Michael Sherwood on Toto XIV, Michael Jackson + Steve Porcaro: Something Else! Interview
That Michael Sherwood would one day work with everyone from Toto to Michael Jackson, Air Supply to Anderson Wakeman Bruford Howe, from Tony Orlando to Lisa Loeb should come as no surprise. After all, his family also includes mid-century jazz band leader Bobby Sherwood (his father) and Billy Sherwood (the brother with whom Michael Sherwood played in both Lodgic and then in Conspiracy).
Sherwood, it’s said, got his first keyboard at age 4. With a resume that long, he must have started sitting in with famous people not long after. Perhaps Michael Sherwood’s most successful association has been with Toto’s Steve Porcaro, in a collaborative partnership that dates back to the late ’80s. Lodgic’s 1986 debut, in fact, was co-produced by Porcaro.
Fast forward nearly three decades, and Michael Sherwood has co-writing credits on two tracks from Toto’s long-awaited comeback project Toto XIV, just a few years after seeing a Sherwood/Porcaro composition included on the 25th anniversary reissue of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. There’s talk of a solo project from Steve Porcaro, as well. Preston Frazier joined Sherwood for a Something Else! Sitdown to discuss this amazing musical journey …
PRESTON FRAZIER: Thanks for the Sitdown. I have for years appreciated your song craft and vocals. Tell us about your musical upbringing.
MICHAEL SHERWOOD: My great grandparents were classical musicians. My grandparents Bob and Gale Sherwood were vaudevillians. My mother sang and played vibes and sometimes drums with my dad’s
jazz group in Vegas in the ’60s and ’70s — the Bobby Sherwood Orchestra. My brother Billy Sherwood and I grew up in Las Vegas, which was a great place to grow up. I stayed in Vegas until I was 18, then headed to Los Angeles. There, I had the pleasure of working with Tony Orlando as a keyboardist and the musical legend Carole Kaye.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us about your band, Lodgic.
MICHAEL SHERWOOD: In 1977, I formed the band Lodgic with guitarist Jimmy Haun, a childhood friend. Eventually, Billy joined the band, at 16 years of age. We gigged in the area and our manager, Barry Morgan, booked us in Leeds Rehearsal Hall. As fate would have it, the guys in Toto used Leeds too — and Toto drummer/co-founder Jeff Porcaro heard us practicing. This chance meeting started a long-term relationship with the guys. David Paich and Steve Porcaro were in and out of Leeds, as was the late Mike Porcaro. David Paich and Steve went on to produce the Lodgic album, Nomadic Sands, released in 1985. The album featured me and Guy Allison [currently with the Doobie Brothers] on keyboards, Jimmy Haun on guitar, Gary Starnes on drums and Billy on bass and vocals. Though the band’s original concept was progressive rock, the album had a MOR feel — and my interest changed to developing my songwriting craft. We also connected with a guy named Joseph Williams early on in Lodgic. We were looking for a singer to handle the high tenor parts. Joseph gracefully declined, as he had just released his first solo album. At this time, I was also writing with Steve Porcaro and a guy named Julius Robinson. Lodgic was a good blend of MOR and progressive rock but I hadn’t found my voice yet as a writer. Of course, Billy Sherwood and Guy Allison went on eventually to World Trade with Mark Williams on drums.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What was your next move?
MICHAEL SHERWOOD: I took a gig as the keyboardist with Air Supply. Working with Jimmy Haun from Lodgic, as well as writing with Air Supply’s Graham Russell. Air Supply was a fun group to tour with, since the audience was mostly pretty women. Songwriting was what interested me the most, however, and I continued to hone my craft. Steve Porcaro and I had written a track for Michael Jackson called “For All Time” for the Dangerous album. Michael Jackson wanted another sort of “Human Nature” track, and reached out to Steve Porcaro — but, in the 11th hour, the song was bumped for Michael’s track, “Gone Too Soon.” The thing about “For All Time” is that, in 2007, I got a call from Steve Porcaro saying that Michael Jackson wanted to use the song for the 25th anniversary edition of Thriller! After listening to it we added a few things to the original recording, to update it. Steve and I had a bunch of things in the hopper for Michael’s next project, but unfortunately he had passed.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Was that one of your first collaborations with Steve Porcaro?
