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Steve Lukather

Interviewed by Greg Olma
Interview with Steve Lukather From 2006
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.


What made you decide to re-release your Santa Mental album?
Well, basically the label that I was with wanted something put together by Elliot Shiner from Steely Dan, Eagles, and Henley. He worked with Toto. He started a label and asked if I would do a Christmas record and I go "what the hell about me makes you think of Christmas?" I took on the challenge. He said "we want you to do a weird Christmas record; you know, mess up the songs and do your own thing to them." So I said "how do I do this?" So I enlisted the help of my friend and cohort Jeff Babco, keyboard player, and we just did some wacky arrangements. We did the record in 6 days, top to bottom, all analog, no computers, no rehearsing, and no click tracks. Everything was played except for some of the guests and vocals. It had a mini-release. Then the record company went under and then the guy took off with everybody's money and never paid anybody. We got screwed. Classic record business story. Steve Vai, my dear brother, who I've worked with a lot, me and Larry Carlton did a record for him a few years ago that won a Grammy, best instrumental record, have a great relationship. He loved the record. He played on the record. He said "look, I want to put it on my label and just put it out cause it deserves to get heard." So, I'm getting a second shot at it.  

MSJ: How did you decide on which Christmas songs to interpret?
Well that was hard. I don't have any Christmas records. My next door neighbor is a lawyer. I walked over and said "hey man, you got any Christmas records?" He comes back with 25 of them. He lays them on me. Originally, they are all just major scale happy little songs; really cheesy. The challenge was how to retain what it is, so it's recognizable to people, but still try to hip it up musically. Then we wrote solo sections. We took a lot of liberties. As they were public domain, we were allowed to do that.
MSJ: How did your involvement in the Back Against the Wall CD come about?
Billy Sherwood is an old friend of mine. He's the guy that produced the record. He used to play with Yes. He just called the guys that he digs. I've worked with Roger Waters and David Gilmour over the years. I'm a huge Pink Floyd fan. I thought it would be great. He really did an amazing job putting that record together. It was a serious labor of love for him. Apparently Roger and Dave really dug it. That's pretty cool.
MSJ: Did you decide which songs to play?
No man. They just said "we want you to sing on this one and play a solo on this one." I'm a fan of the record. As a matter of fact, dig this, in 1978; I was in France doing two records for Elton. The same studio, Super Bear Studios in Nice, France, up in the hills, Pink Floyd had just finished cutting tracks for The Wall there. So I was around it.
MSJ: Your version of "Hey You" is different yet recognizable. How did you approach doing that track?
Dude, I was in and out of there in a half hour; the vocals and solo. I didn't even have time to get my a** warm. Billy did the arrangements. I'm obviously very familiar with the music so it really wasn't a big stretch for me to go in there and do it really quickly. Labor of love, like I said. When you write music like that, it's really easy to play because the songs are already so good that you can't really f**k 'em up. You have to try really hard. But then again, a classic record like The Wall, there will be people who will scrutinize and "what are you doing, trying to remake Sgt. Pepper's?" It was done out of respect; respectfully done by all the artists involved. They are all A-level guys. Mostly guys from the era that would have really dug the record. I saw The Wall shows. I was there in 7th row center at the sports arena. I had my jaw drop. Still one of the best shows I've seen in my whole life.
MSJ: How did you get invited to play on the Jon Anderson record?
David Paich was producing it. Jon sang on one of our records as well.
MSJ: Which one?
The Seventh One.
MSJ: Which release best sums up Steve Lukather?
Bro, I've done a thousand records. It's really hard to say. Obviously, people know me from the Toto stuff but that is certainly not the all ending, definable way to look at me as a musician. It's certainly a part of my life. I've been playing with the guys since high school. That band plays a different style of music than when I'm on my own. I have a tendency to be a little more out there.
MSJ: What is behind calling the new Toto album Falling In Between?
They all try to lump us into those '80s bands. If you really listen to the records side by side, we're just really not the same. I don't think we sound like Boston or Styx. They just want to lump us all together. It's comfortable. "Oh, those '80s bands like those corporate rock bands." Which is bulls**t. What is corporate rock? You sell a million records, welcome to corporate rock. Therefore, any punk band that sells a million records is a corporate rock band. That's just bulls**t.
MSJ: What styles of music do you think you "fall in between?"
All of them. I've worked with Miles Davis, Cheap Trick, and Van Halen. I've worked with Aretha Franklin. I've worked with Kenny Rogers. Name a name; I've played on their record. Like I said, we fall in between. Really, pegging us stylistically, we have funk stuff, we have hard edged stuff, we got fusion stuff, and we have pop stuff. There's a bunch of different singers in the band. We just never really feel comfortable being labeled like they want to label us. So, it was kind of a play on words.
MSJ: How did you decide to go with the label Frontiers?
Well first off, they offered up twice what everybody else did. They gave us complete control. They gave us everything we wanted. It's a license deal, which means we own it at the end of 5 years. They love the band. They really wanted us, really bad. They put together a marketing promotion plan as well as huge dollars up front. They wanted it really bad. They understand how to sell this kind of music. We're much better off being on an indie label like that than being on a big label where we got buried. We still sell a lot of records under the wire but Sony did nothing for us towards the last 10 years of our career with them. They keep making lots of money off us [with greatest hits]. We have no control over that. They own the masters. They put these cheesy record covers out and every one of those records sells at least a half a million. But they give us a reduced royalty rate because it's repackaged. So we get f**ked anyway. We haven't been on a label in a long time. When we put out a new record, we haven't put out a new record of original material in almost 10 years, they put something else out to compete with us. How many times can a person buy a record that has "Rosanna" and "Africa" on it? Those songs have been good to me; bought me a couple of houses. But come on. We have hundreds of other songs. This is our 18th studio album.
MSJ: Are you planning to tour the US again?
Yeah, we got a new agent. We haven't played the US. We're one of the bands, from that particular era, that has not burned the market. Every year the same bands go on tour. We still do arenas around the world except for the United States. We spend a lot of time outside the United States where we're still considered mainstream; not just a classic rock band.
MSJ: You have a huge catalog of music. How do you pick a set list?
It's hard. Obviously the new album. There'll be about 5 songs from the new album. You gotta play the biggest hits. Because people pay money to hear them. We try to doll them up a little differently every time to keep it interesting for us and fresh. Then we have a lot of hardcore fans that want to hear some of the weird album stuff. It's hard when you have so much material. You try not to repeat yourself. We do medleys, we do solo spots, and there's an acoustic section. We try to change it up. It will be a two hour plus show.
MSJ: We recently did an interview with Joey Belladonna from Anthrax. He mentioned that he's a fan and saw a couple or your shows.
Really? No way! Really? I'm flattered. He could have come back and said "hey." It's interesting. Stylistically, I listen to everything. I dig their s**t; one of the old classic original hardcore guys. I would never in a million years think guys like that would listen to the music we do. But, that's really cool.
MSJ: What was the last CD you purchased?
Actually, my son buys all the records. He turns me onto all the hip stuff. I haven't bought a CD in a long time. Like I said, my kids buy CD's and I listen to what they listen to.
MSJ: What is currently in your deck?
Miles Davis Four and More. I listen to a lot of acoustic jazz music from the old school guys. If you play loud music all day long, the last thing you want to do is be barraged by another stack of Marshalls.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended as a fan?
I wish I had a quick answer for you. Mike Landau at The Baked Potato. Great guitar player. I grew up with him. Under the wire. Probably your fans wouldn't know who he is. Consummate genius guitar player. I spend so much time on the road; I don't get a chance to see too many shows. But I love a good show. I'm a fan. I'm one of those guys that will stand up and cheer and sing along with the tunes. You've got some of these musicians who sit in the front row with their arms crossed scowling at you; waiting for you to make a mistake. I'm here to have a good time.
MSJ: Who haven't you worked with that you would like to?
Peter Gabriel. I've met him; nice cat. We did some shows, festivals together, through the years. I'm a big prog-rock fan from the '70s. I love all that old Genesis stuff, Yes, and Gentle Giant. All that crazy, wacky stuff. When you listen to bands like that; where the hell are the new bands that do that. There are some great new prog bands but they're more heavy prog as opposed to whose writing the next Close to the Edge; where the themes recur. The perfect record. I've got this s**t in my iPod.
MSJ: Dream Theater is close to that.
John's a dear friend of mine. We've played together a whole bunch. I'm a big fan. I love those guys. I think they're really schooled musicians that are bringing it up to that level and becoming very successful. They have a big fan base around the world. It's nice to know there are people out there that can dig musicianship of that caliber and hit a major audience. It's not just a bunch of guys who sell 10,000 records, go out on the road and play small clubs, starving, just to keep the music alive. I do a lot of side projects that I don't make any money doing it but I have a great time and stretch out musically and be a better player at the end of the day. I still practice every day and try to get better even though nobody really cares. I should say the masses. There are people who care. Certainly not Jann Wenner. He's not a big fan. Of course, nobody's a big fan of his either so. Anybody that starts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and inducts himself has got to be a c**t. How much of a joke is that whole scene anyway? That's not really the Hall of Fame. It should be Jann Wenner's favorite bands Hall of Fame. There are so many glaring omissions there. Don't even get me started.
MSJ: Was there a project that you wish you hadn't gotten involved with?
Back when I was "Joe Studio" guy. A lot of times they call you and say "ok, we need you for a week at Sunset Sound from 12 to 6, blah, blah, blah." You didn't know who the artist was till you got there. Hell, when you look down at my discography, it's pretty vast. You'll see a couple of records like Shirley Bassie and you go "what the f**k is that?" I didn't know who I was working for. I think I got hired to do a Richard Simmons record and I didn't know it was for him. When I got there, and heard what was going on, and dug the scene, I left. I said "excuse me, I'll be right back" and I got in my car and split. That's when I realized that I'm done with this. I won't do this anymore.
MSJ: What is your favorite Spinal Tap moment in your career?
I produced the last Spinal Tap record. How about that? Break like the Wind; I did 4 tracks on that record. Every day is a Spinal Tap moment. That's why that movie hits home to so many musicians because it's a caricature for sure. But at the same time, I've been lost backstage trying to get down to the stage; the "Hello, Cleveland" thing. That's happened. The in-store where nobody shows up in some weird town. Never that bad. Traveling around the world, you wouldn't believe the s**t that happens to us. Just the wear and tear. We don't get paid for playing on stage; we get paid for the other 22 hours of the day we have to deal with. 26 hours to get home from f**kin' Berlin. You're just sitting there going "just kill me now. I just want to die. I had the same underwear on for 2 days." You get shaken down by the customs guys cause they want to look through every piece of paper in my wallet to see if I have cocaine. It's ridiculous. Guys, I've been doing this my whole life. Do you think I'm that f**king stupid? Plus, I don't do that s**t anymore. You get a guy younger than you going "so what do you do?" "I'm a musician." "Who do you play for, blah, blah, blah? I never heard of you." "Fine, can I go home now?" They obviously don't dig their job and I'm reminded that I get to do what I love to do and get paid for it.
 
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