INTERVJU: Steve Lukather

Den gamle Toto-gitarristen har spelat med allt och alla genom åren. Nu är han aktuell med ett nytt soloalbum, “I found the sun again” Vi ringde upp den frispråkige LA-musikern för att snacka om albumet, men även minnen av Michael Jackson, Miles Davis och självklart hans vän Eddie Van Halen.

I always thought it was a guy called Van Halen. I´d heard about this kid. Me and Landau were at Guitar Center and one ne of the guys at Guitar Center said “You know, there´s another guy that comes in here and he´s about your age, man. He´s a motherfucker. You guys should meet Eddie from Pasadena.” I remember having this conversation and I think Eddie and I were destined to be friends.

I thought we´d start off by talking about a couple of tracks on the album. Tell me about “Along for the ride”

It´s a fun track. Me and Jeff Babko wrote the song and Stan Lynch and Joseph Williams kicked in. I made the record in eight days, top to bottom a song a day, except for mixing. I had to mix in a hazmat suit. We did this record last February, a month before the lockdown started, so we were able to do it live in the studio. I wanted to do the whole album live solos, live everything except for vocals, like we did it in the 70´s. Like they used to make records when I was a kid and listening to them. Everything was live but the vocals. I did the lead vocals and Joseph did a few background vocals at home and boom, mix! I wanted to do a record with that feeling of jamming in the studio. People not really knowing what we´re doing. We didn´t rehearse, there´s no click tracks, there´s no demos. Jeff wrote some great charts and a lot of room for improvisation and I just let everybody blow, so calling this a solo record is sort of a lie. That song is a great way to open the record. It´s a corky little lick and my little nod to brother Joe Satriani. It´s very much a Sat kind of a vibe. That kinda rock happy meets The Who, you know what I mean. The whole middle section is like a dedication to “The Who´s next” And that was live, no overdubs.

Yes, parts of the song reminded me of “Won´t get fooled again”

Right! The whole thing is a nod to The Who. I thank Pete Townsend on the record.

What about “Journey through”?

Jeff Babko wrote this beautiful piece for me and it´s obviously a nod to my hero and friend Jeff Beck. And there a nod to a few other people in there. That´s one take, man. We did the take and that´s the record. No overdubs, no nothing. I´m really proud of the performance, because I really play it from the heart. I´m not trying to impress any guitar players by this point. I mean, there´s a Japanese girl at eight years old who´s faster than anybody. It becomes such a joke. It´s like a magic trick. If everybody knows how you did it it´s not magic anymore. It´s a matter of how nimble your little fingers wanna be. But how often can you use that in a real situation if you´re a real musician? It´s great to have those chops, but you´ve got to have a lot more than that in your trick bag. I come from the old school where you had to bring it every day and I came with that mentality as a young studio musician. I wanted to bring that whole 70´s thing into 2021, so I tried to keep the sensibilities of that era with the 2020 sound.

Last song I want to talk about is “Found the sun again”

That´s a love song to my girl Amber. We made this cheesy little video with Joseph Williams. He´s one of the few people that can come into my house because we all get tested all the time and he´s been coming here since March. He´s got a new grandson who´s two months old and I´ve got an autistic son, so none of us can get sick, you know. We just made this fun little cheesy.. like 70´s kinda bad green screen… not bad, but we were just having fun. We´re just guys who don´t know how to make movies.  I could´ve just put a picture of me and played the song, but we made a fun video for like no money with just an iPhone and Joe went home and played around with his new tech thing he has. He´s been making these fun little goofy videos. We´re not taking ourselves seriously other than the fact that the sentiment of the song is my relationship with my girl. I´m talking about the effects being cheesy. I think it´s a cool song. My wife described it like Pink Floyd meets Christopher Cross meets Joni Mitchell and Def Leppard on acid. (laughs) Jeff Babko and I came up with the music and Joseph and I finished the lyrics. It´s very mellow music. I did the solo live and it´s kind of a weird oddball solo, but I dig it because it´s spontaneous.

Do you miss the studio session days and the work you did back then?

