Toto: "Keith Emerson was the man!": the unlikely influence behind Africa

Toto's David Paich in a top hat standing against a stained glass window
(Image credit: Alessandro Solca)

David Paich has revealed that Emerson Lake & Palmer played a key role in contributing to Toto's distinctive sound. The musician and songwriter behind the hit songs Africa and Rosanna, tells Prog, "In the early days, Steve [Porcaro] and I had seen Emerson, Lake & Palmer, so that was a pretty huge influence."

Guitarist Steve Lukather has previously name-checked Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Gentle Giant as inspiration, but Paich has gone one step further and admitted that ELP's theatrical keyboard player was directly responsible for his own instrument selection.

"Keith had a nine-foot grand, a Moog, and two Hammond organs on stage. He was our Jimi Hendrix – he was the man! So, we bought modular gear, not the Minimoogs, we wanted the monster stuff so we could get the big sounds like Keith. I took my grand on the road, we had keyboards on top of it, keyboards here, keyboards everywhere."

Paich, who released his debut solo album Forgotten Toys in August 2022, now has a much smaller rig and plays a Nord, but in the early days of Toto, the band were all about seeing just how far they could go.

"We were just always trying to expand the limits of the musicality, make rock’n’roll more musically interesting to musicians, and to our musician friends. Jeff [Porcaro, drums] was playing with Steely Dan, and at the same time we were doing sessions with Seals and Crofts, and Boz Scaggs. 

"As far as creativity went, we always wanted to extend the bookends. You can hear that on the title track on Hydra. We found out that when you play live, you can’t just play three-minute pop stuff. You have to get into some deep material."

Read the full interview in Prog 134, out now.

Natasha Scharf
Deputy Editor, Prog

Contributing to Prog since the very first issue, writer and broadcaster Natasha Scharf was the magazine’s News Editor before she took up her current role of Deputy Editor, and has interviewed some of the best-known acts in the progressive music world from ELP, Yes and Marillion to Nightwish, Dream Theater and TesseracT. Starting young, she set up her first music fanzine in the late 80s and became a regular contributor to local newspapers and magazines over the next decade. The 00s would see her running the dark music magazine, Meltdown, as well as contributing to Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Terrorizer and Artrocker. Author of music subculture books The Art Of Gothic and Worldwide Gothic, she’s since written album sleeve notes for Cherry Red, and also co-wrote Tarja Turunen’s memoirs, Singing In My Blood. Beyond the written word, Natasha has spent several decades as a club DJ, spinning tunes at aftershow parties for Metallica, Motörhead and Nine Inch Nails. She’s currently the only member of the Prog team to have appeared on the magazine’s cover.