Interview: Steve Lukather (solo, Toto, Ringo Starr, Michael Jackson)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: December 2013. We had the pleasure to talk with a great guitarist and a very sincere person: Steve Lukather. Luke has a very successful career with Toto for more than 35 years and as a solo artist as well. Recently, he toured with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band and has also played with Michael Jackson, Larry Carlton, Boz Scaggs, Roger Waters, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Los Lobotomys, Warren Zevon, Lionel Richie, Chicago, Joni Mitchell and hundreds more. His latest solo album, “Transition” is another example of Luke’s pure talent in a wide range of genres.  Read below the very interesting things he told us:


It’s been almost a year since the release of “Transition”. Are you satisfied now with its final result?

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Yeah man, I’m happy as I can be in 2013. It’s all really wild considering I don’t have big hit records. I’m making an artistic statement, if that means anything. I have a great successful tour, it got the best reviews in my career. I think I’m on the right track. The last couple of albums were really wild for me, right now, I’m very happy. It’s a crazy year: I did a solo tour, I did Ringo (ed: touring with Ringo Starr, The Beatles drummer), very recently I did a thing with Peter Frampton for his Guitar Circus, G3 (ed: touring with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani). And now I ‘m totally down, getting ready to start the new Toto album, and next year (ed: 2014) it’s gonna be a tour in USA and Japan, the DVD, the live Toto DVD comes out in, I believe, April 2014 and we will do an album to be out in the beginning of 2015, and we will come back to Europe for a massive tour all the 2015 and 2016. I ‘m going to be busy for the next couple of years. I would like to do a solo album until probably 2016, if I could find the time.


Why did you choose “Transition” as the album title? Does it have a deeper meaning to you?

My whole life is in transition for the last 5 years, you know. I’m just a completely different person, so much has changed in my life. Unfortunately, I got divorce but I ‘m very protective to my ex-wife and my two little kids. My mum passed away, I stopped drinking and all the crazy partying. I’m super healthy, I practice my guitar. I have already done an hour and a half this morning (ed: I called Luke at 9am LA time. He gets up very early!). I’m a healthy guy, I have a deeper view of life, clear and focus. It’s a recent thing. All these years in business, you know, I lived a crazy life. But right now, things are very clearly and the transition is how to get through that and live your life in a positive way. These were crazy years, I’m an older guy now, I’m working life in a much different way. Yeah, I wrote about that, that’s has been the transition. One state to the new state and then and then. I think about that actually, in every way.


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Does “Creep Motel” song have some kind of Steely-Dan-like vibe? I know you are a huge fan of Steely Dan.

I am and yes, it is “twisted blues” and it is what it is. In a point of view, this song is about this creep, the internet creep, the haters online, who live in a room by themselves and write horrible things about other people. But they have fake names and they creep. I write about things like that, I write about experiences that I had. I have a little sense of humour. My buddy, Fee Waybill of The Tubes wrote the lyrics of “Creep Motel”. It was fun. It’s one of my favourite tracks.


Why did you decide to cover Charlie Chaplin’s song “Smile”?

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My mum, loved this song. I used to do it as a second encore live. I came out with my keyboard player, Steve Weingart, and we, just the two of us, played it and he had a really great reaction, people told us “Just record that! Record that!” We did an all-live version of that on the record. It’s a beautiful melody, it’s a lot of fun to play, in a very emotive, if you know what I mean.


On “Transition” album you have many great guests: Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer), Gregg Bissonette (Ringo Starr, Steve Vai drummer), Leland Sklar (famous session bassist), Tal Wilkenfeld (Jeff Beck bassist) and others. Did you think that those particular musicians fitted better to the material of “Transition”?

The thing is the way we wrote the songs. We wrote the songs and there is no demo. The demo is the record. We just started writing and thinking: “Who will be great on this song? Who is great on that song?” And I was able to play with all my friends. I ran into Chad on the street and I said “Hey man, come play to my record” and he came by the next day. Tal is you know like my fifth child, if I had adopted her. I think she is a great friend and Leland is also my old friend and with Gregg we just toured with Ringo and we are friends for 30 years. They are my favourite guys, we recorded the songs very easily. We had the right player for the right song and I was able to do that. There was really a lot of fun.


