Friday, October 27, 2017

A Very Candid Conversation with Anthony Phillips

Anthony Phillips (year unknown)

In 1967, guitarist Anthony Phillips founded the original rock/progressive group Genesis with singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, and bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford at Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey, England. He recorded their first two albums, From Genesis to Revelation (1969) and Trespass (1970). He would leave shortly after Trespass. (Phil Collins had not joined the band by the time Phillips left).

For a few years, Phillips wasn’t active in the rock music scene, but in that time, he learned more instruments—keyboards, bass, and drums—and studied classical music. He and Mike Rutherford worked on Geese and the Ghost (1977), Phillips’s first solo album. Geese and the Ghost also featured vocals from Phil Collins. Phillips’s music was a mixture of various musical genres: progressive rock, experimental, pop, and classical oriented. Phillips recorded over thirty-one albums from 1978 to 2012. Harvest of the Heart (2014) is a five-CD anthology of his solo career.

In addition to his active solo music career, Phillips expanded his musical horizons and composed music for nature documentary films as well as library music. According to writer Nate Patrin, library music “(a.k.a. production or stock)” is defined as “music recorded in a multitude of contexts and styles by work-for-hire musicians, owned by music-library labels, and lent out to commercial enterprises in TV, radio, and film.”[1] In October 2017, Phillips rereleased Slow Dance, a classical-oriented piece album with bonus tracks and a 5.1 remix. He just rereleased his pop album, Invisible Men (1982).

In this candid conversation, we look at Anthony Philips’s time in Genesis, his solo career, his forays into film and library music, and his current reissues. I want to thank Billy James from Glass Onyon PR for setting up the interview, but most of all, I want to thank Anthony for his time.

Jeff Cramer: What encouraged you to get interested in music?

Anthony Phillips: Gosh, well, I think it’s because there were other guys I knew who were learning to play the guitar, and people are always looking for something to kind of excel at, right? I was sort of okay at sports, but I’m not quite good at football or cricket. So, I thought, “Well, guitar is a nice thing to do.” The Shadows were around, and they were doing appealing instrumentals, but I think the big thing was the Beatles. I mean, the Beatles exploded with all this kind of raucous color but also melodic as well. There was so much energy and melody like I’d never heard before. It was mind-boggling. I had always loved hymns. We weren’t a particularly a religious family or anything, but I love melody. I think it was a culmination of other guys playing the guitar and then the Beatles. Then all of that came off in their wake, you know, like the Rolling Stones and whatnot. It was a great time to be around because the sixties was a time of enormous change and innovation. I consider myself very lucky to have been learning at the time when there were so many great musicians whose careers have carried on. People kept saying, “Oh, the Beatles have only got two or three years.” How wrong they were.

JC: How did it build up to Genesis?

AP: Well, I was in a cover band with three other guys doing the Beatles’ “Slow Down.” Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks were in another band. Genesis wasn’t really a band as in everybody was singing and  playing their live instruments together.  We got together as a group of songwriters, really. I was writing stuff, and Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks were doing stuff together. We sort of came together when Mike [Rutherford] and I were doing some demos and asked Tony to cover our keyboards. Then Tony said, “We can get Peter to do some vocals.” Jonathan King produced us. King is very much a pop producer. We did a couple of singles with him, which weren’t personally my favorite, but he did let us do an album, the very first album, From Genesis to Revelation (1969). We were still in high school and we didn’t have much arrangement skill.

From Genesis to Revelation (Anthony, bottom left)—1969

We didn’t have much control over the album, and the whole thing ended up being unhappy. [To hear Genesis’ “The Silent Sun,” click here.] After we graduated high school, we were at a crossroads, questioning, “Should we give this one up? We’ve had a couple of singles and an album, or do we try and go from songwriters to actually playing our instruments properly on stage and take the band route?” It was a close decision, and it very nearly didn’t happen. Mike and I had done a fair bit of live playing at parties and stuff, but the others hadn’t really. Strangely enough, it was such a shame that Peter Gabriel was not a natural performer.

JC: Oh, really?

AP: He is very shy. Lots of shy people try to be themselves on stage, but it won’t work because they’re very shy and don’t command the audience. Peter’s persona was partly developed because of the fact that Mike Rutherford and I spent time tuning our twelve-string guitars. So, Peter started making up wild stories and built that whole sort of persona. Peter’s imagination is pretty vivid, and the whole audience was spellbound with his rather bizarre stories (laughs). It gave us time to get our twelve-strings in tune.

JC: Genesis was finding its footing by the time you guys recorded Trespass, but that was the last album you recorded with the band. In your words, why did you leave Genesis?

AP: Well, it was stage fright. I’d had glandular fever before I went on the road, which physically had knocked me back without realizing it. It’s this thing that stays in your system for a long time, and it can affect your nervous system as well, which I didn’t know at the time. I kept getting sick while we were on the road, and it wasn’t just colds. I was very weak all the time and it was the glandular fever. I was quite a natural, keen performer, but I just started getting stage fright. In other words, your sort of look at your hands playing the guitar and you’re thinking, “Hang on, how am I doing that?” Going on stage had started to become a major challenge and eventually I just thought it wasn’t really for me.

Genesis (1970) with Anthony Phillips (on left)

Looking back, stage fright was just an unfortunate act that happened to me and loads of other artists. Also we had too many composers in the group. I think you can only have so many strong minds working together; otherwise, you get too many people trying to have their share of the cake. And then you get a lot of anger. While that wasn’t the reason I left, it may well have contributed possibly to some of the background, because we did have four very strong minds and personalities, and that’s a lot. If you think of all the famous songwriting partnerships, they’ve nearly always been two. But we had four guys. I think that’s quite rare. It’s no wonder that there were regular departures from the group where people perhaps didn’t feel that they were getting their full share of the cake, or that their vision was diluted. I think it probably would have come to a head anyway for all those reasons. [To hear “The Knife” by Genesis, click here.]

JC: After you left Genesis, you went down another path altogether. You went on a solo career and started to learn how to play other instruments.

AP: Yeah, it was quite a passage. I was a bit of a lost soul for a while. Despite the best efforts of one or two of the masters at  high  school who thought I had melodic skill or had tried to teach me classical music, I just couldn’t really hear it.Partly I think I wasn’t hearing the right kind of stuff. When I left, I starting to play some more popular classical stuff—it was more melodic, arresting . . . you know, the New World Symphony. It was a revelation for me because I had always thought of classical music as being rather dry, arid, and rather formal. Suddenly, here was music bursting with color and melody. I was absolutely determined to have those skills for writing classical music, having that color under my fingers.

And so I embarked on a bit of a road. It was a sort of circuitous route because I couldn’t read music, so I started with a piano teacher to just learn the rudiments. This can be very difficult for someone who can play reasonably well by ear because then you have to train your eyes to work and not let your ear anticipate where you’re going. I was terribly frustrated. I would throw the music across the room quite a lot. I spent a couple years with a piano teacher. I could play classical guitar, so I had that sort of string to my bow—pardon the pun—but I also studied orchestration, harmony . . . all that kind of stuff at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I think I studied that stuff for three or four years, and I taught as well. It  was the sort of starting gates for The Geese and the Ghost, and I was armed with a few more skills than I had before.

JC: The album, The Geese and the Ghost, was originally supposed to be a collaboration between you and Mike Rutherford before it become a solo album?

AP: It was really Mike and I. I think the problem with the group of Genesis was that Gabriel had left and the whole thing was kind of rocky. Nobody knew at that point that Phil Collins had the potential to be a megastar who would lead at the front. I mean, he only became a singer by default because they couldn’t find anyone else to follow Peter. There was a hiatus where we needed to decide what to do. Mike and I did the album, and Steve Hackett (who replaced Phillips in Genesis) did his own solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte (1975). But once Genesis got back together, they very much wanted a united front and didn’t want to have a lot of people doing solo albums, which sort of made sense. The Geese and the Ghost had a lot of Mike on it, but I can understand a group relaunching itself. It’s gonna be confusing and side tracking to have a lot of solo projects going on. So, The Geese and the Ghost (1977) became an Anthony Phillips solo album. [To hear “God If I Saw Her Now” with Phil Collins on vocals, click here.]

The Geese and the Ghost album (1977)

JC: I think that album does show the beginning of your solo career. While it obviously has Genesis elements, it also has instrumentals that would become part of your solo career.

AP: A lot of my career was really fashioned by need and, you know, a lot of the time. One has to remember that before you had your home studio, you very much did what the record company wanted; otherwise, you wouldn’t record a record. There was no way of actually recording music unless you did what the record company said. It’s different now, because you can do it all at home on a relatively small budget. I was lucky in my career to record things I wanted. I was able to introduce a few orchestral elements and hopefully combine classical elements to match classical instruments with rock ones but in an integrated way. It wasn’t the sort of rock band on one side of the stage and the rather prim orchestra on the other. I was trying a combination of sounds, some of which were orchestral sounds.

JC: I noticed that you have a lot of solo albums. Are  there any that you would like to discuss? I mean, we’d be here all day (laughs) if we discussed every one of them. Are there any albums that you’d like to talk about in particular that hold a special memory?

AP: The two rock albums, Wise After The Event (1978) and Sides (1979). Rupert Hine was the producer, I think, and mixed in the results. It was great fun working with the brilliant [bassist] John Perry and [drummer] Michael Giles—it was a privilege to work with them. I think you sort of have to fast track into Slow Dance (1990) where I finally had the chance to work on a large scale again. It was a wonderful outlet for larger-scale pieces, which I had written over the previous ten years that I hadn’t been able to record. I threw my heart and soul into them. If I had to choose, it’d probably be The Geese and the Ghost because of the youthfulness (it was my first), and Slow Dance because it was something that came at the end of a period in this sort of semi-wilderness.

JC: Now, Slow Dance (1990) was an interesting concept in itself because the album is the piece. It’s a two-part instrumental.

Slow Dance cover

AP: Well, I think it was a bit of guesswork to be honest. I wanted to do an album and I had an X amount of material already. I got a new synth, which was quite cutting edge at the time; it’s called the Emax. I assembled the body of music of different sections that I thought were strong, and then thought, “Well, how can we combine these and try and make them work together?” Obviously, some couldn’t work together, so that was a challenge, but it was exciting because I was fairly convinced that some of the basic ideas were creditable. The challenge was really to make it kind of hang together. I worked on sections for a quite a long period of time. I mean, it’s much easier to do an album or a song. (To hear a live version of the “Slow Dance” opening, click here.)

JC: What made you decide to reissue the whole Slow Dance?

AP: I’m with a new record company called Cherry Red Records, which is located in England, and  they wanted to rerelease albums I did. This is always a moot point for me. There are some die-hard fans who are going to go out and buy these no matter what they do to them, and therefore, going out and buying an album again with this specific record company’s stamp on it. I don’t think it’s right. So, I was determined to try to provide something extra. The re-releases have had a various amount of augmentation at either end, and nearly all have had extra CD material. A lot of the albums have been remastered. There’s also a lot of extra bibliographical material so there’s lots to read about. I think about five or six of the albums are in 5.1, which obviously isn’t cheap. I don’t imagine that many people have the original albums, so I hope gradually more will buy the reissued albums, and that they will appreciate it.

JC: I understand you’ve also done library music (“production or stock music”). Can you talk about composing that?

AP: Initially, I was very privileged to work on a lot of programs that were brought back from South America, from Amazonas, the southern part of the Amazon, by a wonderful man who’s sadly not with us anymore. The film footage  could be very varied—anything from an animal stalking or some beautiful sunset. It was quite taxing and the money wasn’t brilliant. Some of the producers were very demanding and I just sort of stumbled onto library music.

Library music is very much a library of photos. You have a great photo and you can use it over and over again. This is equivalent in music, but as I said for reasons of budget, time, etc., the trick is to try to write something that is quite timeless. The discipline is that you can’t really change very much. You have a piece of music that has a sort of rough length of between two or three minutes, and while it has some change and development, it can’t go from a quiet twelve-string section to a loud piece with saxophones and stuff. You’ve got to work to create and develop it, augment it slightly, but be careful not to take any strange U-turns. I have always enjoyed it a lot because it’s a bit like doing an album but without some of the great pressure that you get with doing albums. And, of course, the other thing is the potential financial reward if you do create some tracks that get used repeatedly over and over again. The results are substantial. I’ve been very lucky. There are too many library companies in competition, but I was very lucky. The company I was working with got taken over by a series of bigger companies. We ended up by being part of Universal. I’ve used the income I have made from some of my library music to help fund some of the solo projects, particularly some of the 5.1 reissue work.

JC: Talk about the compilation of your solo work, Harvest of the Heart.

AP: I didn’t choose the material; the material was chosen by the record company. I think I suggested one track that I thought was a better choice, but aside from that, it was the record company’s choice. I said, “You know, I’ll leave it up to you guys.” When the record company finds an artist with a big catalogue, they often do a boxset, but my worry was that we probably had too much material on it. My compilation was five CDs.

Harvest of the Heart (2014) album cover

JC: (Laughs)

AP: Looking back, it might have been better to have had a double CDs or perhaps three CDS, but the record company knows more than I do.

JC: Are you working on any new solo projects? I mean, I know about the reissue of Slow Dance . . .

AP: Well, yes. Invisible Men (1982) is the next one to come up. (Invisible Men was released shortly after this interview took place.) Funnily enough, it was a sort of a controversial album at the time because it was pop songs. I felt a little bit awkward about it because I didn’t feel that sort of poppy pop songs, but record companies were like, “We need a hit, otherwise, we won’t record you.” So, we have a nice bonus CD with proper outtakes, sometimes an instrumental, and some other songs. I hope we’ve provided something that’s worthwhile buying, not just something that repeats itself.

