Born in Los Angeles, California on October 21, 1957, legendary guitarist Steve Lukather first picked up the instrument after his father bought him a guitar (a simple Kay acoustic) and a copy of 'Meet the Beatles' at the age of seven. Initially self taught, and inspired by The Beatles' George Harrison, he taught himself to play over the next several years, hanging out with older friends who showed the fledgling player chords and fingerings along the way. Lukather eventually sought a formal teacher at the age of 15, and that coupled with his befriending brothers Jeff and Steve Porcaro (who attended the same high school) led him to an interest in being a session musician.
His first credit in 1972 on legendary soul organist Booker T. Jones' (Of the MG's) 'The Runaway' was the start of what was to become one of the most prestigious and in demand session careers ever, which according to Lukather has seen him appear in the credits of over 1,000 albums. It would almost be a far easier task to list albums he DIDN'T appear on than to list the ones he did. A veritable who's who of rock, pop and jazz royalty have called upon him throughout the past several decades to add to the musical landscape of their artistic visions. Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson, Cher, Stevie Nicks, Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin are just a sampling of the musical legends on whose work his exemplary guitar work has graced. Besides sessions, Lukather has also written hits for George Benson,("Turn Your Love Around") The Tubes, ("She's A Beauty" and "Talk To Ya Later") and other artists.
It was also with the Porcaro brothers, and another high school friend, keyboardist David Paich, that Lukather shot to worldwide fame and fortune when he was asked to join in forming their band, Toto, in 1976 when Lukather was just still nineteen years old. Spending over 30 years with the Grammy Award winning band during which they amassed over 30 million albums sold (also placing 10 singles into the Billboard Top 40), in June of 2008 the guitarist announced on his web site that he was leaving, effectively ending their decades long run. Somewhat derided by many critics throughout the years, in part due to the band having massive singles chart success within the AOR genre, they nonetheless had the attention of musicians world wide for their incredible talents. No less than Eddie Van Halen himself referred to Toto as "collectively, the best musicians on the planet."
Now Lukather is back with his fifth studio solo album, the first since leaving the band, the appropriately named 'Ever changing times'. Featuring a more song-based approach than his previous fusion based solo efforts, the album serves as a calling card for his abilities not only as a guitarist, but as a producer and songwriter as well. Self described as a rebirth, by the sounds found on the disc it would appear that there are still many years of great music left to be had from one of the finest to ever pick up the instrument, past or present. Already nominated for 12 Grammys, winner of 5 during his career, it would come as no surprise if he ends up getting another nomination this time around also.
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with Lukather at home in California during a break in the tour schedule to discuss the new album, the breakup of Toto, his thoughts on the current state of the music business and much more.
Special thanks go to David Maida of Rising Talent Group for coordinating, and a BIG thanks to Steve Lukather for doing this exclusive interview for Nightwatcher's House Of Rock!
Nightwatcher's House Of Rock : I'd like to start by talking about the brand new album 'Ever changing times' which was recently released here in the U.S. on Ride Records. The album has been out in Europe for several months now, and is just being released here. In your opinion, how do you feel the album came out, and are you pleased with the response you've received so far by fans and critics?
Steve Lukather : It's doing really well. Especially for a guy like me in this day and age where the record business is dead. You don't get on the radio these days unless you're like a 12 year old, or a rapper. Fortunately for me, I've got a big fan base in Europe. The shows over there were great, they were packed with a lot of positive vibes. I'm putting my feet back in the water a bit here in the U.S., as I haven't played here in the States proper since 1985 with Toto. I'm definitely hoping for the best, and we'll see what happens.
NHOR : Where do you feel that Steve Lukather fits in the music scene of today, and what are your expectations for this album?
SL : Where do I fit in? (Laughs) You know, I don't really fit in anywhere. I think that's a big problem. Some people, when they're metal, they're metal, and that's what they do. If they're jazz, they're jazz, or if they're rappers, they're rappers. I've always cross pollinated in between all styles. In my youth, and a large portion of my adult life I was a session musician, playing on albums as divergent as McCartney, Elton John and Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, and eveything in between. Cheap Trick and The Tubes one day, then Aretha and Alice Cooper the next day. I just morphed with the situation. With the music of my old band we reflected a lot of the styles of music that we liked. Since there wasn't a particular pretty boy pop star in the band, we were just kind of the band to rake through the coals.