Sure! Are you kidding me? Those are the best times of my life. They´ll never happen again. It doesn´t exist. They guys showing up every day not knowing what they were gonna do and you had to be ready for anything. All these “Who am I playing with today?”, “Who´s the artist?”, “Oh fuck, this is gonna be cool! Jeff´s here! Foster´s here! Graydon´s here! Ah man, this is gonna be a fucking great day!” and then you looked at the music and you jammed for a little bit. Next thing you know you have a take and you´re fucking done. That´s what we did every day for like 25 years and it was magic. Every day. “I´m playing with Joni Mitchell?”, “I´m playing with fucking Joe Cocker?”, “Aretha Franklin´s two feet away from me singing live?” I was like “Jesus Christ!” I´ve had some unbelievably magic moments. I´ve gotten to play with the best of the best. Blowing a solo on stage next to Wayne Shorter while Herbie Hancock´s playing. Magic shit. Playing with Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana. I´ve had some amazing times in my life. When I start thinking about it, it brings back memories of thousands of sessions. It will never happen again. I´m just honored to have been a part of that. That legacy and all those incredible musicians of that time and the time before us. The Wrecking Crew guys, those were our heroes and that´s how records were made. Now everybody makes it and it´s a computer and a celebrity. There´s a lot of forgettable pop music right now. Are you going to be listening to this shit 40 years from now? Maybe some people will. Maybe I´m just an old guy talking. What do I know? I wanted to make a record that didn´t sound like everybody else´s records. You can´t make a computer sound like that. Those are real people. And I kept the warts. I didn´t play every guitar note perfectly. There´s a few squeals. Miles Davis used to squeak the horn once in a while and so does fucking every guitar player. It´s not a mistake, but it´s not perfect. It´s real and that´s what makes it real and that´s what makes you go “Yeah, that´s fucking real, man!” It´s human and humans are not perfect. Records are too perfect now. That´s what´s wrong with them. Everybody uses the same plug ins. It´s like a brick of pop music with silly lyrics. I can take the poetry of rap music, but with the music there´s nothing creative going on. It´s computer game music with a drum groove and some guy raving over it. Are you gonna be 80 years old singing those lyrics? I just try to do things my way. I´m not trying to write a hit single to be on the radio. That´s ridiculous! I´ve had my time in the sun, thank you very much! I´m an artist and I play music because I love music. It´s not like I´m making tons of money off of it. It´s not like my record´s gonna sell a million copies. Who´s does? Justin Bieber, who just ripped off one of our songs? Totally ripped off the song “Going home” (Toto XX, 1998), man! It´s the same melody, the same groove, the same key… different lyrics (the song is “Anyone”). I think Paich is working on a lawsuit. (laughs) The thing is the lawyer we wanted to use, Bieber hired to keep people like us away from him. He´s stealing, he´s a thief! We´re gonna go up against some guy that´s got fucking $200 million against us? It´ll be a fucking settlement, just like the same way Satriani had with Coldplay. He´s never told me how much he got, but he just smiles. (laughs)

Back when you did the session work, was there like a standard fee for sessions?

Yeah, I got total scale. You start out with single scale and then you go to two doubles and then you went to double scale. Quincy (Jones) gave me triple. I didn´t ask for it, but he paid me that. There were some people that would pay me a fucking shit load of cash from Japan. Jeff Porcaro told me “Don´t go past double scale otherwise you´re gonna be an asshole when you´re on your way down!” When Jeff Porcaro spoke, I listened. He was my teacher, my brother… he showed me the way. Him and Jay Graydon were really the two guys… and (Lee) Ritenour too, that really fucking stepped up for me. In work… toured with me and mentored me. Without those cats, and Paich too and (David) Foster, those guys mentored me. They made me a better musician and I got to play some great shit with them. I learned a lot from playing with all the incredible studio musicians of that era. The best of the best. I got to write cool songs and I got to be in the mix of all that shit. Again, it was a such a wonderful and creative time. I wouldn´t trade it for the world.

When you got your first real big paycheck, do you remember what you spent it on?

A BMW. I bought a 530i for myself in 1977 when I was 19 years old. I went in to buy the fucking car and they guy goes “Is your mom here?” and I say “No, I´m buying the car.” and he said “Sure you are, kid!” I told him “Let me pay! Let me buy the car! I´m gonna buy the car!” and he said “No.”, because I was wearing torn up jeans and flip flops and I looked like I was 12 years old. I said “Ok man, fuck you!” I told my mom and told her about the story and she was like “Really? Why don´t you go up to the one on John Ives and check out the car.” I had the cash to buy it. I had just done the Boz Scaggs tour and I was making records and I was just about to become a fucking real session player, so I was like “I´m gonna buy a new car. Fuck it! I wanna rock!” I was a teenager and wanted a hot car to get all the chicks, right. So I bought this fucking top of the line BMW and I ended up buying it in Van Nuys. The guy was real nice to me and let me drive the car and I bought the fucking car. Then my mom calls the guy at the other store and she goes “Hey, you know that little punk ass kid you just blew off?” and he goes “Yeah, yeah what about him?” She said “Well, he just bought the car in Van Nuys. Fuck you!” My mom, god bless her! (laughs)

You grew up in the Valley, right?

Sure, and I´m still just up the hill from the Valley.

The Valley became, and probably still is, the porn capital of the world…

(laughs) At this point that can be in anybody´s house. Just get the computer. The porn capital, that´s pretty funny, man.

But were you aware of that back in the 70´s and the 80´s?

Yeah, a little bit. I didn´t really think about it. There was a lot of weird shit in the Valley. Weirder than the Hills, what can I tell you. I don´t know. I wasn´t invited to that party.

What´s the history behind the name Lukather?

I think it´s an Eastern European name. I think the original name was Lukasser, with two s and when they came over to Ellis Island they said it like Lukather and the guy wrote th instead of ss, so I became Lukather. Anybody named Lukather is related to me and there´s not very many left. My oldest son Trev… his record comes out today. Levara, great fucking band. Check them out! It´s like melodic rock on steroids. Killer singer. Trev writes all the shit. So proud of him. If you like rock, you´ll love this shit.

Back to the Valley and you growing up. What were you like in school?

I hated the fucking school. By the time I got into high school I was paying my sister to fucking do my homework. She would type my term papers up and fucking do my homework. I purposely failed the Iowa test for placement of smart, medium or genius or idiot. I got into the idiot class on purpose so I could cut school every week and come back on Friday and ace the test so I´d get a C. I passed. I was off rehearsing and playing or doing gigs and my father was on the road doing films and stuff like that. He was an assistant director, so he wasn´t around and my mom kinda looked the other way, because she knew what I wanted to do with my life. I knew what I wanted to do with my life when I was nine years old. I was in my first band and I said “This is it for me. I´m doing this forever.” Everybody laughed at me and my dad said “You´ve got a billion to one chance of making it.” and I told him “I´m that guy, dad!” and I said it when I was probably ten years old. He just kinda laughed at me and said “Ok, but you better have something else if it doesn´t work out.” My mom was a little bit more lenient and she drove me to the gigs. I would be like “I´ve got a gig at the other school.” and my mom was like “Ok, but you gotta fucking keep your grades up!” I found a scam. I had a whole scam at the school with the fucking attendant’s office and everything. I had my own phone, so I could unplug it so they couldn´t check up o me. I had a whole scam going, man! Me and Mike Landau were going to school together doing the same shit. Me and Mike have been brothers since we were 12 years old. He´s the best guitar player in the fucking world.

In your opinion, who do you consider being the best guitar player?

You can´t say. It´s like which kid you like the best. Can´t I love it all? I can´t say that. Everybody says “Jeff Beck´s the best!” or “Eddie Van Halen!” There are so many great guitar players. Landau, Gilmour, Nuno, Carlton, Graydon… You can´t say. How do you say which one of those guys is the best? Everybody has their own style and that´s the difference. You know what Larry Carlton sounds like. Maybe I came up with a sound that people like. I´ve been doing it for 45 years and some people like it, some people hate it.

When did you discover that you had a voice as well?

When I was a kid because nobody else would sing. I´m not a good singer and I know I´m not a good singer. I´m ok. I kinda do it because I can. On this album I was really careful to write shit in the lower key and be comfortable. Not trying to oversing or overproduce it. Things that I can´t do live. I punched in a few things and doubled a couple of lines, but other than that it was as real as it can be. We didn´t do 100 takes. We spent a few hours on vocals at the end of the day and that would be it.

You mentioned Eddie. What memories do you have from your first meeting?

