Mike Porcaro 1955 - 2015

Mike Porcaro, who has died aged 59, was a part of a mini musical dynasty best known for its work with Toto and in particular 1982’s Toto IV, a record that remains a cornerstone of American radio rock. Porcaro’s father Joe contributed percussion to the album, his older brother Jeff played drums, his younger brother Steve keyboards, while Mike, not yet a member of the band, added cello to the track Good For You.

He joined Toto full-time as the replacement for original bassist David Hungate the following year, and outlasted both of his brothers in the line-up, a run that went unbroken until his enforced retirement from performing in 2007.

The family credentials were impeccably musical. Joe, who is still going strong at 84, played with Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Pink Floyd, Madonna, the Monkees and Stan Getz. Jeff inherited the old man’s drummers’ chops and was a legendary session player well before Toto, contributing to Steely Dan’s Katy Lied amongst hundreds of others. He met keyboard player David Paich on one such session, and the pair joined with brother Steve, Hungate, guitarist Steve Lukather and singer Bobby Kimball to form Toto in Los Angeles in 1977. Mike, meanwhile, was also in demand, contributing to albums by Lee Ritenour, Harvey Mason, Sparks, Helen Reddy, Shaun Cassidy, Country Joe McDonald, Seals & Crofts, The Hues Corporation, Michael McDonald and Aretha Franklin, and to the Grease Soundtrack.

Despite an early hit with Hold The Line, Toto might have folded had Toto IV not hit the jackpot commercially – their record company was running out of patience, and the band’s third album, Turn Back, had been somewhat overshadowed by Kimball’s arrest for allegedly selling cocaine to an undercover cop.

Those blues were soon washed away on the immaculate sounds of Rosanna, Africa and I Won’t Hold You Back, the songs that eased Toto into radio ubiquity. When Hungate decided that the limelight wasn’t for him and returned to session work, Mike stepped up and for four years all three Porcaro brothers played together, releasing Isolation (1984) and Fahrenheit (1986) as well as the soundtrack to David Lynch’s film Dune (continuing the family theme, David Paich’s father Marty conducted the orchestra).

Steve Porcaro left Toto in 1987 to continue working on film and television scores. With Kimball long gone and Fergie Frederiksen and Joseph Williams passing through in his stead, the band were becoming fragmented, and Jeff Porcaro’s premature death in 1992 from a heart attack might have marked the end.

Yet the Porcaro family rallied, and Jeff’s friend Simon Phillips stepped in, drumming throughout a memorial tour that climaxed with a tribute concert in Los Angeles at which Don Henley, Eddie Van Halen, Steely Dan, Richard Marx and George Harrison appeared.

Mike played on through the recording of Tambu (1995) and XX (1997), when Kimball returned to the line-up. Mindfields (1999) and Through The Looking Glass (2002) saw Toto slipping towards the kind of stately semi-retirement beloved of the rock aristocracy. Porcaro continued to play bass, performing on a number of tribute albums, including covers of Aerosmith’s What It Takes in 2002, and Kiss’s Calling Doctor Love alongside Helmet’s Page Hamilton in 2004.

Toto were tempted back for bouts of gigging, and recorded Falling In Between in 2006 for the Frontiers label. By then Porcaro had begun to suffer with the numbness in his fingers that was to be diagnosed as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis [ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease], the devastating neurone disorder that results in muscle atrophy and ultimately difficulties in swallowing and breathing. He retired from performing in 2007, and released his debut solo album, Brotherly Love, in 2011. Toto reconstituted for benefit tours in 2010 and 2011, the prelude to a more lasting reformation that includes brother Steve.

In September 2012 Classic Rock reported that Porcaro had become confined to a wheelchair, and he died at his home in Los Angeles on March 15, surrounded by his family. Writing via Toto’s Facebook page, Steve Lukather said, “Mike is now at peace… I will miss him more than I can put into words.”

Jon Hotten

Jon Hotten is an English author and journalist. He is best known for the books Muscle: A Writer's Trip Through a Sport with No Boundaries and The Years of the Locust. In June 2015 he published a novel, My Life And The Beautiful Music (Cape), based on his time in LA in the late 80s reporting on the heavy metal scene. He was a contributor to Kerrang! magazine from 1987–92 and currently contributes to Classic Rock. Hotten is the author of the popular cricket blog, The Old Batsman, and since February 2013 is a frequent contributor to The Cordon cricket blog at Cricinfo. His most recent book, Bat, Ball & Field, was published in 2022.