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The Morning Show - With Jill Riley

Steve Lukather on the legacy of Toto and beyond

Guitarist Steve Lukather performing in Hong Kong on February 5, 2015.
Guitarist Steve Lukather performing in Hong Kong on February 5, 2015.RICHARD A. BROOKS/AFP via Getty Images
  Play Now [10:08]

by Jill Riley

March 22, 2023

Wednesday night at the State Theatre, there's a big show coming to town: Toto will be playing live in concert. Toto are currently on tour with Journey, and in the run-up to Wednesday’s show, we are happy to have a special guest in the studio — a return guest to The Current, to Minnesota Public Radio — a person who is pretty much the constant member of Toto. He’s a studio musician; you have heard his work on songs by many, many artist — or you may not even know that you've heard his work. He also plays in Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band, and is a solo artist. You can also throw author in there as well as he's got a memoir called The Gospel According to Luke.

We’re talking, of course, about Toto guitar player Steve Lukather, who joins Jill Riley on The Current’s Morning Show. You can listen to the interview above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

Edited for time and clarity.

Jill Riley: Guitar player Steve Lukather is with me here on The Current's Morning Show. Steve, how you doing?

Steve Lukather: I'm doing very well. Thank you for asking. That's a big intro there.

Jill Riley: I have seen the show. I think it was fall of 2019.

Steve Lukather: I got a bunch of different guys now.

Jill Riley: So who is all going to be with you?

Steve Lukather: Joseph Williams, our singer, is fronting the band. And you know, Joe has been with us, well, actually, since he was a teenager, we've been friends. But he was with us through big success in the 80s, then he came back in 2010. He's been with me ever since. And then we have the drummer from Snarky Puppy, Robert "Sput" Searight.

A man in a hat and sunglasses plays drums onstage during a concert
Drummer Robert "Sput" Searight
Allison Morgan

And we have Dominique Xavier, who used to be in Prince's band, so we're bringing a Prince alumni with us, and he's been with us for five years, he's amazing. John Pierce, my oldest friend in the world, session musician, [a friend since] high school; he's also been in Huey Lewis and the News for 30 years. I got a new kid named Steve Maggiora who sings and plays keyboards, just unbelievable. My utility guy of all time, the great Warren Ham: sax, percussion, harmonica, incredible vocals.

I mean, it is a real kick-ass high energy band. We've had a bit of a resurgence, if you want to call it that. I mean, things are going really, really well, in spite of all the disasters that have happened: the loss of two of my brothers; poor Bobby's not well, he has a dementia thing happening. David Paich had a medical issue; he still pops in and out now and then. Now the original band obviously couldn't exist anymore, because we lost Jeff and Mike Porcaro, you know what I mean? And then David Hungate retired very early, our original bass player; he was 10 years older than us anyway. He wanted to be a session guy in Nashville, so he cut the basic tracks on Toto IV and then left! And Mike went in and did the tour and was in the band until he got ALS, which is the most tragic disease that there is.

Jill Riley: Yeah.

Steve Lukather: And you know, he died eight years ago, which is just unbelievable. During that time, you know, we helped the family. We got back together, you know, at one point, we kind of said, "OK, we should call it a day." And then Mike got so sick and we said, "Mike, you need some money? Let's help out the family." So we did that, got back together, we thought we'd only do one tour. And it was so successful and fun, we just kept at it. And you know, the band is really about the music, as opposed to like, just one guy. I mean, I'm the constant, I guess, if there is one. For some reason, I just won't let this die! It's so much a part of my life. I've dedicated my whole life to it, as well as what I do outside of the band, but this band is — there's just something about it. I mean, it gets to nobody showed up, or it sucks, I mean, I wouldn't do it anymore.

Two men stand together onstage, playing guitars
Steve Lukather of Toto and Neal Schon of Journey performing during Journey's 50th Anniversary Tour at Moody Center on February 22, 2023 in Austin, Texas.
Rob Loud/Getty Images

Jill Riley: You talked about the, you know, the musicianship. I mean, that's what it's been about. As you guys were all, you know, very seasoned, you know, well trained.

Steve Lukather: They used that against us, that we actually studied and got good at our instruments. And the one thing we didn't have we needed terribly was probably a stylist. I used to dress like Kurt Cobain in 1976, you know what I mean? I'd show up and they'd go, "You can't dress like that. You can't have your arrow freaked out like that." Because I don't give a... You think I do my hair? No, I don't.

Jill Riley: You're letting 'er go natch.

Steve Lukather: Listen, I'm 65 years old. Who am I kidding?

Jill Riley: When you said that you've probably taken the most crap for like the musicianship but like being trained, but do you think that was a product of the time? Because it was like, OK, well, there was the reaction to the big, produced records or anything that was in a progressive rock, but like the punk-rock thing was happening. Like, do you think that that's where the criticism was coming from?

Steve Lukather: It came out at the same time, and they would put a picture of us next to a picture of the Sex Pistols and go, "How can you compare that." That's nothing against them. They were the antichrist to like, schooled musicianship; they were like flipping the bird and anybody that, you know, they purposely did not want to play well, you know what I mean? And that wasn't what they were all about. They made one record and that was it. You know what I mean? We've made 17 records and lasted the time, because you know, you can't be an old punk, can you? You can be an old musician. They keep trying to stick names for us, you know what I mean? You know, the "corporate rock" and then it went to like "soft rock" because the single choices of the record label are always ballads and stuff, even when you see us live, it's not like that. We play a few of them, but sure, the hits and all that, but you know, there's a lot more meat to the band that what... And then they started with the "yacht rock" thing, which cracked me up: Where's my yacht? All that was, they put a title on every session that we all of us did between 1975 and like 2000 or whatever, you know what I mean, doing on like everybody's records. We were on, at least one of us was on every record coming out of Los Angeles. And that pissed off critics and stuff, you know?

Quincy Jones arrives at a Spotify event in 2017.
Quincy Jones
Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images

They even shat on us when we did Thriller, you know? They went, "Quincy [Jones] managed to get them to play good" or something. We wrote our own parts, man! He'd give me a piece of paper with B minor, A, G on it and you got to come up with something, you know, on the spot. We didn't get no credit for that. Now you plug in a drum machine and you get part writers, you know? I was born in the wrong era for credit, but then again, there was a lot more money back then, so I guess it all evens up. 

But I've always been into, you know — listen, you talk about punk music, I can listen to that; I love the Clash, I thought they were great! You know what I mean? The Sex Pistols took a little bit more … that was just a thing that didn't really hit me in the heart, you know? Maybe it was because in the L.A. Times, they cut our hair off and put their hair on us. They were trying to compare the two things, which was really unfair, because they were hip, and we were the antithesis of hip. We were just like studio guys. Like that's a bad thing.

Jill Riley: You see, I think it's a good thing!

Steve Lukather: Well, "they're just studio musicians." What do you mean "just studio musicians"? You know how hard that gig is? Under pressure? We weren’t just sitting there on hemorrhoid doughnuts reading dots that somebody made for us. That's the rock-press version of what they think a session musician was. No, we were handed a sketch and told to make a painting out of it every day. Daytime and nighttime, every day, different people. Alice Cooper during the day, Aretha Franklin at night. OK, that's — how many musicians can do that?

Jill Riley: If you go back to the beginning of when you started working professionally, like Sunset Sound. I mean, did you practically live there?

Steve Lukather: When we were there, I mean, there would be us in studio 2, Van Halen in 1, in Prince in 3. I remember seeing Prince sitting on his Purple Rain bike at 10 o'clock in the morning in a silver lame suit. And we'd all be walking in, you know, and he'd be decked out, man! I'm like, "Dude, who you dressing for, man?" It was just one big musical community. You never know who you're gonna see there. And I was doing so many sessions in that room. You know, when I first was a young session musician, all the magic that happened in that room, so many great artists that I worked with in that whole complex, it's one of my favorite studios of all time.

Sunset Sound in Los Angeles
Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, photographed in 2017.
Sunset Sound

Jill Riley: And that studio, it's got to be, you know, one of a few that's still standing. I imagine that there are a lot of recording studios that those buildings are just gone.

Steve Lukather: It's heartbreaking sometimes for me, because I used to go from one to the next to the next. There was a time when it was like, it was buzzing. Everybody was working. Everything was happening. And it was, it was greatest times of my life. Honestly, as a young guy, I look back and I go, "Those were the most fun times." I don't even know how I did all of it. I forgot what I did. People walk in and go, "I loved when you played on so and so's record." They bring stacks of records for me backstage to sign; I go, "Did I play on that record?" I was in and out like in 15 minutes, do a solo or something and I was gone. You know what I mean? End of my teens, 20s and 30s were really busy, studio and Toto and other stuff. 

Jill Riley: The song, "Rosanna," that's the song that I was always drawn to, because of the drumbeat. I mean, like, Jeff Porcaro's drum beat on that. That groove — that's the key to that song for me.

Steve Lukather: Him and David Paich were beyond best friends; they were brothers, you know? They had a thing; there was magic happening when the two of those guys were around, and I got to get some of that on me. You know what I mean? I got to be there and be welcomed into that unbelievable opportunity. Jeff was just a magical human being and you know, he just would...  David wrote that song. It was a Bo Diddley groove [sings] Jeff goes "No, no, no, man. Here it is." [Scats] And then the whole thing started to swing a different way. We didn't rehearse! David showed up at the piano at Sunset Sound. Sat down, he goes, "I get this tune." Because we just show up and say, "Whaddya got, Dave?" Dave would always have a song, and by then he was encouraging all of us to write. I learned how to make records from David Paich and Jeff Porcaro. But those guys had a thing, man, you know, and I wanted to be a part of that, you know, and now I'm just trying to keep the legacy alive.

Jill Riley: Steve Lukather, we've been chatting for a while here, and before I let you go, are you going to go on the road with Ringo again?

Steve Lukather: Three weeks after I get home.

Jill Riley: Oh my gosh, really?

Steve Lukather: The great thing about Ringo is they're all fly dates out of L.A., so I sleep in my own bed every night. He's got the private jet and all that stuff. He treats us really well! I did a record with him a couple of years ago, man, and Ringo and I wrote a couple songs and Paul played on it. So it was me, Ringo and Paul, so that I can die now. George was a friend of mine, God bless him, my first guitar hero. So I got to work with three of the four reasons why I breathe and live music. The Beatles. Still the greatest rock and roll band of all time. Love the Stones. No, really do. They'd be in second place. But the Beatles just — that was my on-switch to life.

Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band
Musicians Gregg Rolie, Steve Lukather, Mark Rivera, Ringo Starr, Richard Page, Gregg Bissonette and Todd Lundgren pose at a 2013 press conference for Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

 Jill Riley: Yeah, that's pretty incredible how that's all come full circle.

Steve Lukather: If you'd told me when I was a kid — you know what I mean? — that when you're an old dude, white hair, Ringo's going be one of your best friends and you'll still be doing this stuff with your band!


Guest - Steve Lukather
Host - Jill Riley
Producer - Rachel Frances
Digital Producer - Luke Taylor

Toto - official site

Steve Lukather - official site