May 10, 2017 Interview – Bobby Kimball
Life is impossible to predict, but if we stay true to ourselves, happiness is sure to follow. A positive way to look at the road that lies ahead, born and raised down south, Bobby Kimball has had music running through his veins since birth. Always enamored with harmony, rhythm, and melody, Kimball would go on to become the voice of platinum selling Rock band Toto, leading them to major success during his initial tenure between 1977 and 1984. With a distinctive voice that goes through highs and lows with ease, Kimball continues to sooth his artistic soul with touring around the world and putting out new music, including his latest effort, 2017’s We’re Not in Kansas Anymore. Recently we sat down with Kimball to talk the roads he has travelled, the work behind his latest album, his passion for life, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have built a an impressive career in Rock-n-Roll over the past 55 plus years, from your time as the lead voice of Toto to your various other collaborations. Tell us about the roads you have travelled.
Bobby Kimball – I travelled everywhere. When I was with Toto I played a lot of different places in this world. I was with Toto two times, from 1977 to 1984 and from 1988 to 2008. I was with them for eighteen years and while I was not with them I had a solo band traveling all the world. I still am, about 200 or 250 days a year I am on the road.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, you have kept yourself extremely busy. As mentioned, you were an intricate part of the success with Toto as the band’s leading voice through years of platinum and gold success. Between the years of 1978 and 1984 you and the band attained massive commercial success.
Bobby Kimball – The band had their biggest hits they ever had from 1978 to 1984. David Paich was the main writer. I sang the very first single on the first album, I sang all the lead and backing vocals on “Hold the Line.” So many people were so interested in that one song and when we got to the Toto IV (1982) album we knew we had to do absolutely one of the best albums we had ever done. The song “Africa” was written by David Paich and Jeff Porcaro. Jeff was the best drummer in the whole world and sadly passed away. Also the song “Rosanna,” along with the Toto IV album, was nominated for eight Grammys and we won six of them!
CrypticRock.com – That was a very special time for Toto. You and the band have parted ways on several occasions, but in those times, a part of you still remained very active touring and recording music.
Bobby Kimball – It was so much fun. I had several bands around the world, they were musicians I met while touring with Toto. Some of the best musicians in the world would come to our concerts and they would come back stage. It was very fun contacting them and telling them, “I have twenty dates in your area.” They would put a band together and I knew they would have a band as good as they are, and they did. It was always super fun.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds very exciting. On April 21st, you returned with a brand new album, entitled We’re Not In Kansas Anymore. This is a very powerful and colorful mix of Rock tracks. What was the writing and recording process like for this new album?
Bobby Kimball – I absolutely adored doing this album. In 1999, I recorded an album with John Zaika and it was called All I Ever Needed. That sold a lot of CDs, but I think We’re Not In Kansas Anymore is going to be a lot bigger. I have received thousands of messages of people saying they think it is one of the best things I have ever done.
CrypticRock.com – Well the album certainly is very fresh and diverse in styles. What was the collaboration like with them?
Bobby Kimball – It was not a problem at all. They were super great and so much fun. I had played with most of them in the past anyhow. It was a great experience also working with John Zaika again.
CrypticRock.com – Wonderful, well the end result is really special. You mentioned you still tour very heavily. That said, can we expect a full tour in support of the record?
Bobby Kimball – I book a lot concerts just through the internet, however, there are a few agents I use. One of them is in Belgium and he is absolutely fantastic. He introduced me to one of my best friends that I met in Dubai. That was back in 2007 when I was playing the Dubai Jazz Festival, he was at the bottom of the stairs when I walked up the back of the stage. Philipp Maier is his name and I found out he is from Germany and he is the guy who put the Dubai Symphony Orchestra together. He was a conductor and arranger for so long. He is now back in Germany, but I introduced him to the Belgian agent and he let me know there are possibly twenty-five concerts around the world with orchestras. He has already arranged the songs I am going to be playing. It will be an orchestra and a five-piece Rock band.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it will be a very exciting tour. Speaking of tours, through the years you have visited many places.
Bobby Kimball – There is hardly an inch on the planet, minus the north and south pole, that I haven’t been to. On this tour, if it is 25 concerts, I will only be doing three Toto songs – “Hold the Line,” “Africa,” and “Rosanna.” I want to do several songs from my We’re Not In Kansas Anymore. I also want to do some from All I Ever Needed. In addition, I want to do some songs off the 1995 Rise Up album. I will do a lot of great songs and the orchestra will be involved.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, it seems like it will be a diverse setlist ahead. It will be compelling to hear the new and old songs mixed together. One of the most pronounced aspects of your voice is its diversity. This is certainly heard over the course of a full-length album. How have you kept your voice in shape through the years?
