Backstage, well after he and his mates in Toto had completed a terrific, energetic two-hour gig, Steve Lukather is still going strong. Chain smoking Malboro Lights and talking a mile-a-minute, he maneuvers seamlessly through many different subjects. From television’s resident “guitar god” Esteban to a certain ritually driven medical practice (hence the title of this piece), he’s on a roll.
Without missing a beat he even manages to fire off the requisite dick jokes and countless mind-blowing tales spanning a thirty-plus-year career. Laughing loudly and frequently, you can’t help but find yourself laughing right along with him. His Sammy Davis impersonation, which he unleashed backstage as well as during the show, is frighteningly good. He’s got a very natural sense of comedic timing and more stories than he has chops. Considering this is a guy with enough chops to hold his own while standing onstage between the likes of Vai and Satriani, well, that’s a helluva lot of stories.
Whether he’s discussing Soundgarden’s Black hole sun (which we agreed is one of the greatest rock songs ever) or his hangs with the likes of everyone from Lemmy Kilmister to Edward Van Halen (the latter being a “soul brother,” as Luke calls him), all eyes and ears are on him. If the music thing ever dried up, he could easily make a living in Vegas. He’s that funny and engaging; self-effacing and highly entertaining. No pretense, no ego, just Luke.
You honestly begin to wonder, “How the hell can this guy still possess that much energy after all these years?” The answer is simple: Steve Lukather is a rock star. But he’s a rock star who loves to play. A true musician who lives for “the gig.” Don’t let the fact he’s a world renowned session man fool you. This dude is not some chart-toting, tight-assed, nerdy gun-for-hire. No sir. He has lived. Been there and done that written all over him.
He experienced the wonderful excess that was the 80s and lived to tell about it. He led a band, Toto, which has released 16 studio albums, earned several Grammy awards, scored a handful of hits and quietly (if that’s even possible) sold almost 30 Million albums worldwide since 1978. Their recent Falling in between world tour is going very well.
He’s contributed to literally hundreds of recordings by other artists. The most recognized being his stellar work on Michael Jackson’s legendary Thriller album. To this day it is the highest selling album by a solo artist in history (27 Million copies) and second on the all-time list only to the Eagles Greatest hits (29 Million copies).
While Luke and several other members of Toto turned up all over that album, it was the devastating combination of his smokin’ guitar riff and rhythm work + Edward Van Halen’s searing guitar solo on the # 1 smash hit Beat it which helped propel MJ and the entire Thriller album to dizzying heights. He even played bass on that track, to boot! Producing, arranging, songwriting, guitars, keyboards, impersonations… is there anything the man can’t do?
It’s safe to say Luke is the rock star in his band. From his post-concert choice of dress (t-shirt, jeans, chain wallet and customized Chuck Taylor Converse, all courtesy of his lovely wife) to his drink of choice (Jack Daniels), it’s still rock n’ roll for this cat. One look at him, one minute in his presence, and your idea of what an “ace session man” is goes completely out the window.
While Bobby, Mike, Greg, Simon and Tony are all wonderful guys and incredibly proficient musicians, Luke is the one who brings a rock vibe and attitude to the job. Female voices squealing, “We love you Luke!” could be heard throughout the show that night as more than once he stepped up and unleashed some serious shred guitar for those in attendance. Without question, his playing is still as crisp as ever. The fans ate it up and showed their appreciation with chants of “Luuuke! Luuuke!” following many of his wicked solos.
During the meet-and-great afterwards, a pair of scantily-clad girls posed for pics with him and even asked if he could sign their guitar (of course, he did). While he might be a rock star, there is absolutely no trace of rock star ego to be found. Not a shred.
I’ve been in contact with him for a few years now, but I’d never met the guy in person. Long story short, I wrote a book on Van Halen and Luke contributed. When the word came down the band was coming through my neck of the woods, he and his manager Sonny arranged a ticket and pass for me.
Honestly, I figured I’d receive a minute of his time and believe me I would’ve been more than happy with that. I only wanted to thank this man for his contribution to my project. But to my surprise, while the other dozen or so people with backstage passes where slowly filing out after having received all their pics/hugs/handshakes/autographs, Luke pulled me aside and said, “Hey man, come hang with us.”
Next thing I know, I’m chilling in Luke’s dressing room and came to realize that “us” meant the man himself, former Tom Petty drummer and R&RHOF inductee Stan Lynch, electronics wizard Bob Bradshaw of Bradshaw Electronics (both good friends of Luke’s who came to the show as his guests), as well as Toto members Tony and Simon. That’s an amazing amount of musical muscle for one mere dressing room.
But you wanna talk about lack of ego? It must be contagious because all of these cats where extremely warm and gracious. You just met them and you felt like you somehow know them. Each and every one is a truly down to Earth, humble guy. As the JD flowed and cold pizza was being scarfed down, you simply couldn’t ask for a nicer group of guys to hang out and talk music with.
After a while his manager Sonny came back around and asked if I was alright. He wanted to make sure everything had gone smoothly as far as the ticket/pass was concerned. I assured him I’d been treated quite well. Sonny’s great. The next couple of hours were everything you could hope for. Nothing too crazy, just loads of fun and a lot of laughs. Sunrise Musical Theatre Executive Director Dave Jenkins even came back to hang as well. Add another cool, classy guy to the list. He deserves credit for having the good taste to bring Luke and the boys back to Florida for the first time since the early 80s!
Meeting someone like Luke makes you realize there are still a few genuine, classy people within the industry. He’s one of the good guys, a man who speaks about his family with as much love and passion as he speaks about his music. As if I needed any more proof, I was able to observe him interacting with several more Toto fans as me, Luke, Stan and a few of the others exited the building together.
Apparently this group of fans had gathered outside and stuck around waiting for Luke, specifically. Sure enough, he stopped for them and proceeded to chat it up. More pics were taken and even more autographs were signed. He literally had to be physically removed and dragged into the awaiting van. But not until he’d given each and every fan their moment. It was great. That’s how you know it’s real. There were no cameras around or none of that kind of bullshit. He is the real deal.
Before getting in the van he even thanked the officer who’d escorted us out and jokingly stated he wanted to come back and become a cop himself! Then, right before he hopped into the van he hugged me and bellowed, “Remember Abel, the circle of trust!”
I smiled and nodded. DeNiro would be proud.
Much love and respect to Luke, Sonny, Stan, Bob, Dave, the rest of the band and crew. You guys were terrific and I sincerely hope we get the chance to do it again sometime. To borrow a phrase from Luke, it was a groove.
Stevelukather.com, November 13th 2006