Luke talked to moderator Scott and the Clive Davis Theater guests about his career from A to Z. He started off by telling them how saxophonist extraordinarie Tom Scott, before the day of cell phone pictures, sent the guys in Toto a Polaroid picture of a Japanese toilet with the name "Toto" on it'. Luke said "It was too late because they had just delivered the album. I ALWAYS thought it was a shitty name!" So he had them rolling in the aisles from the start. Then Luke went all the way back to the Beatles. He said "When I first heard the Beatles it was an on switch for my life!" He also told them "before Youtube you used to have to pick the needle up off the record and put it back in it's right place to learn guitar parts and then do it again and again. I was ALWAYS intrigued by studio musicians. Jeff Porcaro and David Paich were already playing on records so it was our quest to be like those guys. They were like our older brothers." Right out of High School was when Luke did a Boz Scaggs session. He said "It was my first big gig. I had just met David Foster and was hanging out with Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour and all the guys I wanted to be like. Jeff Porcaro and David Paich had just written and played on the Boz Scaggs record Silk Degrees. I was lucky to have been placed in Los Angeles instead of the middle of America. I was fortunate to have been placed here and meet the people that I did."
Names of guitar greats were thrown out to Luke by Grammy Host Scott with the intent of getting a quick reaction. To Jimi Hendrix Luke said "another one of those moments where I thought that space aliens had landed in my back yard! When I played 'Purple Haze' it was the first time I heard the girls scream." Jimmy Page. "The summer of '69, we rehearsed Led Zeppelin I. A Life changing record." Jeff Beck. "One of my heroes, a friend, a unique voice. We did a record together." Luke had a gleam in his eye when he talked about playing at Royal Albert Hall in London England. He said rather sheepishly while mimicking the moment he hit the stage in 2004 "was this where Eric (Clapton) stood when he played? Jimmy (Page) would have been on this side!" He then said "So I just stood out there and played. I had to just stand there and play and look out into the room. The room hasn't changed much at all. The Beatles played there!"
Then came the talk of the Toto years. Scott asked Luke "when was the first time you heard yourself on the radio?" Luke answered "I was in my first house. The dream was to be on the local FM station. The record came out and the Record Company was like 'we really like the record but there are no guarantees.' But I get a phone call. It was like 9 a.m. and I was asleep. Someone called me to tell me 'you're on the radio! Turn it on!' I ran out and turned it on and, WOW! Then later to be in the car and hear it on the radio. Then we went into the local record store, when we knew the people who worked there. They told us 'your record is really selling.' I was 19 years old when we did the first Toto record."
With the full house, including Luke music pals C.J. Vanston and Lonn Friend listening intently to every word Luke was saying Scott said "you were still doing sessions." Luke responded "more than ever! Before the Toto record I was hanging with Foster, Paich, Larry, Jeff Porcaro and Jay Graydon. Foster would give me a lot of his overflow. Those guys took a shot at me." Scott added "you came to be known as incredibly creative, flexible and frankly fast." Without hesitation Luke joked "and that was just in the shower!" This was one of his tamer jokes but Luke had the crowd laughing hysterically. "You had to get the job done. That was part of the job qualification. If you're sitting in a room with Larry, Rit or anyone of that stature, those are the people who you want to like you. (Lee) Sklar took a shining to me. If you got a recommendation from the 'A list' guys then you'd get a shot. There used to be a 'minor league' back then. You would do demo's for $25 a song, before the machines took over. Then you'd get a reputation for having a good sound. Reading music was important but it was more like compose your part on the spot. Have your sound together, be in tune, play in the groove. AND your rapport with the other guys. And there was the humility. If I was sitting next to Dean Parks I would sit in the guitar two chair out of respect because Dean's a legendary guy. There was a certain pecking order."
Scott asked Luke "was there a certain approach that made it work for you in the studio?" Luke said "Some of it you just can't learn. You just do it. It's hard to explain. Being under that kind of pressure. Imagine Quincy Jones is in your face waiting for you to get it right. You can't choke. You're allowed to make mistakes. As a matter of fact it's o.k. But on certain things you couldn't. The live dates when there's horns, strings and the whole thing. You had to be BANG on! You couldn't fold under pressure. You couldn't be an arrogant prick either. You couldn't try to sell yourself. You couldn't brown nose. There was a real fine line between brown nosing and being cool. If you delivered then you worked your way up the pecking order. You earned the respect of the 'guys'. There were a lot of flashy guys that would come in and 'hot dog' the scene and everyone would say sarcastically 'great player' and then you would NEVER hear from them again. You had to know your place. Then you had to work your way up to the 'A list' players.
Scott: Along the way you had to make lemonade out of lemons. Luke shot back "we called it polishing a turd! As a matter of fact Jeff Porcaro even drew a cartoon of that! I can tell you a funny story. I can't tell you the guys name. About '77 or '78 there was a guy who came to the studio with this tune and said 'I got this great song!' And the name of the song was 'But Love Me'. It was really unfortunate it NEVER crossed his mind! It was real cheese too. Dave Hungate went over to everyone's chart and wrote two 'it's' on top of it (Butt Love Me)." Luke then broke out in song "Do me wrong. Do me right. Do me anyway you like. Butt Love me! The cat ended up in tears. We were dying! How do you write a song like that and not think about that? There were a lot of funny moments like that. It's ALWAYS important to listen too. I was playing a session with David T. Walker and he didn't play ANYTHING on the first two takes. He is a legend. So after the second take I asked if everything was alright. He said 'I don't hear anything'. By the third take he played just the right take. I said WOW! There's a guy who actually listened to it. He couldn't read music but he sure as hell could play it!"
Moderator Scott Goldman: "You once said you never wanted to be a 'Rock Star', just a working musician."
Luke: "That's all I EVER wanted!
Scott: "What does a working musician mean?"
Luke: "Someone who is constantly working. Not staring at the phone going RING!. Being a Rock Star especially now is very fleeting. I was very interested in the session musician thing. If you're a Pop Star what's the shelf life? Especially if you're a teen Pop Star. You're done with at 21! What are you going to do with the rest of you're life? I've had a lot of you've gotta be fucking be kidding me moments!"
Scott: "How about working with Miles Davis?"
Luke: "That was really a TRIP! Miles asked me to join his band and I couldn't do it! We were doing the 'Fahrenheit' record. Miles wanted to cut 'Human Nature' which we had the cut with Michael Jackson on the 'Thriller' record. Miles wanted to do a pop record. So we heard Miles was coming over to David Paichs' studio. We were all there. David used to have this life sized, stuffed German Shepard in attack mode and two Grand Pianos. One facing this way and one facing that way. We were sitting there and the gate rang and Miles was there. So he comes to the door. We were so used to the dog that it was like we didn't even see it. The door opened up and Miles jumped back. We were like 'sorry, Miles the dog is a fake!' Miles had these big glasses and he slipped them down his nose a bit and said 'I got some shit that will make this dog come alive!' (Once again the crowd was rolling in the aisles!) So we now had the balls to ask him about playing on a song Paich and I had been working on. So I was on one piano and David was on the other and we played the song. And Miles said (Luke imitating Miles' deep cool voice) 'Ya, that's pretty good'. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we could get Miles to play on it! Then he started making fun of David and I on the dueling pianos. We thought we're going to be recording over at Jeff Porcaro's studio and he was going to be doing his horn parts there. We had already cut the track. At one point he had heard the track. He had already heard 'Human Nature', which he had already dug. He started hanging around and he was digging our sense of humor. He was very sweet. You hear all those stories of how difficult he could be. He was SO gracious and SO nice too! He said he would do it for us. So we said what can we do for you? He said 'nothing'! He played the take and at the very end of the song when it fades out he just kept playing! He wouldn't take a DIME! Everybody heard he played on the record. He broke his normal 'I don't play on other peoples records for a bunch of guys from the Valley of all places! Maybe he was just taking the piss out of his buddies. But he did such a brilliant job!"
We were so humbled. It was like, can we actually use this? A few months after the record came out I heard Miles had called for me. We were rehearsing for the Fahrenheit Tour. We were leaving the next day. I was like I wonder why he is calling me? I was told I think he wants you to play with him. Me, play with Miles Davis? Mike Stern is on of the greatest guitarists. Me? I was still in my 20's! I got this call. Luke imitating Miles' voice again 'It's Miles'. Yes Mr. Davis. Miles said 'I want you to be my man. Can you go out to New York, tomorrow? I told him I can't go! My band. We're leaving. Miles said 'I really like your record.' I said really, you listened to the record? But what about Mike Stern? Miles said 'Ya, he's great but I like that Rock 'n' Roll shit!' I was looking at the phone like I'm talking to Miles Davis and I have to tell him NO! I had to explain to him. I have some 40 odd people on the payroll. We're going out for a few months. Miles said 'I understand'. I never heard from him again." (There were moans from the crowd.)
Scott: "Talk about playing with Michael Jackson."
Luke: "Michael was great. When I was 23 years old I started working with Quincy Jones. He dug my whole thing. If Quincy took you in, you were really accepted. I was just a zit faced kid. He hired me on all of his records, Herbie Hancock, Patti Austin. He was just coming off doing 'Off the Wall'. Which was massive. So if you got the call for the next Michael Jackson record then you've really arrived at the 'A team'. I got the call. Michael called me. Normally Joanne at Quincy's' office would call me and tell me Quincy wants you to come in and play on Michaels' record. You're on it. Woo Hoo! Ya, I'm on it! Remember these are the party years! I had just gone to bed and had a 10am session. You'd brutalize yourself! We were all young and naive, stupid and didn't know any better. It was everywhere. What can I say? I was just crashed out and the phone rings. There was no caller I.D. in those days. I get this call (Luke in a soft Michael Jacksonesque voice) 'Hello is this Steve?' Steve said "who the fuck is this? Pretty much like the Eddie Van Halen story. We had similar experiences. It was Quincy calling Him. It was Michael calling Me. And the phone rings again. 'Hello this is Michael Jackson' Ya, RIGHT! You're NOT Michael Jackson. Who the fuck is taking the piss out of me? Nobody calls me at 8:30 or 9 O'clock in the morning! Really? So you're Michael? So I started grilling him. Do you know this guy or do you know that guy?" In his Michael voice again Luke said 'I want you to play on some demo's.' Demo's! I don't fucking play on demo's!
