Steve Lukather went through hell in recent years trying to keep the soul of Toto alive, but he refused to let an unfortunate legal entanglement bring him down. As the title of his new album (out Feb. 26) suggests, he found the sun again and crafted yet another album showcasing his versatility as a musician along the way.
Surrounded by stellar players such as Gregg Bissonette, Jorgen Carlsson, and Jeff Babko, Luke turned his eighth solo release into an emphatic statement of hope at a time when the world needs just that. His voice is strong, his playing remains driven, and, most importantly, he sounds like someone who’s enjoying every minute of the life that his prolific work ethic has afforded him.
During our recent conversation, we discussed the new album, his son’s career, and how the legacy of Toto lives on despite what “a bunch of aging hipsters” in Cleveland want you to believe.
MNOD: We’re a year into the pandemic and the immediate future of live music still doesn’t look promising. How have you been dealing with the layoff?
Luke: I’m getting through it the best I can. It’s really hard, because I’ve been playing in a band since I was 9. We had some incredible stuff lined up last year and then everything stopped. I’m really pleased with this new album, though. It’s been received well and it’s exactly the kind of record I wanted to make. As far as the rest of my life goes, I fell in love with a beautiful woman and she changed my life.
MNOD: Given all of the unfortunate legal drama you went through with Toto, the uplifting vibe of this new album is nice to hear. Describe your mindset on this project.
Luke: Thankfully, we recorded it before everything shut down, so we were all able to be in the same room. Nobody makes records like that anymore. We didn’t focus on overdubs or worry about mistakes. We just cut it live in the same room. I had a revamped version of Toto called The Dogz of Oz ready to go out on tour and we were going to play all the hits, deep cuts, and other stuff, but that’s on hold for now. I’m the only constant throughout all 15 versions of Toto and it’s been an amazing ride. We were all world class musicians and we’ve had over three billion streams. “Africa” is more popular now than ever before, but we’re still disrespected by the press.
Joe (Williams) and I decided to each put out solo albums at the same time, so we’re excited about the response so far. I didn’t want to make a shred record, because there are little kids on the Internet that can do that better than me. I also didn’t want to make Toto Jr., because that’s not productive. I recorded with the same guitar, amp, and stomp box that I always use, which captured the exact seventies vibe that I wanted. I wanted something that sounded like me, because it all goes back to the lifelong pursuit of the perfect tone. The title track was inspired by my girlfriend, because she really did change my life. I lived alone for 10 years and I finally found the sun again with her.
Nobody makes records like this anymore. When you do multiple takes, you’re often too focused on correcting mistakes and trying to make it sound fucking perfect, but that’s not always the best way to do it. Sometimes, if someone fucks up, you just say ‘Fuck it’ and leave it the way it is. Miles Davis didn’t like multiple takes. Toto never rehearsed. We just played together and captured the vibe, so I wanted that feeling for this project.
MNOD: “Run to Me” features Ringo Starr on drums. Describe how that guest spot came together.
Luke: I adore the man. I’ve been a member of his All Starr Band for years now and I’m actually going to Facetime with him later today. This track was created as a gift for his 80th birthday. We initially wanted to do a show, but we couldn’t due to this fuckin’ virus. It’s a Beatle-sounding tune that was created specifically for him. It’s also a happy song with a positive message to my daughter.
MNOD: You include covers of Traffic, Joe Walsh, and Robin Trower on this album. Describe what each of those songs means to you.
Luke: Those are all songs I’ve been playing since Junior High. They’re also songs that other artists don’t normally do, which is important for me. I thought about doing “Voodoo Child,” but that’s already been done to death. For “Bridge of Sighs,” I used a big fat delay on my guitar to make it sound huge and that’s just a song that you can really jam on. Robin Trower is one of the baddest motherfuckers out there, but not that many people talk about him. “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” is another song that just fit what I wanted to do.
MNOD: I’ve discussed the concept of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with other artists in the past and I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on Toto’s potential for induction.
