Episode 200: Steve Lukather Rock Solid celebrates it's 200th episode as Pat interviews legendary Toto guitarist Steve Lukather. From May 14, 2015
With your hosts:
Matt Belknap (as Producer)
Pat welcomes us to the show. Returning to the producer's chair for this episode is OG Rock Solid producer Matt Belknap. Garon Cockrell from Never Not Funny is also here, mulling about in the background. But they are not the focus of today's show. No, today's show is about our special guest. He's the founding member/lead guitarist/co-vocalist/songwriter of the band Toto. It's Steve Lukather!
Pat did some research: Steve has played on around 1500 tracks. He goes through some of the big ones: "Talk to Ya Later" by The Tubes, which was written and cut in the studio in an hour. "Turn Your Love Around" by George Benson, which got Steve a Grammy. Steve is also all over Thriller. Almost all of the Toto guys are on Thriller. "Human Nature" is basically a Toto song that was given to Michael Jackson.
Some more Lukather-infused songs you've probably heard of: "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley, "Voices" by Cheap Trick. The first question Steve asks when he gets the call from Cheap Trick: Why do you need me? Pat wonders about the pay for session work. Steve gets paid for the day and doesn't get a piece of the album. Trust him, if Steve got a piece of Thriller, we wouldn't be talking to him. He'd be too busy living on his own island. Steve loves what he does, but it's still work. As long as he's getting paid (four kids, two ex-wives, you do the math), he's happy. He also worked with Eric Clapton. When Steve was at an event with Clapton, Peter Frampton, and Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page singled Steve out for a conversation. They talked about how no one respects session musicians. And Jimmy knows, because he was a session guy before he made it big with Zeppelin.
Let's play one of Steve's guitar solos, from a song that you wouldn't think would have a guitar solo. It's "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John, off the album Physical. "Listen to that youth," says Steve. Steve got the call to do that solo from producer John Farrar, who became a good friend. When did Steve get interested in music? Steve was 7 when The Beatles came out on Ed Sullivan. From that point, Steve wanted to be George Harrison. And now Steve's been touring with Ringo Starr for the past few years. He said yes to that phone call before it even rang. Steve never bailed on Toto for anyone else (including Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell) except for Ringo.
Steve has had quite the eclectic life. He also likes eclectic music, but he doesn't like machines making music. He and Jeff Porcaro saw the first drum machine getting plugged in. Jeff looked at it and said "We have to destroy this thing." Steve just doesn't like replacing real human beings with computers. "It's the difference between having sex with a real woman and a blow up doll." But recently Steve met with EDM guys Skrillex and What So Not. He was humbled by how really nice they were and how they turned the computer into a musical instrument. They looked at Toto as the aliens from some far away planet. Pat brings up David Wild, whom Steve is also good friends with. David told Pat that Ringo told David that Steve tells the dirtiest jokes. It's not that, says Steve. He's just a filthy human being in general. Steve speaks his mind, whether it's clean or not. And the bright side is that Steve is an older gentleman, so he can get away with it!
At one point, Asia wanted Steve to be in the band because he played on one of their songs. Pat plays the song, "Days Like These" from the compilation album Then & Now. Toto is touring this summer with Yes, one of their all-time favorite bands. Steve has met, known, and worked with them for many years. Chris Squire in Yes is like Steve in Toto: they’re surgically attached at the hip. Toto just can’t stop. They all still love each other and the music. Steve’s son is in music too. “He wasn’t gonna be a doctor,” says Steve. Once Steve took him on tour as a kid, he got the bug.
Once you're in, you're in. Steve knew he was gonna be a musician forever at 9. His dad told him he a billion-in-one chance, but Steve worked at it. Back then there was a lot more music in public schools. He also grew up with other musicians. His nickname is Luke because there is another Steve in the band, Steve Porcaro, and he apparently won the coin toss. "Where does the name Toto come from," asks Pat. "Ah, Jesus," groans Steve. He's answered this question a billion times. They were watching The Wizard of Oz on acid. Steve was hesitant with the name at first, but he's grown into it. They've been making music in five different decades, so they must be doing something right. Pat plays the hit song from Toto's self-titled debut album. It's "Hold the Line". On the album sleeve, Toto is wearing dress shirts, which pissed Steve off. It still pisses him off, actually.
