Spin That 45 Talks with Groove Master, David Hungate on His Upcoming Tour with Toto

"Jeff was one of the most loyal, supportive friends you could ever have, particularly on musical issues." 
David Hungate talking about his friend. . . the great Jeff Porcaro

One of my favorite bands, Toto announced last week that they are hitting the road this summer with Michael McDonald. 

2013 was the first time in almost a decade they had done a short tour in the U.S. with several personnel changes within the group, including Nathan East on bass since 2010. Nathan will not be with the band this year as he will be out promoting his first debut album. I love Nathan East and I am so happy for him. 

If you read my blog last week, you’ll have seen that I was first to post that David Hungate, bassist and one of the founding members of Toto will be making his first appearance on stage with Toto since he left the band in 1982.  

Do I need to tell you how excited I am about this???

It has been a very long time since David has toured with Toto. But he never stopped working. David’s music credits read like a “who’s who” in music. Working with the best of the best in the industry. Just check out his credits on “All Music.” Pretty amazing and impressive!! 

But when I found out that he would be going out on the road this summer, I had to know why after all these years, he would be touring with them again.  And, I know that Toto fans would also want the lowdown (no pun intended. . .HA) on how this came about, and how David feels about going back out on the road. 

It’s a huge pleasure for me to talk to David Hungate. 

ST45: David, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk to you. I have to say your playing has influenced me so much, from the first time I heard not just Toto, but Boz Scaggs. And no, I’m not a bass player, I barely play guitar. . .hahaha. But your bass grooves have long stayed with me. You are so amazing!! Probably what I would consider one of the sexiest groove players EVER! 

First off. . . how are you feeling about this tour?

David: Thank you! The Tour? It’s about the coolest thing that has happened to me since I started playing music. Having been part of Toto in the early years is about as cool as it gets, but to do another tour after 34 years is really mind-blowing.  I left the band in '82 after moving to Nashville...one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. When you close the door on something like that, you don't do it with the thought that you can ever go back, and that's how it was--case closed--no regrets.  I had to get off the road to raise my kids --good motive.  

My time in Nashville has been wonderful. I've made some wonderful friends, gotten to play on some incredible music. I'm really lucky. I got to do the LA studio thing, the Nashville studio thing, and be in an incredible band.  

I did OK. 

I'm 65. . . . set to retire, not feeling quite right about it, and I get an email from David Paich asking if I'm interested in doing a Toto tour. Total shock - - in a good way.  The rest of the guys and I haven't seen a lot of each other over the past 3 decades.  They didn't know if I'd want to do it, and I didn't know that I'd want to do it until it was offered.   

I've gotten to do some great music with a lot of different musicians and artists in my time, but the thing that always comes up first about me is "founding member of Toto."   That was the pinnacle I walked away from, where I had the opportunity to play at the top of my ability with the best musicians in the world.   There's no way you can not miss that, but you have to let go of it and go on--raise your kids (they're doing fine), make a living, and ride off into the sunset.   

I didn't feel really good about that.....going out with a whimper, fading out.  You dare not hope for "one more time" in the big time and I didn’t. Then it lands in my lap thanks to my old and dear friends. It's too good to be true.  So, I get to go out on top--playing with the best of the best. It couldn't be better!

ST45: How incredible! And for all of us hard cord Toto fans, this is truly a dream come true. 

You mentioned the “rest of guys.” Who is touring as Toto and how did they react when they heard you were going out on tour with them?

David: Luke (Steve Lukather), David (Paich) and Steve P. (Porcaro) had apparently discussed the idea and all were happy that I wanted to do it.   Wouldn't miss this for the world.  It'll be different. Last time I was with them, Jeff (Porcaro) was there, and Bobby (Kimball), and we were all young and crazy.  Now we're old, with grown kids, maybe still crazy....that remains to be seen.  I'm sure if so, it'll be in a good way.  At this point in life, I don't think any of us want anything but good music and good times--no time for weirdness, bad vibes, any of that.  Just play and groove, and count our blessings. Great drummer, Shannon Forrest will be on drums and I assume Joseph Williams will be on vocals.  

ST45: I have a feeling that once you hit those rehearsals, it will take you all back in time, perhaps a little bittersweet as Jeff will not be there and Bobby. But I’m sure there will be LOTS of laughter and THAT GROOVE that has made Toto legendary.

