians, with great song writers and with great artists. It's a brain trust with an expiration date, honestly, so I felt a real responsibility to protect that, to represent it. Because I feel as we all do, one thing that we really talked about Reggie, we firmly believe. We grew up we're all about the same age. I was born in '57. Luke and I are two weeks apart. We were just old enough to see the Beatles walk out on stage on the Ed Sullivan Show. We were about five or six years old and firmly believe we grew up through the greatest musical era in the history of pop music. When we were in High School and started smoking weed and listening to music. It was Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Mahavishnu, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, The Who. I could go on and on. So that was kind of our bond. We went back to the well on this record. Listen to the cut on this album "Great Expectations", the last song on the record. There are nods on there to a lot of our favorite people. There is no shame in that. Again you have a very rare commodity here having everybody together and everyone is so on their game. There's a lot of guys that gave up 20 years ago and stopped listening to good music and we see a lot of that. But these guys with their dedication, enthusiasm and freshness of all the musicians."
Reggie: I've watched Joseph Williams up close and personal. He sounds great, is focused and has brought some spunk and energy to the band.
CJ: "Joseph is key to this band. Joseph first of all is a completely brilliant musician. He plays keyboards, he's a great writer, obviously a great singer. He and I spent a lot of time together on this record. Joseph's energy, he has a teenagers energy, which I think I still have too. Boy, he was there all the time. Joe was always there."
Reggie: I was at a Toto sound check in Visalia, Ca. I saw Joseph walk almost every inch of the stage. He intently checked out every aspect of the venue. I was astounded with his dedication, preparation and focus.
CJ: "He's technically very proficient. He knows his shit technically. All the guys do again. Joe is a very keen observer. Ya, he's a triple threat. He reminds me of the old Vaudeville guys. They had to sing, dance and act and Joe does it all."
Reggie: There were several different bass players on the new album besides Hungate. How did that work out?
CJ: "Hungate came in towards the end. There were some scheduling issues. (Lee) Sklar had to play on the record. He toured with the band. The first one to play on the record was Tim Lefebrve (Tedeschi/Trucks). That was a bizarre thing. We were at Capitol and he was recording next door. He just loved what he was hearing. Everybody's been very impressed with what's going on. All of the musicians that have come from the studio next door, their faces have been melting. We played some of this stuff for Michael McDonald and he was really into it! He loved it too. Look, nobody's fucking making records like this anymore. Nobody's making records with this sound anymore. So Tim came next door at Capitol and we said hey you ought to come play on what we called 'The Rocker' at the time. It's called "Running Out of Time" finally. So he was the first bass player to play on it. So Luke and I thought we have to get Tal (Wilkenfeld) on the record. She played on Luke's record "Transition", the song "Transition"."
Reggie: How did you and Luke first hook up and can you tell us about the growth of your musical relationship.
CJ: "I first met Luke in '88 on the first project I worked on when I first moved here to L.A. The first song I did was "Right Here Waiting", it was a gigantic hit for Richard Marx. Richard's dad, Dick Marx was my mentor. He was like an absolute second dad to me. He talked his son into using me on a song. Thank God Richard did that. So I ended up arranging most of the record ("Repeat Offender") with him. I pranced into L.A. and within a week I was in the studio with Jeff (Porcaro), Vinny (Colaiuta), Dean Parks and Sklar right away. So Luke and I hit it right off. I kind of have an irreverent sense of humor and God knows he does. So when that project finished Richard wrote a song with Steve for his first solo project called "Swear Your Love". I think I arranged that, I think I arranged that some. I played keyboards on it. I met Luke there. Then I produced a song for Tim Feehan ("Look Before You Leap"). I hired Luke to play on that. We saw each other for hundreds of sessions in between. We really didn't get into the production thing until I played on (Toto release) "Kingdom of Desire". But again I was just a player. I was doing a Harry Shearer record, I called Luke, I said hey I need some guitar on this. He came in and said 'who did this track?" I said I did. He said 'who mixed this?' I said did. 'who did the drums?' I did. 'who did the bass?' I did. He's like 'Holy Shit, you have to do my solo record!' I told him 'I've known you for 20 years. I thought you knew what I did.' He only knew me as a keyboard player. He didn't know the other side. So that opened up the door to "All's Well That Ends Well". I kind of came in halfway through that one. We finished that one and said with "Transition" we start the first note and finish the last one in this studio. Then I went on and did "Live in Poland" the Toto DVD for the band. So that's what tipped the scales for them to say we've got to have him do the Toto record."
Reggie: Luke is in the Ringo Starr All Starr Band. This group is the longest tenured band in the history of the All Starrs. What's it like having a buddy in Ringo's band and tell us about your work with Ringo.
CJ: "I worked with Ringo in '93 with Phil Ramone. Phil Ramone again is someone who called right after "Right Here Waiting" came out. He loved that single. It was kind of a revolutionary single because we didn't put the drums on it. It really changed the title of it. Working with Ringo, he was such a sweet man. One of the first days working with Ringo, Phil said 'I have to go to lunch with someone. I'm going to leave you with Ringo. I'm going to leave you alone.' I'm like okay, fine. He left but he said 'don't ask him any Beatles stories.' I said don't worry I'm not going to ask him any. So half an hour into it we're finished. Ringo goes 'what do you want to do?' Ringo said 'do you want to hear some Beatles stories?' So Ringo starts in with these kind of light stories. But as we get deeper into it I started asking him some questions. By the end of it Ringo was in tears and he was talking about the break up of the band and his relationship with John and how much love he feels walking on stage. I just said come here, he's crying, give me a hug. That's when Phil Ramone came back in the room and said 'What are you doing Vanston?' That was my relationship with Ringo. I really didn't keep up my relationship with him. He's a hard guy to keep up with if you're not in the band. But now to see Luke in that band. Ringo refers to him as 'Steve Lukather my last best friend'. That's what he introduces him as. Look, Luke cleaned up his life and he is a bona fide Rock Star. A World Class fucking Rock Ster. I'm so proud of him for what he's done with his life."
Reggie: I'm not as close to him as you are but I get chills when I see him up there with Ringo.
Reggie: Unfortunately we recently lost Joe Cocker. Could you please tell us about your time working with him.
CJ: "Ya, Joe and I were real close. We had a special relationship. I think one of the reasons I'm good at what I do in this kind of a situation is I wanted to cover Joe's back all of the time. I was always there to count him off. I was always there if he needed something and I like that role. Joe really grew to rely on that and appreciate that. He knew I would take a bullet for him and his legacy. After every show we would sit backstage and eat a Sheppard's Pie together and talk about life and politics and everything. Joe was a very, very, very special guy. We did a couple of his records right here in this room. Just the two of us here sitting in this room. Joe was a very, very intelligent man, a historian. We could talk about Zulu History, Antarctica expeditions. He was well versed in a lot of things. A very misunderstood man."
Reggie: You have a very long list of session credits. What caught my eye was some of the iconic women you've worked with. Could you please tell us about working with Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner and Celine Dion.
CJ: "Well first of all Dolly and I, that was with Greg Ladanyi (producer/engineer Toto, Don Henley, Jackson Browne). The first day, the first 30 seconds, we looked at each other and it was like we were linked. We were so linked. We were on the same wave length. She was great. Barbra Streisand, the first session I did with her they were having a problem getting a piano player to over dub the track. They had the video of the Conductor with the screen sitting on the piano and I said get that fucking thing off. Humberto (Gatica) said how are you going to know where the time is? I said turn her up I want to hear her breath in my ears. That's when Barbra said 'Oh ya, I've got to keep this guy around'. Tina Turner that was Roger Davies who managed Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. I did the sound track for "What's Love Got to Do With it". A complete force of nature. Celine Dion I did a couple of sessions with her and never really got tight with her."
Reggie: One of the big highlights for me at the NAMM Show this year is when you introduced me to Harry Shearer. He was Derek Smalls in the iconic movie "Spinal Tap" and does many of the voices on the Simpsons. His list of entertainment credits is almost as long as Luke's session list. You've been involved with Spinal Tap for over two decades. That movie touches all of my music friends in rock, country any genre. What has that ride been like?
CJ: "23 years as the musical director of that band. You know humor was always huge for me. I was always into humor. When I was four years old I knew who George Gobel and Jack Carter were. Some of the inside Borscht Belt comedians I was into. I was way into it. It was a side thing. I read Mad Magazine vociferously. And then there was a magazine called National Lampoon. I was stuck in a little country town in Michigan and that was a window to the World to me, that magazine. I remember reading an article thinking there's another crazy fucking mind out there. I didn't feel alone. I'll never forget the author's name. His name was Christopher Guest. I was 13 years old reading this shit. Then I saw the movie. Like I said humor and comedy to me was always a big deal for me. So those guys, I think that's one of the reasons I've fit in so well with them. I was a good hang. But also that led to me doing all of Christopher's movies, doing the music. But the back of that bus, the Spinal Tap bus, there's no better place on earth! With those three guys you can't laugh any harder!"
Reggie: You have to be funny or you can't do that hang!
CJ: "That's where you get your timing and shit together. But at the end of that tour we got off the bus and the driver was saying 'I've been driving the bus for 27 years. This is the first Tour nobody played the movie Spinal Tap!'"
Reggie: You stated earlier that this is really the first real Toto record in an extremely long time. You guys are calling this release Toto V as the follow up to the iconic Toto IV. Did you feel any pressure regarding this project?
CJ: "Do you mean like will I be able to do this? Not at all! I am completely groomed for this gig. Greg Ladanyi was my best friend and Greg did Toto IV. I wood shedded these guys. As a matter of fact I think I showed Paich a chord in "Child's Anthem", I thought he wasn't playing it right. He might dispute that but... I'm a historian of the band. I've worked with all of their contemporaries. I was a session player. I'm the perfect guy to be doing this. There's pressure, ya to get this done. But there was never am I good enough? Do I have what it takes? That never crossed my mind. It was just about having people have enough time to get in here and do it."
Reggie: I wanted to read you something that Luke said about you when I told him I was going to interview you.
Luke: "CJ man... what can I say? There would have been NO TOTO record without him. His contributions were so huge it would take me days to list them! It was a most difficult task for him to deal with us all. We are VERY different people and one on one is easy... Five bulls and ONE cow to fuck can get dicey. You can quote me on that! Hahaha. I love the man and he is the best I have ever worked with. We owe him so much for making this great album it turned out to be. I think we almost killed HIM at the same time he kept us from killing each other. Being honest it was stressful at times. Not HIS fault at all... ours... mine, whatever. Sometimes tension makes for good art. At least that makes for a great excuse, hahaha. In the end result it was amazing and this record will go down as one of our finest hours in the almost 40 year history of our band, thanks to him. Feel free to share that with him."
CJ: "WOW! I don't know what to say to that. I don't know what to add to that. I do know I put everything, everything I had into this. And yes it was difficult. The five bulls with one cow is a great analogy as only Luke could put it. I learned how to do a lot of things. I'm not trying to blow my own horn but I don't think there's a lot of guys that can play keyboards and program and song write and produce and mix and manage. It's a lot of hats to wear. But the only way I can do it is to work with an artist or band who I would give my life for and this is the top of the list. This is one of the proudest achievements of my career to be allowed to be in the same room with these guys and to have pulled this record out. You're hearing all of the above there when you listen to this thing. There is so much love between all of us. And there is also a lot of friction. Guys feel a certain way about musical things and it wasn't really personal but just musical stuff.
Reggie: Was there anything else you wanted to add or say?
CJ: "Next project is I'm going to finish up a record with (Jeff) Skunk Baxter. Another legendary guitar player to come through the Tree House. I do well with guitar players. Mostly because I do everything else BUT guitar and vocals. So that's why I work well with guitarists and vocalists. I'm currently scoring a little documentary film that's deep and dark. It's about a war photographer. So that's a change of pace. I'm really looking forward to that. Especially after having nine guys in the room every day for nine months kind of sitting here by myself working on a documentary is great. There's a lot of stuff coming up this year. Just most of all to have finished this record with these guys. There was some difficult moments making this thing. It's always difficult when you're making something great. I had to remind myself that when I was 19 I would have cut off all my toes to be in the same room with these guys, let alone producing and writing and playing keyboards.
Another thing I'd like to comment on is sitting with Steve Porcaro and David Paich tag teaming on the keyboards was just amazing! When I listen to these records I listen to David Paich play and he was always to me the meat and potatoes jazz, blazing, jazz blues and his New Orleans chops his gospel chops. Yet he played these simple parts and he could play these great B3 chops. He was kind of the meat and potatoes B3 guy. Then you get the mad scientist, the other side, Steve Porcaro synth guy. I made a conscious decision. I want to be right down the middle of that. I want to be able to do what David does and I want to be able to do what Steve does. That's kind of where I ended up. So being able to get along with both of these guys and to compare Bill Evans voicing's with Paich and then compare patches with Steve was incredible. Also to learn how adept Steve Porcaro is at playing acoustic piano and how adept David Paich is with his synth sounds. That was a great experience."
Reggie: I go back to the All Star analogy. It's like you're the coach and you're coaching LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Michael Jordan. They're all super talented at what they do and they all know exactly what they want, they are also all "A" personalities and you have to coach them.
CJ: "Yes, well what's interesting is I can be an "A" personality too. But in the company of these guys I take a back seat and become more Switzerland. A non voting entity in some ways. To say I like what he's saying but you know this... I can't really add to what Luke said about me there. I don't know if that's all true. Well it actually is. But that's very touching. That's amazing to hear Luke say that. I have nothing but respect for these guys. If people knew what went into these records!"
I know what I'd like to finish with, one thing this band has been is, this band number one they have NEVER gotten the fucking respect they'd deserved. It reminds me of when you brought up Joe Cocker. Joe Cocker is on the cover of Rolling Stone in Europe this week."
Reggie: Ya, not here in the U.S.
CJ: "Not here. He couldn't get arrested in a Rolling Stone magazine in the U.S. when we were trying to promote his record. Now that he's dead everybody is into it and Toto the same way. They just never got the respect because they were great at what they did. One of the things they got labeled with was being over produced, the production. Years ago, it was actually a guy on a Joe Cocker record, he said 'hey mate, I just worked with a band, and they just went out there, four guys and they just played and that was the record and it was done.' I said name me one record, one great record after 1968 that was done that way. He said 'that's easy'. I said name one. It isn't "Dark Side of the Moon". It's not "Sgt. Pepper's", it's not "Thriller", not Fleetwood Mac "Rumors". People fucking love production. The only people that hate production are the people that have to pay for it, the labels or the critics. Bruce Springsteen picks up an acoustic guitar and that's the highest level of art that there can be. It really pisses me off. So one interview I was talking about, well if you think Toto is over production then the king of overproduction is Beethoven. He's got 90 fucking musicians playing at the same time! It really put a bug up my ass about this band and I felt like we had something to prove. That was kind of my chip on the shoulder. I wanted to show the World what a great fucking band this is and I think we did."
(Photo by Alex Kluft)