20 Questions With…Steve Lukather

Steve Lukather is the lead guitarist of the Grammy Award winning band Toto, who will be releasing Toto XIV (their first new album in ten years) in March.  He has appeared as a guest artist on more than 1500 albums, including Michael Jackson’s hit single Beat It.  He tours the world with Toto, Ringo Starr’s All Star Band and on January 23, 2015, he will be performing with Larry Carlton in Seoul (Click here for tickets)Amid all this, he was kind enough to answer 20 Questions for Korea Guitar. A true legend, class act and guitarist extraordinaire. Ladies and Gentleman…Steve Lukather…

1. How old were you when you started to play the guitar?  Why did you start?  Did you take lessons or are you self taught?

I was 7 years old.. I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and my parents got me a guitar and a copy of Meet The Beatles and that changed my life forever!

I pretty much taught myself till the age of 14 when I started formal music -guitar lessons.

A) What was your first guitar? 

It was a KAY cheap-ass acoustic guitar. I still have it. My parents made it into a lamp and gave it to me for my 21st B day. haha 

B) What are you playing now?

Steve with his custom Music Man LUKE

I play Music Man guitars, I have a signature model LUKE and have had 3 versions over the last 22 years. LOVE them!

I do have many guitars in my collection though. 

C) Which is the best guitar you’ve ever played?

Well I LOVE my Music Mans for sure.. I have a 1959 Sunburst Les Paul that I still use now and then. It is a classic..

3. Who was your biggest musical influence?

Beatles.. then everything that happened after them to present day. SO many great musicians and SO much to learn from in every style!

4. What was the first concert you ever saw?

3 Dog Night at the LA Forum. Great show.. I ended up working with the singer Corey Wells early in my career A great band. 

5. How different is it to record a solo album compared to a Toto album or a session recording?  Is it a completely different mindset?

Totally. Toto is art by committee. Many opinions. We are all solo artists really.. MY records are ME. I am the first and last word and I do as I please.

 I like doing both really.

6. Which albums that you have performed on as a guest are you most proud of or are the most memorable?

You are asking an impossible question here.

I have done so much and so many different things. I would simply say I have had a big and blessed career having to have worked with so many of my heroes.

7. You’ll be in Seoul with Larry Carlton on January 23rd.  You’ve been here before with Toto.  

A) Do you have any memories of playing in Korea?  

I remember the warmth and kindness of the Korean people. I have been many times and look forward to this trip for sure!

We have a great show lined up and I am playing with some of the greatest musicians I know.

B) Is there a chance Korea could get to see Toto on their world tour this year?

I am hoping Toto will come back for sure. Perhaps in 2016 as this year is booked up but we have a new record out in March, TOTO XIV and we will be on tour for the next 2 years so.. I sure hope so. I love Korea!

8. How did the collaboration with Larry Carlton get started? Are there any specific challenges in playing with him?

Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather-Live in Seoul, Friday, January 23, 2015
Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather-Live in Seoul, Friday, January 23, 2015

I have known Larry since I was 18 years old. He is a lifelong friend and musical hero.. a HUGE influence on me. I learned so much from him and still do. We have an interesting way about us.. it has been 15 YEARS since we last played together and I am a different man and musician. I come to this now with a clear mind, body and soul and more mature. You will see some fine guitar work as well as a killer band. Keith Carlock from Steely Dan on drums, Jeff Babko, Travis Carlton, Larry’s son.. fun fun fun!

9. What amazes me the most about your playing is how you can switch styles so easily, from rock to blues to jazz to country.  How did this come about?  

I love ALL sorts of music therefore I don’t think you can lump me in any style like that really. I am NOT a ‘ jazz player’ per se.. but that vocabulary sneaks into my playing , I am a rock guy with big ears and my love for jazz, blues and all styles creeps in here and there. I am a product of everything I have ever heard and if you put THAT in a blender.. you get me. haha

10. You’re good friends with Eddie Van Halen.  As a die-hard Van Halen fan, I have to ask…To you, what is it about Eddie’s playing that sets him apart from other players?

He changed the game. Ed is still a dear friend of mine. We had lunch together last week. I love him as a brother and we have been thru so much together.. He took the guitar and turned it upside down. he is soul and fire and originality. many people copied this style and almost made it into a parlor trick but when ED does it.. it is soulful and real.

