Steve Lukather, the legendary Toto guitarist and phenomenally popular session man lays it all on the line in this exclusive interview conducted a couple of months back (January 2004). Steve and Toto have both had illustrious careers and Toto continues to tour heavily throughout Europe and beyond. Their work schedule is at time grueling and life on the road can take its toll. Steve talks candidly about the life of a rocker on the road and the ups and downs of the loss of a stable routine. That's here in the now - Steve also delves into the past for some more brutally honest and at times, hilarious insights into his career and life with Toto. We talk about the singers, the record labels, the current musical climate and plenty more. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did conducting it. Special thanks to Don and Ron Higgins for their tireless work in transcribing the interview.
Lukather: Well you know we do it [the NAMM] every year, it's the National Association of Musical Merchants. It's the guys they pick up from around the world and everybody shows off the new gear for 2004. And all the endorsees and different companies make their appearance. So I get paid, get royalties off like my guitar and I have a lot of other people that I support. And it's a big event, everybody shows up. People from around the world come and there are a lot of different shows, concerts at night. During the day you can't walk three feet without somebody wanting a picture or autograph or something. People come from around the world just to kind of stare at you. It's kind of unnerving really.Steve Lukather, the legendary Toto guitarist and phenomenally popular session man lays it all on the line in this exclusive interview conducted a couple of months back (January 2004). Steve and Toto have both had illustrious careers and Toto continues to tour heavily throughout Europe and beyond. Their work schedule is at time grueling and life on the road can take its toll. Steve talks candidly about the life of a rocker on the road and the ups and downs of the loss of a stable routine. That's here in the now - Steve also delves into the past for some more brutally honest and at times, hilarious insights into his career and life with Toto. We talk about the singers, the record labels, the current musical climate and plenty more. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did conducting it. Special thanks to Don and Ron Higgins for their tireless work in transcribing the interview.
Lukather: Well you know we do it [the NAMM] every year, it's the National Association of Musical Merchants. It's the guys they pick up from around the world and everybody shows off the new gear for 2004. And all the endorsees and different companies make their appearance. So I get paid, get royalties off like my guitar and I have a lot of other people that I support. And it's a big event, everybody shows up. People from around the world come and there are a lot of different shows, concerts at night. During the day you can't walk three feet without somebody wanting a picture or autograph or something. People come from around the world just to kind of stare at you. It's kind of unnerving really.
We [Toto] worked really hard last year and we're going back out again. See the thing is, it's the world that we live in now. The world is not waiting for the next Toto record as far as a massive scale. We make our living on tour. You know the days of getting three million dollars to do a record are way behind. Nobody gets that anymore unless you're Bruce Springsteen. Even Bruce's sales are down. I mean overall compared to what he normally does... usual ten million. We live in a world where, face it, downloading and DVD copying, people don't have the money to spend. They don't have the disposable income. And now we are looking at concerts that cost fifty to one hundred bucks. In some cases, two hundred dollars a ticket. I mean people don't have that kind of money so they're very careful how they spend it. And you know the world economy is all fucked up.
So we're going to do a record assuming that we all get along. We had a little bit of a falling out in recent years and it looked rather dire for a minute there.
Without getting into the gruesome details of it, you spend enough time on the road, people get sick and money's involved. We had a meeting last week and we aired all of our differences, so not do this anymore?
Get all of our shit out and talk about it. Start the year fresh or we could walk. We decided to hang in there. There were some miscommunications, and the right hand not talking to the left hand and bad feelings erupted out of lack of communication, as it often does. You know we needed to, as brothers, sit down in a room, in a neutral area and get it all out. We realized most of this shit both sides were pissed off about were misunderstandings on reality.
We all hugged and kissed and said we're going to go out, you know, I'm writing songs. I mean I got eight or nine pieces myself. I know Dave's got some stuff. We haven't really gotten into the crux of mean writing. And that requires time. We don't want to just throw out another fucking record, go out and tour again. Like we did last time [Through the looking glass]. Shit, I'll never understand why everybody was so mad at us for doing that.
We're going to try to write... we've already got a couple of things in the can that are really good. But you know, I think we might want to stretch out a little bit, be a little bit more musical, a little more experimental. Because top-40 radio ain't going to play our music anyway, we could write fucking Sgt. Peppers and they wouldn't play it. Just because it's Toto and we're middle-age guys.
You know if you're over 30 you can't get on the radio. If you're over 40 forget it. Andrew I wish I could tell you the kind of record we're going to make. I mean, everybody has their own idea of what we should make. People expect Toto IV or whatever. How can you go back and recreate that? If I could do that, I would have done it. It's very difficult to just magically conjure up images. We've touched upon things, there's a style that we have when we really put our minds to it but I don't know what that's... I know we want to make the big production.
The big production. All the percussion instruments, the big vocals, really cool solo sections and stuff and really go to our strongest suit. I've gone back and started listening to little bits and pieces of some of our records to try... and my son has become obsessed with Toto.
I mean he's playing... I'm getting into his car, he's driving along all the sudden he whips Hydra on or Isolation. I'm going, I haven't heard this shit in 20 years. He's like, “No Dad, me and all my pals are really into this shit.” Come on. To the point where he calls one of his bands Hydra.
