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Paying Tribute to Toto's Jeff Porcaro : Pop music: Four months after the drummer's death, his brother Mike faces up to loss at tonight's benefit.

December 14, 1992|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mike Porcaro takes a deep breath before discussing his feelings about tonight's Universal Amphitheatre concert tribute to his late brother and fellow Toto band member, drummer Jeff Porcaro.

It's been four months since Jeff, 38, died after suffering a heart attack in the back yard of his Hidden Hills home, but Mike says he still hasn't come fully to grips with the loss.

Shortly after Jeff's death, Toto --joined by a hastily recruited new drummer--proceeded with a scheduled tour of Europe and the Far East. That trip helped keep Mike from dwelling on his brother's death.

"We didn't have time to deal with too many emotions," he says. "Everything had to happen fast, and in a way that was a blessing."

But that tour ended a week ago and there'll be no hiding from the emotion tonight when some of the pop world's most acclaimed performers--including Don Henley, Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald--join Mike, 37, and Toto on stage to honor his brother. Proceeds from the show--which may be Toto's last--will be used to set up an education trust for Jeff's three young sons.

Henley says the concert is a way of paying back a musician and friend who had played on albums by countless artists, including Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Henley himself.

"Besides being one of the best drummers anywhere, what he brought was enthusiasm," Henley says. "The guy could really light up the room, make you feel that what you were doing was important and good. I never saw him get moody or tired or anything like that."

Both Henley and Mike Porcaro are troubled that circumstances surrounding Jeff's death may leave a negative impression of the drummer.

Initially, it was reported that his heart attack was triggered by an allergic reaction to a pesticide he was spraying in his yard. The Los Angeles County Coroner's report, though, found no traces of the pesticide, instead citing a history of cocaine use as causing hardened arteries. Small traces of cocaine were found in Jeff's system. His widow, Susan, disputes the coroner's conclusion.

Toto had its beginnings two decades ago when the Porcaros, keyboardist David Paich and guitarist (and now singer) Steve Lukather were all friends at Grant High School in Van Nuys. All four went on to become studio musicians, with Jeff Porcaro, Paich and Lukather forming Toto in 1977. Mike joined in 1982, replacing David Hungate, the original bassist.

A third Porcaro brother, Steve, also played keyboards in the band at one point. The group's 1982 album, "Toto IV," received six Grammy Awards and included the group's two best known songs, "Rosanna" and "Africa."

Of the recent tour, Mike recalls, "It was a real good, immediate start to the healing process--not just for myself, but for all of us. We are musicians and the best thing for us was to get out in front of our people and lose ourselves in playing."

He says the future of the band, however, is uncertain.

"We promised ourselves we'd only make decisions this far and no further after Jeff died," he says. "We just promised we wouldn't talk about our future until a few months down the road, give us time off to reflect. . . ."

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