Photo by Darek Kawka
Posted June, 2014
The sign of a great, vibrant classic rock band is when they continue to draw loyal crowds and crank out albums and DVDs. One such band is Toto. Still alive and well, the boys in the band recently released a live CD and concert DVD entitled, “Toto 35th Anniversary Tour: Live In Poland”. With a reported 35 million albums already sold, this double-barreled offering is sure to substantially add to those numbers.
When word went out that the anniversary set was going to come out, Boomerocity had the opportunity to interview the band’s guitarist and founding member, Steve Lukather. I last interviewed Luke in January of last year. Since that chat, he has toured heavily to support his solo album, “Transition”, toured with Ringo Starr and, of course, was neck deep in Toto’s 35th anniversary tour.
What does he do with all that spare time?
Anyway, I caught up with Luke by phone at his California home one recent morning. After chatting about his frenetic schedule over the past sixteen months, I asked him what he’s up to these days.
“Well, I’m pretty much doing exactly all of that – just more of the same. I begin with Ringo June 1st and I’m back in the studio finishing a new Toto album that will be out in March of next year. Toto and Michael McDonald are going on the road in August and September.”
I asked Steve what the response to the set has been so far.
“It’s number one around the world – number two in the UK. We haven’t charted in the UK in thirty years! Number one all over Europe and it’s just come out in the U.S. We’re getting the best reviews of our career and there was no hype to it. We’re all, like, shaking heads and going, ‘What the . . .?’ in a very positive way.
“We’re getting these numbers from our new manager and it’s like all of a sudden out of nowhere – a gift from God! For real! The thing is waling! When you see that we’re knocking Metallica, Bob Dylan and Springsteen off the charts – even that little Justin Beiber – we’re, like, ‘Where did this come from, man?’, because we didn’t do any pre-hype. As a matter of fact, we rather underplayed it. We were just going to see how it goes.
“Everybody – Eagle Rock, our DVD company – everybody’s going, ‘You can’t buy this kind of response!”. The reviews are five star reviews – for us, collectively, the most hated band in rock music? We’re kind of all laughing. Henley was right. He told me in 1980, ‘If you hang in there long enough, they’ll change their minds.’ Eagles and Led Zeppelin, they survived – not to compare us to them or anything. I only mean in terms of longevity. We’re looking at almost 40 years”.
I commented to Luke that I was struck by how tight the band is during their jams on the DVD. He said, “We wanted to leave some of the jam bits in. We showed the other side of what we really are. Obviously, the hits are in there for obvious reasons but we wanted to show a little bit more of what we’re really all about – at least the 2014 version, anyway, and we were able to do that and to show that we have a large audience around the world. A lot of people in the U.S. think that we died in 1985 because we had a record company who didn’t release our record for ten years. We had management get us out of that deal but, to the fans, it’s almost like we’re starting over again and here we are in our thirty-eighth year since the first album was recorded and now all of a sudden we’re number one around the world. It’s crazy! I’m on my knees, looking up at the sky and going, ‘Thank you, Lord, for this blessing!’ And because we’re not a band who is on that summer circuit as the same eight bands who put themselves together and go on the road, we’re kind of fresh meat, you know?”
Lukather then adds, “We’re really aiming at the U.S.A. market again. With our new management and our new agents, our new DVD and the band being where it’s at right now, mentally and physically, I think we can do it. Now there’s this real, organic buzz! It couldn’t be better!”
Of all the places around the globe that Toto could choose to record a concert, I asked Steve what drove the decision to record live in Poland.
“Well, we were going to do it in France but we had already done it in France. Then we were going to do it in Amsterdam but we’d already done it in Amsterdam. So we said, ‘Let’s do it some place where the crowds are going to be wild but we haven’t recorded there yet’ We felt recording live in Poland was a fresh thing – Eastern European, you know? Also, the venues are friendly from a technical aspect. It all organically fell into place.”
When I asked Steve how the crowds in Poland are today compared to when Toto first toured there, he replied, “They keep getting bigger! That’s the thing: now we’re getting second and third generation people and families coming to the shows. Now we sell four tickets instead of one. We’re a classic rock band. I embrace that title. There’s not that many of us left. I know that’s a broad stroke – a broad term. We are what we are. We’re just in that era, you know what I mean? And we’re a lot more rock than people think we are. I think the DVD shows that side and certainly when you come see us live we show that side.
“But, we can play ballads. We can play funk. We can play fusion and world music. We can play it. We’re good musicians. People don’t show up to see what outfit I’m wearing. They want to hear good playing.”