Steve was 19 when Toto began, and him and Steve Porcaro were the juniors. Luke, Jeff, and David Paich were coming off of Boz Scaggs' Silk Degrees. Steve P. was coming from Gary Wright's band. He was brought in do the crazy keyboard stuff. It was a lot of eclectic stuff forming together. They even got to produce their first album. Paich was pretty much the producer of Silk Degrees. And Jeff worked a lot with Steely Dan. Steve almost got to be in Steely Dan, but the tour fell apart and Toto came to be. "Hold the Line" went to number five. It was their first hit. Steve was in his house in L.A., the song came on the radio, and he cranked it up loud. The whole thing just blew up. Here's the problem: The Sex Pistols came around at the same time, so Toto became the whipping boy for all that was considered bad about rock music.
Steve thinks it's ridiculous because they are two completely different things. Toto was never about the image, it was always about the music. Most of the guys in the band have musical heritage. Joseph Williams, the current singer, is the son of John Williams. Yes, that John Williams. Pat guesses that the people who pigeonhole Toto have only heard a few songs. But Toto is all over the place. They like to play deep cuts at their shows. They're not sure how "Africa" is gonna over with the Yes crowd, but we'll see. Pat asks a quick question about the guy on the Hydra album cover: Who is it? It's Steve Porcaro, not Steve Lukather. It's confusing because of the hair.
Pat turns to Toto's third album Turn Back. Pat thinks it should be up there with Foreigner 4 and Journey's Escape. He plays a track called "Gift with the Golden Gun". Pat plays the song so much his ten-year-old daughter knows the lyrics. What does the title mean? Not even Steve is sure. "We were blazin' pretty hard during the making of it," he admits. Pat plays another song off the album called "Live for Today". Steve did not expect Pat to love this music. Not only does Pat love it, he wishes there were more songs on the album. It's a matter of fidelity, says Steve. There's only so many songs you can put on a vinyl album. Something else Pat notes: Bobby Kimball was considered "the lead singer" of Toto, but pretty much everyone sang. How do they decide who sings which songs? It depends on who wrote it and how well their voice matches the key.
Every other band in that day had a strict lead vocalist, but not Toto. Every singer in the band was great in their own right. Pat thinks Joseph Williams sounds better on the new album Toto XIV than he ever has. Well, this is as good a time as any to talk about the new album. Pat LOVES it. He thinks it's the best Toto album of all time. Some people complained that it sounds too squashed and compressed, but Pat does not agree. Besides, if you are listening to it on a computer, OF COURSE it's gonna sound compressed. Shut up and buy the CD. Steve says you gotta take the good reviews with the bad ones. He knows Toto is not the greatest band of all time, but he also knows that they are certainly not the worst. Toto is resting comfortably in the middle.
Pat plays "Running Out of Time" off the new album. Pat mentions that Steve Porcaro said that the album sounds like a descendent of Toto IV, but Steve denies that. "Don't take everything we say so seriously," he says. Journalists take everything out of context. For example, there is no bad blood between him and Bobby Kimball, as some people would say. Billy's "karaoke guitarist," on the other hand, is, according to Steve, a psycho. Steve is just tired of the lies being spread. Everyone goes for the soundbites and it never ends.
When Toto gets a new lead singer, Pat just goes with it. It helps when you have multiple vocalists. This next song, for example, has a bunch of people singing. It's "Rosanna" from the Grammy Award-winning album Toto IV. Steve sings the first verse, Bobby sings the second, and the whole band chimes in on the harmonies. Pat compliments the guitar solo, but Steve is very humble. Pat wonders which new artist can sustain a career for as long as Toto has?
Probably those hip new cats U2 who put a free album in everyone's iTunes library. Steve says that is just the beginning. Just wait until they download your Google history, THEN you'll be shitting bricks. Steve's history alone could kill a nun. That's why Steve doesn't put anything out there. He likes to keep things close to the vest, unless of course it's a dirty joke. Pat notes that Toto also has a lot of songs with women's names as the title: Rosanna, Pamela, Angela, Carmen, Lea, Melanie. Every name except Pilar.
Toto IV won SO many Grammys. The sword was on the cover; the band considers it their good luck charm. None of the band members were actually allowed to vote, even though they were on fifty of the nominated records that year. They didn't think they would actually win, so their victories hit them like a sack of potatoes. Then the backlash came because people thought the fix was in. "Give me a break," says Steve. Nowadays everybody and their mother gets a vote. Toto actually turned down being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. They were the only band to do so. Rolling Stone did not like Toto IV, why would they agree to be on the cover? They also didn't the first album, or the second album. And Rolling stone still holds a grudge.
"Fuck off, you cunt."
- Steve, with the line of the episode
The Hall of Fame won't even think of putting guys like Foreigner and Journey in, but they're gonna have to eventually. Steve is in the know that there is a list of people who will never get in no matter what. Success and longevity is the best revenge, says Pat. Steve agrees. After Toto IV, Bobby left the band. It was a very strange time. Success brought Toto very big upsides and very big downsides. Sure there were drugs, but everybody made sure to do them after the show. During the gig, you had to have your faculties.
Were there more ladies in the audience after Toto IV, asks Pat. Steve says yes, and they've managed to keep women in the audience. It's nice to still see pretty girls come to your show. The jazz fusion shows are a different story. Pat mulls over Steve's words and plays a song off of Toto's fifth album Isolation. It's called "Stranger in Town". Does Steve have a favorite album? Steve says it's like looking over an old photo album of your life. Some photos are nicer than others. They were trying to follow trends, making music videos that nobody saw. There were a lot of false promises and bags of assorted goods, with the musicians having to pay for videos that didn't go anywhere.
The next Toto song Pat plays is "I'll Be Over You" from the album Fahrenheit. It's a great song, but it was yet another ballad that got pushed as the big single. It's not a fair representation of the band. Does Steve like to sing? "It's hard," he answers. Steve has a nice voice, but he looks a little rough around the edges, according to Pat. Steve's mentality: If you take enough punches and get shit on for forty years, you develop a shell. Steve thinks he would do just fine in prison. He'd jab out a few eyes like *snaps* that. He's kidding of course. Steve is a big softy.
Pat plays another song from Toto XIV called "Burn". It's a rocker that sneaks up on you. Pat says Toto has always had great drummers. Jeff was an amazing drummer and their fearless leader. It was sad to see him go. Steve took over vocal duties for a few albums beginning with Kingdom of Desire because they didn't want to bring in ANOTHER new lead singer.
Steve mentions the many different shows that reference and pseudo-make fun of Toto: Family Guy, American Dad, South Park, Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake. Steve loves all of that stuff because it means Toto is part of pop culture. He and Toto are just regular dudes who happen to be musicians. The road is hard though, especially on the personal life. It's tough to see your kids grow up on Skype. Pat decides to play a very deep cut, an instrumental, from the album Kingdom of Desire called "Jake to the Bone". It sounds nothing like Toto's hits. They did the album at George Lucas' ranch. Toto has a lot of strange connections, including David Lynch. Toto did the soundtrack for Lynch's adaptation of Dune. Steve loves David and they are still good friends. They thought the movie would be a big hit, but it didn't turn out that way.
In 1991, Toto and Sting were headlining a festival in Germany. Steve came offstage, put his arm around Sting, and said one word: "Dune." Sting just shook his head. Toto may have done poorly with the soundtrack, but Sting had to wear that diaper. Steve name drops some more people in the span of a few seconds: Kyle McLachlan, Miguel Ferrer, George Clooney, Bill Mumy. He knows everybody! But it was Boz Scaggs who started it all for him. A massive tour, a massive album. He was 19 and playing to crowds all over the world. Steve owes Boz a lot because he helped spawn Toto. Pat plays another instrumental, this time from the album Tambu. It's called "Dave's Gone Skiing". The reason the song is called that is because they were waiting for David Paich to show up to write songs for the album, but he wasn't there. He had gone skiing.
Toto broke up in 2008 because a lot of the original members had left (Mike Porcaro got sick, David Paich stopped touring) and Steve needed to get his head straight. Then in 2010 they reformed for what was supposed to be a quick shot to help Mike with his ALS. They decided to just get back together permanently. The band worked around each other's schedules: Steve was with Ringo, Steve Porcaro was doing the music for the TV show Justified. Toto put out a 35th Anniversary live DVD, then found out that an ex-manager's contract made them bound to record a new album. They decided that if they had to make a new album, they were gonna do it right. Pat plays another song from Toto XIV called "Holy War".
Here's something else: There's a Japanese toilet company called Toto. It was bad enough with the dog, now the band shares a name with toilets. They just can't catch a break. But there are always worse names. Steve makes note to name drop one last time: He's worked with Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond. This man is everywhere! Pat nudges Steve for some free tickets to a Toto show, but no dice. Maybe if Steve sneaks Pat in in his guitar case, who knows.
Steve Lukather, what an absolute pleasure it's been. 200 episodes and counting, people. It's AAAAAAAAAAAALLLL downhill from here. Pat takes us out with "21st Century Blues" from the album Toto XIV
BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!
On Friday, May 15, Pat is releasing Episode 200a, a special deluxe premium bonus episode and a giant "thank you" to all the fans for sticking with this podcast for 200 episodes. The episode features Pat and Kyle playing songs picked by the listeners, along with a bevy of shoutouts and thank you's. It costs only $1.99 on iTunes, so take those two dollars you were gonna spend on that bag of Doritos and enjoy some auditory goodness. You can purchase the episode HERE.