A Conversation with Toto’s Steve Lukather
Toto - October 28, 2018 - Pompano Beach Amphitheater | Tickets
Steve Lukather is probably best known as a founding member of Toto but he has also been a part of over 1,500 other tracks with genres that cross the spectrum. Just before Toto kicks of the second leg of their US tour, SFL Music has the chance to chat with Steve about the band, the tour and his new autobiography, The Gospel According to Luke.
SFL Music: You got to be pretty excited to start this second leg of this US tour.
Steve Lukather: You know what, things are going incredibly well for us right now. I can tell you that and we love being on the road, ya know. Despite David Paige’s unfortunate illness, ya know right now, he is just kinda chillin, he’s getting a little bit better, but we have this great kid Xavier X from Prince’s band, he has just fit like a glove as far as a sub, and all these young kids coming out from this whole Weezer phenomenon it’s been a wild ride this year. In a really positive way, it’s almost overwhelming, my book just come out, number one on Amazon. I’m just kinda tripping out, here we are at sixty years old getting all this love, young audience and selling out. And things are going smashing. In the memories of our brothers that have moved on, Mike and Jeff Porcaro, I hope that they are watching, ya know. Their hard work is being represented even from beyond, ya know.
SFL Music: This Florida swing, you’re making the most extensive stops that I could find that you guys have done since 1985.
Lukather: I am excited about getting to places like Florida, first off I love Florida. The opportunities have opened up for us, working with our agency WME who have done an unbelievable job for us. The doors have opened, I mean, all of a sudden this whole “Africa” phenomenon, we laugh, let me first tell ya no one laughs harder than we do at ourselves, we are going to be Family Guy characters this upcoming season, I get to be drawn by Seth and the guys, it’s my favorite tv show, I get in to it, we laugh at this shit so hard. I mean I don’t care I can take the jokes, I mean it is funny. What’s not funny about it, ya know? But to be a part of pop culture is a great honor man. I haven’t seen it yet, they invited us to a table read, I am such a huge fan. And the fact that our singer Joseph, is John Williams son, and you know how much Seth loves John Williams, so it’s sort of a thing there. And Walter Murphy, they guy that does their music has come to our shows and likes our stuff so you know when they make fun of us they do it with a little bit of love, it’s not hateful ya know. It’s an honor. It’s totally cool. I gotta thank this 15 year old girl who that made Weezer cut Africa, which gave them a huge hit record and gained us a whole legion of young fans, that are showing up that were curious about “who is this Toto band, I know this song” and bla bla bla, it’s been the cross pollinization that’s helped both camps equally. Really, I mean, we have 2 million dollars of free promotion out of this whole thing, it’s fantastic. And I’ve never met these guys. And this would have never happened, this was an organic thing, we could never have planned this or written this, who would’ve believed this story if you wrote it down.
SFL Music: So you’ve never met Weezer?
Lukather: Never met them. I’ve talked to their manager cause I manage the Toto band, so we went back and forth and we strategized a few things after this thing blew up. The only cross pollinization physically was Steve Porcaro showing up on Kimmel, and just doing the solo and walking off. It was a nudge, nudge, wink, wink moment. I was on the road with Ringo Starr at the time. Which I am on the road with Ringo right now. I’m in Cleveland.
SFL Music: I was so excited when it happened and then you guys did Hash Pipe.
Lukather: They never expected us to do a call and response. We put our heads together and their fans are going “come on you gotta do one of theirs, ya know” So I was out in Europe, in July, with Ringo and I said to Steve “dude you produce this one, you run with this one and I’ll put my parts on once I get back, and I said “but let’s make it our style, let’s do something to it that would not just copy the record, ya know” And we had fun with it, we put it out and it was a really great positive thing to do. It was fun for us, we play it live and people flip out, they don’t expect us to play Hash Pipe. Yes I do know what the song is about. I made the crack about it that we were smoking hash before they were born, hahaha. I know songs about the dark side, the runaways and Santa Monica Boulevard and stuff like that, but I try to take the high road there and make a little joke out of it as opposed to digging into the real depth of the lyric.
SFL Music: I guess you might see a change in the audience with the second leg of the tour because that all kinda happened when you guys weren’t on the road.
Lukather: We have, on the last leg of the tour, there are all these 15 to 20 year old boys and girls showing up and they were really digging the show, I mean, maybe they showed up out of curiosity and maybe we won a few over because our streaming went through the roof, 10 to 12 million streams a month, we are over half a billion over all, which is something quietly, people don’t know. And since that’s the worlds radio station, that puts is up in the big leagues, ya know. We are the Tortoise, in the Tortoise and the Hare story, if you think about it. We have been slowly taking our punches, cruising along since 1977 and here we are all these years later all of a sudden there’s, all the people who hated us and tried to rip us apart are either dead or retired and we are still here. Was there reason to criticize us? Yeah sure, there are lots of things to pick apart but you can do that to anybody. Not everything we did was great but we’ve done enough good work to have this career, another generation has gone “wow who the fuck are there guys” without knowing that there were people that are in their ‘70s, when we first started out who absolutely tried to kill us and we wouldn’t die. Ya know when the world blows up there will be cockroaches, scorched earth and us.
SFL Music: That was a hell of a band. You guys put out some great music.
Lukather: Thank you. We did try. It’s like any other thing, it’s not for everybody but what is. I don’t love everything either so I don’t mind if people don’t like the music but we’ve taken a little more of our share of absolutely vicious criticism, to the point they are so bad they are funny. I quote some of them in my book a couple of my favorites. You have to be able to take a punch or man you are in the wrong business. Who doesn’t get kicked in the nuts when they are sleeping when they are in show business right ya know.
SFL Music: David won’t be out on the leg?
Lukather: David’s not well, it’s not cancer he’s not dying but it’s gonna take some time, so like I said Xavier jumped on, he’s a 26 year old genius kid who sings and plays his ass off, he’s Snarky Puppy camp guys, these young genius group of musicians that are coming up through so honored to know some of these guys, its inspiring to know there’s these 20 something guys who are killing it and they wanta hang out with us, it’s like wow that’s pretty cool. Listen we have taken every punch, we’ve lost two brothers, a few different lineup changes, but I’ve been there from day one, I’m the only guy who has been there from day one to present say, Steve Porcaro came back after 27 years of doing television and film and all this other stuff, Joseph Williams is singing better than he ever did, so we got the right team together as much of us that’s left, we have Lenny Castro back on percussion who was with us from the very beginning, and Shannon Forest another “A” studio guy from Nashville who is as close to Jeff in terms of where he feels the groove, than anybody that we’ve had. People are showing up more than ever so I’d rather than jinx it and just be grateful for it ya know.
SFL Music: Do you have Warren (Ham) and Shem (von Schroeck) with ya?
Lukather: My secret weapon, Warren’s has been with me out here with Ringo, I mean, he’s a multi instrumentalist, killer background vocals; he’s a great singer and a sweetheart of a man. Having real horns back in the band again gives it that little extra reality. As great as Steve is, he’s the ultimate synthesis even he says “having a real horn player along just gives it the reality” and Warren plays the harmonica and he plays the flute so all these things we have, these little spices we have on our record we can pull off live.
SFL Music: What can the fans expect at this show?
Lukather: Well this is the 40th anniversary show. It is our show, there’s no opening act. Two hours and ten minutes maybe more depending on the night. We play stuff from every record, even something off of Dune, and of course the hits that people want to hear, but we do something a little bit more obscure things too, but ya know these days after 40 some odd years the fans are sick of “Africa” and “Rosanna” and “Hold the Line” and stuff like that, we play those songs of course but they come to hear the deep cuts, they come to hear us play. And it’s real, no massive video wall and shit blowing up, it’s a bunch of guys who go out there and honestly play the music and bring it. As things grow, we headline the festivals we do arenas and stuff like that depending on where we are, ya we put up the walls and put up the videos stuff but it’s also we aren’t pretty boys where everybody wants to see every zit on my face, you know what I mean. We’re musicians, boy if there ever was a band who could’ve used a stylist it was us back in the old days, I mean we were either put in these clothes or we tried too hard or we just didn’t feel right. When I started out in the band I was dressed in pendeltons and ripped up jeans and my hair was all disheveled and long and then that became a thing in 1990 in fact they said you can’t dress like that, I go this is who I am man, I don’t have to dress up like I’m going to the disco cause that era was happening and I’m never going to the disco. But they created these images and then MTV came along and they made everybody have to be actors instead of musicians, if you were pretty it was more important than if you played great. As where in the 70’s, and we are a 70’s band not an 80’s band, I’m very adamant about that cause it congers up a different vibe, you know I am friends with the MTV VJ’s, ya know Allen Hunter is a friend of mine, Martha Quinn used to date Steve Porcaro so there is a connection there, I loved all those guys but MTV forced us in to something that we really weren’t and then we tried too hard, they dressed us up silly and I look back at the mullets and the hair and clothes and I go “jesus, god, how high were we when they were making us do that”.
SFL Music: It did change music, and I don’t know if it was for the best.