Luke: Jann Wenner has always been the gatekeeper. It feels like he holds the tiebreaker on who gets in and who doesn’t. It’s not like sports where you can say this person got so many hits or scored so many goals. You can be an asshole and still get in on statistics alone. I’ve taken 45 years of shit from the hipster press, because they never liked Toto. They never took us seriously despite how many hits we had and how many records we sold. It’s all subjective. Think about all of the glaring omissions. You’re telling me that Jethro Tull didn’t make an impact? Look at how long it took for Deep Purple to finally get in. I’m proud of being in the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, which is voted on by musicians. I’ve played with Larry Carlton, George Benson, Joni Mitchell, and Miles Davis among others. I was good enough for them, but not for a bunch of aging hipsters in Ramones t-shirts? If Toto were to be nominated, it would just be another opportunity for the press to shit on us. There’s no bitterness, though, because the music of Toto is still popular and will endure for a long time after death. I’d take my career over what a handful of people think of me. The irony of my son being engaged to Jonathan Cain’s daughter is not lost on me. I’m sure that Jann Wenner loves that.
MNOD: You mentioned that Toto’s music is as popular now as it’s ever been and I’m sure that Weezer’s cover of “Africa” has played into that in recent years. What was your reaction when you first heard their take on the song?
Luke: I cracked up when I first heard it. I thought it was hilarious. It pissed me off that the press tried to say that I was butthurt over Rivers Cuomo never reaching out to me, because they’re always trying to start wars. They’re always looking for some grotesque headline.
MNOD: Of all the prestigious session work you’ve done in your career, your contributions to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” are among the most talked about. How did that come about?
Luke: I had worked on a lot of Quincy Jones records and he took a shine to me. Michael called me. He was looking to do a follow-up to “Off the Wall” and it was 1982. He called me at eight in the morning and said ‘This is Michael Jackson,’ so I said ‘Fuck you’ and hung up. I thought it was a prank. No one ever called that early back then, because we were usually going to bed at seven. Later on, I discovered that it actually was Michael that called, so I called him back and he said that stuff like that happens to him all the time. I was an A-level session guy at that point, so he asked me to play on the record and it turned out well. That was a long time ago.
MNOD: One of my favorite albums that you played on is Roger Waters’ “Amused to Death.” What you recall about that experience?
Luke: Oh yeah, man. That one kind of came about by accident. Toto happened to be recording “Kingdom of Desire” in the same studio, so I said that I would roll my gear down and play for free if I had to. I just wanted to play on that record. I’ve always been a big Floyd fan, so being able to play on those tracks is one of my proudest credits.
MNOD: Besides everything you’ve accomplished in your own career, your son’s band has an album coming out, as well. What has that experience been like as a father?
Luke: It’s been great. I’m really psyched for him. The name of his band is LEVARA and they’re really good. I can tell that he wants it bad, but it’s been hard due to not being able to play anywhere. He’s frustrated. They’ve been doing press, but they’ve been forced to sit on this material for a while. He’s been in a bunch of startups and had a writing credit on Halestorm’s first album, so he’s ready for this band to take off. Their sound is melodic, but also with today’s edge to it. He and Steven Tyler are actually good friends, too, so Steven has been really supportive.
MNOD: Your book “The Gospel According to Luke” came out in 2018 to positive reviews. Tell me what that writing process was like.
Luke: I was happy with how it was received. I wrote it three times before I got it to really sound like me. It wasn’t funny enough the first time, so I knew it wasn’t done. I had to find my voice. It wasn’t about how many ‘fucks’ I could get into a book. I wanted to tell a good story. I keep datebooks of everything in my career going back to 1977, so I was able to reference things and talk to people about events. I threw the finished product up against the wall and it stuck, which I love. I also narrated the audiobook where I laughed at my own jokes a lot, so I’ll probably never listen to it.
MNOD: Your career as a professional musician has entered its sixth decade, which means that you’ve seen it all through the years. Describe your feeling when you look out at crowds today and see so many young people who have gotten into your music.
Luke: I love it. We’re not looking out at a sea of old people like a lot of people would think, because I would say that most of the audience is in their thirties. I was 19 when I came up with the riff for “Hold the Line” and I’m 63 now. You don’t stick around in this business for that long without thick skin and a sense of humor. I’ve been a character on “South Park” as well as “Family Guy, ” which is my favorite show. I also own a Toto toilet. I know how a lot of the press perceives Toto and my career, but, as I said before, I’ll take my career over what a few hipsters think of me.
Steve Lukather’s “I Found the Sun Again” drops on Feb. 26.
Visit www.stevelukather.com for details.