Michael Jackson & Quincy Jones

HARRIS: Steve Lukather is a longtime professional musician who has played for a number of artists, including Michael Jackson. You can hear him playing guitar on Michael Jackson's highly successful "Thriller" album. Highly successful -- talk about understatements.

Steve joins us on the phone from Los Angeles to talk about the impact of Michael Jackson.

HARRIS: Steve, appreciate it. Thanks for your time.

STEVE LUKATHER, MUSICIAN: Hey, man. How's it going?

HARRIS: Hey, it's -- we're remembering Michael Jackson. It's a difficult day, but we're happy to be able to do this. And thanks for helping us remember him.

LUKATHER: Yes. I mean, you know, it's kind of a big shock to everybody. I mean, obviously, the phone has been off the hook. Everybody I know is calling each other going, wow, what's up?

And I played on the record. And it's a really terrible shame. And it was a great honor to work with Michael and Quincy on what is to be a legendary record.

HARRIS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, look, we're talking about you in the context of your work on "Thriller," but my goodness. You were part of that supergroup Toto.

LUKATHER: Yes. Well, we had a good run back in the day. You know?

HARRIS: Yes. "Toto IV," a monster LP. "Africa" -- what was the other big hit on "Toto IV?"

LUKATHER: "Rosanna." We had a few of them.

HARRIS: Yes. How did you come to meet Michael, and how is it that you and Steve Porcaro came to work on "Thriller"?

LUKATHER: Well, actually, I had worked on Quincy Jones's "The Dude" record, which was an album of the year. And then our record was album of the year, the next record, "Toto IV," and then "Thriller," Quincy asked us to come in.

Actually, Michael called me on the phone, and I didn't believe it was really him, so I gave him a bunch of grief because he woke me up in the morning. It was kind of funny, and then I found out it was really him.

Quincy's office called and said, "No, that was really Michael," because I kept hanging up on him. But, you know, ,he was really a nice guy to work with, a total pro. And like I said, it was a great honor to be a part of something so huge. You know?

HARRIS: Hey, Steve, what tracks did you play on?

LUKATHER: I played on "Beat It." I played all the rhythm guitar parts and the base. And Eddie did the solo. And Jeff Porcaro did the drums and Michael sang.

And then I played on "Human Nature," which Steve Porcaro wrote, played all the keyboards on. And I played guitar on that. And I did the duet with Paul McCartney as well. HARRIS: Yes, "The Girl is Mine."



What do you remember about Michael working in those sessions?

LUKATHER: Just, you know, he was very specific, he was very focused on the work. He knew what he wanted. And if he liked something, you could tell right away. If he was iffy about it, he would let you know. But he was very pleasant.

There was always a ton of people around, so it was kind of daunting, really. But once we got into the work and people kind of disappeared, and it was just Quincy, Michael and myself, or whoever, if we were cutting a track, just the musicians itself, it was really great.

And it was a total -- you know, Quincy is always an ultimate class act. And Bruce Swedien (ph), the engineer. I mean, it was just people I felt very comfortable with because we worked together before.

HARRIS: So, Steve, apart from the tracks you worked on, on "Thriller," is there a signature Michael Jackson song for you?

LUKATHER: Oh, jeez. I mean, you know, that whole record is full of them.

HARRIS: Right.

LUKATHER: You know what I mean? And also, "Off the Wall" was a great record, too.

HARRIS: There you go.

LUKATHER: It was the album to be on if you were, like, a session guy at that time. You know what I mean?

And we were asked because I guess we liked what he did. So I never thought this day would come. I mean, he's my age. So, it's kind of weird. You get just kind of creeped out. You know, the harsh reality of life.

HARRIS: Tell me about it.

LUKATHER: I mean, I didn't really know the guy as a personal friend, per se, just as a working situation. He was very pleasant and a very nice guy.

HARRIS: Well, Steve, thanks for your time.

LUKATHER: Thank you very much. God bless the family. God bless them all, really.

HARRIS: Yes. Thanks for your reflections. Steve Lukather, boy, one of the mainstays of Toto, performed on "Beat It" and a couple of other tracks on the "Thriller" album.

CNN, Remembering MJ, June 26th 2009