As the years pass by, you become more and more minimal in the studio: You don’t do many takes and don’t use many effects. Why do you prefer a more simple sound now?

But yes, I try to play more and effect less. As I get older, I’m trying to be more mature about my approach to song and playing the guitar. There are so many wonder kids, super-fast guitar players and they try to keep up the path. But I’m an older guy, I’m not in competition with any, if you like what I do, I’m giving you the honest version. And I feel it’s very good to get past all that. Getting past a really young men game, you know what I mean? And I say to myself (ed: ironically) “Ha! That competition?” There are many better guitar players, I just want to improve myself.


What is like to be in the same band with Ringo Starr (The Beatles drummer)?

The Best! Ringo has become a dear friend of mine. He is somebody I look up at him: He is a guy who is 74 years old and he looks like 40. Because he lives right and I modeled my lifestyle on his and he has become a great friend. As a matter of fact, I was just invited to play with him at The Beatles 50th anniversary of day one (ed: February 9th 1964) at The Ed Sullivan Show. We’ll do a big show with him and Paul (ed: McCartney), the All-Starr Band, with Peter Frampton and Joe Walsh (ed: The Eagles) on guitar, Paul and his band. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. That’s gonna be pretty fun. I think I’ll do more with him, I may record with him. We’re buddies. I love the guy, I truly love the band. The reason why I play guitar is because of The Beatles.


Can you tell us a few words about the next Toto studio album? You are currently in the studio.

Yes, we’re just writing now, David (ed: Paich, keyboards), myself, Joseph (ed: Williams, singer) and Steve Porcaro (ed: keyboards). That’s the core band. We’re writing music, we are trying to make the last album we ever do because the album is dying. We’re doing this album, we are going to make a classic Toto album. We want to give the fans what they want, as least I hope that. The songs we have written feature really melodic stuff. It’s gonna be a big production, exactly what people expect from us and hopefully give them. We find great the stuff we have written so far and we over the course of the year we are going to work on and it will come out early 2015.


Can you describe us the impact that “Meet the Beatles” album had on you and especially George Harrison’s solo in “I Saw Her Standing There”?

Oh man, The Beatles switched on my life! It’s like watching “The Wizard of Oz”! Went in black and white and went in colour. My life was black and white, until I heard The Beatles, and then the colour became, and then my whole life starts. My father gave me a guitar and a copy of “Meet the Beatles” and now 50 years later and I’m onstage and I play with The Beatles. It’s surely surreal. There is a magazine in Japan and there is a picture of me playing guitar and Ringo on the cover. I never thought that it will be my head, my name underneath the name of The Beatles and Ringo Starr. It’s pretty fine. My life comes in circles. Dream can come true if you work on and get lucky.


When you were recording Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album, had you realised that it would become one of the important albums of all time?

I knew it was gonna be a big record because Michael was coming out of “Off the Wall”, that was huge. But you never know that’s gonna be that big until after that. And I’m very honoured to be part of something that was so important to the music history. It’s a great honour for me. And I have done a lot of stuff on this. Certainly, Toto had a lot to do with that record (ed: four Toto members: Steve Lukather, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Porcaro and David Paich played on “Thriller) and we didn’t get as much press.


Was Michael Jackson an easy-going person to work with?

Yeah, he was great! He loved our music, he was a big Toto fan. He loved all of our stuff. He was a very nice guy. I never saw anything weird. He was in the music business since very young age. He was very cool. He did what he wanted. He was a real pro. The really bad thing is that he passed like that. I think it’s a real shame.


In 1986 you played in Japan with Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana. Did you have fun playing with those two legends?