At the moment, I’m involved in quite a lot of different things. I’m prepping up a new acoustic album. I’ve also done a lot of library music and I’m involved in writing a piano duet for . . . I’m not allowed to say, but it is for someone who’s very famous in the classical world.

Invisible Men album cover

JC: What is your secret to keep going?

AP: Well, I didn’t really have a choice but to keep going. In ’91 or ’92, I had my Virgin Records deal. Then Virgin got taken over by EMI, and EMI got rid of any artist who wasn’t making a lot of money  and that included me. It was around that time that a lot of the library music kicked in. You know, necessity is the mother of invention. One of the areas particularly perturbing is if somebody asked me to remix a library track of something I had recorded five or six years ago; I’ve got very little chance of doing it properly because I have to go back to an earlier computer. There are so many things that don’t read or aren’t compatible with each other. Things are moving very fast, and there is often incompatibility between them. So, there’s a bit of a minefield. People who are inventing and putting out new computer stuff seem to think there were no previous computers. None of the new computer stuff is compatible with old computers. I think that’s a real danger. You know, I guess the older you get, it’s gonna be harder to keep up, but I’m still enjoying trying to keep.

[1] Nate Patrin, “The Strange World of Library Music,” Pitchfork, May 14, 2014, accessed October 25, 2017

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Very Candid Look at Divorce Court

There have been many soap operas, daytime talk shows, and reality shows, but none of them are quite like the original Divorce Court, which ran from 1985 to 1992 (this is not referring to the current reality show, Divorce Court, that airs on Fox.) When I was a senior in high school, I was allowed to leave campus when there was no class. With no Internet at the time, I went home in-between classes and watched TV. Even though the show aired during the daytime, many of the stories were risqué and probably wouldn’t have been aired on television if they had been acted out as opposed to discussed in court. The show brought up issues such as divorce, adultery, and abuse, but it also had to come up with wild, original ideas to keep things interesting and fresh. For example, on one episode, a man claimed he was under amnesia when he got married. On another episode, a couple had a German shepherd who had a trust, and on another episode, a woman gave up her son for adoption, then later found him and married him (without telling him of their biological relationship). In each show, actors played the spouses and the witnesses. The honorable Judge William B. Keene (a retired real life Judge) would preside over the cases and solve them in thirty minutes. Every episode would end with Judge Keene giving a sermon on love gone bad before rendering his verdict.

For reasons I can’t explain, I was hooked. The plots were outrageous. The acting wasn’t Oscar caliber, but that just added to the spirit of the show. I continued watching the show as a freshman in college until the show went off the air in 1992. The show went back in 1999 as a reality show (meaning no actors) with Judge Lynn Toler, but it wasn’t the same and I didn’t watch it. I forgot about the show until one day I randomly typed “Divorce Court Judge William Keene” into YouTube and discovered a handful of episodes of the Divorce Court (Judge Keene era) I grew up with. (Any of those episodes on YouTube will give you a taste of what Divorce Court is like.) After reliving memories of watching Divorce Court in my youth, I felt obliged to write this next blog entry on a show that provided much entertainment and enjoyment.

Unlike previous blog entries, this is not an interview of a single person. Instead, it is a story about a show with a cast of five people to tell this story. I would like to thank each and every one of them, as there would be no blog entry without them. The cast is:

Lee Gutenberg (1985–1988): lighting director; one-time actor/husband
Ellen Snortland(1985–1988): actress/lawyer
Joan McCall (1985): writer, 25 episodes
Pamela Hill (1989–1990): court reporter/stenographer
Glenda Chism Tamblyn (1990-1991): actress/lawyer

The cast is going to tell the story of the show’s beginning and end . . . and it is not the final story to tell. Not everyone was willing to talk about their time on Divorce Court. (The first actress I contacted through her business did not want to talk to me.) Some actors leave their appearance on the show off their résumé. But for all those people who would rather not remember their time on the show there are just as many people who are willing and eager to tell their story about their experiences. My hope is that people will feel comfortable talking to me after reading this blog and add more layers to the story of Divorce Court. If you appeared on the show or were affiliated with the show in any capacity and have a story to contribute, please contact me here . For now, this is the 1.0 version of the Divorce Court story.

The first Divorce Court series began in 1957 and ran until 1967. It was then revived in 1985. Despite the fact that show was a soap opera and aimed at that specific audience, the show had some high names involved. Divorce Court was executive produced by Donald Kushner (producer of Tron) and Peter Locke (producer of The Hills Have Eyes, both the original (1977) and the remake (2006)). Kushner and Locke produced several films together, the most famous being Teen Wolf starring Michael J. Fox. Despite the many Divorce Court episodes they produced, the Kushner-Locke Company website does not mention any involvement with the show.

In reference to working with Kushner and Locke, Joan McCall, a writer for the show, responded:

Joan McCall: Working for them was okay. Let’s just say they were very strong. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. I understand it, because they were under their time pressures, but they were also less caring than they could have been. At one point during the whole thing, I had to sue them to get them to pay me for the time that I worked. They started badmouthing me, and they could not get any of the writers or any of the people I worked with to agree with them, so they had to give up. So that’s why I think of them as little bit strong and a little bit negative. But I really don’t hold any grudges against them.

Other producers on the show include Esquire Jauchem, who founded the Boston Repertory Theatre, and the late Richard Glatzer, who wrote and directed Still Alice, a film that received critical acclaim, including Julianne Moore winning an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2014.

Lee Gutenberg: Yes, I remember Richard. He was a real nice guy and we would speak often. Esquire was a good friend of Donald Kushner and a very nice guy. I seem to remember that he invented a lighting effect for stage productions. He might have also done lighting designs for night clubs.

But despite those big names behind the camera, there was one key ingredient that was needed in front of the camera: Judge William B. Keene. Judge Keene was a retired judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. He was originally issued to the trial of Charles Manson. Unlike many judges in TV and film, Judge Keene rarely use his gavel to keep order. When he had to scold someone, he never resorted to Judge Judy-type of verbal putdowns. His reprimands were to the point and stern. Judge Keene had a real life integrity that no amount of soap opera material could drown out. The cast had nothing but good things to say about Keene.

LG: He’s a really good guy. He was being paid a lot of money for the show and then he was retired. He wasn’t practicing, so you know, he was good. He brought on as much integrity as he could bring on for a show like that. That’s just the way he was.

Ellen Snortland: He was just a straight-shooting guy, and I think the likability factor was strong. People just trusted him and liked him.

Pamela Hill: Bill Keene—very cool, nice, down-to-earth guy. I remember him being a nice gentleman. He was very professional, and he just seemed very staunch, which I’m sure that’s why he’s a judge. I don’t remember any drama.