But that was only in the United States. Everywhere else in the world we were respected, and people liked that about us. We quietly sold 30 million records, and with my own personal solo career I've also done really well over there. In Asia, Europe, South America, Mexico...basically any non-English speaking country, with the exception of the UK, where I've done really well. But America's always been an anomaly, so we kind of stayed away. Also financially, it wasn't very viable. Why go out and lose money when you can play arenas elsewhere and make lots of money? There was a huge misconception about my old band, and myself, regarding what kind of musician I am. Although I did an album with Larry Carlton, an instrumental, jam band type of record, and we won a Grammy a couple of years ago. And that was a U.S. based thing.
But like I said, I've been under the radar a bit. The musicians know who I am, and I think I'll get a lot of those type of people out at the shows. If people come out and start screaming, "Africa" or "Rosanna" at me - well, I'm not going to play those songs. If I wanted to do that I would've kept the band together. I really want to separate myself. I'm being cautious and playing small places, just getting my feet wet and seeing if there's an audience out there for me. You never really know until you get there, because in this economy people buy last minute if they're going to do it. I know I'm doing really well in New York and L.A., but statistically I've always done well in those markets. But I haven't gone through the middle of America since 1985.
NHOR : What do you feel are the reasons why you're more well respected in Europe than in the United States?
SL: Well, in Europe when they like you they stick with you. Go look at the Billboard Charts here from 5 years ago and ask me where half of those people are. You have one hit record and it's over. I guess I'm part of that classic rock stamp. People think that we're an 80's band, but we're actually a 70's band. That's when all of our coming of age was. I hit a wall with Toto because I was the only original member still in it. I didn't feel comfortable being the only guy left. There were other things too, like I'd look around the stage and go, "Where are my high school friends?" There were some incredible musicians in the band, but it's just like the title of the record, 'Ever Changing Times'. I'm 50 years old, and it was time for me to walk away from a band that I'd been in since I was 15 years old, because there was nobody else left there. We had a really successful run, I'm very proud of it, really happy about it, and it afforded me a wonderful life.
But sometimes you've got to do something different. I wanted to go out and stand on my own. Who knows? It may be a great thing for me to do, or it may have been the worst idea. I'm doing really well overseas, I do know that. I recently did 5 weeks hard, and I'll be going back to Europe most of 2009. I'm also going to Japan, where I've always done well, so that's going to be great. But, as I said, I haven't done the U.S. in a long time. I'm a little nervous about it, but I've got a kick ass band, and if people come out, keeping an open mind... it's rock & roll. I'm not doing fusion stuff, I'm doing some obscure stuff from the old days, but not the obvious hits. I'm doing hit songs that I wrote for other people like The Tubes, some stuff from the new record, and some older stuff from earlier records that people who like me and know me will know the songs. If not, they're going to hear some incredible musicianship anyway and have a really good time. I'm bringing my best game, I'm not fucking around here. I have a lot to prove. There may be people who will show up out of curiosity, "What's this guy going to do?" I hope that it's not just one drunk guy in the back yelling, "Hold The Line!". (Laughs)
I really made a point to tell the promoters, "Please don't lead people on into thinking that's what I'm going to be doing." That builds up big expectations for that. Yes, that was a big part of my life, but I was just one member of the band. I'm not THE band. There's a certain sound that band had. I don't want to go out and do that, like I was in a Top 40 band doing versions of my old songs. I have done solo tours in the past, and I've never done those songs. As I said, I may do some obscure ones that I haven't played, ever. Songs that I wrote, sang, produced and played guitar on. But none of the obvious ones, I just don't feel like doing them, I'm burnt on it. I just did 26 months of that.
NHOR : One of the reasons you just cited for the breakup of Toto was the fact that you looked around and you were the only original member left. There are a lot of bands, and I'm not going to name names here, but ones who have no qualms about going out, year after year, with one, or in some cases no original members left. At what point do you feel it's time to call it a day? In your case it was one....
SL : That's why I did call it a day. I sat down with the Porcaro family... and I'm still dear friends with everybody. I'm still dear friends with the guys who were in the band when I left. There was no, "Fuck you" session. Nobody's suing anybody. I just told them before the last tour, "Look, due to a lot of different reasons guys, this is my last one." There were some other business issues that we didn't agree on, but it was a case of rather than this getting shitty, why don't we just walk away after this successful tour, and the DVD that just came out, which was #1 or Top 5 all over the world, I'd just rather walk away with some dignity. When my bass player, Mike Porcaro fell ill, and may not get well -- he's struggling with a muscular disease that's fucking with his head -- I figured, "There's nobody left!".
I talked to David Paich, the original keyboard player, and told him, "Man, I don't feel good about doing this anymore." He told me, "I'm surprised you hung in there as long as you did." So, as long as I had everybody's blessings, and knowing that I'm not being an asshole about it, then it's time to walk away. We didn't do the big "FAREWELL TOUR!"... there really was no point in that. At one point it was discussed, but it was a logistical nightmare, and I just wasn't feeling it. If in 10 years someone offers us a trillion dollars, who knows? Like I said, I don't hate anybody, I just found that this is the time in my life where I really wanted to move forward and do my music and see if I could stand on my own.
NHOR : What are your expectations for this album, sales-wise?
SL : Well, we're about 50,000 so far, which is pretty good for an old guy who doesn't have a hit record. Especially in this day and age...where do you buy a record? There's no record stores anymore. Those are hard sales. I haven't even gotten into my download sales yet. In this day and age that's pretty respectable. I'm going to be working until the end of next summer at least, on this particular project with this band. I'm hoping for the best.
NHOR : That's great to hear, it's a quality album and certainly deserves it...
SL : It's great that there are people out there who like my stuff and are willing to buy it. God knows, if that's what I've sold, then I've probably been stolen from another $100,000. For every one you sell, between 10 and 50 get ripped off due to illegal downloading.
NHOR : How much of an impact do you feel illegal downloading has had on you overall?
SL : As far as my publishing, and the ways to make income the way we used to do in the old days, it's affected it a great deal. We're doing a respectable business though. If people steal the music, then buy a ticket to see the show, then hey, fine. You can't help it, Pandora's out of the box. I think we're in a period of transition where people are going to figure out how to get back to giving the artist something for their efforts, because what it's going to do eventually is choke the artist to the point where they can't afford to do a record. So what you do is go in and cut a couple of tracks, two or three new tracks, put them up on your site, sell them on iTunes, so you have some new material to play for the next tour that you go out and do. Because most people don't want to hear more than two or three new songs anyway. When you're putting together a two hour set list, in my case I'm doing four or five songs off the new record, then the rest from my back catalog. For our next run, just financially speaking...I'm used to writing a whole album, 10 or 11 songs, you're making an artistic piece. But in this day and age, kids go buy one or two tracks. They just download what they want to hear, so you start thinking, "God, if I have to spend $150,000 making a record, and I can only sell this amount..." it doesn't seem to make sense financially to do that.
NHOR : You can only throw so much money down the drain...
SL : Everybody likes to consider themselves an artist. I made a true album, CD... whatever you want to call it these days... and I feel it holds up as a whole piece of work. But in this day and age, everybody's rethinking how to do this. We have to throw the old concept away. A guy like me, who started out in the 70's, is sort of pre-programmed to do things a certain way. So I have to throw that out the window. I'm on a learning curve myself.
NHOR : It's almost like starting over...
SL : It's absolutely starting over. I'm very realistic about it. That's why I'm playing small places. I'd rather do that, and have people in it, than not.
NHOR : Going back to the album, what are your favorite songs on the album and why?
SL : It's really hard for me to say, because I wrote them all. Everything is a bit different, a bit quirky. I wrote two songs with my son Trevor, which I'm rather proud of, "New World" and "Tell Me What You Want," which were the first two songs we ever wrote together as father and son. He played on them as well. I'm proud of those because that was a moment for us. I dig "Stab In The Back," which is my Steely Dan tribute song. But I really do have an affinity for all of them, because they're all just little pieces of how I felt the day I was making them. The record's a pretty good representation of where I'm at musically right now, aside from any of my jazzbo leanings, which I kind of stayed away from.
NHOR : You've said that this is a new beginning for you. Do you see this album as being somewhat of a calling card for you so to speak?
SL : Well, I've got to say, this album has gotten the best reviews that I've ever received. For the album and for the tour. I'm getting accepted by people who used to shit on me, which is kind of nice for a change. Once I get out of the Toto box, and people realize that I'm not just going out there raping the catalog trying to be "Mr. Toto" myself, without the guys in my band creating the sound, they're looking at me in a different way. I did Bospop in Holland, with Santana, Mick Hucknell of Crowded House, Neil Young... all these people, 25,000 people, sold out. We were third or fourth on the bill, and I got the best review of the night from a magazine which has hated me from day one. They said the biggest surprise of the night was Lukather and his band with the new material, not trying to lean on the Toto legacy. Guys who normally would've said, "Oh great, we get to rake this guy through the coals." And historically they have.
I'm getting a lot of people who didn't like Toto come and see me and say, "Okay, he's not going to do that stuff - he's showing a different side." It's basically a rock & roll band with chops. Everybody sings, there's no loops, no samples, no bullshit going on behind the stage like 90% of the people out there have. I just wanted to be like in a real old school 70's band where you have to go out and play through anything. I don't need all the bells and whistles. Even when we were making millions, it just becomes this nightmare, huge thing. I was going, "God, do we need all this shit?" (Laughs) It's not like we're teenagers wanting to live the rock star dream. I've got houses to pay for.
NHOR : You're not 19 anymore either...
SL: No, I'm not nineteen. I love to work, so it's not like I hate my job, but at the end of the day after the hard work I want to see some zeros in my bank account. I have realistic goals. I'm not Bruce Springsteen. Worked with him before, love the guy, big fan, love all the guys in the band, but I have to be realistic of where I'm at. I still collect mailbox money from my old situation, so I'm doing alright. I'm definitely in the 90 percentile among working musicians that actually have a career doing this. These days, a lot of the "A" guys, there's no session scene anymore. It's dead and over. So you have to go out and monetize your talent.
NHOR: You just touched on this awhile back, but do you ever feel that by being in Toto and having the huge mainstream success with an AOR sound that didn't have, for the most part, the guitar right in your face so to speak, that you haven't gotten the recognition you perhaps deserve by the public at large?
SL : No, I never did, which is ironic because we're better musicians than 90% of our competition. I think the hits killed us in the United States. Nowhere else, though. Everywhere else it didn't matter. These days with the Internet everybody's a critic. If people like you they'll say they like you, if they hate you they have no problem telling you. Of course they hide behind screen names and would never say it to your face, which is kind of a pussy situation to me, but you have to develop a thick skin. There are people who like me, and there are people who don't. If you put yourself in the public eye you've got to be ready for it.
I do think that in Toto we took an unnecessary amount of shit, though. We just became the band to hate. People didn't even listen to the music. We're Toto, and it was like, "Oh, I fucking hate those guys." They never saw us live, they based their opinion on one song they heard on the radio. But 30 million people disagreed. When you tell people how many records we sold, they'll say,"They did not." They forget it's a big world out there. Sony didn't even release our records for the past 10 years in the United States. They wouldn't release our records, and they wouldn't let us out of our contract. So the perception was that we died a long time ago, even though we were thriving everywhere else in the world. We weren't considered hip. But we never were. People want to be hip.
NHOR : But that was good for you too, as you didn't have this supernova type of success then fade away like trends do...
SL : Yes, we had the longevity, because how can you go out of style if you were never in style? People either like our music or they don't. That's fine. Listen, I don't like every bit of music that I hear. I sit and watch late night TV, and I can't believe how shitty these young bands are. They can't play and they can't sing. They're on 'The Tonight Show', people are hailing them as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the guy's vocals sound like two cats fucking. I'm sitting on the couch with my wife, who's much younger, and she grew up goth, and my son's 21, and I'm going, "Guys, is it just me, or does this really suck ass?" And my son will go, "No dad, this really sucks ass." (Laughs) And it's not that I'm just some old jaded puke...
NHOR : It's not just you, I've felt that too, at least in the mainstream anyway. You have to wonder how a lot of these bands got label deals, let alone became popular...
SL : I grew up before there was a thing called "retro." I've lived through every aspect of rock & roll, from The Beatles forward. In real time. So, whereas I love people like Lenny Kravitz, who go retro - the guy can play. He's got substance, and can sing, and he's a really nice guy. Then there's these Rolling Stones-type bands that they prop up for like two seconds, and these guys can't play. For the most part anyway, not all of them. I'm a huge Radiohead fan, I like new music. Some of the young musicians are fantastic, but there's so much that's just rubbish. There are cats who've been playing guitar all of two years, you can see them struggling to make a barre chord, and they're playing in front of eighty billion people on television. I just scratch my head on that, and they won't touch guys who are older. When's the last time you saw a classic rock band on late night tv?
NHOR : Which leads us back to a situation such as this album. Where are you going to get airplay on radio? Even though Toto had massive hits, it's a fairly certain bet that you won't get played on classic rock radio...
SL : Who listens to classic rock radio anyway anymore? I don't. Everybody's on their computer. They don't even watch television anymore. You have to create your own situation, such as viral marketing, viral promotion, so that people will find out about you. On regular radio, they won't play anybody who's over thirty years old. As for the classic rock stations, it's kind of funny. They'll play all the classic rock bands' old shit, but when's the last time they played a new song from a classic rock band?
NHOR : Even the Stones' new material can't get played on classic rock radio...
SL : Even the Stones can't get airplay. Even people who have historically sold hundreds of millions of records can't get airplay. It's the same fucking playlist. It's a Catch 22 situation. They're trying to make some headway with XM/Sirius, that kind of stuff, but people are just like, "Whatever." How do you control or keep track of that? There's 8 million channels now. On one hand I have an advantage, because people know me as a guitar player, and know me from my past. That puts me a little over that hurdle. So in that way you can get to people. All the people whose records I've played on, I've played on over a thousand records. Everybody cites all the artists I've played with, I can get to those people, and they can say, "Yeah, this guy's got a new record out." Your PR people have to deal with things in a different way.
I'll tell you what, you can't do anything anymore though. Everybody's got their cell phone cameras, and you've really got to think twice about who's looking at what you're doing. Whether that be YouTube, live, or just you sitting in the bar scratching your nuts, it'll be on the Internet in a few seconds. It's done a lot for fidelity in marriages. (Laughs) It's almost like you're a walking fatal attraction. Be aware that it's not only photos, but video too. Anything you say could be recorded and put on the Internet. Especially if it's negative. I have a lot of friends who are really famous, actors etc., and they have to deal with the paparazzi and shit. Man, I would never want to be famous like that. I'll take the money. (Laughs) But fuck the fame. Anybody that says they want to be rich and famous, leave out the famous part. I have the perfect amount of fame. Nobody really knows what I look like. Occasionally somebody will go, "Hey, aren't you that guitar player guy? Nice to meet you..Thanks." The worst it ever gets for me is if I go to the NAMM show. Then everybody knows who I am, and it's kind of weird. I can't imagine living my life everyday like that.
NHOR : But in a situation like that, you're a guitarists' guitarist...
SL : I don't know what I am, man. I'm friends with everybody, ya know? Anybody who's been around longer than two seconds, we're all friends. We all respect and support each other. I can't think of anybody who I dislike right now. And if I did, I wouldn't say it, 'cause this shit gets around. If you've got nothing nice to say, then don't say it, because inevitably somebody's feelings will get hurt. I know what it feels like to read somebody saying something shitty about me. It's like, "Why's this guy hate me? Why'd you have to say that shit about me?" And if you say something off the cuff, in a nudge nudge, sarcastic type of way, the written word doesn't convey that. I've done that before.
Fifteen years ago or so, I made a crack about Billy Corgan, I was just joking around, and it turned into this big hate fest. And this guy's going around going, "Why does this guy hate me?" I've since been able to apologize to the guy, because I know what it feels like. It was a quote, taken out of context, out of how I really meant it, and it was never meant to be printed anyway. But they printed it anyway because they wanted to make ME look like an asshole, which they accomplished. I don't think I'm better than anyone else, I'm just a guitar player, a working musician. I'm very honored to have this great life. It's hard work, and I miss out on a lot of things. Birthdays, anniversaries, my kids' this, my kids' that. But it's what I do, everybody understands. My kids turned out great, and they should've turned out to be a mess, but they turned out to be really cool young people. They're not all strung out on dope or anything like that. I really dodged the bullet.
I have a lot of friends who have these super straight parents, and their kids are meth addicts at 18 years old. You go, "Wait a second, Donny had the perfect mommy and daddy, what happened?" With my kids, it's supposed to be, "Oh God no, you're not allowed to go to the Lukather's house. God knows he's got those hookers and drugs at his house," which is a complete fabrication, but it's a presumption. My daughter got kicked out of high school because the star football player had weed, and she was going out with him. They immediately put the blame onto her, even though it wasn't her shit. They dragged me into the office, take one look at me and go, "It must be her." Then he goes away with his hand slapped. Talk about prejudice. I was really pissed off. And here's what happened : The principal who kicked her out, both of their kids... meth heads. I got my, "Fuck you." I didn't have to do anything.
NHOR : But you see that a lot, there are a lot of people who are the most "respectable" looking, and they're actually the most deviant...
SL : That's what I'm saying. Guys like me, I hide in plain sight. Just because I have tattoos and an earring doesn't mean I'm a drug addict. Not that I didn't dabble in the 70's and 80's like everyone else, but I'm WAY past that. That's so not cool right now. I just don't have any time for that.
NHOR : You grow up eventually or you die....
SL : Right, or you die. I've been to quite a few funerals in my life. Life's a bitch, and it isn't getting any better. Every time you turn on the news, it's not good news. It's, "Welcome to the bad news." Occasionally some little puppy dog at the end to make you feel a little better about yourself. If you get that.
NHOR : Getting back to the album, there's quite a "live" feel to this album, and it's obvious that there was a lot of interaction between the musicians at least in terms of backing tracks. Was that deliberate on your part, and do you feel that's something that's missing from a majority of newer bands on the scene, that live interaction.
SL : The basic tracks were all recorded live. It's missing from almost all of what's happening in music right now, because most people can't sit in a room and do a take because they're not good enough musicians. Everything's Pro Tool'd to death, it's unbelievable. I have a recording studio, and there are young fabulous musicians who are selling millions of records, and you wouldn't believe how pathetic some of the shit is when I pop in to go to my locker or something. The most important cat there is the Pro Tools guy. These guys can't play four bars in time and in tune.
At the level of musicianship I grew up in as a session musician, or a schooled musician, we didn't rehearse. I wrote the songs on this album with Randy Goodrum, and my son on two songs. We wrote them in a room with an acoustic guitar, a little piano, and a cassette player. We translated that into sketches on a piece of paper, not too much written out, just some chord changes and a couple of figures. We got great players and played them the little shitty cassette of us playing as we were writing the songs. The cats listened to it once, started playing, I gave them a couple of notes, and by the second or third take - done. Next tune. So all the interaction you hear on this album is real, it wasn't written out or planned. That's what happens when you get really good musicians in a room, they don't need babysitting. As opposed to, "Okay, play 4 bars of an eighth note, and I'll fix it." You have to use the producer's amp and everything, and consequently you lose your own identity, which is why a lot of these modern rock records all sound the same. You hear an album these days, and even if it sounds good, you go and see them live and go, "Damn, these guys are shitty. Who did the record?"(Laughs)
NHOR : One thing which is impressive regarding this album is the fact that you've allowed the instruments to breathe in the mix. There's an airy feeling to the recording where you can hear the natural interaction of the instruments. You have keyboards flowing through, the bass is clear, and you've managed to get the guitar up where it's both upfront but, at the same time, not too obtrusive. It's definitely not overly compressed like so many recordings are these days. Are you using mostly analog equipment on this album?
SL : I tried to do that, because a lot of records these days, the way they're mixed, are so overcompressed that the whole dynamic range goes away. If you look at it on a spectrum analyzer, it's a big block. It's just a pure level. So nothing gets softer, nothing gets louder. It's just loud. I come from more of an audiophile type school, and my co-producer/engineer Steve McMillan is just brilliant. He works with Trevor Horn and Mutt Lange, and he also does really organic records with Beth Hart, so he's got a full range. I used all vintage gear, and plugged straight into the amp. I didn't use any of the massive shit that I was supposed to be blamed for from the 80's. I tried to be as organic as I could. The congas are all real, Lenny Castro came in and just played. I know all the tricks in the book. Technology's great, if you use it in that way.
NHOR : But there has to be creativity behind it. The Beatles, for example on 'Sgt Pepper' only used 4 tracks and look how that turned out...
SL : Well, I worked with George Martin and Geoff Emerick. I worked with Paul McCartney and George Harrison. I've got all the stories and the insights. I'm always intrigued by the books that come out, I have them all. I have Geoff Emerick's book, George Martin's book, and the making of The Beatles' recording sessions, where they say what mic's they used, how this and that went down. It was amazing. They were great songs, and they were creating something from nothing. Now everybody's trying to copy what they did, only trying to use synthesizers and such. Those guys were going, "I don't know what I hear in my head, but I want something that's never been heard before."
NHOR : It's that kind of production which makes this album stand out, because you don't hear those sounds on most modern albums...
SL : Thanks man, I tried. I'm actually getting some really good press on it. People are talking to me because I'm not in Toto anymore. They didn't have any use for me when I was in that band. Now they're giving me another look because I'm not connected to that anymore. They're like, "Okay, we'll give this guy a shot, we'll talk to him." (Laughs) But they wouldn't talk to me before. I've got a lot to say. People have asked me to write a book about my life in the studios. The people I've worked with, I've got a gazillion stories. But it wouldn't be a tell -all, "Oh, when I fell into my dark drug period" type of thing. I wouldn't want to write a book like that, that's boring. I'll just put it this way: Yes I did drugs in the 70's and 80's, but I don't anymore. Okay thank you.