When I asked Luke how is touring, in general, different for him now than in the beginning, he replied with a laugh, “Yeah, man, we travel well. We’re not twenty
Photo by Darek Kawka
years old anymore. We spend our money on comfort rather than partying, you know what I mean? And I’ve been spoiled when I go on the Ringo tours – it’s a whole ‘nother level. Private jets and all that stuff. I love that!”
Then, coming back down to the relatively normal touring world, Steve adds, “We have nice buses and we have a great bunch of crew members that are our friends. A lot of bands never even speak to their crew. Our crew are our friends. We all hang together. It’s a real family environment. And even though we fight once in a while about BS - like brothers do – over nothing, and then we end up laughing and hugging each other two seconds later. I mean, we’ve been brothers since 1974. We’ve been through everything together. Life. Death. Divorce. Kids. Drugs. Booze. Insanity. Loss of fortune. Gain of fortune. Great career. Bad career. Whatever. Hits and misses. Disease. Disaster. Wonderful. Joyous. We’ve been through everything together and we’ve always been there for each other. I look around and go, ‘These are my bros, man! They know me better than anybody.’”
Then, becoming humorously more reflective, he adds, “Our personalities are what they are and we accept each other for our personality flaws and we all have them, including me – especially me. I’m the loud mouth mother and it gets me in trouble all the time. I speak my mind. Now I’m an old guy. I’ve got the experience and if you ask my opinion, I’m going to give it whether they like it or not. There it is. I just laid it out for you.”
Steve Lukather is a touring maniac, always on the road with Toto, Ringo, as well as supporting his own solo work and the like. It’s surprising that he’s not absolutely sick of it. I asked him how he keeps it all from getting to him.
“I rest. I rest a lot. And I practice. I have hobbies and stuff I’m interested in reading about. I’m fascinated with antiquity. I love all that alien stuff. I’m like, “Hmmm, what’s out there?’ I just have fun with it all, you know? I like to exercise. Some nights I like to sit out by the pool and chill. I read voraciously and by the time you think about it, you’re off to the gig!”
Comparing tours of early years, Lukather adds, “It’s not like I’m in the back of a van, drinking beer and eating bologna sandwiches, like a kid. We’re all health freaks now. It’s a whole different ballgame than it was in the seventies.”
The band has undergone some personnel changes that have been kind of hard to stay on top of so I asked Steve what the band line-up is looking like at the moment.
With his infectious laugh that I’ve now become familiar with, Lukather gave the current band line up.
“The line-up for the band at this point is myself, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and Joseph Williams. Then we have Keith Carlock who has joined the band on drums. He played with Steely Dan, Clapton, John Mayer and Sting. He’s one of the baddest guys out there. When we asked him to join the band, he was already committed to do this last Steely Dan tour which coincides with our U.S. tour in August and September of this year. He’s played on the whole album and he’s going to be back with us next year.
“The bass chair is always just filling in for Mike (Porcaro) even though Mike will never come back because of his ALS illness. It’s not good, Bro. He’s confined to a bed. It’s just not good. He’s taken care of by family and it’s part of the reason why we got back together to do this. So, the bass chair is kind of a roving bass chair. Nathan filled it for years but he had to go back to Foreplay and he’s got his album out and he’s out with Clapton. Schedules just didn’t swing. It’s an honor to have him and we love Nate but David Hungate – our original bass player – is coming back to do the summer. He hasn’t played with us in thirty-four years! There’s more original guys on the stage than there has been in twenty-five years!
“And, then, we have Shannon Forrest playing drums, who is like the number one Nashville guy who was very close to getting the gig, himself. He’s an old friend, as well. So, that’s going to work out for the summer. Next year? Keith comes back and we’ll see about everybody else – we’ll see who’s going to be playing bass. That’s pretty much where we’re at right now.”
I had read where Steve and the band are doing a lot to heighten awareness about ALS because of Mike Porcaro. I asked if he could share shed some light on their efforts in that area.
“The sad news is that there’s no happy ending to this for anyone – whoever gets it. I think the awareness is how you get this and how you treat it and maybe slow it down. In time, maybe you don’t want it to slow down, you know? It’s really the worst prison confinement you can know – to be trapped in your own body. That’s really, truthfully, an awful way to go.
“Mike can still talk but he can’t really move, you know? Can’t move at all! So you see the struggle. The breathing gets harder and, obviously, all the rest that goes with it. You want to find a cure for something like this. Will there ever be a cure? That’s what we’re striving for people to be aware of. So many neurological diseases have hit the world. I’ve asked my doctor and the doctor goes, ‘It’s environmental, man’ which means all the **** we’ve been ingesting and all the chemicals that companies try out on all of us decades ago while we’re having children and our children are getting all this weird stuff. Older people are getting MS, ALS, Lupus – all of these neurological, weird diseases from poisoning ourselves and our kids get it . . . it’s a brutal disease!