Yes, I had fun until they recorded that film and they showed only the effect style of myself. I didn’t like that thing. The stuff is shit! And there are people for 30 years that beat that shit out of me on the Internet over and they are doing the wrong thing for me. I was very nervous, I was 29 years old, you know. And then I heard that they put that thing illegally, put that thing out. That’s not why they are getting money, but they give the shitty beat out of me by people saying my sound sucks, I was nervous and I played with too much nerve. I was in my ‘20s. You know what is being in a jam session, with no rehearsal and two of my heroes. That night I couldn’t fuckin’ hear me, it was so loud and I tried to jump over shit and get away with it and on the top of that, I have criticism ever since. It was a fun show but my effects sounded like washing shit. And I can’t change it and it will be the same until the day I die. I have no control over that. It was a jam session and I was only a kid, and now it’s forever and unfortunately ruined the memory of it for me.


Do you have happy memories from the recordings of Roger Waters’ “Amused to Death” album?

It is a funny thing, Toto was working on “Kingdom of Desire” album, we were in the same studio with Patrick Leonard (ed: producer of “Amused to Death”) and Roger Waters . I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan and David Gilmour is a friend, and we hung out many times and he’s one of my heroes.  And it’s weird because at that time they didn’t speak to each other.  I run into Pat and Roger and all I said was: “Look, I just want to play on that record. Can I play something?” Because I knew Jeff Beck played on much of that stuff and he was great! And I heard: “Yes, the thing is we need a couple of things”. And I just brought my guitar into the studio and I played on a couple of tracks. There was really a lot of fun and it’s a great honour for me because I ‘m a huge Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Pink Floyd fan.


Was Jeff Porcaro’s (drummer of Toto and great session player; he played even in Pink Floyd’s “Mother”) death a big shock for you? He was your best friend, bandmate and mentor.

Yeah man, I’m still hurt over that. It’s been 22 years. It breaks my heart every time I think about it. I have pictures of him in my office right now. It’s one of the most important people I ever met in my life. I loved him dearly, and when we will do the next album, he will be over my shoulder, watching me. It’s not that everybody liked him but we spent many moments together: laughed with him and loved. We shared the good and the bad times together. He was the big brother I never had. He was the voice of reason. He was the coolest guy in the world. He was always the coolest guy. Brilliant person. Tragic loss. And I don’t think I will ever get over but I live with it. I can live with him, in the memories, and that’s important to me.


Had you ever imagined that Toto would last for more than 35 years?

You know, it will be 40 years next year since high school. We started playing at high school. It was 1973-4 when we met and we play ever since: Me and the Porcaro brothers and all the guys in that band and ended up being Toto. It’s a very long period of time. I have been playing all my life with these people. And as I’m getting older now, I ‘m trying to enjoy it a little bit.


Are you frustrated with the negative comments that Toto have received by a part of the press all these years?

I think that comments are misguided and I think these people don’t understand. And we win and we are still here, 37 years later. We sold a lot of records, over 35 million albums, we still go and play arenas. The press doesn’t really mean anything anymore. There are a bunch of bullshit people.


I believe the same! I believe the same! I believe the same!

Here is the thing: Now, the only press that matters is your fan. If he checks your Facebook page, your fanpage. There are a million people on it. When your fans get up telling you: “Hey listen: What’s matter? Nobody cares”. But some people always hated us but if you think about it, it doesn’t matter. If I hate a food, I won’t eat that food. There is nothing you can do to change my mind. If you hate my music, nothing I do is gonna change that. You know, what I mean? I mean, fuck these people! Fine, listen to something else! I’ll tell you one thing right now: Anyone of those motherfuckers would suck a thousand dicks to have my job. I win, because I ‘m successful. What do you need? 25 dollars for a fucking review? Kiss my ass! I laugh at that shit. It’s ok for people not to like it. It’s not really ok for people to get so mean about it. If you collect the Toto discography (ed: the whole discography of each member of Toto), there are 8.000 records man, with every major star of the last 50 years!! It means that we really worth as a band. You know, they put The E Street Band (ed: Bruce Springsteen’s backing band), who I love, in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m sure that I won’t ever be in the Hall of Fame and we contributed more to popular music than any band in history. In sports if you are really great, you get in the Hall of Fame, because you are great, not because people like you or don’t like you. That’s why Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is bullshit, because of 12 angry journalists who decide who is in and who is out. It’s based on their feelings, it’s not based on any facts or statistics. Why is not Deep Purple in the Hall of Fame? What is the first song every fucking kid learns to play on guitar? “Smoke on the Water”. I don’t think they are so bad. It’s great band, fantastic musicians! Take the Chicago, they started the whole thing. They sold 100 million records. But Patti Smith is in! This fucking chick who sang one Bruce Springsteen song (ed: “Because The Night”)?! People can’t think what is all about. I don’t get it.


