Steve Lukather Interview

He’s the guitarist for one of the most popular groups to come out of the late 1970s. Their hits included “Rosanna”, “Hold The Line” and “Africa”. They’ve sold something like 30 million records worldwide. By now you’re probably saying “Oh, yeah, that group.” 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 “Falling In Between Live”, which documents Toto’s 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 - I’m speaking of the American public. Let’s face it, overseas you can keep a career going a lot longer.
A - We have. That’s the difference between the U.S. and everywhere else in the world. We still play arenas everywhere else in the world. And we’re not as roasted by the mainstream Rock press. But you know, we don’t 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 ‘em do shit overseas. It’s a different market. We’re an international band. We’re 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. What’s 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, didn’t you?
A - We grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, where being a really good musician was not considered a deficit. It was substance before image.

Q - And today…
A - It’s all drop D tuning and an eyeliner. That’s really unfair, there’s really some good young bands too, but there’s a lot of cookie-cutter records in the Pop world. People can’t sing. People can’t play. Yet they still sell millions of records ‘cause they’ve got the right look. So, I can’t relate to it. That’s like two generations behind me at this point. I don’t listen to it. It doesn’t really affect me at all. It’s not my audience. That’s cool. God bless ‘em. But, they won’t have a long career. It’ll be over real fast for ‘em. Then, what do they do with the rest of their lives?

Q - The line is moving fast!
A - There’s 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 they’re sick of you, there’s somebody standing right behind you. It’s all about cash. It’s not about careers anymore. There’s 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. They’re dying a horrible death. Well, greed eventually catches up with you. They could’ve fixed all of this a long time ago, but they were too greedy. They didn’t pay attention to what was coming. The old school mentality. Old men running companies. The young people came over and just squashed ‘em. The internet is where it’s at, man. If they would’ve jumped on earlier on, we wouldn’t have one tenth of the problems with piracy. But now, Pandora is out of the box. You can’t 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 days…
A - Now I’m an Indy guy. We’re 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 didn’t 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 it’s the “Roseanna” / “Africa” band. They don’t 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) I’m 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 one…and 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. That’s not how it works, man. A lot of times if they really want you, they’ll work around your schedule. Rolling Stone doesn’t know shit about music. It’s something to line your cat box with. We’re the only band that turned down the cover of Rolling Stone in 1983, ‘cause we knew it was gonna be a hatchet job. Jann Wenner lost his mind. His ego went out the window and he swore he’d never print our name in his magazine again. That’s the most punk rock move in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll. But no one knows about it. No one will write about it. It’s like they don’t write anything about us. The fact that we’re on Record Album Of The Year, three years in a row, played on hundreds of Grammy Award winning records…nobody writes about that. Nobody mentions it. It’s like we’re not even an American commodity. We get respect everywhere else in the world. It’s come around a little bit. I mean we came around just when Punk Rock hit. So, of course they’re gonna jump on the Punk wagon. Punk Rock is not a musical statement. It’s a political / social statement. Us musicians got lost in that. I’m not saying that Punk Rock is bad. It’s just not where we were coming from.

Q - Punk Rock was probably more popular in England than the U.S., wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 can’t be 50 years old and play Punk Rock. It doesn’t wear well, where I can play my music the rest of my life. But, you can’t be a punk if you’re over 25 years old or if you sell a million records. You’re 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. It’s like reality TV. People don’t always act like an idiot, but if it’s edited together a certain way, you look like a complete ass hole. And that’s what they were consistently doing to us in the mainstream press anyway. So, we just said no, we’re not going to do that.

Q - Why would critics hate Toto? What’s to hate?
A - Well, I always thought the name poured gasoline on the fire. I hated the name. I still do. But, it’s kind of moot, because it’s the last of Toto anyway. I mean this DVD, and then the last 5 weeks of this tour, after 30 years, I’m walking. I’m done.

Q -What are you going to do with yourself?
A - I just got a solo album coming out in 3 weeks. I’m gonna be on the road for the next year and a half.

Q - No matter where you go, you’ll most likely be billed as Steve Lukather: formerly of Toto. You’re not going to escape that, are you?
A - Probably not, but I’m not gonna go out and play “Rosanna”, “Hold The Line” and “Africa” 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 don’t know. We’ll have to see where it goes. I’m like a new artist here. But I’m getting rave reviews so far, so I’m really happy about that. I’m not saying I’m never gonna play with the guys again…they’re my friends. But the band we started and the band that is now, is completely different. I’m the only guy that’s been there from the first rehearsal that’s 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 “Hold The Line”. I’m 50 years old. Do the math. How many times do you think I’ve played that song? And it’s been very good to me. I’m not moaning by a long shot, but I’m happy to leave this DVD as a nice…we’ve been on the road for 2½ years. We’re all tired. Everybody wants to do some other stuff. Can you imagine being away from home for the better part of 2½ years?

Q - It would be tough.
A - Yeah. It’s hard. We have to do hard travel. We don’t take just a 3 hour flight. We take a 20 hour flight.

Q - Yeah, because you’re going to Australia.
A - We’re going to New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, China, The Philippines, Korea and then I’m gonna take 2 weeks off and start rehearsing a band. And then I’m on the road for another year and a half. That’s what I do. That’s what I love to do. The other guys in the band are older than me, and they’re not necessarily into working as hard as I do, but they don’t 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 name…I’m the only guy in the band. But, I’m not going to go out as “Mr. Toto”. That wouldn’t be right. I may play a couple of songs that I wrote, sang and played . But, I’m not going to go out and be something I’m not. I mean, what’s the point of stopping the band, if I’m 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 - I’ve written a lot of the other hits, the new ones that were really big hits overseas. But, I didn’t write “Africa” or “Hold The Line”. 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 year…even in America.

Q - You even had a guitar named after you?
A - Yeah. I still do. It sells really, really well every year. I’ve sold thousands and thousands of these things. They’re 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 you…
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 Lynn’s house. A magical night. I also got a chance to work with Paul McCartney too on a few different occasions. That’s the reason why I started playing, to be able to come full-circle, to work with the legends and geniuses those guys are. They’re such lovely people. Really lovely.

Q - Ever meet John?
A - Never got to meet John. Met Ringo once, very briefly. Big fan. That’s the reason I play. And that music still holds up to me. If you don’t dig The Beatles, I just can’t talk to you. If you don’t get that, I’m sorry.

Q - They were the greatest.
A - I don’t think anybody’s ever gonna do that again. I keep waiting. Who’s 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 wasn’t a thousand bands that sounded the same. Everybody sounded radically different. You always knew who everybody else was and if you didn’t, it was somebody new and you’d get into them. Now, there’s like 10,000 records released every week. How many slots are there? We live in a myspace / youtube world. And that’s how people are getting hits. A lot of stuff is one piece of music. It’s one novelty bit. Record companies used to sign you for 4 records, figuring by the fourth record, you’d be successful. They’d invest their time, money and effort to make you grow as an artist. Now, if your first record isn’t at least platinum, you get dumped. Then you’re poison. Nobody will sign you. And what do you do? Terrifying. I wouldn’t want to be a young guy now. I’m happy to be the old man of the sea at this point. The music today is all for one and all for one. (laughs) I’ve seen the thing go through all the changes. I’m a child of the ‘60s. Seven years old when I started playing. “Meet The Beatles”…saw ‘em 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 I’m still groovin’. I still love the gig, man. I’m not trying to choose the proverbial hit single or trying to convince people to like me if you don’t. That’s stuff you do when you’re a kid. I’m so cool with this, it’s unbelievable. I’m like, if you don’t dig my stuff, that’s cool. But, the thing that bothers me is people who write you off without listening to the music.

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