I go, “Dude, you don't want to associate yourself so close. “ He goes, “Dad, do you think anybody my age knows what the Hydra album is?” I had to go, “Well I guess your right there.” So but you know, I mean it's just a matter of... the record business doesn't want to promote music like that. They want disposable shit they can hail and discard and then get onto the next.
Now we're looking at the conglomerate, there's only going to be 2 record companies and they're going to fold because all the retail chains are going down. Tower Records went under for God's sake! That was like part of my life, you can't go into any place and find any old records, they don't stock them anymore. They don't stock like CD versions of my favorite '70s records. You have to go to Amazon.com or itunes is stating to get hip to a lot of it. They have a lot of our stuff on there. But we're going through a transitional period in the business where the whole scene is going to change. We're just in the middle of it. Back in the '20s when radio came out all the sheet music publishers freaked out. Well there goes our business, nobody is going to buy sheet music, they can hear it on the radio and learn it.
And then when cassettes came out, it was the same thing. You can record any song on a cassette you want to, they said people won't by records anymore, but they did. It's on a new media. We're in a transitional period and people are going to have to be patient. And we're very lucky to be free agents right now rather than hooked up with some major label. Although Sony has been courting us to come back and do a record, they made a pretty decent offer.
It's ironic that there's only 2 labels left, EMI and Sony. That's it. EMI wasn't good to us so what the fuck. Where you gonna go, it's a one off deal.
Our back catalogue is ripping. I mean they put these Greatest hits part 9 records out we have nothing to do with. Dodgy album covers and whatever selection of songs they want to put on it. They own the masters so the can reconfigure them any way they want. They still have to pay us but we have no say in it. What they're finding is that, like, you know, they're released, they still... it goes gold here, it goes platinum here and we're just on the road. We're not even on the label anymore. And the thing about these 1 hit artists is that there's no back catalogue. Their back catalogue is 50 to 60% of their income. So us old farts as the like to refer to us are making them a lot of money.
[New artists] come and... one song. Rap artists. One hit. One record. I mean there's a few standouts, I mean Eminem. I dig Eminem, I thought that shit's cool. You know, I have teenage kids, how can I not... I'm more aware than most people that are 46 years old about what's happening now musically because I got teenagers and I listen to their music, they listen to mine. For that it's a positive thing. I can't sit there and go like, “Well that sucks, that sucks.” Because I'm not supposed to like that music. I'm the bad… I'm the anti-Christ, I'm the old guy. Their music is supposed to piss me off just like rock and roll pissed off my parents. It wouldn't be…so that's why I've let go of all that “fuck everybody else.” I had so much anger and so much bitterness in me at one point. I was anesthetizing myself, I wouldn't feel anything. Started to suffer in a lot of different areas. Had a little health scare that fucking woke my ass back up.
Trying to live a life like you're still 22 years old and you're 46, 45 years old and you get depressed and shit. It's very lonely. You go from 10,000 people screaming for you to an empty hotel room and you're away from home and things happen. My doctor started putting me on anti-depressants, you get Zanex, you get tweaked. I was drinking hard liquor, way too much of it and I started to suffer.
My playing. I didn't even realize it, but you never fucking know. You think everything's cool until you have to take a hard look at yourself. I had problems with my playing on the Live in Amsterdam record. I saw it for the first time at a friend's house over New Year's. Hadn't seen it in 6 months. I refused to watch it because it was painful for me to watch because I could see that I wasn't 100% there, knowing myself.
It wasn't as horrible as I beat myself up for when I first saw it but it's certainly not my best work. They caught us on a bad night, it was the end of a long tour; they made us rehearse all day long. I was burnt and I was really sick. I had like a flu. It wasn't the flu but I was just sick, puffy and weird looking. I wasn't there.
You can look at yourself and go, I'm not there. I'm not in that moment. Where there were like 100 other shows that were great. When you only record one show, you're stuck with it. You can't fix it live. You can fix a note, you can't fix it live. It wasn't a strong night for any of us, but least of all me. But, you know, sometimes you got to live with that shit. It was a wake up call.
Then I got really sick. I got hepatitis A from eating bad food somewhere in Europe. I was in Tahiti and it became full blown. My eyes were orange, my piss was orange, I was sick, I lost like 24 pounds. And I still had to work. And I became really depressed because I had to stop everything. I just cleaned my whole self out, I was fucked up. I started to lose sight of why I do this. The love for it, the fire. I came back to finding out that I really do love it and I really do care about it. I'm the luckiest mother fucker in the world and I cannot blow this like most people do.
I was just gonna... I just felt like my foot was nailed to the floor and I was running around in circles. It's real easy to lose sight. People don't understand this life. They think it's all limousines, the beautiful people life and everybody wipes their ass with hundred dollar bills. That's not the case. It's hard work. And it really stresses you out. The loneliness. You go from the highest highs to the lowest lows. You can't just go back to your room after a show, read a book, go to bed. There has to be a wind down. And with the traveling on the bus all night long, interrupted sleep. You wake up at four in the morning, you get off the bus, you go to the hotel, the hotel rooms aren't ready, you can't get any food because the restaurant's not open. Or you miss breakfast completely and then they don't have food until like dinner. You just kind of lose yourself. Some people are better at it that others.
I was always, Mr. Party after the gig, woo-hoo, let's hang. How may shots I can do before I pass out. I'm just too old for it now. You're 20 years old, you can go out and party. When you're fucking 45 years old, that's it. So I had to catch myself in the ugliness of what could be. Find my heart and soul and my passion for it all over again. And after a couple of months of complete cleanliness, getting together, getting healthy, man, I kept my weight off, practicing guitar again and finding my writing thing again. I'm excited about it. I'm appreciating all the people around me that matter, my family, the kids, wife, my friends. People I know are dropping, man they're getting sick and dying. It's a myth that you can keep going and keep going. I mean nobody has the constitution of my man Keith [Richards], you know what I mean?
That's a tough one to chase after. I love to hang, you know, and I still have a couple of beers now and then. I'm not like a fucking saint. I didn't have to go to rehab or nothing like that. I just didn't realize that I was a mess. I kept anesthetizing myself and I'd feel fine, or so I thought. I'm human man. It's a rock and roll cliché but there's a reason why people keep going down the same path. If you're lucky enough to catch yourself then you can hang in and fix it without having to go through all the big announcements. “Oh, I'm never going to have a drink again.” Just don't need to be doing tequila shots, taking pills and all this other shit. I found myself thinking that if my doctor was giving it to me, it must be cool. But that's a big myth. I wasn't a big pill freak, I wasn't taking handfuls of the shit. I was never clean, I always had something coursing through my veins.
So at my age you have to get a grip on that, before it completely destroys you. My attitude was fucked up. I wasn't an asshole but just like, didn't have time for anybody. Wanted to be by myself.
Well, you know. I apologize to anyone if they saw me at a bad time. Like I said, it's not that uncommon for cats like me that have been on the road for as long as I had, 27 years on the road, man. I stopped a lot of real bad shit but then I thought, well this isn't bad, my doctor gave it to me. I can still drink a lot. I'm cool. Realizing that if you take a pill in the morning makes the hang over go away so you think you're OK. So it's a big lie. But basically I'm healthy, I feel good, I got the gleam back in my eyes, I'm motivated and I want to do personal best from here out. In the studio I wasn't too bad but on the road. At home I wasn't like that, but it was just on the road. I'd come home and be a completely different person. Because I was up early…But you get on the road, you wake up at four, you take a shower, you eat, you go to the gig and it's on again. Every day. Every day, for like a year at a time.
What we want to do is like, Ok, book us a couple of weeks worth of gigs here and there so we make the pay and then we said we'd write for a couple of weeks and then we go and record for a month and then we would take a look at what we got. We are going to really scrutinize the material. We're going to write like 50 tunes and go, “Is this really the best shit we got?” And you know, stylistically we're going to pay tribute to our past but with keeping it in the present. I'd like to see us do longer, more adventurous pieces of music than just the 4-minute extravaganza.
I mean, there will be some of that, of course. A good tune is a good tune. It'll get cut. But we're really going to scrutinize ourselves, each other. And play stuff for people and say, “What do you think?” You know. We're never going to please everybody. No matter what the fuck we do we're never going to please them. And so we have to please, we have to look at ourselves and go, “I think this is really a great record.”
You know the whole thing about, like, OK we got four months to do a great record and then we have tours booked. This is as long as we got to do it, this is the budget we have, well now everybody's got home studios and stuff like that, and we're not signed to a label per se. There's no pressure for us to do that. We can't go back and just keep going back to the same places without a new record. We're not going to do that.
We're going to take this tour to places we've never been before. Who haven't seen it yet. And in the meantime get our chops back up with like who's really in the fucking band and who's not. We're going to have those issues too. It becomes very difficult for me because I'm the only guy that's never missed a gig and been there from day 1. See, and I got to front the band. And I'm fine with that but I need to be frosty in my head, my heart and my soul and body to do that job the best I can. And to play my ass off. I always try to play the best I could but inspiration's inspiration. I can play good but it doesn't necessarily mean it's inspired.
I have harsh critics, people who think, ah man the catalogues faded, Luke doesn't have the shit anymore. My answer to them is fuck you man, why don't you fucking do what I do, for this long and be under the hammer, and under the gun and under the criticism. A lot of cats are armchair guys. They sit in the room, they make records and they're very critical of everybody else. In some cases, I'm sure many people go, “I can play better than that guy. Why don't I have that gig?” But they don't understand the politics of it all. And the actual physicality of it all. And just the wear and tear, the stress. My skin's real thick. They told me I suck from the first record to now. Other musicians that I respect, my peer group, people that are really my friends, some are the best musicians in the world, the give us a lot of props. They give us a lot of support and they come to town when they can, they come to the shows. I play records for them, “What do you think of this, what do you think of that?” They'll tell me.
We became the poster boys for 'this is a band you're supposed to hate.' If there was a critic's school, the first thing you'd learn on day 1 is, 'this is a band you have to hate.' Years and years and years ago during the Toto IV tour we had a guy come out, he was writing for Rolling Stone... Timothy Schmidt was out with us singing background after he left the Eagles. He came to check out what Timothy was doing and I ended up getting high with him…and I got it out of him... “Like what is it about you guys. I'm a nice guy, we're hanging out in my room, fucking getting drunk and doing whatever”.