“I didn’t know people with ALS when I was a kid. It’s kinda prevalent (now), you know? Autism. My youngest son is autistic. But, you know what? He’s not that bad. There’s a lot of spectrums. He’s easy on the spectrum but there’s a few ticks, you know?
“Fortunately, he loves, he laughs and he digs his old man and he’s three years old so he’ll learn out of a lot of this. Some kids never speak and hit their head against the wall. There’s different levels of this. But as I said, neurological diseases . . . these are causes that have affected us as human beings and our families. When it hits home it really opens your eyes a bit.”
After discussing such a heavy subject, I shifted gears in my questioning by asking Steve some questions submitted by some of your readers. The first question centered on a guitar Luke is seen playing on the Toto’s new concert DVD, “Toto 35th Anniversary: Live In Poland”. At a glance, the guitar looks like it has caricatures of the famous “Rat Pack” painted on it and one of you readers wanted to know what the story was on it. Before I could even finish my question, Luke started laughing that laugh of his.
“I’m a Sammy fanatic! There are a handful of us who are really into Sammy. Stan Lynch from The Heartbreakers, myself and a bunch of rock n’ roller guys – we love Sammy! It was a gift from a guy at Music Man Guitars. It’s really one of my guitars with a different paint job on it. They call it “The Sammy”. It’s a one-off. It’s a classic. I laughed so hard and it’s a great guitar! People ask about it all the time. My face is on there. Sterling Ball, the owner of Music Man, his face is on there. He’s the bald guy on it and Sammy’s on it.
“I got into all that. George Clooney – a friend of mine – when he went and did “Ocean’s Eleven” and all of that – twenty-five years ago we’d drink booze and talk about doing something like that and he actually did it. I knew him before he was famous.”
Another question from Boomerocity readers asked what the wrist-band he wears onstage represents.
“Oh, it’s a gift from Ringo! It says, ‘Peace and Love’.”
Another reader asked Luke: With the great catalog of Toto music, is there a favorite song or period in time when he felt like, "Yeah. This how I want it to be..."?
“You know, I think each era – it’s like looking at a scrapbook of your life. I mean, some of the stuff has held up well and some of it is like, ‘Ooo, that lyric is really bad’ or that production is really dated. But all of it warms my heart. It’s like looking at old pictures. ‘Oh, look at that silly outfit I was wearing. What was I thinking?’
Photo by Darek Kawka
“I think the music’s good. I think the band played well. I think there was some weirder stuff that we experimented with. But like any band with a long history, there’s always a few interesting ‘WTF’ moments. But, overall, I think I’m pretty proud of the work that we put out.”
Up and coming artist, Ned Evett, asked, "Through a time rift you bump into yourself at 17, demoing a Strat at Guitar Center. What advice do you give yourself?"
“Oh! Don’t ever do drugs! Not that I was ever a junkie or anything like that but there was a lot of wasted time and effort during that whole late seventies/early eighties period where everybody thought that they had to bury themselves into a pile of powder to get things done. That was a big lie.
“Also, it would be, like, ‘Don’t trust your accountant!’ I got burned really bad as a kid. You get new money. They see you coming – a teenager with all this bread and you’re just stupidly spending it. So, I would’ve said, ‘Watch the bread! Stay away from the powder!’ would have been my advice. Stay healthy!
“In the eighties, everybody got high on blow and did stupid things. As a teenager in the studios you’re going, ‘What’s that? I’m really tired. I need to get some coffee.’ And they said, ‘Go ahead, kid, it’s better than coffee and not addictive’ so I naively bought that for a while . . . we all did! I never got that deep in. Booze was my poison and I stopped many years ago along with smoking and any toxic shit.”
Bringing the subject even closer to home, Luke said, “My older children, they managed to avoid all the pitfalls of all that, thankfully. And my other kids, the jury’s out. God know what they’re going to have to deal with. There’s really awful stuff out there now. It’s really pretty scary. Because I don’t smoke or drink or take anything at all anymore, I will be able to say to my children, ‘Look, you really don’t need to do that, do you? Look around. It never ends well unless you get out of it.’”
As our time drew to a close, I asked Steve about the new Toto studio album he mentioned in passing earlier in our chat.
“That will be out in March, 2015 with a world tour to follow. We’re really excited about the record. It’s really good. We’re really diggin’ it! We’re not trying to be trendy. We’re trying to be the best us that we can be and it’s coming out really good, if I may say so myself. We haven’t made an album in ten years so we wanted to make it a good one.”
And a good one it will be, no doubt.