There is nothing novel about an veteran band reuniting for one last bask
in their past glories. However, in their 35th anniversary
tour, 70s and 80s hitmakers Toto are getting back together for all
the right reasons.
Original bassist Mike Porcaro was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's
disease in 2007. Medical expenses piled up quickly.
Therefore, to help an old friend, original band members Steve
Lukather, David Paich and Steve Porcaro got back together with
longtime Toto singer Joe Williams (though he was high school friends
with the original members, he did not join the band until 1985).
The hole left in the rhythm section by the ailing Mike Porcaro and
late drummer Jeff Porcaro (who died of a heart attack in 1992) was
filled by respected session players Nathan East and Simon Phillips.
It makes a certain amount of sense that the band would be filled out
with session musicians, because Toto was always made up of some of
the hottest session guys on the music scene. For many years
you could not name a significant album coming out of LA that members
of Toto did not play on. The guys were first noticed as Boz
Scaggs' backing band on the multi-platinum album Silk Degrees.
Other classic albums band members added their licks to include
Michael Jackson's Thriller and Steely Dan's Katy
The guys got together as Toto in 1977, becoming an immediate success
with their self-titled debut album and hit single "Hold the Line."
They released a couple more albums in the next couple of years and
had a few more hits, including "99" and "I'll Supply the Love."
However in 1982 with the album Toto IV, things exploded.
Toto singles "Rosanna" and "Africa" were amongst the biggest songs
of the year, while other singles like "Make Believe" and "I Won't
Hold You Back" also climbed the charts. The band never quite
hit the heights of IV again, though they had several other
hits in coming years, despite many changes to the group's lineup.
Lukather, the only member of Toto who has played throughout all of
the band's active years, has also become a prolific solo artist.
His most recent solo disk Transition came out earlier this
We were able to catch up with Steve Lukather during
a brief stop home in Los Angeles between a European solo tour
promoting his Transition album and the beginnings of the
European 35th Anniversary Toto shows. "I'm just looking at a
pile of charts of old songs that Toto has to play in our next tour
that we haven't played in 100 years," Lukather told me when he
picked up the phone. "It pays to learn how to read music,
man." He laughed. "I don't care what anybody tells you,
man. It's like learning how to speak Swedish or Spanish. That's all
it is. It's a tool. It's a tool, just like me!" He
broke up again, giving an good-natured "Ooohh!" I could
tell early on that this interview was going to be a wild ride, and
Luke didn't disappoint, giving me a fascinating and funny (and
occasionally just slightly dirty) guided tour of his career and his
looking forward to the new tour and also enjoying the new solo
Thank you very
much, man. I just got back from Europe a couple of days ago. Had a
really successful tour. I just keep jumping from ship to ship,
man. It keeps my life rather interesting. Hectic, but you know.
It's what I do. I'm lucky to be doing it. Especially at 185 years
How crazy is it
to think that Toto is 35 years old now?
How crazy is it that I'm 55 years old? (laughs)
You know what, man? It went by really quickly. I have to say that
it's terrifying, actually. I want it to slow down a little bit.
I'm probably enjoying it and appreciating it more now that I'm clean
– mind, body and soul – for the last many years. I'm just taking a
good look around, you know? When you're in the midst of the
madness, sometimes you don't even realize how fast it's going and
what's really going on. Now I'm really taking a little more stock
of it and am certainly very appreciative of all of the
opportunities. I'm doing all this crazy stuff now, and it's all
very positive, so... Thirty five years went by really scary fast.
That's what happened.
Lots of bands reunite for
selfish reasons, but Toto is doing it for one of the most worthy
reasons I've heard. How did the decision to get back together for
the anniversary tour come together?
Well, here's the thing. Mike Porcaro has got ALS [Lou
Gehrig's Disease]. If you know anything about this disease at all,
it's one of God's more cruel creations. Really, it makes cancer a
walk through the park in many ways. Imagine being entombed in your
own body. That's worse than prison. Mike's a brother, man. The
thing is, the real core guys of this band have known each other for
40 years. We were kids in school together. Joseph [Williams] and
his brother Mark went to school with us before Toto. Me and Mike
Landau had bands in school, along with the Porcaro Brothers [Steve,
Jeff and Mike]. We've all been friends. I pulled the plug on this
thing early, when it became me and a bunch of really incredible side
men. Who were friends, but the band became something else. I
wasn't getting on with someone in the band and the guys who came on
to take the places of the original members are still my friends.
Needless to say, the guys I started out with have always been
friends. Even in the darker times.
So back in 2007, when I bailed, Mike was really having a
tough time of it. Obviously, as the bass player and not primary
songwriter, money was needed to help keep his family going. With
kids in school and medical bills. When a brother is down, you get
together. So [David] Paich and I talked on the phone and I said
yeah, man, I'm up for doing it. This was 2010. I'm up for doing
it, but we have to have Steve Porcaro come back. And we have to
have Joe sing.
I want to look around the stage and see my high school
bros. Joe can sing better now than he ever did. Everybody's gone
through their trials and tribulations with the raging years and all
that stuff, but we're all older guys now. When we were young, we
were all crazy. We did all the stupid rock and roll shit you can
do. Some of us grew out of it. Some of us didn't. Whatever. Most
of us did. The lifelong friendships that never waned are still
stronger than ever.
So we got back together and did this little tour. It was a
huge success. Nathan East stepped in to play bass with us. He's
incredible. World class. Everybody knows him. Simon Phillips on
drums, taking over for Jeff [Porcaro, who died in 1992]. So where
there is a hole in the original rhythm section, it certainly was
filled by some incredibly worthy musicians and also very old
friends. And we've got a couple of great background singers, Amy
Keys and Mabvuto Carpenter, to make it real, so we can pull off all
the five-part harmonies and stuff. Because a lot of people are out
there faking it, you know?
Starting in May,
you have lots of tour dates set up for Europe. Will there be an
American tour coming up too?
Yes, and a whole bunch of US dates too. They are
just being put together. We have new management, James Blades over
at Doc McGhee's office. We have new agents: WME/William Morris.
It's a whole new world. All of the sudden, we did this one tour.
It was so successful, we had such a good time. The fans loved it.
We all have outside careers. Steve Porcaro is scoring Justified,
a big TV show. I have my solo stuff. I was with Ringo (Starr's
All-Starr Band). Everybody does their own thing. Simon is out on a
jazz tour, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. Nathan obviously is very
Dave is sort of semi-retired. He just drives his
gold golf cart out to pick up those "Africa" royalties. I think
that song is like a scathing case of herpes, it comes around every
once in a while and pays off big for him. We tease him about it all
the time. We love the song. We love being a part of the pop
culture. All that Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake stuff.
Family Guy. Being a South Park character. I mean, it's
great to be a part of pop culture. Nobody laughs at us harder than
we laugh at ourselves, bro. Trust me when I tell you. People have
this unrealistic assumption that because we're studio guys, we're
all just super serious. We take ourselves so seriously. God, it's
quite the opposite.
Even before your
debut album, the band members made a splash as Boz Scagg's band in
Yeah, that was David Paich and Jeff Porcaro that put
the Silk Degrees thing together. Me and Steve Porcaro were
still in high school. Steve went out with Gary ["Dream Weaver"]
Wright and right after that we all jumped on Boz's band. We were
still teenagers. Through that, before the end of that tour we had a
record deal and we started the first Toto album in '77.
Lots of the
members of the band made livings before and after as session
musicians. How do you think that experience has made the band
tighter as a group?
Well, our ability as musicians. We took ourselves
really seriously when we were kids. We studied and all that. You
know, before the punk thing came along and made it allegedly uncool
to be a well-trained musician, which I've always thought was a
bagful of shit, myself. The thing about our band was that we were
never in style, so we could never be out of style. We're just sort
of there. We never knew when we wrote these songs that they would
last for 35 years. (laughs)
We get to do so many different things. I've gotten
to play with most of my childhood heroes. That's a trip in itself.
Becoming friends with the people you've always admired and inspired
you to be a musician. Have a chance to work with them and create
with them. It's an incredible honor. Being a studio musician is
some of the most fond years of my life. It was a long time ago, but
in the heyday of it, man, we were doing everything that came out of
Well, I was going
to come to this later, but you've played on so many legendary
recordings. You played on [Michael Jackson's]
worked with Barbra Streisand and....
Barbra Streisand. (laughs) Why does that
one always come up? Not Roger Waters. Not Miles Davis. Not Alice
What were some of
your favorite session gigs?
I loved working with Elton [John]. Joni Mitchell.
Working with Roger Waters was a thrill, because I was an old [Pink]
Floyd fan. Dave [Gilmour] is one of my favorite guitarists. We're
friends. So many, man. I'm writing a book about my life right now,
actually. My life in the studios. I've just gotten started. It's
going to be one hell of a process to try to get all that into a few
I know you're
proud of your work with the band, but in 1989 when you released your
first solo album
was that like to finally get your own music out there?
It was great for me because I waited. I sat back
and learned for a while. I didn't touch it for about ten years. I
wanted to earn my [stripes]. Then it became like the guys didn't
want to work so much, and I had felt that I had enough experience in
the studio that I wanted to give it a go on my own. (laughs)
But, of course, I pulled in all the favors from all my really cool,
famous friends, who helped me out for my first solo album, so I
hesitate to even call it a solo album, because I had a lot of help.
But, you know, it was my first... I put my feet in the water. I
haven't listened to that record in a long time. Probably sounds
very 80s, production wise. I started 25 years ago, the first time I
did a solo project.
The band Toto actively is not a recording band at
this point, although there are rumors we may do something. But
there's been litigation and stuff for a long time. You know,
ex-managers, ex-record companies. It's just amazing. You're not
really successful unless you've got at least three lawsuits going at
the same time. It's so fucking stupid, man. It's like slamming
your cock in the door. Why do we do this? Why do I have to do
that? It's painful and awful. But sometimes you have to do this.
We're finally, after a few years, kind of getting
through that. We may do something for all the right reasons. To
help Mike. Also to get some new music out, in to play. But it's
great being a classic rock band, because you can go out and play.
People will come. We're not a one-hit wonder. We've had more hits
than people actually give us credit for. I sang a lot of the
songs. Dave sang songs. Joseph sang a couple of hits. We've had
other singers and stuff like that. In a few different genres,
even. We get out there and play and people go, "Oh, God, I forgot
that was you guys."
The band's sound
changed a lot over the years, from the most straight-ahead AOR of
the debut to a more melodic softer sound on some later singles like
"I Won't Hold You Back."
Well, that was the record company. If you look
through the albums themselves, there's a lot of harder-edged stuff
on it. But the record company, once they got a hold of "Oh, you're
a soft-rock band," they ran with it. And they ran our rock
credibility into the ground, which kind of sucked. But it is what
I still remember
I really loved your single right after
IV, "Stranger in Town," and it just didn't get near the
These days the rules have changed. To us, radio is
meaningless. Major labels are meaningless. You have to do things
on your own. You play to your audience. We have a bigger audience
than we ever thought. We're still doing arenas and headlining huge
festivals around the world and selling them out. Here in the US,
we're putting our feet in the water. We're going to go out and play
some gigs with Mike McDonald. There's talk of some other people
that are not confirmed yet. We're going to do some of our own
The Grammy Museum is doing a thing on us, because
they've put together some ridiculous credit list of collectively all
of us. I think we've played with on like 6,000 albums and like 225
Grammy nominated records. A half a billion records sold. So we get
a little more credit than... I mean, I didn't do this. This is our
new managers and agents and stuff going, "We've got to make a big
deal out of you guys. People don't know what you've done." People
are always like, "Oh, yeah, that 'Africa' band. I hate those
guys." There's a lot more to our band than meets the eye.
By the way, I
love "Africa." I think it's a great song.
Yeah, me too. But there's always the one going, "Is
this a hit song? Really?"
was probably the band's apex as far as popularity. It exploded so
crazily. You couldn't go anywhere without hearing "Africa,"
"Rosanna," "I Won't Hold You Back," or "Make Believe," which was an
amazing song. What was it like to be in the middle of that whirl of
being a huge rock star?
I don't think we were ever a huge rock star.
(laughs) It's weird, now I get noticed a little bit more than I
ever did, because I just think I'm out there a lot for a long time.
In Europe. In the magazines. People do stuff like this. So, I'm
not really sure. I don't know. I never think in terms of that.
I'm around people who are real rock stars. Bona fide, you
know? There are friends of mine that just happen to be famous
actors and whatnot as well. Fame is something that really scares
the shit out of me. I wouldn't want to be that famous. I'll take
the money. (laughs)
embraced "Rosanna" and "Africa."
Yeah, we were one of the first bands on MTV. They
liked us, and then all of the sudden after we won all the Grammys
everybody turned on us. We were the only band that ever turned down
the cover of Rolling Stone, because we knew they were going
to do a hatchet job on us. Looking back on it, maybe not the
best career move. At the same time, if you go to the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame, our band name is not even in the [place]. It's like
we never existed. Yet they put... you know, whatever. I'm not
going to get into a fucking thing.
That was like, we were young and cocky and we did
some stupid shit, you know? Like every young [band]. Of course,
it's the most punk rock thing you could ever do in the world. Turn
down the corporation, which is now the massive corporation, or used
to be a massive corporation, Rolling Stone with their private
jet. They're talking about the angst of youth and being a punk and
they bought the fucking George W. Bush Kool Aid. They are
everything they hated when they started out. So who is the fool?
I am just a guitar player and happy to be doing this
after 36 years in as a studio player and 35 years as Toto. I can't
believe that we are still going strong. I get to do all these
things. I'm in Ringo's All-Starr Band. I do solo records. I've
got Toto. I get offered to do all these crazy cool things with all
these great musicians. It's a great honor. I don't take it
lightly. I'm not mad. I'm not bitter. I don't give a fuck about
this or that. I'm just happy to be working. People show up.
Multi-generations of people show up. Pretty cool.
I was reading
online today, and you never know when you read this stuff online,
but it was saying you actually started out as a drummer and
No, no. That isn't true. You can't believe
anything you read in the media or on the internet. It pisses me
off, because I can't even change my own Wikipedia. That's how sick
the world has gotten. I never said that. It never happened.
That's the wrong stuff. They're like, "Well, sorry, it was in and
article in a magazine, so it must be true." So I could tell you I
have a 15-inch cock. If someone wrote that in a newspaper, that
would be in my Wikipedia.
Well, how did you
first get into playing the guitar?
The Beatles, man. I saw The Beatles on The Ed
Sullivan Show, like everybody my age who started playing music.
That changed my life forever. George Harrison was my first guitar
hero. Later a friend, God rest his soul. I worked with Paul.
Ringo's my pal. I'm standing in Hamburg three weeks ago and I get a
text from Ringo. In Hamburg. [The Beatles famously lived there and
played early gigs from 1960-1962.] How surreal is that?
And he's not done. He's everything that I want to
be as far as how to grow old gracefully. Classy, together, healthy,
sense of humor, vital, funny and youthful. He's like 72 years old,
he looks 40, if that. He's everything. He's the coolest guy in the
world. And he's one of The Beatles. This guy has changed the
world. How many people can say that they actually changed the
world? Most musicians are just... a good musician is a good
musician. You go, "great." You know? But very few people really
changed the face of the planet.
Who were some of
the artists that inspired you to become a musician?
Well, you start there, 1964. I got a guitar and
Meet The Beatles and I saw that. I said that's what I'm
going to do and my parents thought I was crazy. On the other side
of that, it was an unrealistic dream. I might as well have said I
want to be the first man on Mars. My dad patted me on the head and
said, "Yeah, that's great kid. You've got a one in a billion chance
of making it in this business." My dad was in show biz, behind the
camera, in movies and television. So he knew. He wasn't a
performer, but he knew the dark side of show biz. And the odds.
Before I was even thinking about it, I was a
single-digit kid, I was only playing band, I was nine years old my
first band. And loving it. I was making money. On the weekends,
playing parties and stuff like that. Making 20 bucks a weekend,
which in 1967 was pretty good money. He said, "You've got a billion
in one chance of making it." I said well I'll be that guy. He
laughed and said, "Cool. Go for it."
Over the years,
how have decided what music you wanted to keep for solo work as
compared to band music?
I never did that ever in my life. I write per
project. I don't write songs every day. Sometimes I go through
spurts where I don't write for six-eight months. I'm playing. I
practice. I play my instrument every day. Or I'm touring. I keep
a journal. Write little lyrical ideas. I'm more like what's going
on in the world. I tend to write what my feelings are. Then, when
it's time to write a record, I go in and go okay, it's time to write
some music now.
It's always been there for me. It's always come.
It's never been a dry spot, per se. But it's a separate
mindset. When I'm in touring mode, that's a different kind of
creativity that is used. A different brain muscle, if you will.
When it is time to record, that's a different side of the brain.
Sort of like painting on a huge canvas and driving a Formula One.
That's the difference.
business has changed so much and become rather broken since the
band's heyday, with piracy and all. How is it different recording
independently than on a major?
I love indies. There's the irony, I'm an
independent and I'm on an independent label now. I love it. Never
been treated better. Never been paid on time more. Never been
promoted better. I've got more visibility on myself now than I did
at the height of Toto IV, as far as people being interested
in talking with me. But it's a different world. I have to
be on Facebook and Twitter, which I'm actively on. That really is
me, I didn't hire a guy to do that. I think it's bullshit to lie to
people like that. If the record company goes on there, I say this
is the record company, not me. I make a differentiation between who
is who. I didn't post that. That was them. People can tell by the
way I write and misspell things that it's actually me. (laughs)
I type really fast and I never spell check, because I've got a
million things going at once. It's not that I'm an idiot.
Is it fun doing
lead vocals on your solo work?
Yeah. I've been working hard at it. Now that I
don't drink and smoke all that stuff and I have a really great new
voice teacher, Gary Catona, it's coming a lot better. I really take
my work seriously. A lot of guys get to a certain age and they just
go, "Hey, you know what? I'm cool, let's go out and play the hits
and get paid. Who gives a fuck?" I really give a fuck. I get up
in the morning. I play the guitar every day. I take my kids to
school and do normal dad stuff, because I've got two generations of
kids. My oldest just got engaged and my youngest just said, "Hi,
dad" for the first time. I have four kids, two generations. So,
yeah, my life is surreal. But it's cool. Never dull! But I make
time for the music, man. The music is what facilitates everybody's
lives. No one ever bugs me about that. It's part of who I am. I'd
like to think I'm getting better at it.
feels like it could be a hit in a different musical world.
Well, you know, come on. I'm 55 years old. Maybe
if you do a blindfold test on people. We live in the most obscene
image-conscious world ever. Kids instead of wanting a car on their
sixteenth birthday, they want a tit job or something. People want
to be famous for nothing. I don't understand the value system,
Maybe I'm showing my age at this point. (laughs) But we
worked really hard to become successful. We thought you had to be
really good. We concentrated [on it].
We weren't all dicking around with video games and
all that crap. When we were young, it didn't exist. I tried Pong
in the '70s and it made me nauseous. I never tried video games
again. I put my time and effort towards playing my instrument.
Learning things. Listening to music and playing every shitty gig I
could, just to learn. Studying. Orchestration. Guitar. Piano.
Whatever I could get my hands on. It was an obsession. It still
You worked with
Fee Waybill on "Creep Motel." What is he like to write with?
Yeah. The first song we wrote was "Talk To Ya
Later" for the Tubes in 1980. We've been lifelong friends. I think
the world of him. He has a jaded, more demented point of view,
lyrically speaking. I actually come up with the music and then we
throw the lyrics... he gives me a few drafts of lyrics and I fuck
with those. It just works. You have a handful of people that you
love working with that you always get some really great stuff out of
and always finish things. That's why I like to co-write, because I
Why did you
decide on the instrumental cover of "Smile"?
I always loved the song. It's a beautiful melody.
It's timeless. My mom loved a beautiful melody. When she passed
away, I wanted to do something for her. A lot of people have
covered it. You can't miss with that. It's an incredibly sad song
for a song called "Smile."
Yes, it was
written by Charlie Chaplin, who was known as a comedian.
Yeah, well you know, tears of a clown and all that.
Being a clown myself, I can kind of relate to it. It was just
something we started doing live and people said, "You should record
that." That was just me and Steve Weingart live in the studio.
That's one take. CJ [Vanston], my co-producer, did a little
keyboard post-production, but my playing and the initial performance
was all live.
What kind of
things make you nostalgic?
When I hear really old music. For whatever reason,
in a movie or something like that. Something from my very, very
early childhood, before I even remember. It just brings back such
weird, eerie, nice, surreal feelings. I can see my mom as a young
woman in the kitchen. I really had a pretty happy childhood. I was
lucky growing up in North Hollywood. Fond memories.
People say the music that we write makes them feel
that way. When they first fell in love or whatever. It reminds
them of the happier time of high school, the fun things that
happened. Music does that. It's like music and the sense of smell
remind you of things that take you back to the times. Nostalgia...
I always see an old Beatles record, I'm like, oh, wow! Dig that.
Music does that.
What would people
be surprised to know about you?
I have a very deep, spiritual side. Not necessarily
church on Sundays, but it's much deeper than that. I read a lot of
books about it. My sister is a professional psychic. She's pretty
deep. She's pretty right on. It's scary sometimes. I have some of
this in me, but I don't really deal with it, because it just freaks
me out a little bit. It's an inner knowing. I think it's just a
matter of whether you believe or not. You've heard the term old
soul before. I think I'm an old soul. There are people that I meet
that I feel are evolved and some that I feel are devolved.
We live in a world now where I think we're going
backwards so fast it's scary, man. Whatever happened to that
hopeful peace and love shit that was happening in the '60s? Now
it's like people are shooting at other people so they can keep their
guns. That's like trying to suck your own cock. What's the point
of it? At least when you suck your own dick, you might get
something good out of it at the end of it. (laughs) You
might not want to write that. Me and my wacky sense of humor. I
have a really sick, dark, demented sense of humor. It's harmless.
Living life on the road for 36 years will do that.