Steve (affectionately called "Luke" by his buddies) knows the language of music, Ed has no idea about the theory behind what he does. Where Steve understands how to use control to build his music, Ed becomes a legend for his spontaneity. Where Steve works studio tecniques for all they're worth, Ed jams and calls it a take. Where Steve has a rack as big as a refrigerator, Ed likes to make all the sounds with his hands. But after all, when it comes to music lovers, why shouldn't opposites attract?
Despite my encounters with Eddie Van Halen and Steve Lukather as artists for over 15 years, only recently did I come up with the simple idea that they might have fun speaking to each other about music. When asked if he would be the interviewer, Ed agreed and the two of them met up at 5150 for this unique, on-the-record get-together. (Editor)
Ed: Why do you make music?
Luke: It's the only thing I've ever known how to do.
Ed: What inspired you to start - family, friends?
Luke: Actually, nobody in my family has any musical talent whatsoever.
Ed: You do.
Luke: That's questionable at this point anyway.
Ed: Why do you make music? Think about it.
Luke: 'Cause when I was a little kid it just struck me. My father bought me a guitar and a copy of Meet The Beatles when I was seven. Just the sound of it overcame my whole soul, if you want to call it that. I knew that's what I wanted to do. I remember George Harrison played a solo in I saw her standing there and just the sound of the guitar bending and the reverb struck a nerve inside of me.
Ed: So you started off playing guitar immediately?
Ed: Because you play great piano, too.
Luke: No, not really.
Ed: Compared to a lot of people I know[laughs].
Luke: I just taught myself how to play. Then I'd hang out with older kids who knew how to play and I learned chords off of them.
Ed: How did you get into the jazz thing or the session thing?
Luke: That happened years later. I went to high school with the Porcaro family and their father was a studio musician. Jeff Porcaro [late drummer for Toto] and [Toto keyboardist] David Paich were a couple years older than me and they were already doing sessions.
Ed: You taught yourself how to read and all that stuff
Luke: No, actually I studied but I was selftaught until about 15 and then I started taking lessons with (classical/jazz/country player) Jimmy Wyble. He taught me how to read and I took a lot of other classes, like orchestration. I wanted to learn. At that point i was really intrigued by the whole session thing. It wasn't something I wanted to do since I was a little kid. I didn't know anything about it until I was in high school. I always thought it was kind of cool to be able to play on all these great artists' records.
Ed: And you have played with everybody on the planet. You were the number one studio cat when you were doing it.
Luke: Yeah, I guess. I guess it was because I was the only guy who would turn his amp all the way up. Then I could read it well enough to do it. I'm not an incredible reader but I could do it. It's something you have to keep frosty. it's like learning a foreign language - if you don't practice it then you'll lose the ability to use it. You have to look at it and brush up on it.
Ed: If I personally did as many sessions as you did I'd be burnt.
Luke: I did get burnt.
Ed: Where did you find time to do Toto and how did (all the studio work) affect the songs that you write for Toto?
Luke: That's a great question. First off, as far Toto goes, when we were in Toto that's all I would do. The rest of the year when I wasn't on the road I'd have plenty of time. You could do 20 sessions in a week and still have time for other things. With songwriting, you can't help but be influenced by some of the things going on around you, whether it be listening to the radio or playing on somebody's record. If there was an r&b date then maybe you'd go home with that kind of groove in your head. You might pick up a keyboard or guitar and it finds its way into your writing. Or if you're playing on a more rockoriented thing you might have that vibe in your head and it might subconsciously come out in your writing.
Ed: How did knowing different styles affect your writing?
Luke: That was really helpful. I write songs for other people too, not just for Toto. I won a Grammy for best r&b song (Turn your love around), which is something that a lot of normal rock writers couldn't do.
Ed: You did such a wide variety of music. You did everything from funk to jazz to you name it. Probably stuff I've never even heard.
Luke: There's a lot of stuff I hope nobody has ever heard [both laugh].
Ed: At the time was it a cleansing thing when you went back to Toto?
Luke: I always wanted to just be in a band. I fell into this whole thing-it was almost by accident. Jeff used to recommend me for sessions and I fell into it. The next thing you know I was doing all these records, like 20 sessions a week with all these great musicians. You can do four different styles in one day and you have no idea. It's not like they send you a tape and you learn the song.
Ed: You've got to be creative right there on the spot.
Luke: Exactly. You get one to three takes to come up with a great part and they are recording it. You have to have it together. You have to have your sound together.
Ed: You've got to have your shit together.
Luke: You've got to have it together. They don't have a lot of patience for people who screw up.
Luke: Exactly. There's a million other guys sitting around waiting for your job. But as far as it affecting Toto, it makes whatever I do so readily accessible to anybody who wants it, it takes away from its being special. I think I have a little bit more going on than some clown who reads music all day. I think I would have been more respected as a guitarist if I had just done Toto.
Ed: No, I understand.
Luke: Some were great sessions, some were great records, particularly in the late '70s and early'80s. That was the peak of when I was doing it. I would look forward to being there and then sometimes the artist would be terrible-you didn't understand how these people got record deals! We'd sit there and make the most of it. This is a time before drum machines and before people had sophisticated home studios. There would be a piano/vocal demo or acoustic guitar demo. Or they would play the song for you. We'd basically rearrange and rewrite the song for them, just because we wanted to get the hell out of there. Most of it was bad; maybe 15 percent of the sessions were great, the rest were forgettable. That's when it got to the point where I stopped. Some of the more fun records we did were [Don] Henley, Boz Scaggs and Elton John. Those records were really creative.
Ed: That's when I first met you.
Luke: That was 1980. I needed to borrow your amp because we were leaving on tour.
Ed: We were doing Women and Children First and you needed an amp. It was a cool day.
Luke: Neither one of us has been the same since.
Ed: Do you still do sessions?
Luke: I think I've done four records in the last two years.
Ed: You guys are good enough to be session players but you're not anymore.
Luke: We did it for a long time but we're not doing that. It kind of bugs me that people still go, "Oh yeah, those studio guys." I'm tired of that label. I'm proud of a lot of the work I did and I'm ashamed of some of the other work. You know, sometimes you have to polish a turd. That's the bottom line. That's what it is, man-get out the brown polish, man, here we go. I just didn't want to do that anymore. I wanted to play music that I liked with people that I respected. There's a lot of other guys, younger guys that want to do what I did already. They can have it.
Ed: Right, right. I'm sure you learned a lot.
Luke: I had a chance to work with some of the greatest people in the world that I never would have gotten the opportunity to work with if I wasn't "studio player."
Ed: I think because you've done all that you're such a complete musician, so to speak. It's like all I do is Van Halen. You can do anything. I could throw you into anything-a jazz band or whatever kind of band-and you can hold your own.
Luke: I'm holding my own right now [laughs]. The difference between you and I, besides the fact that you are the player that you are and the person that you are, is that you've never tried to do anything else outside of Van Halen. You never really wanted to. You never felt the need to. You fulfill everything you want to do in your own group.
Ed: It's like, if I did a solo record I'd have Sammy, Mike and Al play on it anyway!
Luke: So basically you are doing your solo record all the time. That's the bottom line. Every person has different desires.
Ed: When you go on the road, do you do it for the work or for the pussy? Or do you work for the pussy?
Luke: I work for the pussy [Iaughs]. I can say that, I'm single! It's taken a long time but I'm actually starting to make money this time. A lot of people have this misconception that you go on the road your first tour and you start making a lot of money. Do you remember when you were an opening act and you were losing money every week?
Ed: Oh yeah! We were on the road for like 13 months, toured the world. We did 25 shows in 26 days in England and we were still owing Warner Brothers a million bucks. It was a bad record deal or something. I don't know.
Luke: It's a good thing your first record put you into the stratosphere.
Ed: To me you guys as a band are collectively the best musicians on the planet.
Luke: Come on, that's not true.
Ed: Seriously, man, I've never seen a band play tighter than you guys. You, Paich, the Porcaros - rest in peace, Jeff - are probably the best musicians collectively in any band. You guys won like eight Grammys one year! Why did the press give you such shit?
Luke: They always have and they always will. The Grammys were 10 years ago. It was almost like that was the capper for them because we had commercial success.
Ed: Because you were good.
Luke: I don't know what it was they thought.
Ed: What do you think of critics in general?
Luke: I don't think that much of them but everybody is entitled to their own opinion, right? You guys have been trashed by the press, too. I think in this day and age they feel less threatened by a guy that can play first position guitar chords and write all these deep lyrics about how deep they are supposed to be. I just always wanted to make great music and be a really good musician. I think there's two schools of thought; critics always like what is easily understandable to them musically.
Ed: [If] they don't understand it they have trouble with it.
Luke: I'd love to see these critics review instrumental records. I'm talking about a Robert Hilburn type. I'd sit them down with classical music and say, "Okay, review this. How would you make it better?"
Ed: That's always what these cats do-they think they know a better way the band should be doing their shit.
Luke: Exactly, and if you listen to them they'll still hate you!
Ed: Yeah, exactly.
Luke: You can't win either way. But it's like that classic line in Amadeus where the king's music critic says, "There's too many notes in this." Mozart goes, "Which notes don't you like?" [laugh] That says it all. It's a matter of opinion...
Ed: Speaking of instrumentals, how do you title them? What are you thinking? Do you listen to the tune?
Luke: I'm the sickest man alive, Ed, and you know that. Generally I'm just doing something to crack up the rest of the guys in the Lobotomys, the "for fun" band I play with.
Ed: And Phuxnot-wasn't that the band we had together?
Luke: Me, you, [Mike] Landau, Will Lee, David Garfield, and Carlos Vega. That was a one-off gig. We did old Hendrix and Cream songs, a couple of Lobotomys things...
Ed: That was great.
Luke: It's just for fun.
Ed: What's your infatuation with Sammy Davis, Jr., alias the Candyman? And that medallion you bought at an auction - is that really from him or Mr. T?
Luke: Actually, that was a gift from Stan Lynch [of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers]. He gave that to me as a good luck charm. Sammy has been a part of my life for many years. I always thought he was the coolest. I don't make fun of the guy; I dig him. I watch all [his] movies. He had that great Vegas jive. I've got his golf clubs. His golf bag says "The Candyman" on it. There's little pictures of him embossed in the actual clubs. Sammy just brings good luck, man. Like before every show on this last tour, right before the house lights hit we'd turn up his version of What kind of fool am I. David Paich's father, Marty, did the string arrangement on it. Everybody would touch the Sammy medallion that I had on before the gig. That was our good luck before we would hit the stage - everybody had to touch a little Sam. Huddle around Sammy.
Ed: Where do you get all your stupid jokes? You've got the greatest sense of humor out of everybody I know.
Luke: You've heard me play.
Ed: A serious question. I'm sure you were as close to Jeff as I am to my brother Alex.
Luke: Very much the same way. Jeff was like my mentor; he was a guy I looked up to. He and the whole Porcaro family had so much to do with my getting a break in the music business. Jeff was already in Steely Dan when I met him. That was 1972, and growing up in that whole environment was a gift. We learned the whole Katy lied Steely Dan record before it ever came out. In my high school band I was playing with Mike Landau, John Pierce, Steve Porcaro and Carlos Vega. Everybody else has since gone on to do really well. Growing up in that environment ... Jeff was such a special part of my life. Then I lost him so quickly and so unexpectedly.
Ed: It must be devastating. It was to me and I didn't even know him that well.
Luke: How can I equate this? It's so hard for me to actually come to grips with how to put how I feel into words. It's so hard. I'll never be the same without him. But he'll always be with me. I have pictures of him over at my house. I feel his presence. Just the other day I listened to Kingdom of desire. Sometimes some of it is hard to listen to just because of the memories that come back.
Ed: I personally couldn't imagine going on with Van Halen if my brother passed away. What is in the future for Toto? Will you continue on with Simon [Phillips]? I think Jeff would want you to.
Luke: No matter what I do it's not going to bring him back.
Luke: But I'm still here to play and we've been playing. At one point of course we thought we should break up. We haven't had a record out in the States in five years. This record, Kingdom of Desire, is the last piece of work that he did with us. He had something to do with the writing and the whole spirit of the four guys who went to school together, without the three lead singers who for various reasons just didn't last. That was always a big problem with (Toto) as far as identity. We started out as a hard rock band and we ended up with the record company getting way too involved with the choice of singles. Since we have a new record company it's like a new lease on life. Then Simon Phillips came out and played with us.
Ed: By the way, thanks for letting me be involved with the tribute to Jeff (the memorial concert in L.A. earlier this year to benefit drummer Porcaros family - ed). That was a classic gig, man.
Luke: We decided first we would do this tour, because it was already booked. We gave a lot of money to the family to help support Jeff's wife and kids. While we were out there we ran into a lot of fans who buy our records, and they said, "You've got to keep going. Jeff would want you to." The whole vibe of three months of touring outside the United States [gave me] the feeling it was okay. I even had a dream about it. I was standing at the [recording studio] console listening to our engineer get drum sounds and Jeff came out of the shadows. He looked at me and he looked up at Simon playing the drums and smiled at me like it was cool.
Ed: It could very well have been him.
Luke: It was him.
Ed: Believe it or not, things like that happened to me when my pop passed away.
Luke: You can't imagine going on but yet we're still all here and there's still a lot of music to be made. We're going to go out and promote a record that Jeff was so involved in and that he was proud of and that we're all proud of. It's more of a rock record - it's more us guys playing. It wasn't like we were trying to do something to get on the radio.
Ed: It's a brilliant record. I think if [radio plays] it people will like it. For five years you haven't had a record out here and the music you're making, to me, is light years beyond the shit you hear on the radio.
Luke: A lot of it is the stigma of the name and what the name conjures up in certain people's mind: "Oh yeah, those studio guys. " That whole thing - they just put us there, like we carry around hemorrhoid doughnuts, sit in a chair and read music live.
Ed: If people only knew you guys were the real shit. Everyone else is faking it.
Luke: That remains to be seen. There's a lot of really good players out there but there's a lot of marginal players and pretty-boy bands.
Luke: Those guys don't really play on their records.
Ed: What do you think of new bands? Are there any bands out there that inspire you in the least?
Luke: There are some new bands. I'm finding it so frustrating because I don't listen to the radio a lot, I don't watch MTV a lot or try to keep up with all that. I look at Billboard and I say, "Who are these people?"
Ed: Exactly. They are a dime a dozen. You've got a Guns N'Roses that comes out and all of a sudden every company is on the tails of that coat trying to get a band that looks just like them or sounds just like them.
Luke: Yeah, but the good stuff always rises to the top. The last five years that whole pretty-boy metal thing was happening and a lot of people out there don't know that at least one or two of those guys didn't play on [their own] record-the drummer, the guitar player, the bass player.
Ed: You played on it [ laughs].
Luke: If I didn't, I know people who did. I'm not going to name names - that's a shitty thing to do.
Ed: I just wondered if there was anybody out there that you really dig.
Luke: You guys.
Ed: We're not new.
Luke: You didn't say "new." I appreciate really good musicianship and good songs. Image stuff, I don't look at that. I don't go, "Hey, man, that's a great jacket that guy has - I'm going to get the record." [laughs]
Ed: You've got a solo album you're starting?
Luke: Yeah [although] Toto is going to tour through the whole summer.
Ed: But you'll be done with your solo album before that?
Luke: Yeah, it probably won't come out until the end of the year or the beginning of next year. I'm doing the album with the Lobotomys guys [David Garfield, keys; John Pena, bass; Lenny Castro and Chris Truillo, percussion; Simon Phillips, drums]. I've got this window [of time] here and I don't like to sit around and do nothing. I like to be making records or playing live. That's why I play with Lobotomies. We don't rehearse; it's just fun to get together and play in a club just to keep the chops up. I like to feel the tips of my fingers and it makes me feel like I'm doing something. I can sit around the house, drink beer and watch TV - I'm real good at it! - but it's much better for me when I'm busy because I'm much more focused.
Ed: What's the difference between a Toto record and a Steve Lukather record?
Luke: The irony is that now that I'm fronting the band and singing the stuff I can take more liberties myself. It's a committee of one as opposed to a committee of three other guys. As far as songwriting goes I get to play a little more. And the type of compositions I can do, I've got 10-minute songs. I don't write songs and say, "I'll save this for me" or "This is a Toto song." When I write for Toto I write whatever comes. With Toto we write the songs all together. Here, I'm writing most of the stuff with David Garfleld.
Ed: Why did you wait so long to front the band? You guys have been through a shitload of singers.
Luke: It's my worst nightmare. I wake up sweating going, "Oh God!"
Ed: What do you mean? At the thought of having another singer or fronting the band?
Luke: I didn't want to front the band at first, after going through five lead singers. I always sang on the records and a little bit live anyway.
Ed: Why did you wait so long? To me you sing better than any singer you've ever had.
Luke: I didn't think I could do it.
Ed: Between you and Paich, man, it's brilliant. Why do you need some clown up there who can't interpret the music you write anyway?
Luke: The four of us would sit and write the material and have to teach the guy how to sing.
Ed: That's what I mean. The guy was like a bad puppet.
Luke: And then they get an attitude or coke problem or all of the above or they lose their voice. It just got sour because it was always like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The rest of us were already on the same wavelength.
Ed: How does it affect your stage playing? You've got a new element now; you've got to remember the lyrics. I can sing backgrounds but I'd probably need a teleprompter [to front].
Luke: The thing is, some of the riffs are real hard. Playing riffs and singing a counterrhythm against the riffs is like chewing gum and jerking off at the same time [laughs]. Once you've got your knot made you chew your tongue right off. It requires a lot of discipline and a lot of work. I can't be out raging every night because I'll lose my voice. I have to pick my spots. I take it very seriously, actually. I want to do a good job for people who paid their dough. You want to give them the best show you possibly can. If you go out and do a three hour show every night like we do, with all different kinds of music, it requires a lot of concentration and a lot of vocal power. I don't sing really hi like most of these hard rock singers do. I have a limited range.
Ed: You mean that annoying high squeal?
Luke: The same sound you hear in a proctologist's office from outside in the lobby-AAAA[la ughs]
Ed: Do you ever get nervous, especially coming out and fronting the band?
Luke: At first I was. I was more nervous that I was going to lose my voice after the first couple of gigs, or about how people would react to the new material, if they'd like it. We've been making records since 1978 and there's a whole generation of people who never even had heard our music in the United States. But after the first month out, I never get nervous like I want to throw up before I go on stage. I actually get excited and pumped up an hour before I go out. The house lights hit and you hear the crowd and that's the best buzz in the world.
Ed: The lights go down and it's better than anything. Do you do anything special to take care of your voice? Me, I'm not really a singer; I don't know how to sing properly. If we do a two-and-a-half-hour show and I'm just singing backgrounds, my voice is fucked by the end. I asked Sammy how he does it because he doesn't know how to sing properly either. He goes, "I don't know."
Luke: The key is to warm up. I have this tape of this guy John Deavers, a vocal coach.
Ed: Sammy [Hagar] has no idea how long his voice is going to last or when he can sing and when he can't.
Luke: Does he warm up?
Ed: Not really.
Luke: His voice would last a lot longer if he did.
Ed: He strums on the guitar for five minutes and yells and screams a little.
Luke: There's certain techniques that you can learn from professional vocal coaches. I never lost my voice in the 60 shows that we did. It was amazing to me. But I warm up properly. It takes me 20 or 25 minutes just to sing along with this tape while I'm getting dressed. Then I'd play the guitar for 20 minutes, have a beer and shoot the shit, stretch out and I was ready to go. It's like anything else. It's like playing guitar, man. If you haven't played for a while and you pick it up and you start playing all this stuff, after a while your muscles feel tight.
Luke: You know the road chops you get at the end of a tour? You pick the thing up, no problem.
Luke: It's like butter. But it's not.
Ed: So why did you wait so long to front the band? Whose idea was it?
Luke: It was the rest of the guys in the band. We were going to break up but they said, "Look, you can do this, man. We know you can do it. You were singing half the show when the other guy was in the band anyway." We didn't even know what this guy was all about on stage until we got out there and then we were mortified. That's where I started to develop a little bit of confidence. "Maybe I can do this." But it had to be the kind of music I felt good singing. I didn't want to sing sappy pop stuff. I like pop music but I wanted stuff with a harder edge. Musically I wanted to stretch out a bit more. I wanted longer songs with more sections in the songs. Due to the advent of CD's you don't have to worry about that; in the old days you had to take a tune off the record because you could only get a certain amount of music on vinyl.
Ed: Or it sounded like a K-Tel record.
Luke: Exactly. It sounds terrible. I don't miss vinyl at all. I'm so glad it's gone.
Ed: Only thing is, now you have to put more music on.
Luke: The irony is that a record company only pays you on a certain amount of songs so everything else is prorated down. If you have 15 songs on a record they only want to pay you for 10. So everybody makes less money for twice as much work. But it's not about money, man, it's about playing music. I don't know how to do anything else.
Ed: After you go on the road will you do another record with Toto?
Luke: We're going to keep it together. Simon Phillips has joined the band.
Ed: I thought you were going to just (tour behind) this record because Jeff played on it.
Luke: I would have said "no" many months ago, however long it's been since Jeff died. But now it's like a different band and Simon has brought a whole other thing to it. No one is ever going to take Jeff Porcaro's place. No one ever could.
Ed: That's right.
Luke: But it's a different thing now and I think, "At least make another record." It would be nice to break in the States again. We sell millions of records outside the United States and we haven't had a hit record here in a whole lot of years. So hopefully we are going to get a shot this time with a new record company and a new vibe. We're going to go out and work. A lot of people have never seen us play before - ever.
Ed: I want to ask you about some of your favorite solos. There's a great solo you did on your first solo record. It was a ballad, a bad-ass song ["Turns to Stone"]. It's the record where you and I did the tune together [Twist the knife].
Luke: It was sort of a worked-out solo. It was a melodic thing but it has really great chord changes, almost Mahavishnu in the middle of this pretty ballad.
Ed: That's one of my favorites.
Luke: Thanks, bro. I think there's some good stuff on Kingdom of desire. The solo in Gypsy train and the solo in the instrumental Jake to the bone were both live. They have an edge to them that you wouldn't have if you sit and labor on it. Not all the solos on the Kingdom record are live but the ones that stand out to me are. It's reckless. You don't have time to sit and think, "What am I going to play here?" You just play and it's great or it's shit. If it's shit you fix it. I got lucky on a couple of them. I'm doing mostly live solos. This is the age where everybody takes their tapes home and writes their solos. I didn't want to do that. Granted, if there's a huge mistake you can always punch something in and fix it. I like to keep the live thing going; that way you start playing a figure and the drums start going with you - particularly on this record I'm doing now where we have three or four instrumental things. For those things you really want to keep the live feel.
Ed: I think you've got an exciting year coming up. You've got a brand new company, a new lease on life, a new summer tour, a solo record. Shit, man, you're cooking!
Guitar FTPM, September 1993