You are right and very few people dare to say the obvious things. The head of the nominating committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the manager of Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau!

Yeah. It’s like when you know you are running alone, you are going to win. These things don’t matter. I’m in the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville. That’s means a lot to me, because other musicians brought you in. These guys (ed: from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ) are talking about music like we are talking about brain surgery: I haven’t done, I don’t know how to do it, but I can talk about it (laughs). You know what they are? They are drunk with their own self-importance. They are so important that they decide and they are so powerful and high. They can suck my dick, I don’t care! All I ever wanted in my life was to be a working successful musician. I had my dream come true. I’ve been given more that I deserve and I’m very happy to be who I am. They can say whatever they want but it doesn’t change anybody’s life. There are a lot of people who don’t work and they are people who are working all time. They can’t decide for me. It’s my personal thing. They can like what they like and not like what they don’t like. I will still live with it. Fine . But you can’t say that we suck and we are a bunch of assholes. It’s a matter of opinion. You know, I don’t like bother others but you bring it up and I go: “Ok, let me defend myself for a minute”. But really in the big picture I will survive whether they want or not.


You have played with everyone. It’s impossible to play with those people if you are not a good musician.

We bother those people. They don’t have the knowledge to judge. Because they can’t say we are bad musicians but they hate our music. They just hate us and they don’t even understand why. It’s been 36 years since our first album and we are still here. Let’s see if Daft Punk or anybody else will still be in the business after so many years. No matter where you go, we were already there and sell well (laughs). We are what we are. Cool.


Is there anyone you’d like to play with and hasn’t happened yet?

Peter Gabriel. I’m a big-big Peter Gabriel fan. I have met with him and he’s a lovely guy. He has a great guitar player, David Rhodes and I think he is the right guy. He ‘s a great player. I would like to play with Steely Dan on a record. I’ve played onstage live but I have never done it on a record. People don’t really make a record anymore, because nobody buys them. They steal music and they don’t care. If a young kid buys an album today, it’s like the biggest new of the day. Sadly, music becomes background music for multi-tasking.


It’s because of the Internet, I think.

Yeah, they can still steal from the Internet and we don’t see a fucking penny from this stuff. Take Youtube, take the guy from Youtube who owns it and puts commercials on every clip and he makes a lot of money. We don’t get anything. Nothing. I don’t think that’s fair. You get 10 million hits and you make 50 cents. What does this mean? I can’t go to the supermarket and steal food. I’m a professional musician and I pay for my kids’ life, the doctor, the school, clothes, food. Why people think being musician is not a real job? Many people do it as a hobby, that’s how I started too. But I have dedicated my whole life to this and make a career. Why people just don’t get that? Consequently, we are gonna lose a lot because eventually no one would buy them and no one could make them. You may release a track here and there. It’s like making a half of painting. Just paint the corner. What do you think?  The meaning of an album is really a musical artistic statement. Some say that art doesn’t matter, that people don’t have affection anymore, I don’t believe that. I think people do. Just the press, doesn’t. And they make it so easy for any idiot to make a record and put it out. That’s why all this shit comes out, amateur stuff. When I was a kid there weren’t so many artists but you had to really fucking great to do it. Now, you don’t.


Who is the most talented musician you’ve seen in your life? Pick one!