Lukather: Well I think that idea of it was great. I think when it became a multimillion dollar business, which they lied to everybody and said there weren’t going to be any commercials and this was just a promotional thing and that why they didn’t pay anybody fucking dime for it, not even as an ASCAP for playing the song, we were giving it away for free as promotion and these things became very expensive and we would have to pay for these things out of our measly 18% royalty. So some of these things were hundreds of thousands of dollars and they wouldn’t play them. So we ate a lot of shit on that, there were some very interesting business things that went on behind closed doors. Let me just say that without getting myself into a law suit and I am sick of fucking law suits.
It was an interesting time there were a lot of positive about the era and it opened up a lot of different things but for guys who were just musicians and not dancers and pretty boys it was an interesting time to live through. And you know what we are still here, a lot of these bands ya know, synth pop didn’t age well. I mean I was there when Roger Linn turned on the drum machine for the first time, I was sitting in the room, with Jeff and Steve Porcaro and Jeff goes “we have to destroy this right now, it’s going to ruin everything” and everybody laughed but it kinda did, it changed everything, I mean that Linn drum sound of the early ‘80s it didn’t wear so well. It’s funny to listen to now ya know. But then again some of our shit didn’t age well, some of it did. I don’t know, I’m still here, I am just happy to still be here. I’m not trying to pick apart the era, it was, what it was. We all lived through it. We all used to do crazy shit, now we don’t, ya know what I mean.
SFL Music: I read that you have been on over 1,500 recordings, is that correct?
Lukather: Probably more, but I don’t really do that anymore, I stopped doing sessions, per se, I mean I might do a guest spot for a friend but the days of showing up not knowing who I was going to play for was like 1976 thru 1992 maybe, but a lot of work, I never really counted the records really, my book has a whole 20 page discography or something like that. It just came out a couple days ago and it’s kinda over whelming the response, I’m sort of scared and happy at the same time.
SFL Music: I read what you said about it, about it being about the music and not about…..
Lukather: Where I put up my dick and what I put up my noise, there are a few funny, classic stories that I had to be in there but I asked permission from the guilty parties with me but it’s really 90% music and some of my childhood and a few spicy stories just cause they were so fucking good I had to tell them. They are so funny, you go “dude that could not have happened” but it did.
SFL Music: I know you have talked about this many, many times but a fan and a reader of our magazine said please ask him this; ask him to tell you what the guitar parts that he did and Eddie did and why you didn’t have the lead in Beat It.
Lukather: Well first off, the track was cut once, and Eddie did the solo first, as did Michael Jacksons lead vocal, but Eddies engineer cut the 2 inch tape, at the time had a SMPTE code on it when it was tape and you could sync up two 24 track machines and so you would have more tracks to over dub on. Well, when you cut the safety tape it won’t sync back up with anything else you’ve recorded. So Quincy called me and Jeff Porcaro and said look, you gotta help me fix this cause I have Michael’s comp lead vocal and background vocals and Eddie’s guitar solo on here. I need you to make the record backwards. So they sent over and had Michael playing 2 and 4 on a drum trap case and the SMPTE code. He said you gotta make this record for me and he was working on the other tracks for that Thriller record at Westlake Audio, and Jeff, myself and an engineer named Umberto, went into Sunset Sound and Jeff went out and made a click with his drum sticks so he had something to play to, and then he went out and played to the headphone leakage from the other track and then I played all the guitar parts and the bass. I did it first like really quadruple tracked the riff, made it real heavy cause Eddie was playing on it and Eddie’s one of my dear friends for forty some odd years, and I was thrilled to be on it. (I was told) it was too heavy, you gotta use one of our little amps, I gotta get this on R&B radio too, I want to make the massive cross over album of all time, so I went back in and I just did it, I backed down the gas a little bit, if you will. I just double tracked it and I went and worked with him and Michael and worked thru it with them on the sound. Michael just had it going over and over again. I said we got to change up this up a little bit so I added the second half of the phrase and they liked that and we did that and so it was basically me, Jeff Porcaro, Eddie Van Halen and Michael, with a little synth over dub to front it was either Steve Porcaro or Greg Phillinganes. I’m not really sure who did that. And of course, they don’t mention us; the Toto guys never got any love. Eddie got all the love and Eddie just did it as a lark, when Michael called me to play on the record I didn’t believe it was him, I kept hanging up on him. He called me at like eight o’clock in the morning in 1981 and you know what 1981 was all about. You would stay up all night long every fucking night, like idiots but that was the life back then. We were young and bullet proof and had to work every day, we were just like heehaw, lets party. Ya know.