Gary James' Interview With Steve Lukather Of

Heís the guitarist for one of the most popular groups to come out of the late 1970s. Their hits included ďRosannaĒ, ďHold The LineĒ and ďAfricaĒ. Theyíve sold something like 30 million records worldwide. By now youíre probably saying ďOh, yeah, that group.Ē The group is Toto and their guitarist is Steve Lukather. Even before joining Toto, Steve Lukather was a star. He played guitar on, arranged, composed and recorded on over 700 records. This guy has been around.

Eagle Rock Entertainment recently released a DVD titled ďFalling In Between LiveĒ, which documents Totoís 2007 concert in Paris. When we interviewed Steve, he broke the news that after April 2008, there will no longer be a Toto. He is leaving to pursue a solo career.

Q - Are you not just a little surprised that the public continues to come out to your concerts and buy your recorded product?

A - (laughs) Are you speaking of the American public or are you speaking of the public in general?

Q - Iím speaking of the American public. Letís face it, overseas you can keep a career going a lot longer.

A - We have. Thatís the difference between the U.S. and everywhere else in the world. We still play arenas everywhere else in the world. And weíre not as roasted by the mainstream Rock press. But you know, we donít really work that much in the States. We play L.A., New York, a festival here or there in the Summer. The bands that do great in America, very few of Ďem do shit overseas. Itís a different market. Weíre an international band. Weíre not an American band.

Q - You were in Syracuse a couple of years back at the New York State Fair.

A - My wife went to Syracuse (University). I love Syracuse. A great place. Whatís not to love, man? I only get to see it for one or two days. (laughs)

Q - When you were starting off, you had to be pretty good on your instrument, didnít you?

A - We grew up in the Ď60s and Ď70s, where being a really good musician was not considered a deficit. It was substance before image.

Q - And todayÖ

A - Itís all drop D tuning and an eyeliner. Thatís really unfair, thereís really some good young bands too, but thereís a lot of cookie-cutter records in the Pop world. People canít sing. People canít play. Yet they still sell millions of records Ďcause theyíve got the right look. So, I canít relate to it. Thatís like two generations behind me at this point. I donít listen to it. It doesnít really affect me at all. Itís not my audience. Thatís cool. God bless Ďem. But, they wonít have a long career. Itíll be over real fast for Ďem. Then, what do they do with the rest of their lives?

Q - The line is moving fast!

A - Thereís too many people out there. The difference between now and then is: in the old days you had to really play well and do lots of different things. Now, when theyíre sick of you, thereís somebody standing right behind you. Itís all about cash. Itís not about careers anymore. Thereís always somebody right behind you, ready, willing and able to sign their life away just to be a Rock star for 10 minutes.

Q - And record companies are not the same.

A - No. Theyíre dying a horrible death. Well, greed eventually catches up with you. They couldíve fixed all of this a long time ago, but they were too greedy. They didnít pay attention to what was coming. The old school mentality. Old men running companies. The young people came over and just squashed Ďem. The internet is where itís at, man. If they wouldíve jumped on earlier on, we wouldnít have one tenth of the problems with piracy. But now, Pandora is out of the box. You canít shove him back in. So, you embrace the technology. Most people want to be independent through record by record and you can sell less and make twice as much.

Q - For you these daysÖ

A - Now Iím an Indy guy. Weíre on independent labels. We do record by record deals. No long term stuff. I was on Sony Records for 25 years. I made them $300 million dollars and they didnít even kiss me good-bye. We sold 30 million records very quietly. World-wide. We have a consistent fan base overseas that kept buying our new product. In the States, most people think itís the ďRoseannaĒ / ďAfricaĒ band. They donít know that we have 17 albums out.

Q - In the 70s, when you were working all those sessions, why did producers keep calling you back? Apart from the musicianship, did you have an easygoing personality?

A - (laughs) Iím a funny guy, man. Very versatile. Get the job done quickly and well and bring a lot of fresh ideas to their music, and interpret their ideas. Generally just have a reputation for being a good guy and being a professional. I was able to morph into whatever they wanted me to morph into and still retain my own style. I played on a lot of hit records and everybody wants somebody to put on a hit record. So, you get oneÖand they just keep calling you back. I got very lucky. I fell into the right group of people who recommended me very highly, played on a few hit records and the snowball just started rolling down the hill. Through 1975, through 1990, at least one of us (in Toto) played on every record that came out of L.A. Thousands of records, man. Big hit records too.