NHOR : Yeah, but you're not Nikki Sixx either...
SL : No, I'm not. But I know Nikki, and Tommy and I are really good friends. But listen, it was rock & roll back then. But it's time for the kids to get their party on, if that's what they want to do. The thing is, the drugs they have now are so scary. At least the shit we did was somewhat organic. I wasted a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of brain cells doing stupid shit back then. Anybody who's our age, who lived at that time, very few got away unscathed. It was so bad in the 70's, and I was just a teenager. Just piles of the shit all over the place..."C'mon, have some of this, you need to work a little later. It's just like having a cup of coffee man...just hit it...No, you can't get addicted to this shit, go for it." That's how it all started. It was fun for awhile, but then it got dark. That's when it got weird.
All those movies, "Boogie Nights"..."Wonderland"... I was there. That's where I used to cop. Coming back up Laurel Canyon from the studios to my house in the hills. "Do I make a left on Wonderland or not?" Inevitably I'd end up at Eddie Nash's house, ya know? I've seen people who've been up for a week, and it's pretty scary. (Laughs) I just look back at it and I cringe. I never was that bad, I never got to the point where I had to go to rehab. I just finally hit a wall with it, and said, "This is bullshit." The feel shitty powder. Why am I doing this? It doesn't make me feel good, it makes me feel bad. At 10 a.m. in the studios, Boom! First hit, let's record. That's not recreational at that point, it becomes a way of life.
NHOR : Then there comes a point where that kind of lifestyle destroys your talent too...
SL : Well, you sit around thinking you're doing a whole lot of shit, but you're doing a whole lot of nothing. You're talking a whole bunch of shit though. A lot of times you'll do stuff, then come back the next day and go, "That wasn't very good. What were we thinking?" A lot of wasted time.
NHOR : Going back into the album, you've also done a version of "Jamming With Jesus" which was written and first recorded by John Sloman, who at one time was the vocalist for Uriah Heep. How did you come about recording the song?
SL : That was through Pino Palladino. I was working with him on a project, we actually recorded the song for another artist about 10 years ago, and it never came out. I just loved the tune, I loved the concept of it. So I came up with a new arrangement of it, threw it at the guys, and this is what we came up with. That was a one take track. That's the only song I didn't have a hand in writing on the album, but John's a big talent. I'm a fan. I don't know him well, but he's a good guy.
NHOR : "The Truth" is your homage to Jeff Beck. What is it about Jeff's playing that has inspired you throughout the years?
SL : I've had a chance to work with Jeff, as a matter of fact. We cut a record that never came out, with myself as producer. He's my favorite guitar player. There's him, then there's everybody else. That says a lot, because I've worked with some absolutely incredible guitar players. I think he's everybody's favorite guitar player. I've sat really close, and seen what he does. It's all him, there's no "Jeff Beck box" you can buy. I'm very influenced by him, and he's somebody that I've known for quite some time. I wrote that song on piano first, then transferred it. I figured I'm going to play it on guitar, so I had Steve Porcaro come in and I said, "I want the most over the top, orchestral arrangement ever," and that's what he came up with. The guitar was one take all the way through. It was definitely influenced by Jeff. I played with my fingers, instead of a pick, which is part of Jeff's whole secret, he doesn't use a pick. Everything he does, he gets those sounds through his fingers. It's all him. I could never dream of being as good as that, but I certainly am inspired by him.
NHOR : As for live shows, how long do you expect to be on the road to support the release, and what can people expect when they come and see you live.
SL : I'm going to be on the road pretty much through next year. They'll come out and hear songs off all my solo records, a couple of surprises here and there, a really great band of incredible musicians. Everybody sings, and everything's real. There's room to jam and play, but we're not doing fusion music. I guess you've just got to come and see it. It's a rock band with singing, there's not 20 minute guitar solos. I do get to play a lot though for the guitar heads, but it's not just, "Let me dazzle you with my chops." There's a lot of different moods, throughout all my solo records, as well as a couple of songs I wrote for other people that were hits. Plus a few obscure Toto things that were never played live that I wrote and sang on. But again, I'm not going to go out and play "Rosanna," "Africa," or "Hold The Line." I just want to reiterate that, because if that's what you expect, don't bother. I do promise you a 2 and a half hour kick ass show that, when you walk away, you're going to go, "Wow! That's what this cat's all about."
