Hold The Line
Toto's Steve Lukather Dials in Time to Preview the Band's Return

By Lee Valentine Smith

On a rare day off from Toto's "40 Trips Around The Sun" tour, guitarist and co-founder Steve Lukather is relaxing in a hotel room. He's fine with skipping the sights of the Denver after another successful night of playing the band's hits and deep cuts in a continuing celebration of four decades of work.

Along the way, he's made an indelible name for himself as an in-demand session guy, playing on everything from Michael Jackson's Thriller to Ringo Starr's latest album, set for release later this month.

He's travelled the world since forming the now-classic rock band while still in his teens. Toto's hits have remained in constant rotation on every audio form since 1978. Hits like "Hold The Line," "Rosanna," and "Africa" continue to captivate listeners who weren't even born when the original versions were released.

This month, Toto returns to Symphony Hall, site of last year's sold out visit, and the gregarious Lukather recently spoke at length by phone with INsite.

Congratulations on 40-plus years of not only the expansive Toto catalog but also your own impressive body of work.

Thank you, brother. I guess being a survivor has its perks, right? I've seen a lot of stuff come and go. It's definitely a weird life. It's wonderful but it's sure weird.

A lot of people would trade places with you in a minute.

Yeah but they only see the good parts. Imagine months of interrupted sleep. You're on the bus and it rolls into the hotel at 4 in the morning. You're constantly on the move and away from your family. You spend a lot of time in empty rooms. I mean, I've been on the road for 43, going on 44 years now. I saw every sight, every touristy thing you can do, four decades ago. So today I'm just enjoying the day off.

I was going to ask how the tour is going, but I can't see you having a bad night.

The band is playing great. Killer shows. No matter what's going on in the background, legal or businesswise or personal, it all goes away. Once we hit the stage, we become 17-year-old kids again. We really enjoy ourselves and you can see it. I still really enjoy my job. And people still enjoy what we do so we're lucky. I could be a bitter old drunk guy, hating life and playing to twelve people in Needles, California, you know? You've seen 'em. But people are still enjoying our music. We still record but let's be honest, even the old fans who love the deep cuts, even they want to hear the old stuff. But that's ok. We can add some new stuff but we love playing it all. There are certain things we've gotta play and it's fun to play those songs to an audience that wants to hear it. I mean, I'd never listen to it at home, but you know what I mean.

You don't have to listen to it, you lived it.

Well yeah that's true. Last year I did a book and we put a discography of a lot of it in the back.

At this point, when you look at your discography, what do think?

I can't believe it. It's actually sort of daunting to even look at. I'm like, 'Did I really do all of that?' But I've spent pretty much my whole life being on the road and I never had to do much else. I can't say on my deathbed that I've wasted my life because I certainly stayed busy. And I'm still motivated. I was just practicing today because I still care about music.

I've heard some of the brand new Toto stuff and I was pleasantly surprised that it sounds remarkably like vintage Toto.

(Laughs) Well it is us. It's interesting you say that because I guess it's true. But we don't ever try to do that and we've never discussed it, it just is. When I play Toto songs with Ringo or if we do some charity thing with other people, even though it's the right notes and the same song, it just doesn't sound the same. There's something intangible, I guess you could say, that happens when we play together. We all bring something to it and it all comes out as this big gumbo that sounds like Toto.

That's pretty impressive because there's been quite a bit of personnel change in the lineups.

Yeah, now I'm the only one that's been there day-to-day. So consequentially I sort of got pushed to the front of the band by accident. It wasn't my idea. But now we have Joseph Williams back and we had multiplatinum success with him and we're childhood friends. Steve Porcaro and I have been playing together since we were 15 years old in high school and Lenny Castro has been with us on percussion since day one. We're missing a couple of brothers who've passed away and there's not much we can do about that.

But their spirit is there.

Absolutely! Every time we play a note their spirit is with us, there's just no question about it. We're always telling stories about things that happened years ago and everybody has a different view. I mean everybody has a different point of view of even the same day! But they're always in the room with us and in the spirit of the music that we made.

The songs really hold up. I saw you with Ringo's All-Starr Band a couple of years ago and the three Toto songs you did got almost a Beatle-level reaction from the audience. People absolutely love those songs.

Oh well thanks but no, don't even say that. I'm just glad people dig what we did. The Beatles are a whole other thing from us or anybody. But I do love Ringo and I'm going to be in his band again next year, too. He's done a lot of great things for me. I'm on an album with him and it's us and Paul McCartney is playing bass. So it was me, Paul and Ringo in the same room. We'd worked together before but not in that context.

I know the Beatles mean a lot to you, as they do to many of us, but you've managed to work with them on the international stage.

I mean, yeah. And what are the odds? A kid staring at a black and white TV set going, 'I want to be like them.' Then 50 years later, I'm walking on stage to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that event. If you were looking at it from mathematical odds, there'd be a whole lot of zeroes on the end of that equation.

You definitely beat those odds.

I was focused and determined to do it. Plus, I can't really do anything else! Now that I'm around third base at nearly 45 years in, I think if I've fooled everyone this long, I've probably got it till the end of my days.

1977 was a big year for you.

It sure was! That spring is when we did the first Toto demos, actually. Then I got the gig with Boz Scaggs that summer, on his Silk Degrees tour which was huge. And I was just 19 years old. Then by that fall, we were in the studio starting to work on the first Toto album. So I was busy all the time after that, with the band and also as a session guy. It was a huge year for me and here I've blinked and it's over forty years later! I can't believe that we're looking at 2020. 2020?! Are you kidding me? Where's my flying car, you dig?

The first Toto album was released 41 years ago this month. I remember when it was new and it just exploded - which as you know, doesn't always happen with a band's debut record. How did that feel from inside the whirlwind?

We were blown away. You always just hope and dream, right? Then when it first started to happen, we were like, 'Wow, you mean we're actually gonna pull this off?' I mean come on, we were talking about odds. What are the odds of that? So we took the ride. Now, all these years later, I sorta haven't looked back since that moment. Then it was like a snowball going down the hill and you're holding on for dear life. There were some rough times, of course. It wasn't all good. It's a roller coaster ride like with anything. You go down and up, but right now, I've gotta say it's pretty nice to be on an 'up.' We're looking forward to coming back down there and playing and leaving everybody with a big smile and a pleasant taste in your mouth after seeing us. The band is really killin' right now and I'm really proud of it.

Toto returns to Symphony Hall at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 10. For more information, please visit atlantasymphony.org.



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