Q - I recall reading an article in Rolling Stone where they reported that the top session players could never really say no when the phone rang for a session or they might never be called again.

A - Yeah. Rolling Stone knows nothing about music. Thatís not how it works, man. A lot of times if they really want you, theyíll work around your schedule. Rolling Stone doesnít know shit about music. Itís something to line your cat box with. Weíre the only band that turned down the cover of Rolling Stone in 1983, Ďcause we knew it was gonna be a hatchet job. Jann Wenner lost his mind. His ego went out the window and he swore heíd never print our name in his magazine again. Thatís the most punk rock move in the history of Rock Ďní Roll. But no one knows about it. No one will write about it. Itís like they donít write anything about us. The fact that weíre on Record Album Of The Year, three years in a row, played on hundreds of Grammy Award winning recordsÖnobody writes about that. Nobody mentions it. Itís like weíre not even an American commodity. We get respect everywhere else in the world. Itís come around a little bit. I mean we came around just when Punk Rock hit. So, of course theyíre gonna jump on the Punk wagon. Punk Rock is not a musical statement. Itís a political / social statement. Us musicians got lost in that. Iím not saying that Punk Rock is bad. Itís just not where we were coming from.

Q - Punk Rock was probably more popular in England than the U.S., wasnít it?

A - I was in England in 1977, playing with Boz Scaggs. I was 19 years old, walking down Kings Road, seeing these cats. (laughs) What, you go to shows and people spit on you? What kind of music is that? I didnít get it, you know. It took me a long time to get it and understand what it is. The thing about Punk Rock is, you canít be 50 years old and play Punk Rock. It doesnít wear well, where I can play my music the rest of my life. But, you canít be a punk if youíre over 25 years old or if you sell a million records. Youíre mainstream Corporate Rock. So, they keep changing the rules.

Q - Why did you turn down the cover of Rolling Stone?

A - They roasted us so many times. Now, looking back on it, it probably was not a great career move. So, because he (Jann Wenner) owns just about all the media people, we were the band to hate, the band to dis-regard. They treated us like we were The Archies. We were the only band to turn the cover down. It tweaked the cat. We knew it was gonna be a hatchet job. We were gonna go in there and they were gonna make us look like idiots. Creative editing. Itís like reality TV. People donít always act like an idiot, but if itís edited together a certain way, you look like a complete ass hole. And thatís what they were consistently doing to us in the mainstream press anyway. So, we just said no, weíre not going to do that.

Q - Why would critics hate Toto? Whatís to hate?

A - Well, I always thought the name poured gasoline on the fire. I hated the name. I still do. But, itís kind of moot, because itís the last of Toto anyway. I mean this DVD, and then the last 5 weeks of this tour, after 30 years, Iím walking. Iím done.

Q -What are you going to do with yourself?

A - I just got a solo album coming out in 3 weeks. Iím gonna be on the road for the next year and a half.

Q - No matter where you go, youíll most likely be billed as Steve Lukather: formerly of Toto. Youíre not going to escape that, are you?

A - Probably not, but Iím not gonna go out and play ďRosannaĒ, ďHold The LineĒ and ďAfricaĒ either. I got a career outside of this band. I won a couple of Grammys outside of this band doing different projects. There are people that know me around the world. In America, I donít know. Weíll have to see where it goes. Iím like a new artist here. But Iím getting rave reviews so far, so Iím really happy about that. Iím not saying Iím never gonna play with the guys againÖtheyíre my friends. But the band we started and the band that is now, is completely different. Iím the only guy thatís been there from the first rehearsal thatís standing here now. A lot of guys got sick, died, left, retired, were fired. I just gotta do something new, man. I was 19 years old when I recorded ďHold The LineĒ. Iím 50 years old. Do the math. How many times do you think Iíve played that song? And itís been very good to me. Iím not moaning by a long shot, but Iím happy to leave this DVD as a niceÖweíve been on the road for 2Ĺ years. Weíre all tired. Everybody wants to do some other stuff. Can you imagine being away from home for the better part of 2Ĺ years?