MICHAEL SHERWOOD: Well, we had done a couple of things before that. A song called “Out of Nowhere,” and a song or two around that time. We were chipping away, trying to find our groove together. I got to reconnect with the boys in Toto on the Fahrenheit album. I provided backing vocals on “Till The End” and “Lea.” Steve and I were working on songs during the making of Fahrenheit at the Manor when Jeff Porcaro walked in, and he was wearing a Fahrenheit T-shirt. I asked him where could I find a shirt like that — and Jeff pulls the shirt off and gives it to me! He was a generous soul. Of course, after Fahrenheit Steve left Toto but we kept our writing partnership going and we’re sitting on a mountain of music right now.”
PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell me about the song writing process with Steve?
MICHAEL SHERWOOD: We usually write in the same room, with Steve having a concept for the melody which he’ll play on a Rhodes or piano. I’ll listen to his guide vocal and develop lyrics on that, and we go back and forth. We’ve been doing it this was for 20 years. We have so much material now with Mike [Porcaro] playing bass all over it. Even when Mike couldn’t play, he would dictate his notes for the music. Another very generous soul. I push Steve constantly to move forward with his music, to finish songs.
PRESTON FRAZIER: For years there was talk about a Porcaro Brothers studio project, but a full album hasn’t developed.
MICHAEL SHERWOOD: Well the two songs on Toto XIV, “The Little Things” and the Japanese bonus track “Bend” were Steve Porcaro solo songs! “The Little Things” was co-written by Steve and Allee Willis. “Bend,” which I co-wrote, has images of physical therapy obviously, but is broad enough to have a universal, positive message. In fact, I was the one singing “Bend” on Steve’s solo album. Luckily, I convinced Steve to sing as much as possible on his solo album, and the results speak for themselves. Both songs demonstrate Steve’s strong melodic signature. Call it that “Human Nature” thing; it’s intangible but very unique. Every song we do has his stamp. Perhaps Toto XIV will be a perfect way to “cue up” for a Porcaro Brothers project. Steve’s vocal in the song “The Little Things” gives me chills. Steve and I have so much material, so fans can expect to hear some great new stuff from him.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What about your other contributions to Toto XIV? I thought “Chinatown” was a song David Paich originally wrote in the ’70s.
MICHAEL SHERWOOD: I remember the 24-track tape from Dave’s place in ’86; tt said “Chinatown.” By 1986, it was already dusty. When Dave asked me to work on the lyric last year, I knew exactly what tape he was talking about. I had no idea what the song sounded like. Imagine my delight when I heard Jeff [Porcaro] and [David] Hungate! Old school Toto. What I called, “Silk Degrees of Separation.” Dave and I dug in on that lyric. The song seems to be resonating with the tried-and-true Toto fans. Include me on that list. [“All The Tears That Shine”] was a thing we wrote a year or so ago. There was no intention to write a Toto song; Dave and I were just writing a song. I actually sang the original. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out it was gonna be picked up by the guys. And Dave sang the shit out of it!
PRESTON FRAZIER: Are there any other projects you are currently working on?
MICHAEL SHERWOOD: I worked with a country singer named John Spicer on a track called, “Pretty Good Loving You,” which I’m really proud of. Tom Fletcher produced and engineered the track. Trev Lukather played on it. I also played piano and organ on the track. Spicer is a strong player. The record is called Crossing Over. We were in Capital Studio A when Luke was in the Studio B – and the Lukathers ran into each other. Small world! I’m looking forward to 2015 to see the Toto tour, and get Steve Porcaro’s solo stuff up and running.”