The guy's now the president of a major label. Now I'm not going to say who it is because it'll get me in trouble. But he's the president of a major label, he started out as a little puke writing for Rolling Stone, he started telling me, “Look to be honest with you, I think some of your stuff's cool but we're not allowed to write good stuff about you. You're the band to hate.” Because we're really good musicians they thought that we were put together by some corporate people. They didn't realize that we were a high school band, we just happened to be really good players that could actually... that were schooled enough to read and be able to do stuff. To be able to create on the spot and play really well in an era when that actually mattered. And we had hit records that they were mystified by. They thought that we had no soul because our records were slick and polished. Well we actually sat there and played that. There was no computers to fix shit back then.
You had to get a performer. So if it was played well and it was in tune, we layered the vocals. We sounded so good they hated us. That was when the punk thing was just happening: The Clash, The Sex Pistols. We were at the end of the '70s. We were holding on to what we dug. People we wanted to sound like was like Steely Dan except with a harder edge. From that point 'till now… Then we won the Grammy. That was great but we told Rolling Stone magazine to fuck off. They wanted to put us on the cover. They had been trashing us for so long we said OK this is our chance to get even. Fuck you Juan Leonard, he's just going to trash us anyway. And the guy tweaked into the sun. No one had ever turned down the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Which by hindsight I wish we hadn't done. But at the same time, we made our statement and then we won the Grammy and they didn't even write about it.
Let's face it, the famous David Lee Roth quote about Elvis Costello, it's like the critics love him because they all look like him. He said that in the '70s, which I thought was one of the most brilliant statements I've ever heard. It's like if one of those mother fuckers come up and pick up my guitar and play better than me, then I'll take their criticism with some sort of value.
But they're not musicians, that's what's wrong with the music business, it's not run by musicians. Its run by fucking lawyers and promotion people that wouldn't know... It's like the famous quote from Amadeus. A music critic goes, “There's too many notes in this.” And Mozart goes, “Which notes don't you like?” You know? They don't have any credibility. They can have their, Kurt Loder's of the world. The guy writes about what other people do. He calls himself a rock writer. Anybody can write the Tina Turner story if you sit down with Tina and clock it all and write it down. I guarantee I could write a better book than he could make a record. But there's no point in throwing shit at anybody because it bounces off and ends up sticking to me.
I'm the asshole for calling everybody out on it. I don't think I'm the best guitar player, matter of fact, I'm very self deprecating. I don't think I'm that good at all, I think that my best shit is yet to come. That's what keeps you motivated. As a musician you never wake up one day and go, OK now I know everything, I don't have to do it anymore. Les Paul is eighty something years old, he's still out there kicking it. I hope I get to be like him.
Nobody's the best at anything. They're just insane. Ask a blind person who the best looking chick in the room is, he'll tell you the one that feels the best. You know what I mean? It's not based on face value.
It's the truth. They listen on another level. They feel on a different level. People just want everything black or white. There is a gray area. And most people base their opinions on what other people think, not what they think. If so and so says this is cool, what kid doesn't want to wear the coolest clothing, be into the coolest music? They learn to like what everybody else likes.
When we were kids we were listening to everything man. How many radio stations... there's top-40 radio... there is no alternative, real alternative music. When I was a kid, FM radio was like they played Aretha, they played Miles, they played Hendrix, they played like, a Led Zeppelin album came out, they'd play the longest cut on the record. You'd sit around, you'd really get some schooling about what's happening out there. Now it's just, maybe there's some underground radio stations here and there but it's not mainstream. Because it doesn't sell units. I mean, music is an art form, now it's just business. You don't have to be good. We can fix it. I own a recording studio, some of the biggest artists in the last 10 years have been in there. All these new young people... They just go in there and play it the best they can, they go home, and it magically sounds incredible the next day. Cat stays up all night and makes it all right. And they have an attitude about it. “Well man that's old school shit”. I still believe in sitting in a room and playing until you get the shit right. That's the way I am, that's the way we all are.
I have a jazz/fusion side of me that put some people out but like, you know, I love that part. And then I come back to the other side with Toto and I'm fresh, I got new ideas and I got that shit out of my system. I'll always be that way. I enjoy it. It makes me feel good. It's not going to sell a million units but I don't give a shit. It's still music from my soul. Can't, like once again, can't please everybody. Some people think that's the only shit I should be doing. Ask one person, ask anybody, you're going to get a different opinion. So I just have to follow my heart, you know why? Because it's cool. Is it the best thing I've ever done? I don't think I've ever tried anything I've done, is the best thing I've ever done.
It's all hind-site. If something's really successful people think it's great. It doesn't mean it's great it means the perception is, it must be great if millions of people are buying it. Millions of people buy shit too, doesn't mean it's great. And that shit is subjective.
I have nothing but respect for Joe [Williams]. He really got his life together again, he's happy, he's doing [film] scores. It's what he wants to do, he wants to be around the kids, he doesn't want to go on the road anymore. Steve Porcaro doesn't want to go on the road anymore but he's doing scores, TV scores, I had lunch with him today.
Played me some great shit. He's got an album's worth of material I told him, play the shit for people man. He's got different singers on it and stuff but it's still Steve Porcaro. It's really melodic, almost Gabriel-esque with his flare to it you know. Should put this fucking shit out, people would eat it up bro.
He didn't get any of us to come in and do a solo or just doll it up a little bit, it's there. Like I said, I'm not enemies with everybody's that's not in our band anymore but I only get pissed off at guys that used us in a wrong way. I was always cool with Fergie until he started going out and being Mr. Toto. Pissed me right the fuck off. Anybody can go out and sing our songs but don't pass yourself off as Mr. Toto. Because people don't really know what we look like and they believe, you know, face value. Like he did this big TV show in America, Regis morning show, like millions of people, and they introduced him as Toto.