Glenda Chism Tamblyn: Judge Keene was a delightful person to be around. I remember Judge Keene to be a very patient fellow, but he did have his limits. I only shot one show a day, but he was there all day. They allowed about two hours to shoot an episode, so they would shoot maybe four episodes a day. I never saw him storm off the set or speak harshly to anyone. One afternoon, we sat in his dressing room area and ate lunch together. I think it was then that I learned that he had been the original trial judge for the Charles Manson case. He is just as soft-spoken in person as he is on the bench. It was always fun to see him laugh or crack up on set.

The Honorable Judge William B. Keene

The show initially had real lawyers who were playing lawyers and only actors played the spouses and witnesses. Jim Peck, a game show commentator of shows like The Joker’s Wild, played the courtroom reporter from 1985 to 1989.

LG: For the first three seasons, there were only real attorneys. They would Taft-Hartley them, meaning, they got them the SAG (SAG stands for the Screen Actors Guild, a union for actors in movie and television) card and they were able to qualify for things like healthcare, as well as SAG minimum wages at the time.

ES: A friend of mine was casting. Neil Elliot was a friend of mine from the acting cooperative community called Mastery of Acting and he knew I was a lawyer and also an actress. So he thought, "Oh boy, double-hitter." That’s how I got involved.

It turned out to be a good fit because I have a strong sense of the absurd and my background is in theater. I loved live television.

The lawyers would argue their case and Judge Keene would make his decision. Nobody on the show knew his decision until the ending.

JMC: We didn’t write what he said, and we didn’t write his verdict. Judge Keene always got to do that himself. I guess he was just deciding from everything presented to him. He had his own license to make his own judgment about them.

LG: He wanted to have the final say. Each act was timed—someone up in the booth was timing it—so the length of his judgment, the verdict, varied. Sometimes it would be three and a half minutes. Sometimes it would only be one minute and twenty-five seconds. No one influenced him on that.

ES: We really didn't know what the outcome was going to be. Sometimes it would be a big surprise. Although most of the time, especially the lawyers, would see that one party was gonna prevail. It wasn't rocket science.

As for the actors who were playing the spouses and witnesses . . .

LG: The show employed more SAG actors in the few weeks that we did the show than anyone else in Hollywood. All of the actors were SAG actors. They got SAG minimum. Divorce Court got a lot of people who were either breaking out, or people who were at the end of their career. I think SAG minimum at that time was $525, I'm not sure. You showed up, you got paid, and you walked away. It’s what they call a “strip show,” meaning, it’s just done really quickly. There wasn’t a lot of acting involved. The only thing you had to do is walk from your table to the witness stand, say a few lines and go back to your seat.

The show ran like a well-oiled machine. There were five shows a week, each to air from Monday to Friday, so the shows had to be made constantly. Scripts had to be written, cases had to be filmed, and Judge Keene had to rendered his verdict.

JMC: Our head writer would do research and come up with all of these cases that were actual cases tried in court. We would have the basis story, but we wouldn’t have many of the details because the details weren’t recorded, or if they were, we didn’t have them. We knew how the process worked, and we knew how they argued, so we built a whole scenario out of whatever we were given. Sometimes it was a page. I was used to turning out a lot of work for the soaps. I was just given a script to do, and when that was done, I’d get another one.

They just give you the page and you go back to your little cubicle. I had a little office all by myself, and I would just sit there all day and write. This was before computers. I was doing it on the typewriter. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that, but it is really brutal sitting hunched over the typewriter all the time, but I managed. In a few months, I managed to do twenty-five scripts.

LG: We also had no postproduction the time that I worked there, which means that everything was edited on tape. It was the closest thing to live TV I’d ever done. Everything was question and answer. If an actor had given an wrong answer, they would roll back the tape to the question. The first assistant director would countdown and give the people on the set time for the tape to come up to speed, and the actor got the right answer this time, so it seemed flawless. The music, audio, everything was done live. There was no postproduction except when they sent a tape out to for the broadcast standards to be applied.

We had a rehearsal before every show. I think the first cast got to the stage at five a.m., rehearsed at six, and then at seven-thirty or eight we ran the first show. Then we’d take another hour-and-a-half break while they rehearsed the next show on the set. Then we’d go back and tape that. Then we’d take a lunch. Then we’d do another show. While we were eating lunch, they’d be rehearsing the next show. If everything went smoothly, we were sometimes doing shows every three hours. That’s fast. We did approximately 120 to 180 shows in a season. I worked on over seven hundred episodes, but I was only there until 1988.

ES: To tell you the truth, I can't remember any of those cases. Sometimes I would do five in a row. We didn't learn the lines. We didn't memorize the cases. We just kind of got out there and did it. It was down-and-dirty TV, which I loved. It's fun.

Despite the fast pace of knocking out episodes, that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues along the way.

LG: Other times some shows would go four hours. People would not read the script. Some of the actors would come unprepared. They’d come high. You know, some of them just weren’t doing things right. They’d goof up their lines.

Lee remembers an episode where he had to play the spouse.

LG: During the run-through, one of the actors that showed up was a Hungarian actor. He was a little person, you know, slight in stature, and he couldn’t even say his lines or read them. They were faced with the aspect of sending everyone home and recasting, which would cost them. A producer came up to me and said, “Do you want to be in a show?” I said, “No, I'm not an actor.” Well, I had a doctor’s appointment earlier in the week and discovered I needed some expensive tests performed that would cost me about $1,000 in deductible. This was 1988 money. So I said, “Would I get paid if I went on?”

The producer said, “Sure.” With everything it would cover my medical expenses. I thought I’d be a witness or something; I didn’t know what was going on. Then the producer said, “You’re playing the husband. Here’s the script. I guess you read that.” I had forty-five minutes to read the script. I was thrown into wardrobe. They didn’t have anything that fit me. Most of the clothes I was wearing were held together with duct tape. It was really just a big joke. I mean, there are gag reels of the judge stopping in the middle of a scene, taking out a light meter (a light meter is an instrument that measures light. In TV, a light meter can determine the optimum light level for a scene.), and throwing it in front of my face. I never thought they would air it. I could hear the director over the earphones and people were yelling, “Do you still think that you can do it?” After everything was said and done, I received about $1,800 in residuals and initial pay and stuff.

After the initial three seasons (1985–1988), actors were brought in to play lawyers to cut down costs.

LG: It was just getting harder and harder to find real attorneys who would give up their time for $1,000 a day when they could make or break that.

ES: As long as I was being cast, I was down for it. On a rotating basis, I was cast. I was a recurring person, so they would not have made me a regular because then they would have had to pay me more, right? [Laughs]. But they were very, very, very frugal, which is a nice way to put it.