Q - It would be tough.

A - Yeah. Itís hard. We have to do hard travel. We donít take just a 3 hour flight. We take a 20 hour flight.

Q - Yeah, because youíre going to Australia.

A - Weíre going to New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, China, The Philippines, Korea and then Iím gonna take 2 weeks off and start rehearsing a band. And then Iím on the road for another year and a half. Thatís what I do. Thatís what I love to do. The other guys in the band are older than me, and theyíre not necessarily into working as hard as I do, but they donít have product out yet.

Q - Who owns the Toto name?

A - Me, Paich, Mike Porcaro and at this point Diamond Phillips. All the guys that own the nameÖIím the only guy in the band. But, Iím not going to go out as ďMr. TotoĒ. That wouldnít be right. I may play a couple of songs that I wrote, sang and played . But, Iím not going to go out and be something Iím not. I mean, whatís the point of stopping the band, if Iím going to go out and play the same songs with different guys?

Q - Did you help write those big 3 hit songs you mentioned earlier?

A - Iíve written a lot of the other hits, the new ones that were really big hits overseas. But, I didnít write ďAfricaĒ or ďHold The LineĒ. Those were David Paich.

Q - Why do you think Toto was so successful?

A - Good songs. Good players. We were never popular with critics, but we were popular with the people. Our catalog still sells a lot every yearÖeven in America.

Q - You even had a guitar named after you?

A - Yeah. I still do. It sells really, really well every year. Iíve sold thousands and thousands of these things. Theyíre rally good guitars and are American made, hand made. Really fine instruments.

Q - Did you approach them or did they approach you?

A - A little bit of both. The owner of the company it turns out, is my best friend. But I was with another company even when we were friends. Eventually he stole me away. The guy that used to make my guitars for the other company started working for him.

Q - Since George Harrison was such a major influence on youÖ

A - Yeah. George and I were friends. We hung out a lot. He played at the Jeff Porcaro tribute and then we started hanging out a lot. He turned me on to a lot of really cool stuff. We had a great jam one night. He invited me out for dinner. It was Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, myself, Jim Keltner and George. And we ended up having a jam at Jeff Lynnís house. A magical night. I also got a chance to work with Paul McCartney too on a few different occasions. Thatís the reason why I started playing, to be able to come full-circle, to work with the legends and geniuses those guys are. Theyíre such lovely people. Really lovely.

Q - Ever meet John?

A - Never got to meet John. Met Ringo once, very briefly. Big fan. Thatís the reason I play. And that music still holds up to me. If you donít dig The Beatles, I just canít talk to you. If you donít get that, Iím sorry.

Q - They were the greatest.

A - I donít think anybodyís ever gonna do that again. I keep waiting. Whoís gonna come out and just wipe the floor with everybody? When I grew up, there was no such thing as Classic Rock, or retro. We were living it in real time. There wasnít a thousand bands that sounded the same. Everybody sounded radically different. You always knew who everybody else was and if you didnít, it was somebody new and youíd get into them. Now, thereís like 10,000 records released every week. How many slots are there? We live in a myspace / youtube world. And thatís how people are getting hits. A lot of stuff is one piece of music. Itís one novelty bit. Record companies used to sign you for 4 records, figuring by the fourth record, youíd be successful. Theyíd invest their time, money and effort to make you grow as an artist. Now, if your first record isnít at least platinum, you get dumped. Then youíre poison. Nobody will sign you. And what do you do? Terrifying. I wouldnít want to be a young guy now. Iím happy to be the old man of the sea at this point. The music today is all for one and all for one. (laughs) Iíve seen the thing go through all the changes. Iím a child of the Ď60s. Seven years old when I started playing. ďMeet The BeatlesĒÖsaw Ďem on The Ed Sullivan Show. Here I am at it all these years later and done over a thousand records as a session musician and had all the great success with Toto and got a chance to play with just about all my heroes and Iím still grooviní. I still love the gig, man. Iím not trying to choose the proverbial hit single or trying to convince people to like me if you donít. Thatís stuff you do when youíre a kid. Iím so cool with this, itís unbelievable. Iím like, if you donít dig my stuff, thatís cool. But, the thing that bothers me is people who write you off without listening to the music.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.