Ah, this is hard, because I miss him every fucking day. We were more than guitar buddies, we were really friends for 40 some odd years and my respect and love for him started the moment Paich dropped the needle on “Eruption” while we were doing our (Toto) first album and said “Check this guy out!” After I peeled my fucking jaw off the floor I said “I gotta find out about this guy! I´d heard of Van Halen because when we were 16 years old, we auditioned for Gazzarri´s, me and Landau. We had a band and we auditioned for Gazzari´s and we got the gig, until they found out we were 16, and Van Halen was the headline band. I always thought it was a guy called Van Halen. I´d heard about this kid. Me and Landau were at Guitar Center and one ne of the guys at Guitar Center said “You know, there´s another guy that comes in here and he´s about your age, man. He´s a motherfucker. You guys should meet Eddie from Pasadena.” I remember having this conversation and I think Eddie and I were destined to be friends. We did a gig and it was a big 80.000 person festival in California the year (1978) both our first albums came out. We had a hit with “Hold the line” and Van Halen exploded. He liked the record and the song. Then our people was talking to his people and we met. I said “I wanna stand at the side of the stage and watch you play” Someone said it wasn´t allowed, but then Eddie said “He can sit.” and I went “Fucking cool, man!” There was a little spark of friendship in respect there and he called me on the phone one night and said “Come over to the house, man! We gotta hang out.” and I stayed there for two days. (laughs) From that moment on we were fucking bonded forever. He honored me with his presence on a few of my records. I sang background vocals on a couple of Van Halen records with Sammy just because I was hanging out. I happened to be there. “We need a third voice! Lukather, come here!” I didn´t try to get the gig, I just happened to be having a beer on the couch. He would come to my house and just show up. I´d hear his fucking monster car coming down my Cul de sac and it was “Ed´s here!” There´s a hole in my heart and I fucking miss him, man. I really miss him a lot. The world lost one of the best ever and I lost a friend. All my fucking best friends are dying, bro! I´ve lost a lot of fucking best friends in the last few years. School friends, family, best friends… It brings a tear to my eye being locked up like this. It´s given me a lot of time to think about the future, the past and trying to figure out where I´m going, trying to stay positive… Everybody´s depressed right now. What´s going on? What happened to life? I miss hugging people. I miss going out for a nice meal. All my favorite restaurants have gone under and they ain´t coming back. There´s a lot of things that will never ever be the same. Life´s never gonna be the same from here on ever. And it´s a world wide thing, this isn´t just some area we can stay away from. What the fuck happened, man! Who dropped the bomb? How the fuck did this start? I wanna find the asshole that dropped this fucking bomb. When it´s all over I´m ready to go. I´ve got a band and we´re ready to go. We´re gonna do Toto hits, Toto deep cuts and solo stuff too. New band, new vibe. Total separation from the past. David Paich stands with us. There´s a documentary coming out and I think we´re gonna put out a DVD of the livestream. It shows the new band and interviews with Paich and it explains everything. We´re just keeping the music alive, man. There´s fucking tribute bands. Why shouldn´t I go out and play. We pay a percentage to people who don´t come out on the road anymore. I don´t wanna stop playing music. I´m the only thread through all 15 incarnations. Joseph (Williams) sang on our multi-platinum hits and he´s been killing it the last ten years. We both wanna work. David can´t medically do it. Steve Porcaro hates the road. We have a new band and I don´t get B level cats. I wanna surround myself with people that wanna hang, have a good time, make a few bucks and have a laugh.  I´m not ready to retire. A year of retirement? I got a taste and I hate it. Musicians don´t retire for fucks sake! You retire from a shitty job.

You mentioned Jay Graydon earlier. A favorite album of mine is Alice Cooper´s “From the inside” and both of you played on it. Any memories?

(laughs) We were just talking about it the other day. My girlfriend is best friends with Cheryl Cooper, which I didn´t know. They live in Arizona so we´re dying to get together obviously, but we can´t. I was just like 21 years old when I did that record. I got to work with Bernie Taupin and Alice and shit. That was a real fun experience for me. I guess the Alice Cooper hardcore fans don´t like the record that much. It´s a real west coast version of fucking Alice. It´s an oddball record, but it´s got some great… I got to play with Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick). It was fun. He had just gotten out of rehab and we were all hanging out. Alice is a wonderful man. We´ve run into each other a million times and I´ve played on some of his later stuff. I was a fan in junior high school.

Through out all these years, you must´ve been approached by a lot of bands that wanted you in their band?

I have gotten offers. I got offers from Elton (John), from Miles Davis, from Joni Mitchell, but I couldn´t do it. I couldn´t quit my band. As honored as I was. Bob Seger asked me to do a tour. I´ve played on records with people and they would ask “Would you go on the road?” and I´d go “When and how long?” It´s hard to say no to your fucking heroes, but I had to do the right thing. We had a tour booked the next day and Miles was going “Come to New York tomorrow!” and I said “Are you kidding me? I can´t. I´ve got a three month tour booked plus you´d probably fire me day two.” and he laughed. I went “Look, I´m so fucking honored. Call Robben Ford or Michael Landau!” and they called Robben.

Were you ever approached by any hard rock or metal bands?

No and I´m not gonna be in one of those thrown together bands like they did. Get guys from different bands and make a superstar record. That to me just waters down the original brand. I get it we all gotta make a living. It´s killing me not to do shit. I´d love to be able to do everything. Oh yeah, I´ll do it now! I´ll make a record, but then what does it mean? It´s just a record. Ok, it might be really good, but where do you go from there? I can´t dedicate my life to another band. I´m already in two, Ringo´s band and Toto.

How´s Ringo?

I facetimed with him yesterday. We´re close buddies now. I´ve been in the band for nine years. I started out like “Wow, it´s Ringo!” and now he´s like one of my closest friends. He´s been a diamond in my life. He´s been such a fucking wonderful soul. Just a real fucking spark and soulful, generous human being. We need more Ringos in the world. Peace and love is not bullshit to him. Two simple words that everybody laughs off and it´s two of the things we need more than ever. It´s not just a slogan. I went from black and white to color when I saw them (The Beatles) on the Ed Sullivan Show and 50 years later I´m standing next to Paul and Ringo doing the 50th anniversary show. It was very surreal for me. I got a little emotional actually. It was like “Fucking hell!” I begged my grandmother dropped me off at the movies every week so I could see “A hard days night” I could never imagine. It´s like you´d tell me I would be the first man on Venus. The mathematical odds are staggering. A punk ass kid from North Hollywood. I got to work with Paul three or four times and he was always the best of the best. We hung out. We were on the road together and stayed at the same hotel. We went to see the gig and we hung out before the show. It was magic. Then George and I became friends and he played at the Jeff Porcaro tribute and we hung out and jammed a little bit. He gave me a couple of wonderful gifts that I cherish. Ringo lives ten minutes away from me and brought me a birthday cake. It blew my mind.

A final thing. Michael Jackson and “Thriller”. I remember talking to Steve Stevens who said that when he played with Michael, he would imitate David Lee Roth and just be very funny. Was he a funny guy?

Yeah! We were the same age and shit like that. He used to hide out and run and appear at David Paich´s house. To hide in all the insanity. We weren´t close friends by any such imagination. It was just a cordial working relationship. The first time he called me on the phone I hung up on him. Really. I was like “Fuck you!”, calling me at 8 o´clock in the morning in 1981. Then I found out that Quincy´s office called and it was really Michael and they said “You should call him back.” (laughs) Then I called him and he laughed and said (mimics Michael´s voice) “It happens all the time.” (laughs) I´ve had some really surreal moments in my life.

Well, I hope we get to see you on stage over here soon.

Oh god, I can´t wait to come back! Are you kidding me! We had the tour on the books, man. Late summer, but it doesn´t look like it´s gonna happen. It doesn´t look like we´re gonna be hanging out in an arena with anybody soon. Sadly. It´s gonna take a while to come out of the darkness and have the sunshine come out. I don´t wanna do it when the arena looks like it´s three people in each row and shit like that. That´s not only not financially viable, it´s like fucking a rubber doll. It´s not real. “What the fuck´s going on? Is this soundcheck or what?” The travelling around and going from country to country and hotel to hotel… As much as we want it to happen and as much as all the work we´ve put in to trying to make it happen, it´s not gonna. It´s too soon. We´re ready for 2022.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen