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Jeff Babko



We met Jeff Babko, who recently replaced David Paich for the European Summer Tour 2000, on June 23rd in Künzelsau, Germany.
Jeff, when was your first encounter with TOTO and/or their music?
My first encounter with Toto's music was probably "Hold The Line" on the radio. When I first really started to get into the band was the IV record. I was hardly playing, it was 82, I was ten years old and I was learning lots of things off the record, the piano. And I really got into that record because I grew up in LA. The guys were from LA and they were playing on all the records that I liked. I learned Dave's solo at the end of "Rosanna".
Did you keep up with them?
Of course. The fourth record, I learned most of the songs on that record just because I liked them, wanted to figure them out. Then I went to the Isolation tour Universal Amphitheater in 85 and I bought Fahrenheit, bought all the records. I think I ended up playing on some really bad day time talk show. With a bunch of kinds from high school I ended up playing "Pamela" on that, I remember. So there's always been little encounters. Growing up in LA, they were such icons of the music scene there. I always kind of revisited and I was such a fan of the guys. And also in high school I was going a lot to this club, the Baked Potato. Luke was playing there either with Lobotomys or whoever and Jeff was playing there. I went almost every week to the Baked Potato and I saw Luke so many times.
Did you meet them already at that time or were you just a visitor?
No, I never met them. The first one I met must have been Simon unless I met Luke at some gig, but I don't really remember. But I loved the comedy, those shows were so funny, there was just so much energy. To me they epitomized the energy of LA.
Back then, when you heard the first TOTO songs many years ago, had you ever thought of being a member of this band some day?
No, of course not. When Dave called... Simon warned me that it might happen. I was stunned, I saved the message for a long time. It was great, it was like "Wow", it's really still surreal. These are parts I learned and listened to since those records. To have Dave call me, for me to be the one that he called was really really cool. I couldn't be luckier, it's really great. And the guys are so cool. No, I never would have thought...
Jeff Babko
You've been playing in Simon's band for a couple of years now.
Yes, since late 96.
Have you worked with one of the other band members before as well, or have you met them the first time when it became clear that Dave wouldn't be able to do this tour?
I hung with Luke a few times. Through Simon's band I met a lot of the guys. Mike and Steve. A lot of them have come to our gigs in LA. I had that Jazz band with Simon and Dave came to that, so I met them quite a few times and I hung with Luke, we had drinks in LA. The only ones I really hadn't hung with were Mike and Bobby. And I met JJ a couple of years ago.
But you've never worked with Dave before?
No. Dave just heard me on a couple of gigs and heard our records. He called me which was such a surprise, there's so many guys in LA. I loved to do this and I couldn't be more fortunate.
So David himself came up with the idea that you should replace him?
Yes, I guess he called Simon and asked if I was interested. The good thing is that the TV show I was doing all year ended at the same time, so it all worked out.
Were you nervous before the first show in Sweden?
Very nervous, very very nervous. Adrenaline carried me through the whole show. I was really nervous, absolutely. I don't get very nervous but big shoes to fill. It's Dave's band and it was the first gig he missed, so that was big shoes to fill.
But the response had been really great from the fans, did you already feel it the first night?
No, not really. It was tough the first night. A couple of "Where's David Paich?" from the crowd, which is expected, they should yell that. Luke was cool because he didn't introduce me until late in the set, until I've proven that it's gonna be OK. It seemed to work out pretty well, I just tried to ignore it, I was so nervous. Just played the set.
But now when you do a show you can feel how much the audience appreciates you?
Yeah. After about the first two gigs it started to settle in a little better. I never played the whole set entire the way through. Once that we had done it a couple of times and I know I can do it, then it's like... OK. And the crowds were a lot more accepting after a while. Oslo was a really good crowd and after that it's been pretty OK.
Jeff Babko
How did you learn the songs for the shows...did you rehearse with the band or did you listen to "Livefields" or how did this work?
Yeah, I have all the records, Dave gave me the CDs I don't have. Simon gave me "Livefields" when he got a copy. So I had that in the car and I was listening before I knew I was really going to do it I wanted to have it heads up. When they went to South America I made Simon and Dave to record the show in Mexico City. So that's more current because they play different things, Dave's solo's changed. "Georgy" is not on the record, "99" is not on the record, a lot of stuff like that. "Hold the Line" is not on the record. Also I've gone to see the House of Blues gigs both times. So it was kind of familiar. And then I worked at Dave's house a couple of times with JJ and with Dave and then we went to the Power Plant and played a little bit with Mike and Simon and JJ. And Dave came down, we didn't think he was gonna come down but he was really cool and came down both days all day. He came early, believe it or not. It was great, really cool, they were so helpful.
