Certain musical artists float on the periphery of our conscious, recognized but seldom front and center. Such is the case with Toto guitarist Steve ‘Luke’ Lukather. In part that is because he is seen by most as “just” the guitarist in “that” band that we like, but like the man, seems to be a part of the landscape of our subconscious. Few have any idea how much a part of their lives Luke has been, having performed on, written for, or produced more than 1500 albums, including the number one selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.
Three days before the Mayan-predicted end of the world, The Examiner sat down with the iconic guitarist to discuss his forthcoming seventh solo album, “Transition” which hits streets on January 22. Luke is one of the busiest men in music from making album guest appearances, to touring with Toto, touring with Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, and recently as part of the 2012 G3 tour with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. He's also a damn funny and genuine guy.
With so much on his plate it is a wonder Luke has time at all to record his own music at all, and I asked him how he managed to fit the recording of "Transition" into his hectic schedule:
"I started the album last December, then in between the five different tours I did last year, I was working on the record. This is what I do. I have clean mind, body, and soul. I have a lot of energy and I use it. I think it's just maybe as I'm getting older, I want to get as much done as I can. I've had these wonderful opportunities to do all this stuff and I was able to manage my time to be able to do all of it. And I'm looking back going, well I didn't sit on the couch scratching my nuts and watching television all year. That's for sure."
Lukather has made an amazing number of changes in his life in recent years including a divorce and the loss of his mother. I asked him if that is perhaps the premise behind the title of the new album, "Transition".
"Listen, I've been on the road for 36 years. There comes a point where it's just one hangover too many. I just woke up one day and said 'I need to be healthy.' I wen't through a really awful period of time to be quite honest with you: A lot of personal emotional stuff and it catches up with you. You start to drown your sorrows, so to speak. One day I just said 'this is enough. I'm too old for this shit.' I stubbed out the cigarette, chucked the beer away and that was the end of it. I didn't have to do any big rehab or A.A. or anything. I just said I'm done with this crap. I started working out, eating organic--just changed my whole life. Complete 180. I'm so much better for it, I feel great. I'm focused. I'm happy. I lost 30 pounds and I got the gleam in my eye back. It was a massive upheaval in my life to drag myself all the way down to the bottom and pull myself back up again over the last several years and that's the transition, really. That's what it means: From the darkness into the light."
On the doorstep of a New Year, with the new album ready for release, Lukather admitted he's been more cognizant lately of where he's been and where he's going:
"I was talking with Steve Porcaro last night--went out and had dinner--my fellow Toto. We were just laughing about our lives, and when we were kids. And all sudden these memories started flooding back. Cause everybody remembers different stuff. It's kind of 'Oh wow, I remember that. Remember this?' I'm kind of reflecting in a real positive way. End of the year, restart and kind of look back at your life. I've really been lucky. I've had an amazing life so far. I hope we don't all hurl into the sun on Friday [Dec. 21], cause next year's looking really good too."
Lukather has had an amazing life. He and his Toto bandmates have appeared on more than 8000 records. He's had massive mainstream success, as well as huge industry success and acknowledgment from his fellow musicians. Obviously you don't get the call to appear on the more than 1500 albums he has without a lot of respect and acknowledged skill.
One of the many shining moments in his storied career was being a large part of the making of Michael Jackson's "Thriller", album along with his bandmates in Toto, (David Paich, Steve and Jeff Porcaro). Something the average fan is completely unaware of, and Luke admits that it irks him just a bit:
"I was kind of pissed off we didn't get any love on that one. Because Toto had a lot to do with the 'Thriller' album. For example, on 'Beat It', it was Jeff Porcaro on drums and myself. Eddie [Van Halen] played the solo. That was all he did. I played the bass part. I played all the riff parts and all the rhythm guitar parts, and Michael sang. 'Human Nature' is a Toto song; written by us, arranged by us, and everybody played on it, with Michael singing. The McCartney duet was all of us on it. There's no fanfare to it, even though we were on the 'album of the year' like three years in a row. People just don't give us any acknowledgement whatsoever. I'm not crying sour grapes, but we were part of one of the biggest records of all time. We were all over that record. Eddie did a solo for 30 seconds and that's all anybody wants to talk about. And it's a great solo. Don't get me wrong. Ed's one of my closest friends. So I'm not putting him down. They just go immediately; name value, name value..."
In fact, Lukather and Toto have been so prodigious in talent and recording that the band rightly deserves a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, something Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone founder, Jann Wenner will never allow to happen. It remains one of the Hall's most noticeable snubs.
"Toto's the only band to ever turn down the cover of The Rolling Stone," declared Luke. "That pissed off Wenner pretty good. So he erased us from the history of rock. We're not even mentioned at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We're not even in the computer system. I've played with 75 people in the Hall of Fame."
I remind him that Donna Summer and Randy Newman will be entered this year: "That makes it 77," he laughs.
You can listen to our full interview below including a more in depth look at his new album, who he thinks belongs in the Hall of Fame, some of the artists he's worked with over the years and much, much more. Check it out, then go pre-order "Transition" here: