Interview with Steve Lukather

Toto’s Steve Lukather, aka “Luke,” chatted with us about what he’s been up to since all touring came to an abrupt halt last year.

As with other touring musicians, self-confessed road dog, Steve Lukather was grounded when covid lockdown restrictions hit early 2020. But not one to sit around on his laurels, and unable to sit still for any length of time, he didn’t let something like a pandemic get in the way of creating and performing music.


It had been nine years since Lukather last released a solo album, so the forced downtime was the perfect time to complete work on his long-awaited follow-up. I Found the Sun Again was recorded live with some help from his friends. Lukather’s 45 years of working as a professional and session musician has conditioned him into hitting the record button and making the grade first time. This album was no different, I Found the Sun Again was recorded live in eight days, start to finish:

“We’re doing as much as we can. Joseph and I have solo records that just came out, which I made the month before lockdown. I made my record in eight days and then we mixed it. It was all live except for the vocals, you know. And then we overdubbed a quick double track of riff or added an acoustic but all the vocals and everything was done. A song a day, finished, ready to mix and I did that in eight days and that was done. I did all the solos live. I wanted to see if I could still do it. So it’s a bit self-indulgent, sure but that’s what solo records are for. 

I did it, and it was fun. And it was really satisfying to know that I did all of that. I did no computer trickery. All the solos, all that interplay, there were no rehearsals, no demos, or none of this. Just show up, here’s some charts, let’s run it through once, make sure the charts are right and explain, go over anything difficult. Take two was the whole record. You hire musicians like Gregg Bissonette, David Paich, Jeff Babko, Jorgen Carlsson, John Pierce, Ringo Starr – they know how to work in a studio. It’s what people don’t do anymore. It’s live. It sounds it. And there’s a few warts here and there that I kept because it’s real. People are real. Everything’s so buffed out now. They used to say Toto were slick. We’re like the Sex Pistols compared to people these days. We actually played that shit, all at the same time, because we had skill. You know, that’s looked down upon in the hipster rock press.”

One of the highlights on the album is the instrumental track, “Journey Through,” which has Steve’s guitar taking on vocal duties. 

“Jeff Babko wrote that one for me. It’s sort of a homage to Jeff Beck and all that stuff. Any guys that play majestic melodies. Satch and Via and all those guys that we love so much. That’s one take, man. We ran that and that’s the take. I go, ‘Did you get that?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I go, ‘We’re done. Ok, we can take the rest of the day off.’ I stayed and did a couple of vocals on a couple of tunes with Joe because we got it, the session was over in a half-hour.

When I started, you had to deliver every day. That was the job. I work well under pressure. If I’ve got all the time in the world, I’ll take all the time in the world. Some of these Toto records took six to nine months. I do a record in a week and I go, ‘Boy, we should have done it like this!’ All that money we saved, all the time. But at the time we were doing something we couldn’t do now, so all roads lead to now.”

I Found the Sun Again includes a mixture of original songs and covers. 

“I had the covers before I had anything else written. Because I wanted to do something like 1971, 1972 in 2020. That’s the way they made records then. You had to do your solos live, you had to do everything to get the take. Not a lot of people can have the chops to do that anymore because everything’s been made so easy. ‘Ah man, just use Pro Tools, you can fix anything.’ I just use Pro Tools as a tape machine.

We knew the last version of Toto was ending after the last gig in Philly, October 20th. Joe was working on a solo album. I said well, I’ve got one on deck, man. I’m going to do one because I haven’t done one in like nine or ten years or whatever. I’ve been so busy with Ringo, Toto, Ringo, Toto, Ringo, Toto. It’s been very busy and very lucrative so why would I do that? So when the time opened up, I knew I wanted to do something different. I’ve been doing the Toto thing, the Toto way for a while. I wanted to do it like we used to do it in the seventies and eighties and play.”

Toto will release With A Little Help From My Friends on DVD and Blu Ray on June 25. The release captures a live stream performed on November 21, 2020. It was the first time Steve Lukather, Joseph Williams, and David Paich appeared with the new line-up of Toto.

“We made a live stream that’s coming out as a DVD this summer due to popular demand. It has interviews with everybody – me, Paich, Joe, and the new guys. It explains why we’re doing this and what’s the point in doing this. It’s all going to be spelled out and everybody’s going to get a look inside. Visually, it’s not very good because it was done in a f*cking rehearsal room with no people. At the end of a song, you hear like ten people at the back clapping. They’re all our relatives and wives. 

“Sput” (Robert Searight) from Snarky Puppy and Ghost-Note and then John Pierce on bass, one of my oldest friends in the whole world, from Huey Lewis. We played together in Junior High School and shit. Him and Mike Landau. We were in high school bands together. We’ve doing this music thing since we were little kids, so it’s great to be in a band with him. And then my son Trev found us this incredible second keyboard player that has all the super high part vocally. Him and Warren Ham, our utility guy and horn player and percussion.

It was weird. We rehearsed, we were safe in masks and all that stuff, but you can’t sing with masks on so we just made sure everyone was vaccined up and we were cool. We went in there with no audience and it was very safe because only family members were in there and we’re all safe. So nobody got sick, that’s the good news. I put together the band in 10 days. Never played together. So everybody learned their shit and we only had a handful of rehearsals and a couple of these guys had never played the music before so it was a real experiment to put this together, you know.