So you didn't really rehearse very much, just two days?
Two days, and just that Dave would play the song, I would play the song, he made comments. It was cool. But I played a lot at home with the CDs. Just playing along.
But the interplay with all the different musicians...
That's the easy part for me. It's just making sure that the parts are correct. That's the hard part, because the band is so based on the piano part on a lot of the songs. I wanted to make sure that's correct. And still they're not exactly the same but they're close enough. But I have to say that Dave and JJ have been really cool about helping out. Since we've been on the road, Bobby has his monitors in the ears and he has a lot of keyboards, so when he hears something he's really good about suggesting. And that's the only way I know, the people that have heard it for 20 years versus me just having learned it.
But you play a completely different solo.
I start with the same thing and then it moves because there's no point in doing it the same every time. It just would be silly playing the same solo.
Do you play the same solo every night or do you change?
No, I change it every night, I can't play the same solo every night.
Jeff Babko
You have recently done a jazz-record with Simon. Do you consider jazz to he your musical roots? What kind of music do you prefer in general?
All music, don't prefer anything. Well, there's stuff that I don't really like. You know my father was a music teacher and he had lots of records around the house so I grew up with Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Crusaders. And then pop music as well, the radio. I was a total lover of the radio. I had the billboard charts up on my wall, I was really into pop radio. You don't really discover jazz until you're older, you don't really understand it, so I started listening and playing jazz when I was 14, maybe 13. And then I started studying jazz at the university of Miami. I thought I was gonna be a jazzer at that point. And then I remembered I just love my Rock N Roll. So it's like kind of a balance plus R&B.
So how did it come about that you did a jazz record with Simon?
He wanted to do a jazz record. We did a gig about a year before we did this record. And then we got a new band and did it and it's really cool that he put my name on it.
So it wasn't really planned as a project to do a jazz record?
Yeah, it was planned because we had started the infancy of that like a year before with this other group of guys and then we wrote some new stuff. So it was a little over a year in the making. We had toyed around, I have done a jazz record in the States before.
And you did a few gigs with this band you had?
We did maybe 3 gigs. We did the "Dogsbollocks" which should became that same project.
And you had your own band?
I had a group, yeah.
How different was that music compared to what Simon's band is playing, the Symbiosis stuff?
Very different, total apples and oranges. I did one CD in 95. It was closer to the "Vantage Point" record, a little less aggressive, acoustic jazz. Simon's thing is like more fusion/rock. Both of which are great but this thing [Vantage Point] is really cool cause it's the first time Simon has recorded this music.
Is it more exciting to play big venues with several thousand people or do you prefer playing in smaller venues and/or clubs...or is it the mixture of both?
No preference. Just a good crowd, period. It can be an equal high for a club full of really good listeners, really energetic people. Converse you can play in front of 15,000 people and have a terrible show. You just need the reaction back. But obviously to play for a big crowd, especially play these songs is really cool.
Would you like to do a tour with Simon in small Jazz-Clubs supporting "Vantage Point"?
Yeah, I think we're planning it.
After the TOTO shows in August, what are your plans for the future?
I have a band called Jackhouse in Los Angeles, it's a rock band, that's my baby. I hope that we get a deal. We'll do some gigs in the fall. I have a jazz thing now, kind of half acoustic, half electric. We play at the Baked Potato and record it and hopefully we'll have more. Just working with different people, making records. Luke is talking about maybe doing some things, we'll see. This is great, this has been nothing but great. It only opens more doors.
So you want to do different kinds of music, not limit yourself?
Yes, I can't do it. I mean, this Jackhouse is my band. That would be great. It's our songs, I just feel like I gotta have that happen somehow. And then the Jazz thing, I'll always will play it and it's great I have a band full of really cool guys right now that I like. Maybe we'll do a record, we'll see.
And this band of yours, is it Mainstream Rock with vocals?
Yeah. I don't sing, well, I sing but I have a lead singer. The lead singer is singing backup with Marc Anthony. He's on tour right now, so we're on the tour at the same time, that's good. The guitar player and I did a TV show together, his name is Toshi, a friend of Luke's as well. The three of us are really good friends, so I'd really love to see it work out.

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