Toto's Steve Lukather remembers bassist Mike Porcaro

Toto's Steve Lukather looks back on his bandmate Mike Porcaro's death at 59 of ALS

Toto lead guitarist Steve Lukather spoke to The Times on Monday following the death Sunday of the band’s longtime bassist, Mike Porcaro, at age 59 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Porcaro joined Toto in 1983, alongside his brothers Jeff and Steve Porcaro, after the band had its first wave of commercial success and the group’s original bassist, David Hungate, moved to Nashville to focus on a career as a studio musician. Mike Porcaro recorded and toured with Toto for nearly a quarter-century. Jeff Porcaro died in 1992 of a heart attack, at 38, and Toto disbanded in 2008, a year after Mike Porcaro’s illness progressed to where he could no longer play. The group reformed and toured in 2010 to raise money to help pay Porcaro’s medical bills as well as to raise awareness about ALS.

We’ve been brothers since we were 15. I practically grew up in their house. We all went to school together at [Ulysses S.] Grant High School in the San Fernando Valley, and we were always in their garage playing music.

Their dad, Joe, was a famous studio musician. He’d built a mini-studio at their house and soundproofed it. So every day after school, we would be there rehearsing. It was Steve, Jeff and Mike, and [keyboardist] David Paich and a bunch of other guys, many of whom went on to do very well. There were four of us from the '70s who carried on with this ridiculous dream, and 40-some years later, we’re still working.

Mike was always there, and it was like he should have been in the band in the first place. But Jeff and David [Hungate] were from the “Silk Degrees” era; they played in the rhythm section with Boz Scaggs, and so when David left to go to Nashville, Jeff picked up the phone and said, “I guess my brother’s in the band now.”

He was more than just our bass player. Look at his discography: he was one of us. His groove and feel and sense of taste made him the iconic player he was. This will live forever. 

To say goodbye to another brother, it’s always hard. And it was not an easy out. I don’t know if you’ve ever known anybody with ALS, but it is a cruel disease. It takes somebody very slowly.

For Mike, it started out like “Oh, my thumb’s bothering me,” and “I think I pulled a disc.” Somebody said they thought it was Lyme disease. Nobody wants to get that [ALS] diagnosis because it’s a terminal disease. There is no happy ending.

To have two brothers from the same family gone now — that should never happen to any parent, or sister or brother....

It’s just so strange, the feeling: On one hand, I’m happy he’s at peace, but on the other hand, I’m never going to be able to laugh with him again. He’s been in bad shape for years. It’s the most insidious disease, because your mind is as sharp as it ever was, but your body is deteriorating.

He fought a very hard fight — he fought an amazing fight. And his wife is probably the greatest saint of all time. She never complained. There’s definitely a special place in heaven for her.

What can you say about things like this? That anything stupid that may bother me is just meaningless when you realize the bigger picture. That’s what we’re all doing right now. I’m going to be seeing everybody and there will be a service at some point this week.

When his brother Steve called me [early Sunday morning] to tell me the news, I sat down and pulled up some of his best recordings and cried, laughed and was bummed out knowing it will be a little bit of time before we are all together again. But it reminded me of why he will always be one of the best ever. 

All those that knew him and worked with him and shared the joy of making music with him know what I mean. 

I just know that I’m a better man for having known Mike. Right now I’m just going to go jump into the pool with my son and remind myself what real love is all about.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

Toto photo: This post has been updated with a 1982 photo of Toto members Jeff, Mike and Steve Porcaro. An earlier edition of the post included a latter-day photo of the band.

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