It was done in 10 days from scratch. These guys didn’t know all the material, they had a lot to learn. And they did. They’re brilliant guys.”

Toto’s lineup has changed over the years, which is not surprising for a band with such longevity. It must be a daunting task for new players to come into the fold with such seasoned professionals. 

“We auditioned the guy, Steve Maggiora, and he passed with flying colors. And we knew Sput, forget it. We’ve seen him play. It’s ridiculous. And John Pierce is, like I said, I know what he can do. I want a bass player that’s going to stand there and play bass, you know what I mean? I don’t need a ballerina.

I’m not going to go out on the road with a shitty band. Come on, man. I know the high level of the standard. Somebody plays it with a little different flavor and somebody doesn’t like that flavor, well hey… A lot of people get locked into it’s not Toto, you could arguably say it’s not Toto after David Hungate split. Or Jeff died. And then Mike died. Two guys are gone, you know. We can’t do that. Another doesn’t want to do it and then David is medically unwell to do it but he can show up in LA. He’s still a part of the band. You never know when he may show up. He can’t change time zones because he’s on very strict medical…. He has to take certain things, changing even to an hour difference f*cks up his whole thing. He’s happily being our Grand Poobah leader from afar. Me and him talk almost daily about all the business and everything like that.”

Steve has been friends with Joe since they were kids. Not only have they worked together throughout their time in Toto, they also worked on each other’s solo albums. Joe’s album is impressively produced with layered vocals and multi-part harmonies.

“He was 14, I was 17. I was in a band with his brother John Pierce and Mike Landau.

He’s so f*cking talented. He was able to do that because he’s got a studio at this house. He stays up at night by himself and he meticulously does all this stuff. And that was his statement. That’s like his Peter Gabriel so as far as I’m concerned. It’s brilliantly done. And we worked on each other’s records and that was fun. He’s one of my very closest brothers of all time. He’s one of the few people allowed in my house because he tests up with us. He lives down the street. He’s got a four-month-old grandson so he can’t mess around. I got a ten-year-old autistic son so I can’t mess around. We’re all safe so far but, you know, he just got vaccined up because of the baby and all that. I’m waiting for my shot next week I think.” 

Covid lockdown restrictions took their toll on everyone in their own way. When Steve isn’t on the road with Toto, he tends to be on the road with Ringo Starr or in the recording studio. All of a sudden, everything came to a screeching halt.

“It was like driving into a wall at a thousand miles an hour at the height of everything going great. We were ready. We had a whole tour booked. We had to move it to 2022. I’m hoping even then we’ll be ready.

I’m hoping I can get back into my life again. It’s weird. It’s the human touch, human contact. Everybody’s afraid of everybody. God forbid you cough or fart, you know. Everyone thinks you’re f*cking diseased. Businesses are dying, my favorite restaurants are going under. It’s really sad.

I think it’s going to be one of those things they’re talking about – the vaccine passport and then you have to pass the automatic temperature check. It’s just going to be one of those pain in the asses like it used to be fun to go flying. But now you’ve got to take off all your clothes because one idiot some 20-odd years ago had a pack of matches in his f*cking shoe. If that’s what happened with that….. This is going to be more extreme. And then you have the assholes that won’t wear the mask because they think it’s a political thing. I mean, why does your doctor wear a mask when he’s operating on you? Because germs come out of your f*cking mouth! Japan has been doing this forever. They’re not going to let anybody but Japanese people see the Olympics. I’ve been to Japan every year at least once since 1980 and it’s weird for me not to be there. I have a gig they’ve paid me for. Great gig, solo jam band stuff. Yeah, we do real well. We broke the Budokan sales record the last time we played. We oversold it, the whole thing. It was really magical, it was great.”

With all of the years of being exposed to loud music when performing live and in the recording studio, it’s no wonder the toll it’s taken on both Steve and John Pierce’s hearing.

“I wear hearing aids. After 55 years of trashing my ears, you know. Especially all of those years in the studio wearing headphones for 14 hours a day and feedbacks and all kinds of mispatched bummers where you get [makes screeching sound]. In the early days, you didn’t have the individual mix, man. You just had to power through. With a click track going ding, ding, ding, ding! That’s what f*cked my hearing.” 

Steve’s son Trev is part of a three-piece band, Levara. It’s not surprising growing up with Steve as his father, that he got the taste for music at a young age. 

“I took him on the road and I ruined his life when he was about 12 or 13. I let him come out on stage and he got the bug. He started out on drums like everybody does, and then he went on the road with me and saw the guitar thing. He was already asking, ‘Show me the guitar.’ So I showed him a dropped D and turned him onto it. I told him to go into his room and write a couple of things and he did. He took to it. I didn’t give him any lessons. He did all the hard work himself and developed his style on his own. He’s an incredible songwriter and producer. I’m really proud of him.” 

 

 

Toto’s With A Little Help From Friends is available to pre-order on LP, CD+DVD, CD+Blu-Ray and digital. Pre-order your copy here.

STEVE LUKATHER
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About Phil Walton 52 Articles
Phil grew up in the UK and loved listening to and playing music from a young age. He moved from the UK to Chicago in 2011, falling in love with the city and its music scene. He enjoys nothing better than spending time with musicians, whether it be watching them perform, talking to them for the website or reading their autobiographies.