Kathy: We know of you as guitarist, vocalist, composer, arranger and producer, but would like to start the interview by asking you to describe yourself. In your own words – the man behind the music…
Luke: That’s an interesting question, still the ever humble student really. I mean I’ve had a chance to work with just about all of my heroes. People that I started listening to in the 60’s when I first started playing the guitar, I’ve worked with Eric (Clapton), I’ve worked with Jeff Beck, Santana, I mean I’ve worked with just about all the greats, if Hendrix was alive, I’m sure I would have hung out with him at least. I managed to know just about every great guitar player; we just fall in each others paths. Most of the guys, we have such like minds we’ve become very good friends. I’m still a huge fan of music, I mean I still care about it. Maybe too much, in this day and age, I think if you care too much you’re considered a slick soulless musician, which is really lame and unwarranted. It depends on which side of the tracks you’re on; if you’re on the side of the tracks that you actually believe what they write about in spin magazine then I’m really not the guy you want to talk to; because I have nothing in common with 90% of the artists that are mentioned in there. I come from a different generation, I mean my son is just about ready to sign a record deal. He’s 16 years old and they’re chasing after him, he’s a modern rock guy, so I’m really hip to what’s good and bad in today’s music. That’s also subjective, you know what I mean? But me, like I said, I’m still trying to discover new things, new ways to play, and music that gets me off. But I still keep going back to the old stuff.
Kathy: Have you worked twice as hard as other artists and maybe had twice as much fun?
Luke: I think so, I mean how many bands, if you look at my discography on my web site, and that’s a partial discography. That’s not even the full thing, that’s like about half of it. I’ve done thousands of records, with just about every major artist in the last twenty-five to thirty years of all different styles of music.
Yet we still take so much shit from the critics. I mean we’re still the whipping boys, even though they can’t really say we can’t play, they can say they don’t like the music, that’s very subjective, and that’s cool I understand that, but they just keep beating us up whenever they compare anything to like slick produced stuff, like shitty bands like Toto or something like that. It’s like well guys, you know, lets go see the White Stripes discography and see how many those guys have played on – ‘One’. Nothing against them, I pulled them out of the air because they’re this years model. Everybody loves them for some reason. The critics build people up, then smack them right back down, they’ve always smacked us down, but here we are twenty–six years later, still quietly selling records and we just got off the tour, we were playing from six to forty-five thousand people a night, headlining. So, I mean there’s an audience for us, not necessarily in America, but it’s a big world out there, and we stomp the competition outside of the U.S. and England. But, all the press, all the big music presses are in the U.S. or England, so if you get beat down there, you just assume that everyone is supposed to hate you. I laugh at it now, at first it hurt a lot because I didn’t understand where it was coming from, but you know - whatever.
Kathy: How do you continue to produce and create such incredible songs? Where do you draw your motivation from?
Luke: I don’t think about it that much, given a situation, as soon as I walk into a recording studio or walk onto the stage, my head is just completely outside of my body. I just go with my instincts and what I know, and my experience. I learned a lot when I was young, I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut, watched the legendary producers and engineers that I got a chance to work with when I was still a teenager, how do they do it, and the legendary artists. You know, sitting there watching Elton John write a song, those are experiences that you just shut up and watch. And go, “Wow! I can’t believe I got to see.” So it was that easy for him, mother fucker. Right you just go wow, some people take a lot more time, there was an era in the 70’s, where they used to hire the whole band and we’d sit there and listen to kick drums sound all day long. That’s when we used to get into trouble, because there was too much time sitting around doing nothing, that’s when I learned about the dark side of music. We had a lot of laughs. But you know, that was then this is now.
Kathy: How would you explain your ability to be able to capture the style of, and perform with so many different artists with such a wide range of sounds, I mean you almost become a chameleon?
Luke: Well you have to be, as a studio musician, that’s what the job entails. I didn’t know what a studio musician was until I got to high school and met the Porcaro brothers, and now it’s this whole other world opened up, I was going, you mean this guy, the same guys played on all these different records, and I became really intrigued with people like Larry Carlton, who’s a great friend and a great collaborator, and has been a very big influence on me and all the guys that made all those records. I started listening to jazz, funk, regular r & b, country music and realized in my studies, that I needed to learn, or at least be capable at all styles, I was basically a rock 'n' roll guy.
Kathy: What do you think those sessions did for you as an artist to help in your development.
