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The voice of Toto returns

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Singer Bobby Kimball issues sixth solo album

Bobby Kimball, whose sonorous tenor was part of the mix that lifted the band Toto to unimagined heights in their late ‘70s and early ‘80s glory days with hits like “Hold The Line,” “Rosanna” and “Africa,” has just issued his sixth solo album “Bobby Kimball – We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” on Cleopatra Records.

“I’ve received thousands of messages from people all over the world telling me it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Kimball told me in a phone interview from Frankfurt, Germany, where he was attending Frankfurt Musikmesse – an international trade fair for music production and marketing.

The album was co-produced by John Zaika and Dave Barnett, with whom Kimball wrote the record’s eleven songs.

“I was on the road touring while they were working on the tracks,” Kimball says. “When John came back to LA, we started recording and I rewrote a lot of the lyrics.”

The album certainly has a Toto-esque sound, with precise musical chops and melody-rich songs, driven by Kimball’s voice which has lost none of its power or range.

“I’m so proud of this record and I can’t wait for the fans to hear it,” Kimball told me. “We worked really hard on it and I think it’s a really powerful piece of work.”

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Toto and the 35th anniversary of “Toto IV” – an album that nearly swept the Grammy Awards in 1983.

Just before Kimball called for his interview, I went to YouTube to watch part of the show for the first time since it aired. Kimball’s beaming smile onstage, surrounded by his equally ecstatic band-mates, prompted me to ask him what it felt like the night the band took home six of the eight awards for which they had been nominated.

“I think you can tell I was just having so much fun,” Kimball says of the moment. I thought maybe we would win one or two (Grammys). Sitting next to us were Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and some of the most popular musicians in the world. They were nominated too but we won seven of eight nominations. It was incredible.”

Kimball departed Toto a year after their amazing Grammy achievement but rejoined in the late 90s. He left again when the group went their separate ways in 2008. The band reformed two years later with Joseph Williams, son of composer John Williams, as lead vocalist. Williams had assumed the position after Kimball’s 1984 departure.

“It was fabulous to be in that band,” Kimball told me. “They’re an amazing group of people and it was just fun. Toto is still one of the best bands in the world and I love everyone in that band. I love the way they play and I love the way they write.”

Kimball is occupied with promoting his new album at the moment but says he greatly looks forward to his next project – a movie due to begin shooting in June. 

The film, Kimball says, is a project that is close to his heart as it profiles a man who played an integral role in his musical development as a child.

“When I was four and a half years old, my mother, who played piano and had perfect pitch, said ‘Bobby, let me teach you some chords.’ She taught me 300 chords by the time I was 5 but I didn’t understand rhythm.”

Kimball says a visit to the local barbershop in Vinton, Louisiana, profoundly affected the rest of his musical life.

“One day, I was getting a haircut in this little town of 3,000 people, and the shoeshine guy was a black 52-year old man named Tanner. Nobody called him by his real name. They called him that because he tanned leather shoes. He would pop that rag to a New Orleans second-line beat and he would hum a song and name it. I watched him for about three weeks and learned his rhythm and then I would run the four blocks home and was writing my own songs by age five and was in my first band at the age of eight.”

Kimball says Tanner taught him important lessons about life, tolerance and happiness and he’s looking forward to honoring the man who would become his mentor and best friend.

“Right now, I’m focused on this record but this movie has been a long time coming and I can’t wait for the world to know the story of Tanner.” 

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