Some people spend their entire lives trying to escape the shadow of their parents.
Joseph Williams, frontman for the rock band Toto and son of American composer and conductor John Williams, has defined himself as an individual musician, as much as he has carried on the musical legacy of his father.
Williams Jr., 56, was born in Santa Monica, California. His mother is actress Barbara Ruick and his father is John Williams, a famous musician well-known for composing the music to the “Star Wars” movies.
At the beginning of his career as a musician, Williams Jr. was most influenced by artists like Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. He began singing when he was a teenager, and often replaced his sister in her band when she was sick.
“I just started singing high tenor stuff since then and never looked back,” Williams Jr. said.
Williams Jr. first joined Toto in 1986 after the group cycled through several lead vocalists. Williams Jr. grew up with the group and was friends with the original members before he successfully auditioned for the part. He stayed with the group for about two years before he left.
After his departure from Toto, Williams Jr. composed soundtracks for television and film, not unlike his father. He said that while his father excelled in the art of composing film scores, it is an arduous process.
“If you grew up in that household and took a look at what he was doing, you might turn around in the opposite direction and run for the hills,” Williams Jr. said.
“I gave my best shot at trying to do what he does, and it’s very, very difficult,” he said. “His job is sometimes more like fixing watches than creating music.”
Williams Jr. said his father is very supportive of him. Though he has come to his son’s concerts in the past, he is 86 years old now and does not do so much anymore.
“He still works his ass off. He’s actually getting ready to start the next ‘Star Wars’ film, if you believe that,” Williams Jr. said. “He’s in better shape than me in a lot of ways.”
Williams Jr. was able to work with his father in composing tracks for the “Star Wars” movies.
“I got to work on three of them. I did two pieces on the original before George Lucas changed ‘Return of the Jedi,’ and I did a piece at the end of Episode 1 — that parade piece. Then I did a little 50s-type café during ‘Attack of the Clones,’” Williams Jr. said.
Williams Jr. explained the difference between working on albums in a rock band and working on an album with a rock band.
“You’re more of a technician than an artist,” Williams Jr. said of writing for film and television. “When you’re in a rock band, you’re writing songs to satisfy yourself.”
“You cannot really interject what is in your own vision. It has to suit what they want,” Williams Jr. said. “That’s why they hired you — because there’s something in your style that’s going to serve what they want.”
Williams Jr. said that the directors and producers will not use a lot of what the composer produces.
“Sometimes you write some things that might be the best stuff of your life and they go ‘we don’t like it.’” It then comes down to the composer to do whatever it takes to make the client happy, he said.
Williams Jr. described the process as psychologically difficult.
“It’s a completely different animal,” he said. “Like I said, it’s like fixing watches — fine, detailed work.”
In spite of the difficulties of working in television and film, Williams Jr. loves both.
“I worked in TV and film when I was raising my kids. I had a chance to be home with them and raise them. I have college graduates. It worked great for me,” Williams Jr. said. “Now that they’re grown, I love the idea of being able to leave town and go sing on stage five nights a week.”
Williams Jr.’s favorite personal project was singing the vocals to Simba’s voice as an adult in “The Lion King.”
Though he tried, he was not able to reprise the role in later installments.
“If you want to be a character’s voice, you want to be in the original. I’m proud to be a part of that one. I’m proud to be in a Disney classic,” Williams Jr. said.
Williams Jr., and the rest of Toto, love the recent resurgence of their song “Africa” on the internet.
“We’ve seen a huge jump in younger people coming to see our show. It’s because of the gift of a song like 'Africa,'” Williams Jr. said. “Whether it’s like a jokey version or real version, it’s always popular. You always see it online. We’ve just embraced it.”
In response, Williams Jr. said that Toto will be showing off a special rendition of the song in concert. “We do a really great long version in our show, which is really fun. It’s long, it’s like a nine- or 10-minute version.”
Toto’s most recent project, “40 Trips Around the Sun,” celebrates the 40th anniversary of the debut of the band’s first album, self-titled “Toto.” The project began as a greatest hits album that included three previously unreleased tracks, which was released Feb. 9.
A box set version of all the records Toto has ever released, called “All In,” will be released Nov. 30. This will include a brand-new 10-song album called “Old is New,” which is a collection of several remastered Toto hits.
In addition to these releases, Toto is on the road touring across North America. Next year the band will play across Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and then make its way into Europe next summer.
“It’s a really good show, and if you’re a musician, you’re gonna really dig it because we are some of the best musicians on the planet. Everyone on that stage is a virtuoso,” Williams Jr. said. “It’s a great two-hour show that celebrates the 40-year anniversary.”
Williams Jr. and the rest of Toto will storm the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center on Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at luhrscenter.com.