“It’s been an incredible reunion,” says David Hungate of his return to Toto, the band he co-founded in 1977 with his longtime rhythm-section mates David Paich (keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums). After playing on Toto’s first four albums, Hungate packed up a career as a first-call session ace in L.A. and headed east to set up shop in Nashville. It turned out to be a remarkably seamless transition for the multi-instrumentalist; he spent the next three decades as much in demand as he had been on the West Coast.
Although he’s happy to be back with Toto, the circumstances that set the stage for his return were unfortunate: bassist Mike Porcaro, who replaced Hungate in ’82, passed away earlier this year after a long battle with ALS. The band’s recent tours have seen both Leland Sklar and Nathan East filling in for Mike, but Hungate has now stepped in full time, playing on Toto’s current tour and recording four tracks on the band’s latest release, Toto XIV, its first album in nine years.
After Mike’s passing, what made you decide to rejoin the band?
I was honored and very moved to have been asked. Losing Jeff, and losing Mike, I think the guys wanted as many original members as possible involved. I’m having the time of my life, but it’s bittersweet knowing that if life were fair, Mike Porcaro would still be here.
How did you and Jeff Porcaro come up with those incredible grooves?
We listened to each other; I don’t recall there ever being any verbal exchange about what either of us would do. Paich was a huge part of the groove. The original demos were just Jeff and Paich with synth bass. They decided they needed real bass and called me.
Why did you leave L.A. for Nashville in 1982, just before Toto’s world tour to promote Toto IV?
Synth bass was starting to really come on in the late ’70s, and the future looked questionable for my instrument in pop music. I couldn’t see that happening in Nashville. After commuting for a couple of years, I left the band shortly after my younger son was born. I didn’t want to be on the road with two little kids at home, and I was just getting established in Nashville. That said, it was still a very hard decision.
On the early Toto albums, you played a ’62 Fender Precision and a ’64 Fender Jazz. What other instruments have you played?
I had two ’62 P-Basses, one with Rotosounds and one with La Bella flats. I got a Yamaha BB5000 5-string in the mid ’80s and gradually shifted to 5-strings most of the time. Over the years, I played Lakland, Tyler, Sadowsky, and Yamaha TRB basses, a fretless Pedulla 5-string, and did a lot of work on upright.
In 2008, my friend and bass builder “Chopper” Anderson gave me his Alien Audio Constellation to try. I immediately fell in love; it’s the bass I’ve been looking for all these years. It’s a 5-string with two P-style pickups and an onboard preamp designed by the late Moe West, a legendary Nashville electronics genius. It has 3-band EQ, is dead quiet, and records like a dream. I now have three of them, including a fretless, and seldom use anything else.
How has your concept of the perfect bass sound evolved over the years?
I’ve always been a jack of all trades, so I never thought of there being just one “perfect bass sound.” Different tunes and different styles call for different sounds. To be a successful studio musician, it helps to be a chameleon and have a working knowledge of a variety of styles. I’ve always tried to have a few good sounds, and to be able to play with a pick or thumb, as well as fingers. The Toto repertoire calls for all three.
What determines which approach you use on a particular recording?
Generally speaking, if it’s a ballad, I go for a fatter, darker sound, and if it’s a rocker, maybe I’ll use a pick. Certain feels are more comfortable to play with a pick—Boz Scaggs’ “Lido Shuffle” was one, for example. Traditional R&B calls for fingers and maybe some muting with foam rubber under the strings. Bluegrass or traditional country? P-Bass or upright.
Do you feel like your career has come full circle?
Absolutely, and I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.
Souvenir [1994, Club House]; with Toto Toto XIV [2015, Frontiers], Toto IV [1982, Columbia], Turn Back [1981, Columbia], Hydra [1979, Columbia], Toto [1978, Columbia]; with Boz Scaggs Silk Degrees [1976, Columbia].
Bass Alien Audio Constellation 5-string
Rig (studio) V76 Telefunken preamp, Tube-Tech equalizer, Teletronix LA-2A compressor; (live) TecAmp Black Jag 900 head, two TecAmp 4x10 cabinets, TecAmp Pleasure Board