I had read that the last time you were technically on tour with Toto was in 1998, right? Had you toured at all with anyone?

David: No. Last time I toured with Toto was spring of f-ing 1980!  34 years!  Can you believe that?  That kind of sh*t doesn't happen.   

We didn't tour in '81, my son was born in Jan of '82 and in Feb. I got a call from our managers that they were putting a huge tour together--like 9 months!  I had moved to Nashville the previous year, was making some good headway getting my foot in the door, with a 2 year old and a newborn didn't see myself going on the road for 9 months, and didn't think it fair to ask the guys to let me send a sub for that and future tours. 

Like I said--hardest decision of my life.

Prior to Toto I'd toured with Sonny and Cher, Seals and Crofts and Boz Scaggs.   After Toto I didn't tour until 2008 when I did a few dates with Lynda Carter and began regular touring with Vince Gill.     

ST45: You’ve definitely had an incredible career to be proud of. It’s wonderful that although it was a difficult decision, it was the right one for you and your family. What was your wife’s reaction to the invitation and her thoughts about your going out on the road? And your kids?

David: My wife is supportive. My sons are happy for me.  It's only 6 weeks.

ST45: That's great! You know, Toto is such an iconic group that over the years there have been several fan sites, pages and groups paying tribute to this fantastic band. What do you think it is that people love about Toto? What is the draw and why do you think it continues? 

David: Good music played as well as it can be played.  There have never been any teen idols in the band. It's never been about image or that Justin Bieber type crap. I think real Toto fans are perceptive and knowledgeable about music, but even those who aren’t, can't escape the fact that these guys are way good!  I think the listeners get a kick out of the fact that the guys in the band have played with virtually every major artist in every major genre of commercial music....that they're pro's and they're not pandering to the lowest common denominator, or trying to wow everybody with their incredible chops all the time, though they obviously can. They can see that the band's having fun....and that makes it fun.    

Another thing,  when Toto first hit the scene, there was a lot of good music being made by others, technically speaking--great songs, great playing and productions.  That's no longer true.  There's not a lot of other good stuff going on---"good" meaning "requiring considerable musical talent to create.  Toto's early stuff is more impressive now that ever because music hasn't progressed beyond that--it's a peak, and there aren't many up there.      

ST45: I believe you are right about that. Remembering the music that was coming out of the late 70's, there were so many great albums being released. But when I first heard the songs on the radio from the 1st Toto album, that was it!!!! I was a fan for life! Went out and bought the album right away and was blown away by it. What a project! To me, it was sophisticated, it was full of soul AND fun! That album is timeless! And then when Hydra came out, I bought the album, but could not wait until I got home to listen to it, so I bought the 8-track as well!! HA!! I think out of all the Toto albums, Hydra is my most favorite, then the first, then Turn Back and Toto IV.  

David: You really were in from the start!   That's so cool!

ST45: HA! Thanks! So let me ask you this. . . you mention the music of today and I'm assuming, you're speaking of Pop & Rock, basically music that is played on the major stations that played Toto. Are there artists or bands of that genre you've been impressed by? If so, who? 

David: My favorite current artist has to be Esperanza Spalding---great singer, and BASS PLAYER, beautiful girl.  Her talent astounds me. I don't know that she'll ever be as big as she deserves to be, but she's at the top of my hit parade. I guess you'd call what she does "pop/jazz?"   

I'm totally confused by the current pop market.  I just don't hear anything out there that hasn't been done before, better, or that isn't worth doing at all.  

R & B . . . my biggest love, is virtually dead, replaced by rap and hiphop.   Country is pathetically trying to be 80's pop.  I know I sound like an old fogey--"you kids, get off my lawn," but I am truly glad to have had a career when I did.  

ST45: Yeah, but I would consider it fair to say that you and your style of playing basically set the standard for so many up and coming bass players at that time.

As a fan myself, I know fans have their opinions of which songs they’d like to hear. But let’s suppose you get to choose a few songs. Which ones would love to add to the playlist? Let’s say 3 songs. 

David: Top 3 Toto songs?   “Miss Sun” was one of the 4 or 5 songs on the original Toto demo that David (Paich) and Jeff (Pocaro) did and is a sentimental favorite, though it's kind of dated and I doubt we'll do it.    Still, it's a sentimental favorite--really cool tune...for one thing, it's got like an 8 bar buildup and "modulation" in the middle, but it actually stays in the same key! 

ST45: Yeah, everything about that song is amazing! Love, love, LOVE that modulation and climax of the song. 

David: Next 2? Let's see  — “I Won't Hold You Back” is such a gorgeous tune....the guitar solo section is an iconic moment.  "All us boys" has taken on an ironic new meaning now that we're all old men, but still boys at heart. I don't know...there are so many good tunes in the catalog… “Pamela” --great tune, really fun to play.

Hard to pick favorites…

ST45: Love all of those songs! I beg to differ on “Miss Sun,” tho. That song is a what I consider a staple. Absolutely love that song. It’s the ultimate in sexy!! Great choices on the other songs. “All Us Boys” would be a fantasy of mine to hear live as well. 

So David, you say that after this tour, you plan to retire. Does that also include session work? What will you do with your new found time?

David: After Toto, it's going to have to be something pretty special to get me out of the house.  I have hobbies, enjoy reading, and am really adept at doing nothing : )    

ST45: HAHAHA. . .doing nothing. . . a man after my own heart! Have you ever considered writing a book about “David Huntgate, the musician?”
David: I've done a lot of writing over the years.  It's more a question of editing at this point....and I don't have an ending yet : )  

ST45: Well if you need help in editing, I can refer you to someone.  ; ) 

Can we spend a few minutes and talk about Jeff Porcaro? Today, April 1st would have been Jeff’s 60th birthday. He passed away at such a young age... 38 in 1992. David, tell me about your relationship with him? What was he like? 

David: To really answer that would require the aid of a team of shrinks. Remember, it was L.A., early 70’s -- they wouldn't let you on the freeway if you couldn't prove you had a few neuroses. Most of us were "a nice bunch of guys" so relationships were complicated. Bottom line — he was the most amazing drummer I'd ever heard, and he apparently found some redeeming qualities in my playing. That was the basis of our relationship.  After that it gets complicated.    

Not only were we from different worlds--I was a midwestern farm kid, he started out in the projects in Hartford--I was 6 years older, which when you're young is a huge difference.  But in non-chronological age (which is what really matters) he had a few thousand years on me and on most people. Jeff was an old soul.   The kind of genius, wisdom, charisma, ability he had doesn't all just originate in a certain generation.  Not that any of us were into any "past lives/psychic/ Bridey Murphy" bullshit--it's just the only explanation. 

If you knew Jeff and were equipt to appreciate his genius you looked up to him, no matter how much older you may have been. It was kind of awkward, but that's how is was. In nearly all musical situations, he was the de-facto leader.....the guy everyone looked to for approval. Jeffrey's approval was the best--digging a playback, he'd dance, this infectious smile on his face, point at you when you played something he dug.  On the other hand, if he thought something sucked, he could wield the most devastating, subtle sarcasm on the planet--he might even draw a cartoon.    

So, being Jeff's friend was complicated, a little scary but never dull.  He was also one of the most loyal, supportive friends you could ever have, particularly on musical issues. If he thought someone he respected was being treated badly by a producer for example it could get ugly, and funny, real quick.  

He was a lifesaver to me confidence-wise.  I was dragging around this inferiority complex they issued to everybody growing up in small midwestern towns and he made me believe that I had some ability.  And to be clear, that's the Jeff I knew for 10 years or so.  I left Toto, and L.A., before he settled down, married and had kids.  Our interactions after that were few and brief, but always pleasant.  We were both growing up, and the tragedy for me is that we never really got to know each other as mature people.  That would have been amazing I know.

ST45:  I have to say that this really took my breath away. That was really beautiful. I don’t even know what to say after that. . . 

(ST45 takes a moment to breathe)

Okay. . . One more question;  you said at the beginning of this interview that when people think of your name, it always goes back to you being the founding member of Toto. Aside from your legacy in music, what would you like your legacy to be in your personal life, especially for your family?

David: Being a decent guy, being a good husband and father, taking care of your family--those things are way more important than getting kudos as a musician or whatever.   

ST45: Well said. 

Man. . . David, I cannot tell you what it has meant to me to talk with you. Have fun rehearsing. And I look forward to seeing you and the guys tear it up this summer!! 

David: I've enjoyed doing this interview. Thanks : )


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