Over the course of five decades, Steve Lukather has placed an indelible stamp on pop culture. Alongside his tenure as the only member of Toto to never take a hiatus from the band, he has performed on thousands of albums as a session musician. Amongst these musical contributions are some of the most successful, influential and enduring records of all time, including Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.' Additionally, he released a memoir titled 'The Gospel According To Luke,' which was a global best-seller. He is Toto's bandleader, a member of Ringo Star's All-Starr Band, and a solo artist performing with multiple ensembles, including Nerve Bundle and Toxic Monkey. Back with a brand new album entitled 'I Found The Sun Again,' Luke chats with Guitar interactive's Jonathan Graham about the new album, noisy neighbours, his relationship with Music Man guitars, the passing of Eddie Van Halen and more
Jonathan Graham: Great to see you, Luke. How are you?
Steve Lukather: I'm hanging in there, man. A year off has been tough with all the crazy stuff going on, but I've got a new record out, so that's exciting.
JG: It really is, and 'I've Found The Sun Again' is really fantastic. It made me feel like I'd found a bit of much-needed sunshine myself, inspiration wise. Especially since we're all stuck in the house these days. Did the pandemic have an impact on the making of the record?
SL: We actually did it way before lockdown—before we knew how bad this thing was gonna be. So I was able to be in the room with the guys, and we did the whole thing live. We cut a song a day. All the live solos everything. Overdubbed the vocals at night, and then it was done and ready to mix, then on to the next song. It was really fun to do it that way, unrehearsed. I just hired the right guys that brought it and made me look good. So it was really the most fun I've ever had, as I had to really do it. You can try to programme this stuff, but it's just not the same.
JG: Considering how important the live element is to this record, could you have done this under the remote type conditions like some other bands have been forced to?
SL: Well, it's all about looking at each other and interplay, so online, I don't know. I'd have needed to do it with a mask on probably, which would have been weird. When your half covered up, it's hard to get that. You solo! Hey!! Now you solo! You get what I mean?
JG: Ha! You'd need to get some signs to hold up. You've had a really busy last five years since 'Transition' was released, with the huge Toto world tour and working with Ringo etc.
SL: I've been real busy, but then it ran into a brick wall at a thousand miles an hour, so it's been kinda strange. As it turns out, I hate retirement.
JG: Is that what it feels like?
SL: Well yeah, I can only do so much. I can't really play with anybody. I mean, you've gotta practise every day, but after about 15-20 mins, I'm like errgh. So I just go out in the garden and hang out with my girlfriend and my dog, and just be a regular guy.
JG: We saw you take your amp out to the garden too last year in that amazing Instagram video. What was the story behind that?
SL: Ha! My girlfriend dared me to do it. Next door to me, this guy had seven leafblowers going at like seven in the morning, and it felt like they were right next to my head. In the Hollywood Hills, these houses are real nice, but they're a little closer together, and man, this guy just did me in. He did me in a couple of years back too, by calling the cops on my autistic son who was up on the roof—the guy's cold-hearted. I was like, dude, he didn't know any better; he's just wired a little different. He's very brilliant, actually. So me and this guy had a bit of feud that got a little out of control, so I just buried the guy, and things chilled out.
JG: Well, by the sounds of that video, you did nothing but treat that guy to some great tones. You should be billing him for a solo performance.
SL: Yeah, he heard me alright!
JG: Speaking of great tones. What was your go-to gear on 'I've Found The Sun Again?'
SL: Just my Music Man Luke III with the new Music Man pickups in it that they built for me. Plus a Bogner Helios amp and a couple of stompboxes, and that was it. Basically, my live rig. I used a Yamaha acoustic for a quick overdub, but I kept it simple. One guitar, one amp, the whole deal.
JG: And we know you have plenty of options guitar-wise. Why was the Luke III the one for this record?
SL: It just gave me all I needed. Sometimes you can go over the top with each song having different sounds or being so overproduced that it doesn't even sound like it's from the same album, and that's what Toto was kinda famous for.
JG: So when it's your solo material, is it vital for you to approach the albums differently compared with a Toto record?
SL: Toto is a very arranged and thought out thing, you know what I mean? It's a bigger production with wilder sounds and stuff, and with this, I just wanted to take in the spirit like it was 1972, and we were jamming in the studio like Traffic or Hendrix or something like that. Get those spontaneous moments like "hey, did you keep that? That was great" type of vibe. It's raw. It's real. What else have I got to bring to the party in 2021? I'm not in the guitar wars; I'm a little old for that. So, I just did something I wanted to do for myself, the way I wanted to do it and hoped that it would click with everybody else.
JG: You mentioned the Music Man Luke giving you all you need for this record, and beyond, of course. What turned you on to Music Man guitars in the first place?
SL: Well, my relationship with Eddie Van Halen, who was then working with my new friend Sterling Ball at Music Man, and they were building the first Eddie guitar. I was getting out of my deal with Valley Arts because I wanted to do something new, and it turned out one of the head luthiers from Valley Arts was heading to Music Man. He had built the very guitar that I loved, and they put it on a computer and reconfigured it to my specs, and that was it. I've been using their guitars for over 25 years now, and I really play them. These guitars give me everything I want.
JG: There's always your Les Paul 'Burst,' though. What do you think makes those Gibson's from that era so special?
SL: You know, I really don't know; they just have a different vibe altogether. I think it's just the way they built them back then, but man, they are worth a lot, especially if they're like mine and have a lot of history. I just got mine appraised and was like, "Wow, oh really?" It is just nice to have it. It's so special that I can't really take it anywhere because it's a nightmare with insurance and all that crap.
JG: What inspired you to pick one of those up back in the 70s?
SL: I was playing a 58 Goldtop, and one of our drum techs said, "you gotta get a 'burst' man. There's one for sale in Tucson." So we made our way down there, and I got it. It was $4000 at the time, which was a lot of money in 1979, but I just said to myself I've gotta have it, and it's been a really good investment as it turns out. I've used it on a lot of big records.
JG: You mentioned Eddie Van Halen earlier; I know you were great friends. Losing him last year must have had a tremendous impact on you?
SL: Unfortunately, I've lost too many friends in the last few years, you know? Best friends. This one hurt real bad. We've been friends for over forty years. Real friends, not just guitar acquaintances or something, although we did have some fun playing together over the years—but mostly, we just connected on a friendship level. We lived close to one another and would just swing by when the kids were little. Hanging in the studio, you know? I sang a couple of background vocals on a few of the Sammy era tracks, and Ed worked with me on a couple of my things, but it was all just for fun. It was a great relationship. I was there when they opened Cabo Wabo and played with him in some small places with not too many people. I'm proud of that, but mainly proud that he was my friend. All of them still are. I'm still in touch with Alex a lot. Especially during these times.
JG: Have you had a chance to hear Wolfgang's music?
SL: I'm So Happy for Wolf's success. I never knew he sang like that; it's absolutely brilliant! I know Ed had heard it before he passed, and he was really proud of his kid. He's looking down from heaven with a smile.
JG: From very early on in your career, you had developed incredible technique. When did you feel that it was really starting to come together for you as a player?
SL: In high school, when I was studying. I was really focused on Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin and those wonderful Prog guys. Their playing just touched me, and I just wanted to copy it. I was listening to their music all the time, so you can't help but take it in. It just rubs off on you. I'm a product of everything I ever loved and copied, you know.
JG: What was the first session you ever worked on?
SL: It was a guy named Terence Boylan, who was the famous producer John Boylan's brother. I was like 18, maybe 19 at the time, and I got invited to work on it.
JG: Did you find it easy to break into that world of studio work?
SL: I wanted to be in that world so bad. And I was made aware of it through Jeff Porcaro and David Paich. I'd meet the studio guys and befriend them, and they started throwing me work, and I got really lucky. I was real fortunate to get through the door, and I parlayed that into a real career. I had a lot of help from friends, but I had to really bring it too.
JG: Last time I got to see you live was during the Toto 40th anniversary show at the London Albert Hall a couple of years back. What a show, and what a tour for the fans worldwide, but I understand not everything was ideal behind the scenes?
SL: It was great, but then it went south. The shows were going well, but before we knew it, we were in the middle of a lawsuit and people weren't getting along. Some guys didn't want to be on the road; some didn't want to talk to certain people. It just got to be really brutal. All the pressure was on me, and it just blew up. I had to get away from it and start over. You know, redesign it. It's been redesigned fifteen times to various different degrees, but always the greatest players.
JG: When will we be able to hear some tracks from 'I Found The Sun Again' in a live setting, Luke?
SL: When? When? When is the big question? I want to be able to do it for real, so I really don't know. I don't want to just have a small show that's socially distanced and it feels like a soundcheck or something. Plus, we have a big machine that puts these show together, so it wouldn't be viable to do that. Plus, if I head over to Europe, I want to play everywhere, and you can't do that right now with the rules and regulations. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, we can do this live.
Steve Lukather's solo album titled 'I Found The Sun Again' was co-produced by Ken Freeman, who also both engineered and mixed the new collection of repertoire. The players feature many dignitaries that have been in Luke's life for decades. Amongst those are drummer Greg Bissonette, keyboardist Jeff Babko, and bassists Jorgen Carlsson and John Pierce. Life-long friend and Toto band-mate David Paich performs piano and organ across the album, while Joseph Williams sang on multiple tracks alongside writing string and horn arrangements and tracking keys on the aforementioned "Run To Me." Both Paich and Williams co-wrote that specific composition, while friend and bandleader of the All-Starrs, Ringo Starr makes a special appearance on the recording and in the video. Other co-writers include Stan Lynch, Jeff Babko, and Joseph Williams.
Luke shares, "Never had so much fun recording in my life. Painless, fun and easy - and it just flowed." The repertoire features five new original compositions and three covers personally selected by Luke. Those are Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys," Joe Walsh's "Welcome To The Club," and Robin Trower's "Bridge of Sighs." Lukather offers in the liner notes, "ALL these tracks were cut LIVE - no clix - no fix - No rehearsal - one run thru - and record and the whole record was take 2. I did double a few guitar parts and 'produced up' a few tunes that are obvious but in the same time frame. I recorded the lead vocal right after we got the take same day. One song a day. Joe took it home and did some BG vocals, but that's it. I wanted to make as honest a record as I could in 2020 with 1970's inspiration, and recording values, and techniques with a modern sound. Ken did that!" A portion of the proceeds from this album will be directed to The Ed Asner Family Center for Autism. For more information please visit https://www.edasnerfamilycenter.org/ .
Steve Lukather's 'I Found The Sun Again' is out now via Mascot Label Group.
Steve Lukather – 'I Found The Sun Again' Tracklist:
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