By DONNA BALANCIA
Steve Lukather has been playing music since he was 9 years old and is more enthusiastic today than he ever was. With a reinvigorated Toto, an encore smash hit with “Africa” and a new love in his life, he’s living life to the fullest.
Lukather sat down to talk with California Rocker about Toto’s new record With a Little Help From My Friends, his solo album, I Found The Sun Again, and a little inner-ear secret that enables him to enjoy it all without missing a sound.
California Rocker: We’re here with Steve Lukather, how are you doing today?
Steve Lukather: I’m doing really well. Thank you, it’s a beautiful day here and I’m working on my tan, as I’m going on a little vacation here in about a week for my friend’s 60th birthday party. He rented an island off of Barbados.
CR: It must be nice to be a rock star.
SL: There are worse jobs.
CR: Steve tell us a little bit about some of the new projects you’ve got going. You’ve got a great solo album.
SL: I Found The Sun Again. It’s been doing really well. Great reviews, we’ve got a bunch of streams. I mean, a couple of million streams, and I think I made $40. But people are listening to the music and that’s the important part. That’s the idea, to get them out to the shows, you know, which I’m really looking forward to doing again.
CR: You’re going to start touring again?
SL: Yeah, I’ve got a couple of fusion jam bands that I play in. I got one on the East Coast one on the West Coast. I’m going to play with them in December. Just to get my chops up. Then we start rehearsals in February and we’re out of here in March US and then I come back and I’ve got the Ringo tour and then I come back we’ve got Toto in Europe for six weeks and that’s really looking promising.
SL: We got these new projects out, you know Joseph Williams has his solo album out and we got this new Toto band to go out and work. So that’s what we’re going to do. There’s been 15 incarnations of Toto anyway. You know, there’ve been so many people in and out of this band I think I’m the only guy that’s been there for all of it. It’s almost like the music is more the band and if you have great high-end musicians playing the stuff, it’s going to sound right. I mean you can say Toto died after Jeff Porcaro died. But you know, something keeps us coming back. Nobody else can play this stuff right.
Listen to Toto’s ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ here:
CR: Right. Right.
SL: There are good cover bands out there. But I mean I’ve been doing this for 45 years almost, you know, so please, let me have some fun make the old stuff fresh.
CR: Who did you recruit for this incarnation of the band?
SL: I got Robert “Sput” Searright on drums from Snarky Puppy. I got John Pierce, my oldest friend in the world big studio guy, he was in Huey Lewis band for 30 years. My first friend in life he’s on bass. I have Xavier Taplin from Prince’s band, I’ve got a kid named Steve Maggiora on second keyboards and he sings the crazy high parts, his high tenor is so strong, it’s incredible. I got Warren Ham on sax, percussion, vocals who’s a killer singer, and then me and Joseph. For couple of years, he’s back. And Dave Paich is still going to come out. Maybe he’ll play with us every once awhile.
CR: As for the new Toto record?
SL: With A Little Help From My Friends. And yeah, we gotta get by with our friends, man.
CR: You have a lot of friends in the music business isn’t that the case?
SL: I like to think so, I used to be crazy. So I have that reputation to live down, through. That was a long time ago. I’m pretty much a very calm, sedate person at this point.
CR: I find that hard to believe.
SL: I mean, when I came out of the gate, it was like, you know, pedal-to-the-metal for like 25 years. They told me I had a great time.
CR: So the new album, your solo album, it sounds terrific. It’s like a throwback to great ’70s rock.
SL: Well, that was the intent. I mean, I was trying to capture 1971, ’72, in 2020. We went in the studio and cut the whole album in eight days. We did a song a day and we cut the track, get a few overdubs. I did the vocals and boom, next song. Did that for a week and then we mixed it and done. It was done, all the solos were live, everything was live, except for the vocals because I couldn’t do it all at one time. I didn’t trust myself to do it because the material was still being written at the time we were cutting. I was writing the lyrics while doing the vocals.
CR: Were there any special techniques you used?
SL: Our special technique was “Show up and play.” No rehearsals, no demos nothing here. Got some charts, let’s run it once and record. I hired the right guys, you know, what a fantastic band I got to put together, man. Everybody brought their best song. Yeah, I’m really proud of it. I mean, yeah it’s kind of a vanity record, I mean I wasn’t trying to write a hit single or nothing. They just said play a lot of guitar and I said ‘Well I can do that,’ but I still like to play in context of a song rather than just writing a jam to solo over and then jam again, you know, you know, I wanted to make it a little bit more interesting.
CR: You did some great covers on there. Why did you pick Robin Trower, Traffic and Joe Walsh tunes?
SL: That’s stuff from my childhood that I played. It all inspired me as a young musician and and also it set a tone for the whole thing. So I picked the cover tunes before I wrote anything. I knew we could play great and jam on, you know, and it wasn’t the typical covers that everybody does.