Oh, here's a quote from Judge Keene. [Laughs]. He says, "I think the actors were better." He commented that sometimes the lawyers were very stiff in front of the cameras.

Judge Keene would be the one constant on the show. There was a high turnover of the writers and production crew.

JMC: [Back in 1985] I only worked for about seven months, and I did those twenty-five episodes in about seven months. Then we went on hiatus. It was a whole big thing because they wanted me to be the head writer, and I agreed to it, and then the head writer wanted to come back. She had a job that fell through at Disney and she wanted to come back. [Laughter]. I didn’t really go back after that whole thing started.

LG: I had the medical story. The results of those tests I took resulted in me being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I basically got out of that whole business. I did a few pilots [pilot means a television show’s first episode] a couple of months later, but I just had to get out mainly due to physical needs. It was a really bad thing, but one of the better things that happened to me because I can’t see myself being in that industry today.

By 1989, the initial people who worked on Divorce Court—the producers, production crew, and the lawyers—were gone. The show continued with Judge Keene, but there were new additions. Martha Smith, best known for playing Babs in Animal House, was the courtroom reporter, taking over for Jim Peck. Soap actors were now playing the lawyers. More scenes would take place outside of the courtroom. The show’s ratings had declined, so this was a revamp to compete with other daytime television. Click here to read the 1989 LA Times article that describes how Divorce Court was rebranding. Pamela Hill was a reporter and stenographer during the 1989 season. She talks about her time on the show.

Pamela Hill: I had moved out here [to Los Angeles] and had signed up to do some extra work. I was acting and modeling back home. I got a call from one of the casting people. They said that they needed someone for the show court reporter and stenographer. I was only out here for about four months, so I went down to the interview and thought, “Oh my god. This is happening so fast.” It seemed a little bit more involved than the extra work. I thought, “Wow.” I remember sitting there and I put my hair up like a court reporter. I pretended I was typing on the stenograph machine—I think that’s what it’s called. I was just pretending even though nothing was there. I was just being very honest and kind of just showing that I could do that. I think they got a kick out of that, and then they said, “Are you dependable?” I said, “Yes, I am. I’m a Capricorn,” and then they laughed.

Martha was having success from other shows, especially Animal House. She was funny and a very vivacious and lovely gal. There is a man named Craig Stepp whom I actually reconnected with. He was a lawyer on the show. He did a lot of commercials and television shows. There was another guy who played a lawyer, Stephen Parr; I think he was on All My Children. I remember Jill Whelan who played the Captain’s daughter on The Love Boat. It was fascinating to me to see a lot of the guest stars on the show, or people playing lawyers were people I had watched on either soap operas or on TV commercials.

I do remember there were really long days. We shot at least a good ten- to twelve-hour day, give or take. I remember there were some pictures [laughs]. One of those pictures had myself and a couple people from the show who were just so tired that, we would be lying [laughs] out on the jury audience chairs just to kind of take a cat nap. I just remember we were conked out because the days were long. They shot Monday all week, Monday through Friday. When I was on in ’89, I think I started shooting in the beginning of September for at least a good two months, and it was five days a week.

It was filmed in Valencia. At the time I didn’t have a car, but I was very fortunate that one of the guys—I think his name was Joe—was grand enough to pick me up from west LA and give me a ride every morning to Valencia, which was very nice because not having a car made it a little bit hard. I believe Joe was one of the camera operators. One morning Joe didn’t show up. So, I’m like, “Oh, my god. What am I going to do?” It’s Valencia. It’s quite far from LA. It’s probably at least a good hour or hour and a half away, and I didn’t know what to do. My roommate wasn’t available to take me, and I didn’t have a car. This was years ago and there wasn’t Uber. I only had so much left in my bank account—at the time I had traveler’s checks, [laughter] and I didn’t have a lot left, but when you’ve got to get to Valencia, you’re going to grab something and call a cab. I don’t think I’d ever called a cab before, so long story short, I grabbed my traveler’s check stash and called a cab. When we arrived, the cab driver told me it was $60, so I gave him what I had. I’m like, “Here, take this. This is all I have. I hope it it’s enough.” I honestly don’t remember, but I think it was enough. I was always early to set, but that day I was probably just more on time. I don’t think I ever told anyone on set that I had to take a cab to get there, but someone had found out. During one of the wrap parties, they gave me a remote control car—a kind of funny gag gift—that I think I still have in storage.

Still struggling in the ratings, Divorce Court had to cut costs even lower. Once the biggest employer of the Screen Actors Guild, the show was now hiring nonunion actors to play not only spouses and witnesses but also lawyers. Glenda Chism Tamblyn was one of the actors who played an attorney on the Florida shoot (1990-1991).

Glenda Chism Tamblyn: One of my agents, Patti Thomas, went into casting. She and Mel Johnson were the casting directors for Divorce Court. Mel cast Swamp Thing and I think Superboy at Universal, and maybe one of the Nickelodeon shows.

At the time I was cast in Divorce Court, I was working at Universal Studios Florida in the post production live actor show (now known as Harry Potter World). Patti called me in to read. I got a callback and then was cast. In the beginning, I don't think they were considering having recurring attorneys. In fact, I recall Patti telling me that they had auditioned practically every actor in central Florida and only saw a few people who would make good attorneys. I was very excited and petrified to learn they were going to use the attorneys on more than one show. I ended up shooting nine altogether, which was one more than anyone else.

I think there were maybe eight or nine of us actor-attorneys at the end. They started out with more, but a couple of people dropped out because of the issues with SAG. The Divorce Court shoot was non-union. I was in Actors Equity at the time and should have passed, but I was determined to do the shoot for the experience. Divorce Court was shot on the stage at Disney-MGM and the first day I drove onto the lot, there were protestors with signs at the entrance. SAG was so ticked off; they ran away to a Right to Work (for less) State. Florida was serious about attracting production into the state, especially into Orlando. I don't remember that the picketing lasted very long, maybe for a week. Summer was starting with a vengeance in Florida at that time. I believe we shot either in late May into June or throughout June. The directors used aliases for fear of work repercussions with the unions. They wanted the attorneys to use their real names, but I'm too much of a stage performer to do that; plus, I really wanted to hedge my bets with SAG and I thought my pseudonym, Ann Montgomery, sounded much more lawyerly. I did have to "explain" myself when I got my SAG card for playing Macaulay Culkin’s mother in My Girl! Judge Keene got into trouble with SAG for being on the non-union shoot, but the production company paid his fine. I think it was in the neighborhood of $10,000.

Some of the actors who were playing spouses or witnesses would also play spouses or witnesses in other court cases.

GCT: Yes, they had a two-show limit for the actors to play major characters.

Along with Judge Keene, a few other things stayed consistent on the show. For example, no one knew what his ruling would be on the show.

