Toto Vocalist Joseph Williams Destined To Entertain, 'It's In His DNA'

Iconic Band Set to Play North Charleston Coliseum With Journey on Freedom Tour 2024

Jeff Walker,  Entertainment Writer

To suggest that composer, vocalist, and keyboard player Joseph Williams was destined to make his mark in the entertainment industry wouldn't be a far stretch. The multi-talented long time front-man with Toto was born with the right musical DNA. His mother Barbara Ruick was a singer and actress, with her parents both early radio actors.  aaaaaaaajourneyjoew

If that wasn't proof enough, Joseph's father is acclaimed film composer John Williams, winner of 26 Grammy Awards whose work includes 'Fiddler on the Roof', 'Jaws', 'Star Wars', 'ET', the 'Indiana Jones' franchise, 'Home Alone', 'Schindler's List', and 'Harry Potter' movies.

Safe to say Joseph Williams believes he came from good stock. He remembers being surrounded by music growing up. "That's pretty much the way it was for me. My earliest consciousness and first memories as a kid revolve around singing and music. I grew up with older siblings that introduced me to all types of music."

He adds, "My grandparents on my mother's side were serious radio actors. My mom was a singer and actress who worked regularly on TV during the 1950's and 60's. Of course my dad was hard at it in his 20's and 30's scoring music for TV, and he worked on multiple TV shows in the 1960's. He did the music for 'Lost in Space' and we proudly watched it."

Williams admits he fully understood even at an early age the contributions his father was making in the industry. "Absolutely. My dad was determined. He slowly transitioned from TV to movies."

John Williams hit his stride in the 1970's. "George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were just beginning their careers so my dad was fortunate to score their films. He worked hard at his craft. He was, and still is well respected. My dad has had a 70 year career and is still at it. I can't imagine having a career as celebrated as he's had."

Following in his parents footsteps, Williams who turns 64 in September pursued a solo singing career in the early 1980's, cutting his teeth as well as a session musician and vocalist, all the while gaining credibility working alongside his father as a songwriter on 'Return of the Jedi' (1983).

His first real taste of the limelight came when he took over for original Toto singer Bobby Kimball in 1986. The Grammy Award winning band were still riding high on the success of Toto IV (1982) and the chart topping singles 'Africa' and 'Rosanna'. aaaaaaaajourneytoto4

Williams had no reservations joining a band that had already achieved worldwide acclaim. "It's fantastic. I came in knowing these guys from my teenage years. My forte especially early on was studio work. I did a lot of jingles. So everyone knew I was versatile."

He spent two and a half years fronting Toto from 1986-1988 advancing their hit song repertoire with the Top 20 hit 'I'll Be Over You' (#1 on AC chart) off the band's sixth album release 'Fahrenheit', following that with 'Pamela', a #9 hit on the Adult Contemporary Chart in 1988 off the appropriately title 'The Seventh One'.

Williams admits he was comfortable right away singing Toto's entire catalog. "Clearly several of Toto's songs from earlier in the decade were massive hits and received a lot of airplay. But I'm really proud of my contributions to the band. And those two songs made the Top 10 and reached number one in Asia and the UK respectively, where Toto have a huge fan base."

He exited the band in 1988 on his own terms. "It was strictly for health reasons. I got sick. I had a rough go with the flu and a lot of that had to do with bad behavior if you know what I mean. Consequently my voice wasn't up to par at the time, and I couldn't go on tour."

Even after his early exodus Williams kept up ties with the band, reuniting with them nearly a decade later on 'Toto XX: 1977–1997', a compilation album to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary. At the request of original founding member Steve Lukather (guitars, background vocals) Williams rejoined Toto in 2010. aaaaaaaajourneyluke

"Luke (Lukather) has always been the driving force behind Toto, even more so in the 90's and the 2000's. He's amazing. He's a natural virtuoso, a talented musician, outgoing, and just an overall nice guy."

Much like Lukather who has put his session work on over 1500 albums, Williams likes to stay busy and is drawn to a variety of music styles. "Absolutely. I'm the type of person who doesn't like to stay idle." Adding, "Fortunately through my dad I know a lot of people in the film and TV industry. I know George (Lucas) and Steven (Spielberg), and people at Disney."

During his two decade hiatus from touring and recording with Toto, Williams kept active in the industry. Few people know he provided the singing voice of adult Simba in the 1994 animated film 'The Lion King' and the two most popular songs from the movie 'Hakuna Matata' and 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight'. "Originally I was supposed to sing in 'Aladdin', but they went in a different direction, and they came back and offered me 'The Lion King'. It all worked out for me."

Williams scored for television as well, although he admits it's hectic. "Scoring music for a TV show is like working in a pressure cooker. You might have three or four days at best. It's a lot of work, a lot of long days. And then your dealing with the production team who want to make last minute changes. I applaud anyone who works in TV with music because it's a daunting task."

When Williams needed encouragement he leaned on his father. "He'd advise me constantly. I would call him all the time for advice. He would often reference throwback shows from the 1960's. A lot of what my dad offered me helped me when I scored the music for 'Roswell' (a sci-fi TV series that ran on the CW from 1999-02)."

True to form and following Lukather's non-stop commitment to heading out on the road year after year, Toto is on tour in 2024. They will spend a good bit of it with Journey. "It's been a really good fit. Musically we're compatible. This is our third year doing shows with them, but I think Luke wants to move on after this year."

With Journey having the larger arsenal of songs, Toto is relegated as the opening act. "It's a great one-two punch, and the way it should be. However, Journey might do two shows a week, and while we relish the larger arena gigs, on off nights during the tour we might schedule a more intimate show with Toto where we can play longer, maybe 90 minutes or two hours. Our shows with Journey are more of a non-stop hit parade of Toto songs."

Now with having nearly 18 years fronting the band Williams never tires of singing their catalog. "I love performing all the previous stuff that Bobby recorded. Those early hits like '99' and 'Hold the Line' put Toto on the map. Of course 'I'll Be Over You' and 'Pamela' because I brought them to the forefront."

He adds, "But obviously my favorite is probably the fan favorite, and that is 'Africa'. I love it for all the right reasons. One, because I get to sing David's (Paich) part in the song, and secondly it's the ultimate audience participation number. 'Africa' for Toto is like 'Don't Stop Believin' for Journey. Even if you didn't know either of us, you'd probably be familiar with those two songs, because they transcend both bands."

While Toto have regularly played solo tours in Charleston over the past several years, they will be visiting the low country this time around with Journey, with both bands set to rock the North Charleston Coliseum on Tuesday April 23rd on their Freedom Tour 2024aaaaaajourneytour

According to Williams it won't be the anywhere near the last time to see Toto. "Luke and I want to go out on tour for at least another 10 years. There's continued interest in the band, and Toto is well received outside the United States, so who knows. As long as we're all healthy, Luke doesn't see any reason to slow down."

Having performed in Charleston on several occasions Williams admits he hasn't explored the city as much as he'd like too. "Sadly, having been there many times on tour, I haven't taking the time to explore the city. I have been there before to visit my daughter's boyfriend's family, but even that was rather quick. The little bit I have seen is not enough, so hopefully I can return and really enjoy all Charleston has to offer." As we say in the south, Joe you have an open invitation!

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