The Steakhouse has housed famous artists such as Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie and Pink. Luke greeted me at the front door and invited me in. The first thing I noticed was the large picture of the ever present Sammy Davis Jr. on the control room wall. It took Luke a while but four hours into my stay he busted out his Sammy imitation.
My day at the studio started out with Luke laying down some guitar licks on a cool groovin' track. Luke told me "welcome to the team." That made me feel comfortable and right at home. To me the recording process was like putting a puzzle together piece by piece. The pieces being drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, percussion, lead vocals, background vocals and the Luke signature solos.
Lenny Castro & Luke
Today was Lenny Castro's day to put down his classic percussion sounds. Lenny came straight from the airport just to help out a dear friend. "That is true love" said Lukes son Trevor who was along for the days activities. Castro, the in demand percussionist, is getting ready to go out on Tour with Stevie Nicks in the near future. As the session was ready to begin Luke said to Lenny "We've been playing together for 30 fuckin' years." Castro added "Please, NO dates. NO numbers! You'd think that after 30 years I'd know what you want!"
Steve, Lenny and engineer supreme Steve MacMillan (Mac) listened to the track Luke just laid down his guitar on. Luke and Mac made a great team as they bounced ideas off each other that always seemed to make sense and improve the flavor of the track. They were trying to figure out what instuments Lenny would be using and to get a general feel for the groove of the song. It was decided to add shakers and congas to the ballady Beatlesque tune. Luke said about Lennys' added touches: "This REALLY brings the song to life. It gives it life!" I thought the song sounded good as I first listened to it but as the pieces (more guitar, shakers, congas) were added it sounded better and better.
I asked Luke how the recording sessions had been going so far and he confided in me "Great. It's moving right along as you can see by the board." What Steve was refering to was a chart with song titles on one side and instruments on the other. As the pieces of the puzzle were put into place they were crossed off the chart upon completion. As I arrived the chart was about 1/3 of the way crossed off. As the day rolled along the Luke marked the percussion column with an X as Lenny finished his parts.
Once again it was time to listen to what was already in the can for the next track to get the vibe. It was a rockin' number with some very hard driving guitar work by Luke. There was also some very cool interaction between Luke's guitar and Steve Weingart's keyboard wizardry. Luke told everyone "Weingart was just in here with me here yesterday. He did some cool shit." EVERYONE agreed how cool the track was. They traded way cool solos back and forth. Lenny added congas and tamborine to the track but the tamborine just wasn't happening on this track so it was decided that Lennys magic touch on the congas was just enough and the tambo was left off. Trevor said about Lenny "He's the BEST!"
Steve & Trev Lukather
The recording process is also a sort of family reunion. With all of the travel and busy schedules because of gigs, sessions, interviews, TV shows, awards shows, writing sessions etc. It's hard to see the people you've worked with and become lifetime friends with due to conflicting schedules. Lenny Castro is a "first call, session cat" who has gigged with Toto, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac and Barbra Streisand. He's a lot busier than your average musician. The family reunion aspect was quite evident when Lenny made his initial apperance. Hugs and handshakes were plentiful as he walked into the studio. Lukathers' daughter Tina also made an apperance and was very happy to see longtime Lukather family friend Castro.
Trevor told me how much fun he recently had at the NAMM show playing Hold the line with Bobby Kimball & Simon Phillips, also part of the family. He said "It was a last minute thing that Bobby & Simon asked me to do. It was great playing with them." Another family members' name came up Lee Sklar. Sklar is the bass player on most of the tracks which were already recorded. Luke said "I've known Sklar for 31 years,now!" Touching, comical and personal stories of "brother" Jeff Porcaro and Carlos Vega were told. Looks were given to the sky as those who had passed away were not forgotten and are still considered part of the "family". It was time to go back to work.
The next track was another cool slow ballad. As Lenny was warming up feeling out the groove on his congas, Steve Weingart said "Now THAT is how congas are supposed to sound!" It's obvious on a session like this when someone does something above and beyond the norm. When Castro got into a groove that was smokin' EVERYONE in the studio reacted with glee simultaneously. Luke referred to Castros' sound from hypnotic, perfect, haunting to just the right sound.
Stab in the back a song Luke referred to as a song inspired by Steely Dan was the next challenge. "I've ALWAYS wanted to play with those guys. I love Steely Dan so I figured if I couldn't work with them I'd do this" said Luke. Lenny added "I've got this bar gig where I play drums to keep my chops up. I take that shit down. Peg, Pretzel logic. I LOVE that shit". It was cool watching Luke and Lenny groove to Stab as they gave it a couple of listens before the recording began. Lenny said about the song "That's bad man. Abe's got that shit happening!" The song has some really cool funky guitar sounds that I didn't get tired of listening to. The bottom line is this is a really cool song.
I figured the earlier rock track I heard would be the hardest track on the new set. I was wrong on that one. The next song was HEAVY,HEAVY, HEAVY. It was eerie or even almost EVIL. Castro said "Sklar had a chance to funk it up and get ugly on this one!". Castro pulled a Lukather and got his sounds done in ONE TAKE! Straight through!
Luke told me "working with Mac was a great choice. It was an eye opener. I've learned so much from just watching him. He is a motherfucker!" He also told me "there will be 11 songs on the record. We have to write one more."
It was a wonderful experience for me as I got to see Luke the guitar player, producer, father, comedian and friend. I learned how much thought and effort goes into every little nuance of a first class recording production like this. Lukather knows exactly what he wants all the time. It was alot of work but it's also alot of fun. It's friends hanging out making great music together. Everyone involved is great at what they do. I felt lucky to be able to soak the whole thing in.
Reggie Boyle, stevelukather.com, January 26st 2007