Oh, that’s really hard, man. That’s really hard. I had the chance to work with so many of my heroes. I don’t know if I can pick one. I don’t think I can. I ‘ve played all kinds of music. I ‘ve worked with Miles Davis, I worked with Paul McCartney, I worked with Jeff Beck. Eddie Van Halen. I don’t know, nobody knows. Donald Fagen (Steely Dan). I had the great fortune to work with so many of my heroes. Everybody works differently and I learned a lot from all of them. I can’t pick one.


Have you regretted for turning down an offer to tour with Miles Davis? (played)

I did. I decided to stay with Toto, I couldn’t go. I had to say “no” and he got Robben Ford. But it was a great honour to be asked. But he played in our record (ed: in “Don’t Stop Me Know” from “Fahrenheit” album, 1986). But I can tell people I’ve written music for Miles Davis. That’s true. I have a picture of me, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter jamming in a jazz festival. People like Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder are genius. Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo. The Beatles! Anything Beatle-related. That’s why it cuts me very easily.


Stanley Clarke (bassist- solo, Return to Forever) told me that today’s radio is horrible and nobody really wants to be played on the radio. Do you agree with this?

I think everybody would like to be played on the radio but who would listen to it? It’s like watching terrestrial TV. Everybody watches cable. For me, basically now, you find your own thing and play it for your audience, you cultivate your audience. With Ringo we have an audience and we play better than ever. Everybody is focused, healthy and clear-headed. We have a live DVD coming out with Toto, and you will be able to see that and see how the band is standing. Even though we changed, there is a personnel change here and there but the core of the band is the same, besides Nathan East (ed: Eric Clapton bassist) who stand in for Mike Porcaro who suffers the terrible disease, ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and is fucked up. He is stuck in the bed and he can’t move. Never is gonna get better and it breaks my heart. Another brother down, so we are helping him and his family by touring. You know, he has a family and he is a brother. This is a motivation for us to do it because the band was done in 2007. We put the band back together in 2010, just to help Mike and to have some good time if we can and people love it. Right now, that’s where we are.


You are one the busiest musicians in the world. What keeps you always active?

You know, I’m active, people keep calling me! It’s funny because there a lot better guitar players than me, if you look it like that. But what’s make the difference, I guess, is my authority to do A things, whatever that mean, and have them done. Whoever calls me to work, I give the best I can give. Outside of my own thing and I love the challenge to do whatever comes to me and be able to be versatile and I don’t need a lot of rehearsal. I just jump and be professional. I’m very lucky, I don’t know why, but I’m very happy that people keep calling me. If I’m playing with Ringo, I have to be eight different guitar players. There are different styles for me to play, from rockabilly to The Beatles stuff, to Santana’s, to my stuff, whatever needs to be done. Different styles require different things, different approach, different playing. To be honest to the people that I’m playing their music. That’s why I’m a busy guitar player, because I can do that. All these years of practicing and playing different kinds of music have been paid off. There are some chops and things that you could put and play in a R’n’B part, but you will be lost! There won’t be anything you could play. I feel very comfortable with that situation. I have 40 years of recording experience, since I was a teenager. I never stopped, I work ever since. I don’t have any previous job, that’s my work. I’m very motivated, I’ve very work-oriented person because I love to work that’s why I don’t say “no” a lot. I’m very fortunate to have the next three years of my life completely booked up right now, today, and nobody can be happier than me.


 What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?

Right now, I ‘m writing so I’ve been going back to –believe it or not- ‘70s prog rock: Yes, Genesis, stuff like that. Just to give my ears something else because to be completely honest I’m really bored with anything I hear on the radio, anything that’s called popular music. It’s so predictable, the productions the same. It’s all so computerized that I can hardly listen to that. I like electronic music but for me it’s like hearing the same guitar sound, the same drum sound, the same production sound on every popular record you hear. Am I wrong?


No. That’s why I’m not doing album reviews.

I just try to be me. Following my own muse. But I have also taken with me everything that I loved as a kid that inspired me to be a musician. I’m digging it now. I’m listening to The Beatles, to prog rock, to people I may forgot about, just to inspire me different ideas. Even it is the song structure, we are realizing that there are no rules. I’m basically a rocker, so I still want to hear what we do. You don’t need to play Hendrix-like stuff, you don’t need to prove that you are the best guitarist in the West. I’m not a heavy metal musician first rate, I love the hard-edged, raw beat, but I have also some other kinds of influences flow through my brain.


Do you remember the show you played in Athens, Greece in 2005?

Yeah, I want to come back and do that. It’s a different band now, we have a better singer, we have different people doing backing vocals. The band is playing great. I would like to have another shot and come back. Hopefully, we can make that happen in 2015. I had a great time in Greece, I loved being there.


Did you like the last Jeff Beck album, “Emotion & Commotion”?

I heard some of this. Yes, Jeff is brilliant.


Because “Smile” is as good as Jeff Beck’s cover to “A Day In the Life” (The Beatles).

I love that version. It’s fantastic. Do you think that?! Oh, no, no!! I wish it was like that. As far as a single note playing, I don’t think there is any better than Jeff Beck.


Yes, but the first time I listened to “Smile”, I thought it was a Jeff Beck song.

Of course, there is that influence.


Do you like modern bands like The Black Keys? Because they are famous and successful.

What I think of it? I don’t know enough about it. Talk me about this in 35 years, man. These guys come and go like fucking T-shirts. I can tell you one thing: I have read that this guy (ed: Dan Auerbach) says really nasty things about other musicians. And if you say nasty things about other musicians, you should be a really fuckin’ shit-hearted musician. Those guys are average at best, as far as players. This guy, the singer, it bothers me that they advertise guys like that who trash other musicians. We shouldn’t do that to each other. Musicians shouldn’t do that. Point the finger on other guys and say: “That guy sucks”. There is no point, man. There is no point.


They may think that they are on the top of the world.

You know what, man? Just the test of time can show what people are. They may do that? You don’t have to be an asshole to be successful (laughs). It’s really dull. It’s not a pretty record (ed: He refers to the latest The Black Keys album, “El Camino” ). It’s posey. The critics love this shit because they are posers. These people don’t do anything else than posing and people tell them how great they are and they believe it. You should never believe when somebody says that you are great. You should have a good heart. You should have responsibility. You should say: “I don’t know about that, man. I’m still working on this”. That’s why I still practice every fucking day in my life. Why? Because I love it and because I want to be better at. I still care about music. I’m not in competition. I’m only in competition with myself. I want to learn. That keeps your brain flowing, keeps the blood flowing. You get ideas, you use your brain and when you walk around, you use your body. That’s the rule, man. The Black Keys are more successful than me. Sing me a Black Keys song. You can’t sing any song. Can you sing any Black Keys song?



But if I ask you if you know any of ours, I’m sure you know one song. But around the world..


Everybody knows “Hold the Line” or “Africa”.

Everybody around this fucking world knows “Africa”. We have 20 fucking hits to people know. That doesn’t mean that we are better. That means that we have a staying power. What happens to young bands is that when kids get older, their fanbase gets away, because the next generation has their version and the older people don’t buy their CDs, they don’t go to the shows, they don’t care about the band anymore. And all of a sudden, when you are older you think that you were really cool when you were young.  You can’t be an old punk. You can’t be 50 years old and call yourself a “punk”. That’s why punk musicians don’t age well.  You can’t talk about teenage this, teenage that when you are fucking 70. It’s laughable. In the modern world, I work every day and I get paid well, so I don’t care, I’m happy. I’m fine. God bless the Black Keys. It’s the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world! What else can I say (laughs)? Have a nice day, man. Merry Christmas to you and have a happy New Year. And I hope to see you in Greece in 2015. I’m very happy about life.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Steve Lukather for his time and the great answers. Also, I would like to thank Ben from Mascot Records for his valuable help.

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