Steve Lukather of Toto – Still Holding the Line 35 Years In
by Jay S. Jacobs
There is nothing novel about an veteran band reuniting for one last bask in their past glories. However, in their 35th anniversary tour, 70s and 80s hitmakers Toto are getting back together for all the right reasons.
Original bassist Mike Porcaro was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2007. Medical expenses piled up quickly. Therefore, to help an old friend, original band members Steve Lukather, David Paich and Steve Porcaro got back together with longtime Toto singer Joe Williams (though he was high school friends with the original members, he did not join the band until 1985). The hole left in the rhythm section by the ailing Mike Porcaro and late drummer Jeff Porcaro (who died of a heart attack in 1992) was filled by respected session players Nathan East and Simon Phillips.
It makes a certain amount of sense that the band would be filled out with session musicians, because Toto was always made up of some of the hottest session guys on the music scene. For many years you could not name a significant album coming out of LA that members of Toto did not play on. The guys were first noticed as Boz Scaggs’ backing band on the multi-platinum album Silk Degrees. Other classic albums band members added their licks to include Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Steely Dan’s Katy Lied.
The guys got together as Toto in 1977, becoming an immediate success with their self-titled debut album and hit single “Hold the Line.” They released a couple more albums in the next couple of years and had a few more hits, including “99” and “I’ll Supply the Love.” However in 1982 with the album Toto IV, things exploded. Toto singles “Rosanna” and “Africa” were amongst the biggest songs of the year, while other singles like “Make Believe” and “I Won’t Hold You Back” also climbed the charts. The band never quite hit the heights of IV again, though they had several other hits in coming years, despite many changes to the group’s lineup.
Lukather, the only member of Toto who has played throughout all of the band’s active years, has also become a prolific solo artist. His most recent solo disk Transition came out earlier this year.
We were able to catch up with Steve Lukather during a brief stop home in Los Angeles between a European solo tour promoting his Transition album and the beginnings of the European 35th Anniversary Toto shows. “I’m just looking at a pile of charts of old songs that Toto has to play in our next tour that we haven’t played in 100 years,” Lukather told me when he picked up the phone. “It pays to learn how to read music, man.” He laughed. “I don’t care what anybody tells you, man. It’s like learning how to speak Swedish or Spanish. That’s all it is. It’s a tool. It’s a tool, just like me!“ He broke up again, giving an good-natured “Ooohh!” I could tell early on that this interview was going to be a wild ride, and Luke didn’t disappoint, giving me a fascinating and funny (and occasionally just slightly dirty) guided tour of his career and his band.
I’m really looking forward to the new tour and also enjoying the new solo album.
Thank you very much, man. I just got back from Europe a couple of days ago. Had a really successful tour. I just keep jumping from ship to ship, man. It keeps my life rather interesting. Hectic, but you know. It’s what I do. I’m lucky to be doing it. Especially at 185 years old.
How crazy is it to think that Toto is 35 years old now?
How crazy is it that I’m 55 years old? (laughs) You know what, man? It went by really quickly. I have to say that it’s terrifying, actually. I want it to slow down a little bit. I’m probably enjoying it and appreciating it more now that I’m clean – mind, body and soul – for the last many years. I’m just taking a good look around, you know? When you’re in the midst of the madness, sometimes you don’t even realize how fast it’s going and what’s really going on. Now I’m really taking a little more stock of it and am certainly very appreciative of all of the opportunities. I’m doing all this crazy stuff now, and it’s all very positive, so… Thirty five years went by really scary fast. That’s what happened.
Lots of bands reunite for selfish reasons, but Toto is doing it for one of the most worthy reasons I’ve heard. How did the decision to get back together for the anniversary tour come together?
Well, here’s the thing. Mike Porcaro has got ALS [Lou Gehrig’s Disease]. If you know anything about this disease at all, it’s one of God’s more cruel creations. Really, it makes cancer a walk through the park in many ways. Imagine being entombed in your own body. That’s worse than prison. Mike’s a brother, man. The thing is, the real core guys of this band have known each other for 40 years. We were kids in school together. Joseph [Williams] and his brother Mark went to school with us before Toto. Me and Mike Landau had bands in school, along with the Porcaro Brothers [Steve, Jeff and Mike]. We’ve all been friends. I pulled the plug on this thing early, when it became me and a bunch of really incredible side men. Who were friends, but the band became something else. I wasn’t getting on with someone in the band and the guys who came on to take the places of the original members are still my friends. Needless to say, the guys I started out with have always been friends. Even in the darker times.
So back in 2007, when I bailed, Mike was really having a tough time of it. Obviously, as the bass player and not primary songwriter, money was needed to help keep his family going. With kids in school and medical bills. When a brother is down, you get together. So [David] Paich and I talked on the phone and I said yeah, man, I’m up for doing it. This was 2010. I’m up for doing it, but we have to have Steve Porcaro come back. And we have to have Joe sing.
I want to look around the stage and see my high school bros. Joe can sing better now than he ever did. Everybody’s gone through their trials and tribulations with the raging years and all that stuff, but we’re all older guys now. When we were young, we were all crazy. We did all the stupid rock and roll shit you can do. Some of us grew out of it. Some of us didn’t. Whatever. Most of us did. The lifelong friendships that never waned are still stronger than ever.
So we got back together and did this little tour. It was a huge success. Nathan East stepped in to play bass with us. He’s incredible. World class. Everybody knows him. Simon Phillips on drums, taking over for Jeff [Porcaro, who died in 1992]. So where there is a hole in the original rhythm section, it certainly was filled by some incredibly worthy musicians and also very old friends. And we’ve got a couple of great background singers, Amy Keys and Mabvuto Carpenter, to make it real, so we can pull off all the five-part harmonies and stuff. Because a lot of people are out there faking it, you know?