GCT: I am a bit foggy on whether or not we got the rulings in the scripts, but the uncertainty could come from the fact that the judge could rule any which way he wanted to regardless of what the script called for. If he felt the case wasn't strong enough or proven, then he had perfect leeway to rule as he saw fit. I think there might have been a few scripts where no one knew how the judge would rule, but I couldn't say for certain. As for the objections and all the lawyer speak, that was most certainly in the script. There was one episode—I think it was the last one we shot—that the producer wasn't too happy with, and so he gave it to me and my "client" who was someone I worked with at Universal Studios Florida, and together we all sat down at the table and reworked the ending. I think we still lost the case, but it was really fun, not to mention challenging, to be able to have such input.

As with any show, there are always a few hiccups.

GCT: I remember one episode in particular that sucked. Oh, my gosh, that thing was horrible! It was either the first one they shot or one of the first ones. I don't think I knew any of the actors in the original episode. The central Florida talent pool was very small at that time—some would say “shallow” [laughs]—and from going to auditions and classes to working, I had a passing knowledge of most of the heavier hitters in the area at least by name. None of those actors were in that particular show, and I don't recall who played the attorney. The production crew kept things close to the vest, but that was just one enchilada too big to hide! The episode was so bad that they had to reshoot it before they could air it in 1990. As for the storyline, the one line that sticks out for me is a witness declaring someone being a slave and someone being the "massa.”

The Florida Judge Keene Divorce Court only lasted one season.

GCT: The end of the run was bittersweet. All of the attorneys that I knew were aware of when our last day would be, as the show had definite start and end dates from the beginning. Since Bruce McKay, (the producer of the Florida Divorce Court shoot) liked me, they scheduled one of my episodes to be the very last one shot. I seem to recall they scheduled the whole day's shoots with their favorite attorneys. It felt very much like coming to the end of the run of a play with the inevitable closing date looming on the calendar. At least with live theater there's always a chance—albeit slim—of extending another weekend. That's just not the case in film and TV. If there is an extension, it's a costly thing that nobody is happy about. I always knew that I would be shooting eight episodes, two a week. Then they gave me the additional ninth episode because of the reshoot.

The show would have an end of season party, but it would end with some tragedy.

GCT: The wrap party that evening was at Disney somewhere near the edge of the MGM property. They had set up an area with finger foods and an open bar. It started around five or six and went until around eight. Then we were off on our own to roam about the park. A few of us stuck together and then went our separate ways for a bit, but then rendezvoused at another bar on the property. I saw two of the attorneys, one of whom was Dan Parson. He was the other attorney who worked at Universal Studios Florida in the Horror Makeup Show. We would often get together and yack about Divorce Court at work. The funny thing about Dan was that he was a straight-laced Church of Christ guy, no smoking or drinking. But at the Divorce Court wrap party, he was knocking back drinks and bummed cigarettes off me. As a disclaimer, I am not a smoker, but back then I allowed myself one pack a year, and I only smoked one with Toni whenever we hung out behind the sound stages. I still had a couple of my "allowance" left. Dan and "Buttonhead" (the crew's nickname for another attorney who lived near Dan) were hanging out at the bar, and by that time Dan was really toasted. He was hanging on me and saying how he was gonna go to California—he was born there, so he called it "home"—to pursue his career. I wrote it off as so much drunken bluster, but evidently he had been talking about it a lot with coworkers.

Divorce Court wrap party (Glenda (2nd to the left, middle row); Judge Keene (4th left, top row); Dan Parson (top row, far right) (1991)

I left the bar not too long after arriving, ran into Bruce and spoke a little bit, and then I went on home. That was a Wednesday; I had the next day off, so I didn't get back to Universal Studios Florida until Friday. Not long after I got to work, the call went out that Dan was missing from makeup and he had missed the day before too. My knees went out from underneath me, and I told the gang that Dan had been really drunk the last time I saw him. I called Buttonhead, who went over to Dan’s house but Dan wasn't home and his car was missing. I thought that maybe he was on his way out west, so I called Bruce in Los Angeles and told him the situation. Bruce hadn't heard from him but told me that he would keep us informed if he did. On Sunday morning, a body was spotted by a hot-air balloonist, floating in a drainage ditch at Disney. Sure enough, it was Dan. Apparently, he had tried to drive home, got lost in the backroad swampy area, ran his car off the road into a ditch, and drowned. It was very, very sad. The funny thing about Dan was how competitive he was. After the first week, some of the hotshot actors decided to see who could shoot his episode the fastest. I don't think I knew about this until several shoots into the season. Dan ended up having the fastest time, and when I asked him about it, he confided that it was because he kept index cards in his pocket and would look down at them when the cameras weren't on him. Cheater!

The show continued for one more season without Judge Keene. A different judge sat on with nonunion actors playing lawyers, spouses, and witnesses. It wasn’t the same without Keene. The eighties’ era of Divorce Court was over.

LG: Judge Keene would call me and say, “You know, we were so close with everybody, but you’re the only one who ever calls me.” He’d ask me what the producers were up to. Nobody on the show. He wouldn’t know anything that was going on. That’s just the nature of that business, you know? I have another friend who had that same thing happen and he said the same thing. He said, “After all of these relationships I don’t hear from anybody.” That’s the sad part.

Reflecting back . . .

PH: It was really cool. I got a write-up article in my local paper in Cincinnati and I still have it framed. It says, “Making it in LA,” and I’m in my dress in the court with the steno in front of me. I got my SAG card from Divorce Court. Until this day, I still get a residual, and sometimes it’s for a dime [laughs].

ES: Ahead of its time. Heteronormative marriage was what we did, right? And so women got cast [laughs]. I would guess the show was one of the biggest employers of women in the Screen Actors Guild. And [laughs] I still have people stare at me in grocery stores and think they know me from something. I'll say, "Well, did you watch Divorce Court?" And they'll go, "Yes!"

GCT: My feelings about the show "evolved,” naturally! I still don't consider it Emmy-worthy TV, but it does/did serve a purpose. As an actor, I'm always in favor of anything that puts a performer to work just so long as there isn't any underhanded exploitation. Reasonable hours, fair pay, professional treatment on set and off . . . those were all present on the Divorce Court set, and I am very thankful for that. I thought some of the episodes were a bit on the cheesy side, but then we all knew it was "made for TV,” and a certain amount of cheese was needed. In fact, the more seriously you took the cheese, the better! Afternoon audiences really dug that stuff.

Those four weeks on Divorce Court were some of the best of my life, personally and professionally. I met some of the most wonderful people in the area and we remained friends for a long time afterwards. Crews disperse, so it was very hard to keep track of those folks, but they were so much fun. I really came to appreciate and sit in awe of their skill.

Technically speaking, my confidence as an actor grew by leaps and bounds. Memorizing lines became easier and easier. I was much more able to work in front of a camera without self-consciousness. The skills that grew from shooting that show have stood me well. Oddly enough, I had to leave the Divorce Court credit off my résumé for a very long time. I had been told by agents and others in the business out here that I wouldn't be taken seriously with that credit. It's hard to believe, since most actors hardly ever get the experience of a recurring role on a four-camera floor shoot. It just goes to prove the number-one rule of Hollywood: nobody knows anything.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Very Candid Conversation with Bobby Kimball

Bobby Kimball on the “Rosanna” video (1982)

Bobby Kimball was the original singer(he doesn’t play any instrument)  for Toto. Those familiar with Toto’s hits “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna,” and “Africa” will recognize Bobby’s high vocals. Bobby began his career with Toto in 1977. From 1977 to 1984, Bobby recorded four albums with Toto. Toto’s self-titled album (1978) contained the hits “Hold the Line” and “Georgy Porgy” and went double platinum. Their second album Hydra (1979) went gold. The third album Hold Back (1981) didn’t do as well as the previous two albums. However, Toto rebounded with Toto IV (1982), which earned six Grammy awards  and went triple platinum. Toto IV contains Toto’s biggest hits, “Rosanna” and “Africa.” Despite the success of Toto, the original lineup eventually broke up. Bassist  David Hungate left in 1982 and Bobby left in 1984.

After leaving Toto, Bobby  joined the Far Corporation in 1984 (created by German producer Frank Fabian, who was known in later years for creating Milli Vanilli). Far Corporation had a hit of their cover of the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven” which made it to #8 in the UK charts and #85 in the US charts. (Interesting trivia: Far Corporation is the only band that has had a hit single with “Stairway to Heaven,” because Led Zeppelin never released it as a single.)  Bobby kept himself busy with session and solo work until he was asked to come back to Toto in 1998.

Bobby played with Toto for ten years until guitarist Steve Lukather decided to end the band in 2008. During Bobby’s time with Toto, he recorded three studio albums: Mindfields (1998), Through the Looking Glass (2002) and Falling in Between (2006). In addition, Toto released two live albums: Livefields (1999) and Falling in Between Live (2007).  Also, during the time Bobby was back with Toto, he released his first album All I Ever Needed (1999).

After Toto, from 2010–2016, Bobby was constantly on the road, either with a new group or solo. Most recently, in April 2017, he released his second solo  album We’re Not in Kansas Anymore. Not surprisingly, the music is similar to his work with Toto, but what’s more remarkable is that Bobby has still retained his trademark high vocals and shows signs of little wear and tear.

In this candid conversation, we talk about Bobby’s time in Toto and the Far Corporation. In addition, we talk about his new album We’re Not in Kansas Anymore and his secret on how his vocal chords stay in shape. One mystery we clear up is if Toto’s song “Rosanna” is really about the actress Rosanna Arquette. Many people believe that the song is about Arquette, as Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro had dated Arquette in the past.

I want to thank Billy James of Glass Onyon PR for setting up the interview, but most of all I want to thank Bobby.

Jeff Cramer:   What got you into singing?

Bobby Kimball:    What got me in singing? When I was just five years old, I started playing the piano, and my mother taught me a lot of chords. And this black guy in this little three-thousand-person town (Note: Bobby grew up in Vinton, Louisiana) that I lived in taught me rhythm. When I played in the piano, I also started singing because my oldest brother was like a white Ray Charles. He was very, very good as a singer and piano player, so I thought it was a good idea to sing, so I did. I was eight years old when I played with my first band.

JC:     How did you come across Toto?

BK:    In 1974, I moved from Louisiana to Los Angeles. I was playing with a great band in 1974 (I started that band when I was eight),  but I got a call from a very good friend of mine—Jon Smith. I played in two bands with him in Louisiana. Jon was from Louisiana in Lafayette, and he was a great saxophone player.

Anyway, when the singers left the band Three Dog Night, the bass player, drummer, and guitar player called Jon to join a new band they were starting. At the first rehearsal, they’d asked Jon if he knew any singers.

So Jon called me and said, “Would you come and sing with some guys from Three Dog Night?” I said, “Try and stop me.” Three Dog Night was my favorite band at the time. So I moved to Los Angeles, we rehearsed, and the band was called S.S. Fools.

When I got here, we rehearsed for about two months in the studio. While  we were rehearsing, David Paich and Jeff Porcaro—the two guys who organized the band Toto—loved those guys from Three Dog Night, and they came to about one-third of our rehearsals. We rehearsed for about two months.

That was how I met those guys. And we became pretty good friends. The manager of S.S. Fools was also the manager of Three Dog Night, and the singers left Three Dog Night because they were losing a lot of money from the manager. Those guys in S. S. Fools hired the same manager.

JC:    The ones that they lost money in?

BK:   Yes, exactly, and the same thing started happening. They were losing money because of that same manager.  Fifteen months later, I left S.S. Fools.  About three months later, I got a phone call from David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the two guys who put Toto together. They asked me to come and sing with the band.

JC:     Okay.

BK:   I told ’em, “No problem. I love the musicians.” So that’s where I got with it.

Toto 1978 (Bobby far left)

JC:     In the beginning, you’re doing the lead vocals on the single “Hold the Line”(1978). 

BK:    David Paich, the keyboard player, wrote that song. But I sang the lead vocals and most of the background vocals on that. It was the first single. It’s still very fun to do [To hear “Hold the Line,” click here.]

JC:    You played on three more albums after Toto’s debut album, Toto (1978). Now, particularly, we get to the high point  of Toto IV(1982). I guess one question that many people have: Was “Rosanna” really about Rosanna Arquette?

BK:     Well, actually, I don’t think the song was written about her, because she kind of came around and she started living with the second keyboard player, Steve Porcaro, about two weeks after I did the lead vocal on “Rosanna.”

JC:   Oh, then I guess it’s not about her, since the song “Rosanna” was about a breakup. You know, the chorus, “Not quite a year since she went away, Rosanna left!”

BK:    Yes. She would go on television—the Johnny Carson Show  and several other things. She was an actress. The thing is, when she would say that the song was written about her, I never denied that.

I didn’t want to do that because she was a nice person. For the Toto IV tour, we were on the bus for quite a while, and she was on the bus with Steve Porcaro.  

JC:      Okay. So, they were together when the song was written. Interesting.

BK:   It was very great to know her. [To hear “Rosanna,” click here.]

JC:    Toto IV (1982) was the biggest album. It went triple platinum. It even out-sold the debut album, which went double platinum. Even the band’s second album Hydra (1979) went gold. And yet after all this success (three great selling albums out of four albums), the original lineup never continued. Why was it the last for you? Why was the last for David Hungate, the bass player?

Toto winning grammys in 1983 (Bobby 3rd to right)

BK:    Well, Hungate left right after we recorded the Toto IV album. He moved to Nashville. I think his wife is the one who got him to stop touring. However, about the middle of the fifth Toto album, Isolation (1984), I had sung three of the songs and did most of the background vocals.

I wrote one of the songs with David Paich. Anyhow, there was a problem and they asked me to leave the band. They hired a good friend of mine, Fergie Frederiksen, to replace me.

Fergie had played with a band in Louisiana that I had helped originally put together called the Levee Band. That band first broke up when I left that band to come to LA, but they got back together about three months later; they had some new players and Fergie was the new singer.

Toto hired Fergie to sing with Toto for that fifth album, Isolation. He just went into the studio and copied the vocals on the songs that I’d sung. He was great, and he was a really nice guy. But he’s dead.

I did several benefit concerts for his family while he was dying. And that was really, really good because he was there. Before he died, he was at some of those concerts and it was super nice.

But as for me, I moved to Germany after I left Toto in 1984. 

JC:    What did you do in Germany?

BK:   There was a guy named Frank Farian, one of the most famous producers over there. He called me about three days after I left Toto and asked me to come to Germany. I moved to Frankfurt. That was great for me because my mother’s father was born in Frankfurt.

I wanted to go abroad and concentrate on how great Frankfurt was. Anyhow, I did a Self-titled album  with a group called Far Corporation. That was the first time I met one of the drummers who would later be with Toto for a long time, Simon Phillips.

Bobby in Far Corporation (2nd to right)—1985

JC:   Yes.

BK:   Simon was playing drums on Far Corporation’s album. It was fantastic to meet him. [Far Corporation’s first single was a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Click here to watch Bobby deliver an impressive Robert Plant impression. He sings the last quarter of the song starting “As we wind down the road . . .” starting at 4:47.] 

JC:    Okay. You eventually came back and played with Toto. How did that happen?

BK:  In 1998, they called me back after they had hired three other singers. Fergie Frederickson, who replaced me, was only with the band for a little less than a year. Then they hired Joseph Williams. Joseph went to school with some of those guys in Toto, and they hired him.

Joseph was with the band for a couple of years, then they fired him. Then they hired another guy and he was with the band for almost a year. Then they called me in 1998. So, I needed to come back and sing with the band. I sang with them for ten years. So, I was with ’em, altogether for eighteen years: eight years first; ten years second.

JC:           What happened at the end of those ten years? Why did you—?

BK:  When I got back with the band, I wrote the lyrics on eight of the eleven songs on Falling in Between. [To hear “Falling in Between” performed live, click here.] 

Toto 2006 (Bobby, sitting, far left)

We were on a two-and-a-half-year tour. Mike Porcaro, was our second bass player when David Hungate left. He also was (original Toto drummer) Jeff Porcaro’s brother. Mike Porcaro, halfway through the Falling in Between tour, walked into our dressing room and told us that we were going to have to get a substitute bass player, ’cause he couldn’t hardly stand up any more. He couldn’t hold his bass.

He had Gehrig’s disease, ALS. Not long after that—a couple weeks after—David Paich, the main keyboard player, told us we had to get a substitute keyboardist because his sister—his only living relative—needed a double-lung transplant, and he had to come back to LA and get it for her. He couldn’t do it while he was on the road.

JC:    Okay.

BK:   In 2008, at the end of that tour, Steve Lukather decided he wanted to end. By that point, the only original members in the band were me and Steve Lukather.

We had a substitute drummer, Simon Phillips because Jeff Porcaro died. We had a substitute bass player and a substitute keyboard player. In 2008, when we finished the tour, Steve Lukather decided that he wanted to form a solo band. There were only two original members on that stage.

So, Steve quit the band, and the band kind of fell apart. I started touring all over the world. I played with musicians that I met while I was touring all over the world with Toto.

When an agent would call me or email me about doing a tour or concerts, I would contact some of the best musicians I had ever met while I was touring with Toto. I would contact the musicians and tell them, “Put a band together. Here’s the set list.” And they would, and they were always great. I’ve been out of the band since 2008, but it hasn’t been a problem for me.

JC:   I know what you mean about great musicians, ’cause I certainly heard a lot on your recent solo album. Why don’t we talk about your latest album, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore [2017]?

Cover for We’re Not in Kansas Anymore (2017)

BK:     My solo album . . . I really, really love it.

JC:    How did you get started on that?

BK:  John Zaika is the guy who wrote the tracks. He got the tracks recorded and everything, and I was on the road most of the time. He was in Dallas for a while recording with a friend of his, so he went out to LA, and when I got back home, he asked me to come and do the vocals. I changed a lot of the lyrics. On the other solo album I did, All I Ever Needed (1999),  I wrote all of the lyrics, the melody, and John wrote the music. John’s absolutely brilliant and a great friend of mine.

JC:   Well, John captures the classic Toto sound in those album tracks.

BK:  Yeah, he did some brilliant stuff. [Laughs] Well, those songs were super fun. [Click here to hear some official video clips of Bobby singing from his latest album.]

JC:    Mm-hmm. One thing I was mentioning before: your vocals . . . you’re still hitting all the high notes. How did you keep your vocals in great shape? I’ve watched other vocalists go through wear and tear, but you’ve managed to keep yours in great shape. How do you do it?

BK:   Well, I sing a lot. About three years ago, I was having a little bit of a problem with my voice. I am a part-owner of a hearing aid company in this town, Rhina, in Germany. The doctor—the eye, ear, nose, and throat doctor—is super, super doctor.

He checked my ears and my voice and everything, and we drove about thirty minutes to this town called Münster to a hospital. There is a specialist vocal doctor there. Well, I sat on this little thing and he sat right across from me, and there was a machine to the right.

There was a little device that was connected to the machine; it was about the size of a fountain pen. He told me, “Open your mouth as wide as you can. Stick your tongue out as far as you can.”

He put that device around my left vocal cord, moved it up and down, and he put it on my right vocal cord, moved it up and down. When he took it out of my mouth, he said, “Sing a high note.” Oh man. I said [makes high-pitched noise].

JC:   [Laughs] The hair on my neck just stood up from hearing you, Bobby!

BK:    That doctor was fantastic. If I ever have any more problems, I will go back to him.

JC:    Do you have any plans to tour behind your new album?

BK:   Oh yes, actually. This guy from Belgium has booked me a ton of concerts, and I will also be doing some – four or five of the songs – from We’re Not in Kansas Anymore and All I Ever Needed, the first solo CD I did with John.  I’m gonna do some of those songs because I absolutely love ’em, and I wrote the album.

The Belgium guy booked me a ton of tours, and I’m gonna be on the road with an orchestra and this fantastic conductor who is a friend of mine. It is going to be absolutely super fun.

JC:   Since you’ve been a veteran at it for many years and you’re still hitting the high notes, what would be your recommendation for anyone who wants to go out and sing?

BK:   [Laughs] If they want to sing, and they can sing, I would say they absolutely should do it because it is so fun and so fantastic.

Bobby Kimball singing (exact year not known)