Steve Lukather Interview: "As of October 20, Toto Ceases to Exist in Its Current Form"
Image attributed to Kevin Albinder
Steve Lukather is best known as a vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, producer and founding member of the rock band Toto. A prolific session musician, Lukather has recorded guitar tracks for more than 1,500 albums representing a broad array of artists and genres. He played guitar on Boz Scaggs’ albums Down Two Then Left and Middle Man and was a prominent contributor to several studio albums by Michael Jackson, including Thriller, the second bestselling album of all time. Lukather has released seven solo albums.
Toto has been touring the globe over the course of 2018-2019 in celebration of the band’s 40thanniversary. Along the way, they performed in front of well over a million fans across Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and even Indonesia. The band’s global critical mass reached new heights largely fueled by a rediscovery of favorites from their beloved repertoire. On September 13, 2019, Eagle Rock will release Toto’s 40 Tours Around the Sun (live album) via digital audio and digital video. On September 20, the title will be available as a 2-CD or 3-LP set, and on November 15, the DVD and Blu-ray editions will hit stores. The official Toto lineup includes Steve Lukather, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and Joseph Williams (pictured above with Lukather), and the last leg of the North American tour stretches from September 20 to October 20, 2019.
"Listen, I understand if you don’t like the music. That’s cool. But you can’t deny that we had something to do with music in the last 40-odd years. We’ve been all over the place on some of the biggest records of all time. So, whatever."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Luke, how are you today?
Steve Lukather: Hey, how’s it going? I was just practicing my instrument here. I’m ready now. Let’s rock! What up?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, first let’s talk about 40 Tours Around the Sun.
Steve Lukather: Oh, the DVD and live album? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Sure. It’s just coming out finally. I mean, we were engaged in some shit that was rather devastating. But such is life, you know? Show business. Somebody’s always getting sued for some dumb shit.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Isn’t that the truth? (laughs) I’m glad it worked out. Tell me about the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam where the concert was recorded on March 17 of this year.
Steve Lukather: Well, the Ziggo Dome is a big building, man. I mean, that’s like 18,000 people, and we’ve always done historically really well in Holland. Holland was the first place we had a number one record with “Hold the Line,” back in 1978. We’ve had a really great relationship with Holland. We’ve actually done another live album there as well many years back. But it just seemed right, you know? It’s a huge place. It was great for the production. It was a sold out show, so we decided to do it there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand there’s some bonus material where you all talk about the background of your first demo and about Michael Jackson’s song “Human Nature.”
Steve Lukather: Oh, yeah. I never watch that stuff (laughs). I don’t like to watch myself speak.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why not?
Steve Lukather: Because I think I sound like an idiot. I did the audiobook for my book, and I won’t ever listen to it. Ever. Why would I? I don’t want to listen to myself talk. I talk too much anyway.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I get it. I have people tell me they love my southern accent, but when I hear my voice on recording, I don’t care for it that much.
Steve Lukather: Yeah. Well, I can relate. People think I have an accent. I’m going, “How?” I don’t have an accent. We all got something.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, we do. Do you have a favorite city or venue that you enjoy more than others?
Steve Lukather: Oh, I’ve been touring for so long now, like 43 years or more than that maybe. I have friends all over the world, so that actually helps me lean toward those places. But I love Japan. So much of Europe is so great, you know, and I love touring the USA, too, man.
The last few years have really shown a huge resurgence in what we do, which is really nice especially because it happened by accident there organically. So we’re just having a blast, man. What the heck. We’re going to do one more leg of this tour and then put it to bed for a while. We’ll see what happens after that. We’ve been working really hard for the last three years on the 40thanniversary, which is now 43 years.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does the type of venue matter when it comes to how you prepare for a concert?
Steve Lukather: No, not really. We’re kind of ready for anything, and we have the best crew in the world. But the thing is once they put up the show, that space on stage is the same. We just go out and do it whatever happens. I think the audience plays more of a part than the actual building itself. Sometimes, the audience just goes over the top, and that makes us play in a different way. When you’re getting all that love, it’s an energy you can’t really explain. It just is. It’s the greatest feeling in the world, which keeps me going and going and coming back more. More, more, more.
I work so much on the road anyway between Toto and Ringo, which has been a gas, but I need to slow down a little bit and enjoy my work. You know what I mean? Enjoy the fruits of my labor. I’ve still got little kids. I’d like to see them grow up a little bit. I’ve got big ones and little ones.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): 43 years is a long time.
Steve Lukather: If you want to count high school, it’s 45 years. Most of us have known each other for at least 45 years. Five of us have. That’s pretty scary when you think about it. They know too much.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has the best of times outweighed the worst of times?