NHOR : Are you filming any of the shows with the possibility of there being a future DVD release from this tour?
SL : We will be next year. There'll be a live DVD at some point. That'll be fun.
NHOR : You've won 5 Grammys, sold over 30 million records, are well respected by your peers as a musician... is there anything yet that you haven't accomplished that you'd still like to achieve, musically?
SL : I'd like to stand on my own as a solo artist. I'm always going to be attached to Toto, that was a major part of my life. I have known those guys since I was just 15 years old, the ones who are still alive. And I miss Jeff every day now that he's gone, he's been gone for 15 years now. But all the rest of the guys are still my closest friends. When each of them left the band, they left for reasons very much like my own. They just weren't feeling it anymore. But we've always remained very very close, and still are to this day.
NHOR : So we shouldn't expect Toto on a 'Behind The Music' type show any time soon then...
SL : No, they're not interested in talking with us. Which is ironic, because we have more stories than all of the bands they featured combined. With all the different artists we worked with, all the major 'Album Of The Year' type people, all the superstars we worked with, you'd think that MTV would want to talk to us. But they're not interested. They'll do one on A Flock Of Seagulls but they won't do one on us.
NHOR : I don't see them as being that interested in music anyway anymore for the most part...
SL : No, but it's just ironic because we were the 4th video ever played on MTV when they first started. We were there from the beginning. And they just shit on us. We also were the only band in history to turn down being on the cover of Rolling Stone. We told Jann Wenner to stick it up his ass.
NHOR : I guess that answers the question on whether or not Toto will ever be in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame...
SL : We were never getting in anyway. It's amazing some of the people they're letting in now, and the people who have been left out. They put Patti Smith in there but not Deep Purple? What's the first song every kid learns how to play?
NHOR : "Smoke On The Water"...
SL : And they're not in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? The glaring omissions...Yes, Genesis...they don't like prog rock. They don't like anybody who has any chops, basically. All of the people who SHOULD have been in there were in the first couple years. It's not like the baseball hall of fame, where it's based on stats. If you have the stats, they don't have to like you. You deserve to be in there based on what you brought to the table. But I'm not going to get too much into it, because ultimately it's a boring conversation. You know what? I've got awards. I've got two houses full of gold records. I've got to start taking them down because it starts becoming ridiculous, like my own personal mausoleum. I'm not saying it wouldn't be cool to be in there, but at the same time, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has lost its cool because of the glaring omissions. Alice Cooper's not in there? They were the first theatrical band out there. When I was in junior high school, I went from 8th grade until 9th grade listening to 'School's Out.'
I could make up my own hall of fame that would have more credibility. It's also like Rolling Stone's 'Top 100 Guitar Players', where they leave anybody out who has any chops. Somebody even wrote a letter to them, "How come Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Lukather etc. aren't on there, and Kurt Cobain is?" Kurt Cobain was a great songwriter, but a great guitar player? I don't think so. Eddie Van Halen at #78? Gimme a break. (Laughs)
I'm just happy to have a job. I'm a musician, not a rock star. Anybody can be a rock star, apparently. It's manufactured, hyped, and that's how you become a rock star. But if you can really play, then people are actually threatened by you.
NHOR : You're not Miley Cyrus either...
SL : She's doing better than me. (Laughs) There's always been teen idols, but at least The Monkees could sing. I used to go out with Mickey Dolenz' daughter Amy years ago. We're very, very good friends, and she's a beautiful girl. I used to hang with Mickey, great cat. They learned how to play, and they actually SANG on the tracks. There was no Pro Tools back then. But these kids now, they prop them up. I know people whose only job in life, as Pro Tools engineers, is tuning vocals for people like that. The thing is, it's a huge business, because most people can't sing bro. When they go out live, there's like 4 Pro Tools engineers backstage. You'd be surprised, a lot of bands you'd never think would do things like that - they've got it going on. I'm not going to name names, as some are friends of mine, but let's just say, when the vocals sound too good? It means they ARE too good.
NHOR : Is there anything else that you'd like to say to all the fans out there?
SL : Come out and see me play. I've really got something to offer that's not mainstream, but it's still accessible. I've got a really great band, I'm really excited about it, and I hope you all come out and see where it's really at.
houseofrockinterviews.blogspot.com, Oct. 24th 2008