11. You’re touring with Larry Carlton now.  You follow that up with a tour with Ringo Starr, followed by a tour with Toto.  Don’t you ever take a break?  How do you prepare for a tour, when you know that right around the corner is another tour with another band with another style of playing?

haha I know.. it IS crazy. 200 days a year on the road. It does get hard. I miss my kids.. but I am what I am.  The road is my life. Almost 40 years now.. wow ..1225640240659_f

12. Can you tell us about the new Toto album, Toto XIV?  Why did it take ten years between Toto albums?

We never thought we would do another one really. It was born from a lawsuit and we thought .. well, IF we do this it better be REALLY good. So we spent 10 months and a huge amount of love, blood, sweat and soul. We are rather proud of it. It will be out in March with a world tour to follow over the next 2 years.

13. What do you do to prepare for a show? How has your pre-game ritual changed over the years?

I am as healthy, clean and pure of mind, body and soul as I have ever been. THIS changed everything for the better for me. I warm up, sure.. I practice every day.. I try and make good music.. My passion has increased as opposed to it fading.

14. Recently, Dave Grohl made a comment about how terrible the name Foo Fighters is, and it got me thinking about band names and their origins.  How did you decide on the name Toto?

Yep hahaha I can relate. BUT.. it is what it is now.. we are a brand. I even bought the toilet hahahaha It IS a great one at least. We GET the joke man.. There ARE worse band names. haha

15. My brother owns a School of Rock in Ottawa, where they teach students how to perform within a band context.  What advice would you give to these future rock stars?

Stay off drugs and don’t drink too much, watch your money, listen to ALL kinds of music and don’t practice what you know. Practice what you DON’T know!

16. Which cities/countries that you’ve yet to visit would you love to play?  Is there a particular city that you look forward to playing when you’re on tour?

I just love seeing the world.. I have a great time wherever I go and since I have been touring for almost 40 years .. I have friends everywhere. I have seen and done all the silly ‘ tourist stuff. I like going where the locals eat and hang out. REAL people.. haha

17. You started Toto in 1977 and you’re still selling out arenas around the world.  What is it about Toto’s music that has allowed it to remain so popular after all these years?

Gosh.. I don’t know but I sure am happy we have lasted. Things seem to be on the UP for us.. we are appreciating this more than ever right now!

18. A lot has been written recently about Rock and Roll dying.  What are your thoughts on this?  Is the day of the rock star guitarist gone?  Are there any new guitarists that have a chance of carrying the torch?

I don’t think rock is dying. It is just stale. Cliche even. We NEED a new guitar hero. Has EVERY trick been done? Retro. What IS that? It is copying the past so.. we need new fresh ideas. I still love the classic rock stuff. It holds up. We all really played, wrote and sang our music like our peers. Perhaps people can HEAR that and thats why it lasts. Today there is a lot of trickery.. fake singers and disposable pop artists made on TV. There’s a  ‘sameness’ to me that is tired and shitty. Radio does not help. There is cool underground stuff .. I dont know maybe I am just getting old hahaha

19. Which songs in a Toto set that are especially challenging guitar wise?  Vocally?  

Singing and playing live is hard. One must stay focused and healthy. I TRY and push the limits .. maybe even being simple in my playing. Or more so now.. all the tricks have been done .. or at least that I have seen so heart and SOUL in music is what makes the difference I think .

20. What does the future hold? More Toto? Solo albums? How long can you go on?

Till I drop dead. haha What else am I supposed to do? haha NOT sure Toto will do another record.. in 10 years again many IF we are all still here. I will do another solo record in a few years.. NOT sure what it will be, but lets see. We are filming and recording some shows with Larry so .. who knows?

21. For all of us who have never experienced it, can you describe the feeling of standing in front of 20,000 people, who are all singing your songs?

Toto and a few of their closest friends in Rome
Toto and a few of their closest friends in Rome

Well, we did 50,000 in Germany a few years back. Surreal. Wonderful. Scary and awesome ALL at the same time. I mean a song I wrote in my living room connects with THAT many people worldwide. It is a high that has to be experienced as there is no way to describe it.

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