CR: You’re using a new product, the Widex hearing aids.
SL: It changed my life. Listen man, you know I’ve been playing in bands since I was 9 years old. I used to play a lot louder when I was a kid because I thought that louder was better. We were dumb asses in the first round of Rock N Roll before anybody really knew. And then when I got into recording studios, wearing headphones for 14 hours, a day or whatever it was, I mean for decades I’ve had tinnitus you know, and the feedback, and then playing live.
I mean playing live, believe it or not, was the least of the damage for the most part I’ve had tinnitus since 1986. So I haven’t heard silence since 1986. I was kind of like, “well I’ve just got to live with this.” I didn’t really think it was anything possible. Hearing aids seemed to me, like an “old people” thing, you know? Of course, I’m an old person now, so there’s the irony.
But I was on the road with Ringo and I ran into Brad Whitford, the guitar player from the Aerosmith. I was talking to him and kept saying ‘What?” I couldn’t hear him in a room full of people talking and stuff. Yeah, he goes, “You know what, man, you need one of these.” And he pulled one off. I said, “You can’t even tell you’re wearing that.” Yeah man, changed my life, I mean, the TV’s too loud, there’s people on the phone, people talking to me, mumbling.
So he told me the name Widex, I got the audiologist who I really dig. She’s wonderful and we went in and we tested my hearing what they do is they find the frequencies your deficit, they EQ it, equalize it, and they put all these frequencies back into your hearing. So when you put the hearing device on, you’re hearing all these frequencies, all of a sudden I can hear everything great, and it was like, wow this you know, it changed my life.
I mean also what it does with Tinnitus, it’s a ring like I have. And most people, my age have a mid-range loss, you know like that. Mine is just a little bit more extreme because they said I had “acoustic trauma,” yeah, no shit. I should be I should be deaf. But I was smart enough at least before I got Widex I was on the road playing and I was using earplugs like to cover my ears is for like almost twenty years and then I got in ears which I fought but now I made friends with it. So what I do is when I take the Widex out when I’m playing live is I have the exact EQ to put in in ear. I’m hoping I long enough for the Cochlear implants, you know.
CR: Sounds like you’re having a heck of a lot of fun.
SL: This has been a real journey through this virus thing, you know? I mean, wow. I haven’t been home this long as I live with my parents as a kid you know
CR: What did you do during lockdown?
SL: I got in touch with myself.
CR: Um. O – K
SL: I don’t mean it in that kind of way, I mean I have a girlfriend. She’s a beautiful woman and a 5-star chef. Her name’s Amber. I’m the only guy that lost weight during the lockdown. I don’t know what she sees in me.
CR: Funny. You’re funny and down to Earth.
SL: Believe me, I know what show business is. I’ve been doing it for 45 years and you know, the roller coaster ride can be exciting, and also scary as fuck.
CR: How do you keep your popularity?
SL: The music keeps us popular not me. “Africa” just got a billion streams so that puts us at almost 3 billion streams and, you know, 40 million sold legit. And, you know, Africa, I just got a plaque for six million in the states. And that’s, you know, that’s hard copies and stuff, you know. So I mean we still got legs man, real quietly.
CR: What a great comeback.
SL: We’ve been coming back for a while. Then the virus hit us like a brick wall at a thousand miles an hour. It was like just dead. Stop. We don’t know when it’s going to start. If it’s ever going to start. You spend your whole life doing this then they just rip the car carpet out. We had dates booked, tickets sold, 40 people on the payroll. I can’t keep 40 people afloat, man. I don’t have that kind of money.
CR: Oh, I figured you had some glamorous place up in the hills.
SL: Well I I bought this house when I was 19 years old. I bought this before I was married either time. I just put a bunch of money into this house and this is a groovy pad in the hills. I don’t need some ridiculous “Let me show how big my dick is” mansion. How many rooms do you live in? And I have one nice car.
CR: What about your kids?
SL: I have a 36-year-old daughter, a 34-year-old son, a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year old son. And a vasectomy.
CR: So you’re going to do a US and a European tour.
SL: Yes and we’re looking forward to it.
CR: Who do you surround yourself with these days?
SL: You know, I think women are way smarter than us, men, right? I’m surrounded by nothing but women who look after me. My accountant is a woman, the woman who looks after my cash, you know, a woman who looks after my home, a woman who looks after my cat.
CR: And you’ve done a good job keeping your band together, don’t you think?
SL: It’s not easy to do.
SL: Well you start as teenagers and then you change. I look at old pictures of me and I look so young. You should have seen me when I was 11, out in the valley, driving my buddy’s mom’s station wagon. Boy, the things we could get away with back in the day.
CR: Well seems like you’re having fun, Steve. So great to talk to you.
SL: Thanks for your time. Bye now.
Check out ‘I Found The Sun Again’ here: