These days Steve Lukather is a happy man. With the release of Toto's new live album Livefields the band are playing better than ever and receiving a warm critical and public reception. Hot on the heels of their last studio album Mindfields the return of vocalist, Bobby Kimbali has seen the band return to a similar line-up featured on their biggest release, Toto IV (1982). "The only one missing is Jeff (Porcaro, the original drummer who died in 1992 from a heart attack)," reflects Steve. "However, as Simon Phillips (drums) has been with us for seven years he's an integral part of the group now. We didn't speak to Bobby for many years but a couple of years ago we got together to promote the Toto XX record. After that we did a couple of gigs which were great. So the next thing we know, a lot of people wanted to see us. We won't be on MTV, though - we're like a cult band, which is ironic considering our success in the '80s."

Contemplating their 15 album career, it is a testament to the band that they balance hits like Africa and Rosanna alongside 'muso' tracks like Dave's gone skiing. "You have to play the hits as people have paid to see us and hear their favourite songs," Steve states. "But we also keep it interesting by varying the arrangements. Although we don't rehearse songs like Rosanna or Hold the line, when we're in front of an audience they're a lot of fun to play. As regards to the fusion like songs we al love to stretch ourselves so tracks like Jake to the bone give us that opportunity."

So for a long running band is there a specific route to music making? "Not really," the affable guitarlst admits. "Sometimes we write as a band and other times Dave Paich and I write together. Also, frlends like Stan Lynch may come in with lyrics that we will do the music to, so it's pretty varied."

Carlton & Beck

Well known as an avid guitar fan, the past few years have seen Lukather in the company of some illustrlous players. "This year, I went on a tour of Japan with Larry Carlton and got into chord melodies and how he thinks musically. We've been friends for many years but never played a gig together until now so that was really rewarding," Steve remarks, obviously in awe of the studio legend. "Also, working with Jeff Beck, even though the record never worked out, was a great experience. He's the best in the world and I feel very humble working with him."

Steve's no slouch himself, though, and it's refreshing to hear he's still working on his own guitar ability. "I've been listening to acoustic jazz and people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane which has increased my vocabulary. Also, Toto was in Japan earlier this year and Herbie Hancock was there playing Maiden voyage. Stuff like that just knocks me out. On the other hand, I also listen to bands like Limp Bizkit and Backstreet Boys as my kids are into them. So variety is the key."

Session master

As one of the biggest names ever associated with the session world, Lukather has been the first call guitarist for numerous big names. Recalling one of his biggest studio gigs, he recalls Michael Jackson's Beat it. "Quincy Jones and Michael took a skeleton version of it up to Eddie Van Halen's place as they wanted him to solo over the verse section. However, he played over a section that had more chord changes. So to fit his solo to where it went in the song, they had to cut the tape which took a lot of time to synchronise together." "After they had managed this, Jeff Porcaro and me were called in to bind Eddie's solo and some haphazard percussion which was a major headache. Initially, we rocked it out as Eddie had played a good solo but Quincy thought it too tough. So I had to reduce the distorted guitar sound and this is what was released. It was a huge R&B/rock success for us all really and helped pave the way for the bands of today that fuse these styles."

So now you know the link between Michael Jackson and Limp Bizkit!

Total Guitar, February 2000