Toto: More Than A Second Wind

   Whether you grew up before them, with them, or after them, you know who they are…and if you don’t, then you know their songs for sure and just have yet to learn who actually sings them. Steve Lukather, better known as Luke, from Toto — that band that you know and love, even if you don’t actually know them — is a founder of the group, a songwriter, guitarist, father, jokester, and more. To put it this way, upon asking Luke how it’s going, he answered in the most upbeat way: “It’s going great! I’m in Orlando right now, it’s a sunny day, and we’ve got a sold out show tonight, so everything is going really, really well. Thank you!” We spoke about that day, what was to come, the tour(s) he is a part of, the band(s) he is a part of, his book, his life, and much, much more.

This has been a whirlwind past few months — past few years — for you and the band. What do you make of it all?

   To get like a big, huge second wind like this, or I should say a closing act [Laughs]. I mean, it’s just insane how everything is going, like, it really came out of left field. This whole “Africa” thing went crazy and we’re just riding the wave of it. It’s been really great. We have a great sense of humor about it, we just go along with it, and the reviews of the show have been incredible and we’ve been playing great and everyone is getting along really good. We’re healthy, having fun. It’s a good time to be us right now, I have to say.

   But we’ve definitely payed a lot of dues, ok? So, it is sweet when you get a little taste of success at this point in the game. It’s kind of like this renewed thing, you know, since we’ve got all these young people in the audience and they’re digging the whole show! They’re not just coming for one song. I think they’re more surprised, though, that they knew a lot more songs than they thought, like, “Oh! These guys do that song, too? I didn’t know that.” I mean, the people that are into us know all of the deep cuts and we do quite a long show with our hits, plus a lot of songs that people have been requesting over the years. We try to keep it fresh. We don’t just go out and play the same songs like some people do.

No, definitely! You absolutely have to change the setlist up and play what you want to play as a musician.

   Yeah! You know…listen, we’re happy to play everybody’s favorite songs, but we need to sneak some other stuff in there, too, and we get to play a lot because, in this band, everybody is a really good musician. We show off that aspect of our band, as well. I don’t think everybody is showing up to see my ass in these jeans at this point, you know? [Laughs]

Maybe not in 2018, but, hey I don’t know for sure!

   2018, man. Is America any better than it was before? I’m a child of the ‘60s and came of age in the ‘70s, so I’m not sure how much progress we’ve made or how much better life has gotten in this country and in this world. But overall, I’m not a political guy in terms of my music and stuff. I think that’s a personal thing. I don’t want to alienate half my audience. I mean, it would be different if I came right out of the gate like Springsteen or Bono and people bought it from day one. If I were to try and jump in now, people would be questioning, “What is this guy trying to be cool now or something?” It’s not what our music is all about, to be in honest. Although, in my personal life, I’m way into it.

Yeah, of course! It can be a great thing to separate the two.

   Exactly! Also, we’re living in an era where it is so in your face 24/7, that our job is to help you forget about that for a couple hours. I’m not going to be yelling politics in people’s faces while they are sitting in the seats. That is not what they came to see us do or what to play.

Music is definitely the perfect outlet for people at any time, but especially so during this social and political climate.

   Yes, we’re trying to heal it in a different way. We have a lot of different people in this band with different perspectives, but hey, come dig the music. Get away from it all.

Speaking of this tour, The 40 Tours Around the Sun tour will continue into 2019. How hard is it to create a setlist for a show with such a beloved, career spanning discography? Are there songs that you wish would make the cut for live shows? Are there songs you wish didn’t have to be on the setlist this time around?

   That’s a really great question! Thank you for asking that question, I’d like to answer that. Well, what we do is realize the certain songs that we have got to play otherwise people would tear the seats up and out of the ground, but no problem! We’re going to play those! We have like 17 albums out that people don’t actually realize, but a lot of people also really did listen to them — surprisingly enough. We’re garnering a new audience, as well, with these young people coming to the shows and getting the records and are getting into the band organically, by accident. Also, our old fans want to hear the deep cuts and we’re playing songs from every record we have done… just about, so they’ll hear those deep cuts.

   I mean, there are like 500 songs and we can’t actually play them all, but we try to not repeat what we have done in the past aside from the big hits that we have to do. We do them happily and we do some cool stuff with them, too. People come to see a full, well-rounded show and people always leave saying, “Wow, these guys can really play!” People who only know us for “Africa,” are going to be very surprised that they know a bunch of other songs or realize that, yes, we can play really good. We take pride in that. That is really what we have to offer.

It’s definitely something to be majorly proud of. On the topic of “Africa,” like you were saying earlier, it did kind of have a resurgence over the past year or so, as well as the band in general.

   Well, it’s been building over the past few years since we got back together in 2010 to help our brother Mike Porcaro out, who was losing his battle with ALS, and sadly he lost it and we miss him terribly. You know, that sort of started a resurgence of us getting back together again. We were only going to do a little tour to help Mike out, since we had kind of put this all on the shelf for a while, and then it just started taking off.

   Then “Africa” just went crazy over the last four or five years actually. It really has been building up since it started as a little thing and now it is like… everywhere. It’s insane. I mean, we are like laughing and are also like completely mortified by it. I can’t go anywhere and there are probably like a thousand versions — or maybe more! — of it out there. Even little kids dig it! This has become like this…I don’t even know what it is. Maybe some sort of phenomena, I suppose, that we just accidentally backed into. We’re riding the wave of great success because of it.

   This band Weezer had a No. 1 alt. record with it and that helped their career, it helped our career, and we got over two million dollars of free promotion from this thing. It really was an unlikely thing, like if I were to write down and hand it in as a script, nobody would believe it! People would be like, “That’s impossible!” and “That will never happen!” And we couldn’t have planned it. It really just happened organically and truly out of the blue. All of the other mean things and the reviews and the cartoon shows, like being a South Park character and we’re going to be Family Guy characters this year [Laughs], I think it’s incredible! I laugh my ass off. We have a lot of young people, a lot of families coming out to the shows with little kids, older people. There is a really vast audience; almost three generations of people sitting in the audience and that’s really cool, really fun.

   For a last act of your life, it’s really a cool thing. I’m 60-something years old and I wouldn’t have called this. Things are getting bigger, not smaller. We’re doing overseas, we’re doing 17,000 seat arenas — sold out — and we’re doing all sorts of interesting stuff. Big festivals, the offers are flying in, and out value has just like quadrupled and if I have got to be on the road, this is the way to do it!

Absolutely! Wow, 17,000 seat arenas?

   We were just going crazy, like ok…this really is great. The thing is, though, that the band is ready for it; in terms of playing and the experience of doing all of this stuff. So, people show up and they’re like, “Wow, ok!” We’ve been playing together since high school — most of us that are still with us, at least. We have a deep relationship that very few people have in this world where you go through your entire life together: the good, the bad, the ugly, the crazy, the incredible. To still be here after all of these years and be somewhat relevant, even if it is just a ‘wink wink.’ I mean, in the future, people are going to have to write about 2018 and they’ll have to write about this silly song. “It was freaking everywhere!” Some people love it, some people want to kill somebody if they hear the song again.

I think like you said, most of you have been in this band for decades, so —

   Since we were in high school together! That would be mid-‘70s, so that’s kind of scary, isn’t it?

Scary is a word you can use, but I think impressive is definitely the word to use.

   You know, we came out of high school wanting to join Boz Scaggs’ band which morphed into our band and then I blinked and 40 years went by. Then we also became sessions players and played on thousands of records for other famous artists and wrote songs for other artists that were hits. We’ve had our finger in the music pot and in a whole lot of people’s music over the last 40 somewhat years. It’s been a great ride. I wrote a book! “Number One Rock Bio” on Amazon a couple of weeks back. The No. 1 audio book — that I read myself. I talk about all of this stuff and more. Some of it is real funny and some of it is real sad, but it’s a little insight into our world — a small one albeit — from my point of view.

Yes, your book! Titled The Gospel: According to Luke — which is a fantastic title, by the way.

   Thank you! You know, there are two Steves in the band. Steve Porcaro and me, so one of us had to give and Luke, Lukather…that’s how that happened. My dad used to get called Luke, too, so that kind of fell into place in high school. I’ve been that ever since, so I think the title of my book is a little ‘wink wink.’ It’s certainly not meant to offend any hardcore Christians […] The Gospel only means good news, I’m not dissing God or anything like that. I would never do such a thing. I believe in God.

Of course! But if you’re going to write such a book, now is the time with the new peak of Toto and its resurgence and all.

   Right! I never planned on writing a book. It’s not like I set out to be an author. Although, I do hope that I piss off all of my old English teachers who have been writing a book for 50 years and could never publish it and yet the guy who they used to throw out of class all the time has a book out that was number one! [Laughs] There is still a little bit of a teenage, mischievous guy inside of me even though I am approaching the dirt nap with a smile on my face. I hope I’ll be around for another few years. Although, I’m in a band with Ringo Starr and he’s 78 and he looks like he’s 30, so the quality of life and clean living… it works. The last 10 years I’ve pulled back on a lot and I feel great. I wake up feeling good and my doctors say I’m ok.

I think music, and rock and roll specifically, can really keep a person feeling young.

   You know, the weird part is that I still have my 15-year-old sense of humor, because I never had to get a real job and grow up as they say; even though I do have four kids and I manage everything and I can take care of business. My humor is still back in the school yard, if you know what I mean.

I do, I do. That’s awesome, though. Actually, going back to you being in Ringo’s All Starr Band — which is beyond cool, in my opinion.

   It is beyond cool! The Beatles were the on switch to my life. I had a chance to work with Paul [McCartney] a bunch of times and George Harrison was a friend of mine — he played with the band, actually! I did some jamming with him. He was my first guitar hero and then he became one of my friends? I do one of his tunes, actually, during our set. These guys, and Ringo is now, a dear friend of mine now. I’ve written songs with him for his last album, I’ve written songs with him where Paul McCartney was the bass player, so I got to live my Beatles fantasy out. Ringo facilitated that, God bless him, he knew how much that would mean to me. It meant the world to me. He’s just a great dude. I truly can’t believe that he’s my pal! If his name was Bob Smith he would be my pal, because he is just such a cool guy. In fact, the fact that he is ‘Ringo’ is a perk!

That whole band that he has going on, The All Starr Band, must be the most fun thing to go out and perform alongside.

   Oh my god, it’s what keeps me on the road all year! I do the Toto stuff, but I also did this; sometimes back to back with only a few days in between tours. Which is a little rough on me and my children and stuff like that, but they only know me as being that way. My father was always on the road — he was in the movie business — he would go for six months at a time. When it comes down to it, just being in Ringo’s band…the way he treats us, the way we travel. It’s as high end as it gets. It’s a joy to make music with him and all of the guys.

Touring as a musician must be one of the most prized things that you do. Actually, on that topic, it’s been about eight years since Toxic Monkey was brought to the East Coast.

   [Laughs] You know about that? That’s great! Actually, yeah, that’s just some jam band, but what I do every year…I have another band in L.A. called Nerve Bundle, we play in L.A. at Christmas time and this time around I’m going to do it on the East Coast with Bill Evans, who used to play with Miles Davis, Will Lee, and others! We’re going to play in New York City for a week at the Iridium. Nine shows in six days which is a big deal. They’ve been wanting me to come out and play for a while, so Bill Evans corralled me and it was so much fun and we haven’t been out in eight years since we never got a chance to play again, even though we’re all dear friends. So, we’re going to go do that for a week, which is great since they’ve been asking me/us to come out there and play and do this for years. And, I guess, now is the time!


Catch Toto live at the Tropicana Showroom in Atlantic City on Nov. 9, the State Theatre in New Brunswick on Nov. 13, the Community Theatre NJ in Morristown on Nov. 15, and at the Tilles Center Concert Hall in Brookville on Nov. 16.