We were mixing the tracks [of Isolation] while he [Fergie Frederiksen] was still trying to gag out a vocal. It was painful, punching one word in at a time. I wish we had Pro Tools back then bro. You know, and like he was good for like two nights in a row and then he'd get sick, he's get sores all over his face, he was so nervous and he'd get all freaked out and shit. Just doing the back flips and shit. You know, once we lost Bobby, we lost the integrity of the band and we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. That's why we kept going through them and going through them.
Joseph was great until he got fucked up and he'll be the first one to tell you that. Love Joe, funny guy. The first tour, the Fahrenheit tour he was brilliant. Sang great every night. And then, you know, you can't be a lead singer and get high. Like freezing your vocal chords and eventually, you know, you fuck yourself up. I mean, I'm not trying to go back and dig up some old shit that he's already gone way past, 15 years ago. He's not like that at all anymore. It was a rough spot in the road and in that era everybody was doing it. I was doing it too. Not make it seem like I'm some innocent guy in all of this. We were all fucking getting high. It was the thing to do in the '80s. But you can't be the lead singer of a band, staying up all night doing that shit, destroying …It would be like me taking a sand blaster to my fingers every night and then trying to play. You can't do it.
[Byron] was the record company's idea. We were out a singer. We actually... check this out. This is a real story. When Joseph left, we went, what the fuck are we going to do? So we started writing some tunes. Dave came up with, Dave and Joseph actually wrote Going home. So we said, we could pop you back in. See what happens. Singing somewhere on the road. So we get him to come in and he sang but it was a struggle. It was a struggle to get going. And we got what we could out which is on the Toto XX record, that's the version you hear. And we turned it into the record company and they said 'Nah, that's shit. We need to…we got a guy for you'. And so I'm like, Oh I can't wait. And this is what they came up with for us. Jeff Porcaro was a very strong force. Jeff really had more to do with choosing our alternative lead singers than Dave and I or Mike did, you know what I mean? Jeff was like... When Bobby left, I wanted Eric Martin.
Me and Paich wanted to get Eric Martin to be our singer. I thought he'd be perfect. I loved his voice. Jeff didn't dig his vibe for some reason. I think he got drunk and he was a little silly and Jeff was like, this super cool guy, didn't dig the silliness of it all. It's not Eric's fault, the guy got a fucking buzz on, was not his fault. And there was one thing. We tried to get him to sing their song, Could you be love... not you be love, Could this be love? that was on the Fahrenheit record. And that was like his audition song and there was a very specific way that Dave wanted to sing it, since he wrote the song. And he just didn't hear it that way. So he kept trying to change it, he wouldn't sing what Dave was singing. Jeff was there and was like, nah, he isn't the right guy. He kept pretty much backing to Fergie. So we said OK, Jeff, he was always our spiritual guru and our big brother. To all of us. So we went with that. As it turned out, he was very difficult but we made a pretty good record.
But all of our shit was done, we were trying to implement him into this, and it was very nerve-racking for him. The myth about Bobby singing the whole record and then replacing every song with Fergie, is just that, a myth. Bobby sang on about 3 or 4 things and it was really hard because he wasn't in good health, and then he wouldn't show up, he was in a bad way. Like I said, he's nothing like that anymore either or he wouldn't be in the band. People have these crazy ideas, it's like hearsay, myths about our band. I'd love to clear some of that shit up too man you can ask me any of that. But anyway, long story short... the Byron bummer.
The record company brings this guy in. The same scenario. Actually, let me go chronologically.
After Fergie, we went on tour and the cat, we got through the tour, we were writing the next record and he started to come in and try to sing the record that would become Fahrenheit, he just couldn't sing in the studio. He just could not sing in tune to save his life. Freaking himself out because he knew he wasn't cutting it, so he'd psyche himself out that much more. And we finally said, look, this isn't working, we can't do this anymore, we got to have somebody that's at least half way as good as we are at playing our own instruments.
My vocals didn't take that long, even Dave's vocals didn't take long. Dave was singing more than he wanted to. Now he doesn't sing, he doesn't want to. It's too much work. But so, he left and once again Eric Martin came back up again. We didn't call him but me and Dave were going, remember this cat, Eric Martin? I think it was right before Mr. Big happened. We didn't call him, but me and Dave were going, Eric Martin, he's the right guy. Because he can sing his ass off, he didn't understand some of our phrases but that's not to say that the one time he's going to be like that every time. So me and Dave kept trying to sell Jeff on him again. He said we've got to do this guy Joseph Williams. And I had worked with Joseph. I grew up with him and his brother. Used to play in bands together with Landau and all these guys when we were kids. So I knew the William's brothers. I thought they were incredibly talented. Mark's really talented too, his brother. And obviously they come from good stock, John Williams is the father. Joe came in and Jeff goes, this is the guy. So we said OK great. He brought in some cool tunes, he was a funny guy. He came in, skinny, looked the part, way into it. Sang his dick off on the record. Painless, it was fun. Go on tour, killer fucking tour. Just ripped it a new ass-hole, he was great every night.
And then, you know, we came back and that was really successful. The album did really well. We had a hit. And we started on The seventh one record. Writing was going great. Did the record. The record turned out really good. I really like that record, I'm proud of it. Did really well with it. And then we went on tour, and drug problems crept in.
The first gig we were doing was in Rotterdam for live radio broadcast in front of God knows how many millions of people all across Holland. We were going Joe, don't do that shit until after the gig's over. Sure enough, he did. Came out and sang first song, second song was Stop loving you. He started singing it and pipes went. Couldn't even make it utter a sound. It was like…I'm looking at Jeff and I'm going, 'I can't sing that high, think of something. This is going out live.' The beginning of a fucking six month tour and the cat lost his voice. And it never really came back.
And then he was ostracized. It was a drag. It was a bad vibe. I felt bad... looking back I feel bad for him now. I love the cat, he's not anything like that, you know he made some poor choices. And he got himself into some trouble with the law and stuff. So we had to cut him loose. And then we come to the point where like, now what the fuck are we going to do?
So then we tried Bobby in the record. We didn't dig that. That wasn't really feeling right at that time anyway. Because he wasn't really all the way there. He hadn't reached his full bottom yet. As far as like, you know, you hear about somebody who just finally gets it together because he can't get any worse. And so they go, look we got a guy [Byron]. Use this guy, we'll stick a ton of money into you, we'll promise you the world. He's a little off the beaten path, maybe you guys need a change of image, blah, blah, blah. Music is changing, you guys aren't being accepted as a hard rock band because radio won't play it anymore because Sony kept putting out nothing but ballads for the radio. We were perceived as some Air Supply kind of band. Which is really a fucking drag. Nothing against those guys. You know, they're soft rock and people that saw us live knew that we were a lot more than that.
Their albums do real well. Radio just would not accept them. Maybe you should get into this dance, whatever the shit that was happening in 1989 to '90. Well they get this guy and there was like this ridiculous image, over the top. Completely off beat what I would ever think would be right. Jeff was like, maybe we need to do this. We got nothing to lose. They're making us all these promises. We're doing a greatest hits record, we only have to do a couple of songs. So we wrote a couple of songs. Dave had a few, I wrote a couple and we got in the studio. We were having a great time, and then you start to find out about what people are really like. The guy never listened to Hendrix or Zeppelin or anything - pretty much the George Michael story. Wearing a little glove, let me get to that later... Singing in the studio was really hard. I never heard anybody with louder headphones in my life. He had a real pitch problem too.
We worked with James Guthrie who worked with Pink Floyd, and we got these great tracks for what that kind of music was and stuff. Killed the tracks and did what we were supposed to do. We tried to implement this guy into our scene. We'd never seen him perform live. We go to rehearsals and we're going on this tour, the Greatest hits tour. And he wasn't belting out Bobby's stuff, very few people can. So the guy, he's sitting on his stool in rehearsals, getting through it, it was OK. Singing better in the rehearsal room, as far as pitch and all that stuff. We'd never seen him perform. So we do all this rehearsal and we go on tour, the first fucking gig and we see the guy putting on his fucking clothes. A little sheriff's badge on, he puts one golf glove on. We're thinking, man that's fucking funny, that's great, man that's a great joke. Hey says, “What are you talking about?” I go, “You're not going to go out there with a fucking glove, that's Michael Jackson's shit.” He said, “No it's not, it's my stuff.” I'm going, you've got to be fucking kidding me. We get on stage and we start the first tune, Love has the power and he starts dancing around like fucking Richard Simmons on acid. Some fucking fruity shit going on man. And the crowd is like looking at me and going, something's up. They're looking at him and flipping him the bird telling him to get off the stage. And I'm looking at Jeff Porcaro and he's looking at me going, what the fuck is that? I mean is was unbelievable…He thought he'd come to save the day. Like Christ had come down and blessed us. We get off the gig and we're like, what the fuck is that? We're nuts, we're psycho. You can't do that. He goes, “I'm going to make you all very famous.” He thought he was the shit, he was hysterical. And I was single, newly single at the time after my first divorce and I was out there for the chicks and every time I got with a chick, he'd try to get with her.
Like cock blocking. I was like dude, you don't do that, you don't even know the rules of the road. Things you do and things you don't do. Me and him didn't get on at all. And it got to the point where it was excruciating. The whole tour was excruciating, to be around him. It was a drag. I'm not saying he's an evil guy, but his ego. He thought he was the shit. He thought he was going to be the biggest star in the world. We were lucky to have him.
I don't know what he's doing but obviously it proved wrong. It was disastrous. We basically phased him... as the tour went on he was doing less and less and less to the point where he was basically.. That Live in Paris video in 1990, I think he is in for like a half a tune or something like that. We threw all his shit out. It just wasn't right. And then we were like really, what the fuck do we do? I ended up singing so much of the show. Jeff and the cats were, let's fucking do this, let's go make a rock and roll record. Kingdom of desire.
Very proud of that record. Especially because it was Jeffrey's last record.
'91 was our last tour, the ship was going down. Before the record even came out. Then brother Jeffery died on us. That was another, what the fuck are we going to do? We were in a tailspin. We lost our fucking mentor, we lost our guy. The heart and soul of the band. But we had to carry on; we didn't know what to do. We had a tour booked, 40 people on the payroll, 50 people on payroll expecting their families to eat during Christmas. Had we not had the tour already booked, we probably would have broken up right then.
Something kept us together, Simon Phillips was the only guy that we called. Couldn't get somebody that tried to sound like Jeff, we needed somebody with a name, and someone Jeff dug. Would bring some integrity and something else to the gig. Simon, Jeff I knew, dug. And he was going to move to L.A. There was a lot of serendipity there. He was going to come here anyway but he never thought, you know he had just gotten divorced, he wanted to leave London and come here and join our band. Do studio shit.
Me and him already had a relationship through playing with Jeff Beck and Santana in 1986. Became friends. And then he came on the gig, we did like 5 months on the road, decided at the end of it all, did a wonder tribute concert in L.A. at the amphitheater. Henley was there, Eddie Van Halen, we got Donald Fagan out of retirement before they reformed Steely Dan. We had Boz, we had David Crosby, Michael McDonald, George Harrison came out and played with us, Sheryl Crow before she was famous, she was singing background for Henley.
We had all the cats. At the end of that, Jeff's wife was there and Jeff's family, mother and father. You guys got to keep doing this. You're not going to bring Jeffrey back by quitting. And the fans, we get all these letters saying, look, it's never going to be the same without Jeff but you've still got something there. Hang tough. And so we did. Now you can ask me whatever you want. That's pretty much up to Tambu.
At that point [making Tambu] we said well, let's see what this would really be like doing it without Jeff. In the studio, Dave and I and all the guys, you know, the first time we've written with Simon. We went in the studio, Elliot Scheiner wanted to work with us. And that's somebody Jeff always wanted to work with. We all worked with Elliot outside. We thought that was the right thing to do. We went in and wrote more of an organic sounding record. But once again, I'm saying there's no point in you guys doing a hard rock record because Kingdom of desire whereas by today's standards it sold a lot, by those standards at that time, it didn't. Rock radio wouldn't touch us. We figured, well, maybe we should go explore the mellower side and the more world music side or whatever it is, or acoustic. You know, acoustic guitars, acoustic piano, I play a lot of keyboards on that record.
And we just did that record. We had the semi hit I will remember and the tour was very successful. We implemented a couple of background singers that would sing the Bobby parts or Joseph parts. It was more like the Toto review and those guys were great. Jenny and John were fantastic. They really came at a great time. It was something completely different. That tour was very successful. Very successful.
Considering, and we came back and at that point we were going like, you know, well what are we going to do? What do you want to do here? And then the 20th anniversary came around and we hooked up with Bobby again and he'd gotten himself together. And me and Dave started putting the record together, digging through the archives trying to find some shit from day 1 up until that point when we made that record, of salvageable tracks that were in the can that we never released... that were done, from all the different eras. There's some interesting stuff in there. I mean it's for the most staunch Toto fans of course.
But you realize how young some of this shit was and how there are reasons why they didn't make the real big records, but there's still some music in there worth putting out and it's a way for us to find our way back to the original concepts. Which was when Bobby came back in the band we did a couple gigs with Joseph and Bobby, Joseph really wasn't up for the task and Steve Porcaro came out and we did like 5 gigs. Had we actually rehearsed and done it right, it would have been a lot better. Because it was a little rough, vocally. And we decided Bobby was singing so good we were going to keep Bobby. Let's go explore this possibility and that leads us to Mindfields.
You know, I listened to a couple of tracks the other night, I was putting, my wife was putting stuff into my I-pod, my new favorite toy.
5000 songs in a fucking little box, you don't have to carry any CDs on the road with you. You got to love that. I've got to give my wife al the props on that one. She's going, “Yeah me!” It kind of brings me back, because I don't sit around listening to old Toto records. But I sort of wanted to get back to writing this new album. People wanted me, they said go back and listen to your old records. Remember the spirit of it. We're not going to write the same record, there's no point. It's not possible. Get back in the spirit. I thought there was some really good stuff on that record.
Listen, nobody loves every song of every record. Nobody. I don't.
There will never be another video unless it's live ever again. Live, fine. That's live, that's different. Concert videos are great. Love concert videos. But a fucking bunch of middle-aged guys trying to be... their hair poofed back, wind blowing their face, about the saddest concept I could ever think of.
We're not a video band. We never were. Never wanted to be. We wanted to be in a band to play music. Then MTV came along, changed everything. They fucked everything up. They turned it into a fucking McDonald's commercial. Music selling Coca Cola and t-shirts and now it's the reality TV. Music was an art when we started. I may die trying to keep that concept alive.
Zakk Wilde is a great friend of mine, one of the greatest guitar players in the fucking world. (...) And a sweetheart. He gives these late night phone calls where he calls up and pretends to be Jimmy Page. Fucking hysterical. Me and Zakk have a great relationship. We don't really see each other much, but we talk all the time. And I think he's one of the most brilliant, committed. This is the last of the great rock and roll heroes. He lives and breathes it. There's nothing fake about him at all. That is the real cat. He lives and breathes the guitar. And music and his family…a committed husband, a committed father, a committed psychopath. I love him. One of my favorite fucking humans on the planet.
I'm a huge fan of Dream Theater. Dream Theater are awesome. (...) A great band with a committed bunch of musicians. All of them are great virtuosos. And they have a vision and they stuck to their vision, now it's paying off. They're bringing back a whole genre of music that I thought was dead. Yet it's uniquely their own. I could sit and talk about music with them like from the '70s when we grew up. And I'm older than those guys so. We talk about records like Genesis' old Selling England by the pound, all that stuff like, you know, John's one of most unbelievable musicians. Just scary. I just feel like, Jesus, why bother when you hear a cat like him and Morse and shit. But these are my bros. I'm always inspired by greatness. When you hear greatness it makes you want to practice more.
Candyman is my favorite [solo record]. (...) That's the most perfect representation of who I really am. I mean its ten years old now so obviously it's now who I am right now, but back then, I was really proud of that record. I think that one really holds up better than all the rest of them.
There's good stuff on the other ones but my first solo record is very dated sounding. There's like 3 or 4 things on there I think are really cool, some of my pop/metal/rock stuff sounds really forced. But the stuff I did with Eddie and the stuff I did with Steve Stevens and things I did with Kortch and that ballad Turns to stone I wrote with Randy Goodrum, I'm really proud of that song.
I was trying too hard. In that era, you have to remember it was like the hair days. I was trying to put the music into the hair music and try to jump off the Toto bandwagon. Like I actually thought I might be accepted. It wasn't. People that like my shit they thought, they can look back on it, there's some good stuff on there. Out of all my solo records that's the one that sounds like I was trying too hard, to try to be too many things to too many different people all on the same record.
The record companies are being run by 20 year-old kids. 25/27 year-old kids. They don't want to be associated with something their mom listened to. You know what I mean. It's the hip factor. It's funny, we get sampled and stuff like that and that's cool. Ja Rule has a hit with Africa. And like, you know, I had that big huge hit with Roger Sanchez for I won't hold you back. That thing sold fucking 15 million copies. Man I'm laughing. I'm laughing. I'm just going, thank you God for that taste. (...) And yet the name Toto doesn't appear anywhere. Usually it's like sampled by this or featuring so and so and 85 names. Our name is never mentioned. (...) It's my voice, my song. I mean grant it, the first in line's the song. I never thought that was going to be a hit. But our music, Toto IV has been raped as far as fucking samples go. I mean six of those songs. We were doing hip-hop before they had a name for it. Waiting for your love, listen to that groove. That's a little more up-tempo hip-hop record. We used to call them funk a shunk. We didn't have a name for hip-hop. Hip-hop is a black thing man. Or I should say, it's not just a black thing but it's an urban thing.
A bunch of white kids in the valley can't, you know, talking about, kill the white man, kill the white man. It's a joke. It's like, once again, it's like videos bro. We can't fit ourselves into someplace we don't belong. But I can see the art form. When I saw the move 8-Mile, that's when I got into rap. I figured this is a really interesting concept. Even though it was fictitious, I still kind of saw where it was coming from. How difficult it is to come up with them rhymes. No melody involved. There's no melody involved at all. The saddest thing in the world is to see a rap guy try to sing. That's pathetic. It sounds like your grandpa's getting a prostrate check. (makes horrible noise) Those guys can't sing. Don't sing bro. Get somebody who sings. But rap. I give them all the props in the world for that. That's an art form all its own.
[8-Mile] was great. I really understood the whole concept, even though it's a small version of that. I dig the old school. I see where it all comes from. It's nothing I can do myself, because I'm just not qualified to do that but I can appreciate how hard it is to write those lyrics.
I don't need some snot-nosed, twenty year-old kid telling me he doesn't like my music. I'll kick his ass. What do you got mother fucker? It's a young man's game. For guys like us, guys our age, we just make records for people that dig what we do and we've been around so long we can still go out and people will come see us. No matter what it is. They know they're going to see a good show with really good players, that are actually up there playing, and have a sense of humor about all of this.
We're not trying to change the world, we're not capable. That's somebody else' job now. I'm just trying to live and have a good time, have a laugh and play music. I'm very lucky, very honored, very humble about it and I'm just trying to do the best I can. It doesn't always come up to what everybody's standards think I should be doing or what we should be doing. That's a very difficult thing. Because everybody thinks, well fuck this, that record's no good, this song's no good. They lost it. They don't have their thing anymore. But other people go, that's so much better than what you used to do. So, who do you listen to? You have to listen to the little voice inside. He goes, like, I think this is good, I hope people dig it. As far as us having a # 1 hit single again: probably not unless we're sampled again. But who knows, who knows. Tomorrow's another day. You never know. Having teenagers... MTV is not roasting in my house like it used to be. They don't even play music on MTV anymore. I think people are more interested in live DVDs and going to see live shows. Because that's the only thing that's actually real anymore.
Even some of the live shows aren't real. There's like 5 Pro Tools guys behind the stage and they're up there just faking the whole thing.
So that's why people, like we can still sell concert tickets and maybe today with the exception of some of the great bands that are out there like Coldplay and Radiohead. Making brilliant music. Melodic, soulful and played by real guys. The run of the mill pop groups... it's like eating too much candy. You're going to barf after a while. Too sweet, too…And they still rail on us. Put that on the cover of a magazine that they still think Toto is the worst fucking band that ever happened. You just kind of shake your head, scratch your head and go well, 600,000 people just bought tickets to see us and our record sales are happening, I'm booked up this year, I'm 46 years old, I'm happy to be alive, I'm happy to be playing music, honored to have an audience. Who doesn't always love every thing we do but loves us in spite of ourselves.
MelodicRock.com, July 2004