Luke: Well I learned how to get my sound together in the studio, how to play with quick tracks, create instantly and flowing with fresh ideas, if somebody said, well I don’t like that, you have to come up with another one right away. And just you know, having a laugh, personality can have a lot to do with how deep you got into the session. You had to have the right personality for it. The right sense of humor and the right respect for your elders too. Like if I was playing with Carlton, or Lee Ritenour or Jay Graydon or anybody like that or Dean Parks, I’d sit in the guitar 2 chair, I wouldn’t t be presumptuous even if they wanted me to do the solo, this is respect, how we do this here. You had to know your place; you had to earn your way into the seat.
Kathy: If you could re-do one thing in your past musically, what would you change?
Luke: The name of my fucking band, I always hated it, and it has this stigma attached to it, if we were named anything else we may have gotten a little less shit. I always hated the fucking name. I still do, but now I can’t lose it, it’s like a part of me. I’ve learned to accept it for what it is, people love, it people hate it - whatever.
Kathy: What were some of the other possibilities?
Luke: There’s one that I liked called Ripe Jack, that was Jeff Porcaro’s idea, basically a euphemism for a hard on. It was; and there were some other ones that were passed around, but Paich was persistent, and he kept writing it on the demo’s that we were doing for the record company, and it just stuck, like a bad rash that comes back every year. But like I said the stigma is only really attached to England and the U.S. everywhere else in the world they don’t really care, it means a lot of different things in different languages. It’s a betting term in Europe, so it’s not just a little dog, which I always fucking hated. I don’t think it had anything to do with the music we were making. And that’s the thing, it’s really easy to make fun of a band that has a shitty name, the Goo-Goo Dolls, come on, whether you like the music or not the Goo-Goo Dolls? I’m sure they hate their name too. But it becomes its own thing, I like those guys, I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve really dug a lot of their stuff, but you know what’s in a name? It becomes its own trademark. Like “McToto”.
Kathy: We can see that you have developed quite a collection of tattoos over the years could you tell us about some of your favorites and is it true that one is a Jeff Porcaro penned original.
Luke: The first one I got was a little devil on my left arm that Tommy Lee bought for me one night about twelve years ago, he’s a good man of mine and we were out, you know Tommy; I love him so much as a person we have done some sessions together, we just like each other, he’s a character – I’m a character so you know – we have had some amazing experiences together (laughs), anyway – he’s got great tattoos so I said if I am going to get a tattoo I want to go to your guy! So he took me to the Sunset Strip Tattoo; and hooked me up with this guy Greg and I went through and I found this little devil, and he goes “dude, that looks just like you!” and I said there it is. So we put that on and the rest is like eating potatoes chips, you can’t have just one. One of them has my children it says Christina and Trevor for ever, one of them is a cartoon that Jeff Porcaro, he used to draw all the time, when he passed away that was one of the most tragic days of my life. I mean I never had a big brother – he was it –so there’s still a hole in my heart from that and there always will be. So I just put that on there so he is always with me, I always thought that it should be an album cover but me and him were the only ones who did, it’s kinda an out there drawing.
Kathy: Many say that Jeff Porcaro was the driving force behind Toto when he died how hard was it to move on?
Luke: Well, we wouldn’t have moved on had we not had a whole tour booked with forty five people on the payroll expecting to work for the next three months. There right before Christmas, people with families and stuff. I mean it was really weird; the timing of that and also the fact that he picked the album cover which shows a skeleton trying to crawl out of the dirt. I mean and some of the lyrics on the album he wrote, it was like wow, almost like his spirit knew but he didn’t, because it was so sudden; he just dropped it’s not like he was sick for along time, and it wasn’t what people thought it was. The media once again, those fucks, they get a hold of something man, and like bad news travels fast, you know and good news doesn’t travel at all. But, yeah it was devastating we were just jaw dropped and we were like “What are we going to do?” We were in stun mode the whole tour, because people were very insensitive – some of the media especially to his brother Mike. It was a long tour for us; we did eleven weeks with out coming home. It was a crazy time. But you know, Simon Phillips is a brilliant, genius drummer – no he’s not Jeff – no one will ever be Jeff. Jeff had that little something that you can’t put into an adjective, he was a character too, he had a huge presence to his personality and the most loving, soulful cat you could ever meet in your life. He helped so many musicians, including myself get started; very often without even knowing it. He was a very special human, sorely missed to this day, it’s been eleven years. But you know we have to carry on, if I died I wouldn’t want everyone to stop playing because I’m not here, I mean we’re keeping his music alive and we’re talking about him right now so we’re keeping his name and his legend alive. So I mean yeah, there is a certain part of Toto that died with him, but on the other hand, you know, we’re still at it. I don’t know if he lived if we’d still be together, and I can’t go back to what if, what if – I’m standing here eleven years later. I’m just doing what I do, show up and play the guitar.
Kathy: One of the defining elements of your career and even Toto is the ties of friendship which have stood the test of time, in this day of bands forming and separating only to reform what advice would you have for others as to how to have a successful band along with meaningful friendships?
Luke: Make sure you like the people you are working with. Me, I’ve been friends with some of these guys for thirty years. We were laughing about it the other day going, “Man I’ve known you for thirty years, man, Thirty Years!” We were little kids together.
Kathy: People aren’t married that long!
Luke: I certainly wasn’t. I mean we have survived: death, drugs, marriages, divorce, money stolen - accountants ripping us off, just you know beaten up by the press, getting older, happiness, elation, awards; all the shit you know, we’ve been through it all. We still love each other, yeah we fight sometimes, not much; it’s usually when we’re real tired and somebody’s just copped an attitude, and somebody’s homesick and somebody takes it wrong and then we end up hugging five minutes later and laugh and go “sorry bro”, we’re human you know. You can’t survive a relationship that long with out yelling at each other once in a while.
Kathy: It is amazing to look at the songs you have co/written and contributed to, could you tell us a little bit about the creative songwriting process and how it begins for you … lyrics, melody, structure, etc?
Luke: Lyrics are the weakest part of my scene, I mean I am getting better at that as life goes on I mean, it’s just that my life experience has become a little more realistic. It’s hard to write about – I mean I love these thirteen year old blues guitar players who are singing and talking about “My babies left me today…” They aint even had a woof of pussy and they’re talking like this. So that cracks me up, how can you write about love if you’ve never had it? Then there’s guys, brilliant artists like Bruce Springsteen who can write about what’s going on in the world with out sounding like a corn-ball - some guy jumping on a band wagon. Bruce is awesome, I had a chance to work with him once, he’s great I love his shit, it’s real, and the band is killer. The music comes first for me always; I always sit down at the piano or pick up a guitar, until I can hear a melody. I compose music really fast, most of the hits I’ve ever written we’re really written fast, for some reason I don’t know why, even in collaborative situations. When you’re running with a band and we are all sitting in a room, that’s a little more difficult because every one is throwing out a million ideas out at once. So, I actually prefer to write with one person or two people tops, it’s easier that way – some great stuff has come out of the other way too. There’s no real rule, a lot of time when we are in touring mode I don’t write much at all. Then when it’s time to write, the flood gates are open.
Kathy: I was going to ask, but I guess you described it a little bit – your relationship with David Hungate…
Luke: Yeah well I love him, we did four albums together and we did a couple of tours together. He just wasn’t cut out for the rock and roll life; I don’t think that he ever wanted to do that – he loved the idea of playing in a band with all of us, because he dug all the players and had a history with David and Jeff that goes way back to when they were just kids, and the Boz Scaggs era that we were all involved in those tours and those albums and stuff. After we cut all the tracks for Toto IV he tossed his bench across the room and said “I quit”, and it was like “Ok what do we do man, I mean what’s up, I mean is this irreparable”, he never yelled at anybody before - ever. As it turns out he had bought a house in Nashville and he thought I guess he wanted us to be pissed off at him, but when in fact we totally understood, and there was some tension there for a few years but now that’s way behind us. You know I have nothing but love and respect for David.
Kathy: And are some peoples inspiration to practice hour after hour, night after night in hopes that some day their name can be recognized along with the names Hendrix, Clapton, Lukather …Do you have a special message for those individuals?
Luke: My name with those two guys is just hilarious, I mean Lukather – Hendrix it’s not often people put those two names together – it’s hysterical. I mean thanks, I mean geez if only it was only true.
Kathy: Do you have a special message for those individuals.
Luke: Yeah, don’t practice that much. I mean practice, but like have a life for Gods sakes. I mean I practiced and I still practice but I mean you know there’s more to life than just sitting in a room learning how to play the guitar as fast as you can or learning how to read better than anybody else. You gotta get out there and find someone to hang out with whether you’re a girl with a guy or a guy with a girl, or what ever else you’re into you know. Go out and see, enjoy life, go hang out with out with your friends, go see a good funny movie or something you know. Take a breather then you know, you actually will gain inspiration from that. Also you can really hurt your arms and stuff like that with tendentious by practicing too much. Just have a laugh you know…Some people just want to play because they like to play not because they want to do it as a profession you know. Its tough business to get into, it’s even tougher to maintain a long career, especially now.
I know too much now they have to kill me, they can’t get rid of me now. They can say they hate me, but they can’t get rid of me.
Kathy: Last question, do you have any message for your loyal fans?
Luke: Well you know just thanks a lot, for anybody who does like the music and has supported me and my family for all these years. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for you all and I really hope that I can try to get a little bit better and still keep people interested in what I am trying to do, and God Bless.
Thanks to Kathy!
Strike a balance, October 2003