Steve Lukather: Yeah. For sure. But the thing is when you’ve lived your entire life with people, you’ve seen every struggle, every high point, every low point. It’s an unspoken language, if you will. Yeah. We get mad at each other, and yeah, things don’t always work out right, but somehow we manage to get through it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you have a vision for the band when you first joined Toto?
Steve Lukather: I was just happy to be there, man. I was 19 years old when we did our first record. Jeff and David were 22 years old, and they were the old guys. We were just kids, man. They checked us in a room, and this is what we came out with basically. David was writing such great stuff. For the first couple of albums, he dominated, and then we all started writing. Then it really became more cohesive as a band, I would say, with Toto IV. From then forward, we sort of had a direction for the sound and the things we wanted to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve worked with so many music legends. Which, do you feel, was your best work?
Steve Lukather: Oh, I don’t know, man. There’s been so many wonderful experiences. Any time I get a chance to work with any member of the Beatles is great. That’s a big one for me. I’ve worked with Paul, George and now Ringo and I have become really great friends. I’ve been in his band for almost eight years. I’ve worked with Miles, Michael Jackson, Quincy and so many great artists. There are rock artists I’ve jammed with over the years. All the guitar players you can think of that would be considered the best guys, I’ve played with most of them at some point or another. So that’s been humbling.
I’ve done a lot of cool stuff. I wrote my book about it. I’m writing another book about it because the first one did so good. There are things to do. I don’t sit around and think about what I’ve done. I’m more like what I’m going to do. It’s nice to look back when somebody like yourself goes, “What do you think about all those old days?” I go, “Well, I don’t think about it unless somebody asks me about it,” then I go, “Those were the best times of my life.” Those were amazing days. Every day was a new “Who am I working with today?” You walk in the room and you see who you’re working with and go, “Wow. That’s pretty cool.” It was pop, rock, funk or whatever we happened to be doing that day. We did it all. So it was really a lot of fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said the album that changed your life was Meet the Beatles. Did you tell Ringo that when you met him?
Steve Lukather: Oh, sure. He’s like (ad nauseam), “Yeah. Yeah. I know. I know.” Ringo knows the love and respect we have. He loves it as much as anybody, man. He knows where he’s been, man. He was a trailblazer. He’s one of the greatest of all time. That’s all I got to say. Plus, I love him as a human being. Ringo’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever known in my life. He’s a big one in my life. A huge part of my life.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Other than music, what other topics do you and Ringo discuss?
Steve Lukather: Same as I would with anybody else. Ringo’s very well read, and you can’t pull anything over on him (laughs). He’s really smart. So that’s kind of cool. I always knew he’d be intelligent, but he’s very intelligent, really well read and up on everything that’s going on.
Ringo’s a joy to hang out with. He’s funny as hell, too. He’s like a kid, man. I mean, if that’s what getting old is all about, I’m all in because he ain’t old, not even a little bit. He’s in better shape than most 40 year olds. That’s who you want to be like. I don’t think I’ll make it, but we’ll see (laughs). I’m going to try.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you still in touch with Boz Scaggs?
Steve Lukather: I haven’t talked to Boz in a while. We’ve done a couple of emails back in forth about five or six months ago. He’s busy. I’m busy. I love him to death and will always have a special place in my heart for him. I hope I see him soon. Geez. That would be cool. We’ve just both been really busy. I know he had some real tough luck there for a minute. I think he was coming back from that, so that’s good to hear. He gave me my first big break. How could I not love Boz Scaggs?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes. Boz Scaggs was a very important person in your life.
Steve Lukather: Yes, he was. Yes, he was. I will always be forever indebted to him for that. He was the grandfather of our band. Without him, I’m not so sure we would be here. I’m looking right now at a picture of myself and Boz when I was 19 years old standing on the stage with him. I’m going, “Who’s that little kid up there?” It’s been quite a journey, man. It’s very humbling to me when I think back on it. I go, “Wow. I actually pulled it off, the pretty lofty dream.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That brings me to my next question, which is something you talk about in your book. You say that some people in the music industry tried to derail Toto’s career. Why, and is it still going on to this day?
Steve Lukather: It’s true, man. At first, it was like, “What the fuck?” We didn’t understand where that was coming from. Now there are a few people hanging on, but most people are really cool about us and give us a second look going, “You guys are really good.” And they say, “Stop fucking with them.” Listen, I understand if you don’t like the music. That’s cool. But you can’t deny that we had something to do with music in the last 40-odd years. We’ve been all over the place on some of the biggest records of all time. So, whatever.
I can take constructive criticism, but the old fucking 70s rock critics are like 80 years old now and still hating on us. That’s pretty funny. I mean, what am I supposed to do with that? I just kind of laugh and say, “Okay. It’s the same old shit. Yeah. Yeah. We suck. That’s right.” I never really understood the harshest criticisms. I understand if someone doesn’t like the music. There are certain things I don’t like, and you can’t make me like it. That goes for anything in my life. But just to dismiss our band as total shit is a little rough. I don’t think we deserve that. I mean, okay, you don’t like the tunes. Cool. I get it. Try playing it for fucking 43 years (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And that comment sort of brings me to a question about “Africa.” (laughs)
Steve Lukather: Oh, God. That was an exercise in production. We had a great time making the record, but those lyrics! When we finally put the vocals on, we were howling and saying, “So Dave, this is a great track, but those lyrics, man.” We buried it as the last song on the album. We were like, “Fuck this. It’s just a fun little track we put together for four 24-track machines." We were just having fun. They gave the kids the keys to the Ferrari. We were driving it in terms of being producers. Let’s see how over the top we can get, you know.
So we just had fun, and that’s what came out because it was a silly little thing. Then it became a hit the first time. I’m like, “What the fuck?” When it took off about four years or so ago out of nowhere organically, I don’t know how it happened. It just became a thing, and it was everywhere. The last year especially was insane. It was funny. We said, “Okay, man. This is cool.” We became this thing, and the kids caught onto us.
We went down to Australia right after Christmas. They booked us at these big ass kid festivals. You know, when they have the classic rock band in the middle of the show? We were that band, and we’re going to be that band in a couple of American festivals this year. Funny thing happened though. We were there watching all these kids play before us, and most of them were just kind of faking it. You know what I mean? There were some even lip synching lead vocals. The kids didn’t care. They were just high and grooving 15 to 25 year olds.
So we came on and gave it all the fucking kickass we had as a real live playing rock and roll band. We kind of freaked them out, and they went crazy. They loved it. We played “Africa,” of course, and they went completely crazy. But we thought, “Wow. 20,000 kids. That’s pretty cool.” Then it happened. Every time we played, we thought, “Wow. I guess they’ve never seen musicians that actually really play.” They didn’t expect that.
A lot of people hear “Africa” and go, “I hate that song. I hate that band.” That makes me laugh. But we go, “If you come see the show, you’ll see that’s the weirdest song in our set anyway.” But we’re a fucking kickass rock and roll band, man. We play all the hits and try to make people happy. We do a lot of different things, and the musicianship is pretty high level. So I think we’ve been coming across rather well. Nobody’s coming to see my ass in the jeans, you know. Please don’t use that one in big italics underneath my picture (laughs). Please don’t do that to me (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I never would (laughs).
Steve Lukather: Yes, you would (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I would not. I’m a fan from way back (laughs).
Steve Lukather: Well, God bless you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read an article that talked about the musicians who were not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When they spoke of Toto, they said the reason the band was not in the Hall was because the decision makers didn’t care for the actual quality of the melody or musicians that had actual knowledge of the craft. Do you think there’s some truth to that?
Steve Lukather: No, they don’t care about that at all. That’s funny, isn’t it? But that’s never going to happen. That’s just 12 angry guys who are holding onto this grudge they’ve had against us since 1977 or 78. It’s just funny. I’ve worked with 74 or 75 people in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a shame. I can’t really explain it. We’re in the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, which is pretty cool for all us session guys and for all the things that we’ve added to the rest of the parts of our careers. But I ain’t holding my breath on that one. I think that would be really funny.
Maybe my great great grandchildren, assuming I have any, will get that one. Oh yeah, what about this band, Toto? (laughs) Sometimes they dig up these people from 1955 you’ve never heard of before and put them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We’ll be those in there. In the year 2080, we’ll be that band. Oh yeah, this band, Toto, they’re pretty good. Let ‘em in. It won’t happen until 2080 or 90.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your son Trev is following in dad’s footsteps with a band of his own.
Steve Lukather: I adore my son. He’s a fucking killer. ZFG (Zero Fucks Given) is his band with Mike Porcaro’s son Sam. This kid Josh Devine is on drums and played with One Direction, and they have a killer singer named Jules Galli, just a ridiculous rockstar. They’re doing some real cool stuff right now. I’ve heard some of their new material. It hits a homerun. For whatever my ear’s worth, it’s a homerun. It’s great rock, melodic rock shit that screws. It brings back the aching guitar solo. They look the part. They’re great. I’m predicting great things for them.
Melissa Parker(Smashing Interviews Magazine): But you can’t predict Toto’s future right now, Luke?
Steve Lukather: Not right now. We’re finishing this tour, and I don’t know what’s going to happen after that. As of October 20, Toto ceases to exist in its current form. So that’s all I know. We’re just going to take a long break and relook at it down the line maybe. Maybe we’ll see. Right now, we’re just going to have fun and go kick ass one last time.
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