Bobby Kimball – I take care of my voice very much and every day. By the way, let me mention, I own part of a hearing aid company for about eleven years in Germany. The ear, eyes, nose, and throat doctor who works there is fantastic. A few years ago, I was having a few problems with my voice, it was because I had a real serious cold, it is always freezing in Europe. He took me to this hospital in Münster and I went in and they have a vocalist specialist doctor. I sat there, the doctor was sitting right across from, and there was this machine next to us, it was about the size of a fountain pen. He asked me to open my mouth as far as I could, he put that thing down, it went up and down my left and right vocal chord. When he finished, he said, “Sing a high note.” I sang and it was so unbelievable. There were no problems at all after that and it caused me to sing better than I ever had before.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very interesting story. It will be great to hear all these new songs with you sounding and feeling so strong. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. Are you a fan of movies?
Bobby Kimball – I wrote a movie, it is called Tanner’s Song. I wrote that song way back in the early ’70s. Let me tell you about the movie, I lived in this town eight miles from the Texas border, the town had three-thousand people, it was a tiny little town I grew up in. My mother always had perfect pitch, she was so unbelievable. She would play anything she heard on the radio or a record, she would sit down behind the piano and play it perfectly. I would stand there and watch her while she was playing, she said, “You are 4 1/2, let me teach you some chords on the piano.” By the time I was 5, she taught me 300 chords on the piano. I would sit and play myself for an hour, but I didn’t know anything about rhythm. So, when I was at the barber shop, around 5 feet across from me there was this black man with his back to me shining shoes. He was popping his shoe shine rag to a New Orleans beat. He was also humming songs from New Orleans and that was some of the best stuff I ever heard besides my favorite thing, listening to Ray Charles on the radio. He would pop that rag to such a wonderful rhythm.
After that, I would started going to that barber shop every day for 3 weeks just to watch him. White people and black people did not communicate in that little 3,000 person town when I was 5 years old. By the way, the shoe shine guy was 52 years old. They didn’t name name any of the black people by their real name, they nicknamed them. He was tanning leather shoes, so they called him Tanner. Well, we became really good friends in those 3 weeks. He would tell me the songs he was about to do the rhythm of with his shoe shining rag. He would hum it, pop the rag, and I would run 4 blocks home and use his rhythm on my mother’s piano. Anyhow, after the 3 weeks, I started going once a week to the barber shop after 5 o’clock. Tanner and I would walk up and down the street for 30-40 minutes up the main street. One day, I looked up at the signs over the buildings, restrooms, drinking fountains, it said – white entrance, colored entrance, white drinking fountain, colored drinking fountain. I said, “Tanner, do those signs make you feel like you are not a human being and like you are a slave?” He said, “Bobby, please never take orders from anyone and please don’t give orders to anyone.” He said, “Some advice, do not spend a moment of your life being full of hate or anger at anything or anyone. And, the best advice I can give you, this very second now until the day you die, please live your whole life doing only things that make you the happiest person you could possibly be.”
My god, we became absolutely best friends. When I was 12 and he was 59 I was sitting 10 feet from the railroad track in the black neighborhood. In the white neighborhood, they had gates at the railroad crossings, but there were no gates at black railroad crossings. There was a huge building to my right, and I could hear a train coming toward where I was. The building was 200 feet wide and 500 feet long, they down loaded trains into that building and it was right next to the track. I couldn’t see the train, but I could hear it very well. I decided to stay there and don’t kill yourself going across the track because you couldn’t see it. Well, the train stopped for about 3 seconds and I heard a car coming behind me. I turned around and looked, I noticed the car was going pretty fast, but the windows were up. The train must have started again, I looked at the car again, and I noticed Tanner was the passenger. Since the windows were up, I knew they couldn’t hear or see the train, I jumped off my bicycle and tried to run in front of the car in the street. I was screaming, “Please stop!” I didn’t want them to go across the tracks. When I got to the car, they were going fast enough that I was at door, I banged so hard, but they didn’t hear it. They kept going and 10 feet in front of me when they went halfway across the track that train came past that building and hit them. It knocked them 1,200 feet and I went to the car, my god, the front doors were about 2 feet apart. It looked liked someone was pulling three buckets of blood out of Tanner’s door.
As a result, I wrote a song called “Tanner’s Song,” I didn’t record it until 2010. The reason I recorded it in 2010 because I got a call from the CEO of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in New Orleans. I thought, don’t go do that unless you record “Tanner’s Song,”so I did. When I got back from New Orleans I started writing a book called Tanner. I got to page 15 and thought, 5 year old kids are not going to read a book, write a movie, so I did. I wrote a much stronger story and a screenplay writer has written the screenplay, my god, he made it about 10 times better. Sometime within the next 2 months we are going to start filming this movie.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is an extremely compelling story. It will make a wonderful film.
Bobby Kimball – I tell you, I still think about Tanner everyday and it has been so long. I want to share it with people. I would really love to know that little kids and older people know the advice he gave me.
CrypticRock.com – It is a wonderful piece of advice, we should all live by such ideas.
Bobby Kimball – Yes. He made me feel so wonderful and I continue to use that advice for many years. It keeps me feeling like a little kid.