About an hour later, it's 10 a.m.business hours now. I get a call from Quincy's office. Quincy got on the phone and said" 'man, that was really Michael.' (There was a roar and moans from the entire room!) Luke said "I blew it! Quincy said 'no he thought it was funny! Here's his number call him back.' I called Michael back and said is Michael there? Luke once again in a soft voice said 'hello'. Luke said to Michael "I'm SOO sorry! Michael started laughing at me! He said 'it's alright it happens ALL the time!' How many people have Michael Jackson call them on the phone? He was very sweet and gracious to work with and we had a great time. And through that affiliation that's how I met Paul McCartney. I went to London with Jeff (Porcaro) to work on the movie (Give My Regards to Broad Street). Dominoes started to fall. I was in a situation of Rock Royalty. I was like 25 years old."
Scott: What about working with McCartney?
Luke: "It was incredible. Paul and Linda too. They took a shine to us. George Martin was there. Geoff Emerick, the team that brought you Sgt. Pepper. We were set up in EMI Studios in London. Every day live. The mics, the amps the mellotron from 'Strawberry Fields'. I was standing off stage with Linda. She was awesome. What a great girl. NOTHING like what the press made her out to be. She had a great sense of humor. We went through a few takes. The mellotron was on and was in the monitor. And I said SHOULD I? And I HAD to play the opening of 'Strawberry Fields'. Paul was like 'very good'. The first thing they said was don't play the Beatles songs around Paul. This was 1982 or '83. Still sensitive after Johns' passing. I went to Linda and said they told us not to talk about the Beatles or play Beatles' songs. She said 'WHAT?REALLY?'. So Jeff (Porcaro) started playing something. I started playing something. Please, Please Me just to test the waters. All of a sudden Paul started singing it. And EVERYBODY on the set was deadly quiet. He was smiling and EVERYBODY burst into applause! And then it was on from there. I asked Geoff Emerick how'd you get the sound on "Revolution"? It's too much to get into but I had TWO weeks of sitting on a movie set asking everyone every question you could possibly imagine. As it turned out they LOVED talking about it!
Then it was time for Luke to take questions from the audience.
Q: "Tell us about your experience with Don Henley."
Luke: "Henley. First off I worked on all the Eagles solo records over the years. And I love those guys! Don has one of the greatest voices out there. He is a VERY serious artist. The first thing I played on for him was 'Dirty Laundry'. And on that record Joe Walsh did the other solo. And Joe's another one of my all time heroes as well. Don Henley, that's the voice of 'Hotel California'. You know the song where you got the bra off for the first time!" As laughter roared through the Theater Luke said "come on. You Know. It was getting to work with Danny Kortchmar. Jeff Porcaro was on that. And the guys were like you gotta open up and do a solo. And I got it on the first take." Oohs and aahs from the crowd.
Q: "Did you write the guitar solos on the Michael Jackson stuff?"
Luke: "Actually I didn't play solos on that. Eddie (Van Halen) played the solo on Beat It. I did all the riffs, played bass on it and all the rhythm guitar parts. Jeff played the drums."
Q: "Do you have any plans on putting out an instrumental album?"
Luke: "I've thought about it. I kind of do it. I don't know if I could sustain my interest over an entire record. I've learned to never say never."
Q: "You played with George Harrison at the (Jeff Porcaro) Memorial Concert. Tell me about that."
Luke: "That was a surreal experience because George took a shine to me. I met him, believe it or not, this was weird, at a bar on La Cienega. I said I'm going to go have a drink and hang out with the Beatles tonight! (There were more roars from the crowd.) I walked into a bar called The Gate. I had heard that he was there and I asked if I could just say hi and thank him because he was the reason that I started playing guitar. I just wanted to say hello and leave him alone. They said 'he wants you to come back and say hi'. I was like he knows who the fuck I am? WOW! I went back there and ended up staying for three or four hours just laughing and talking. The thing is when you talk to George I knew what solos he did and didn't do. A lot of people go 'I loved your solo on 'Taxman' and he goes (in a George Harrison type accent) 'that was Paul'. So you'd get off on a bad side right away. I told him thank you and he was so funny and so gracious. I was being my silly self and he found me amusing. This was like three or four days before the Jeff Porcaro Memorial. My brother passed."
Luke paused in an obvious emotional moment. "I'm still trying to get over that. I'll never really get past that. That was such a tragic, weird, bizarre surprise. I explained to him what was going on. Ironically the last song we were going to do was 'With a Little Help From My Friends'. I said listen, you don't have to play but if you wanna come and hang out there's a lot of cool people there. And he said 'ya, I'll come.' I said I'll leave you a couple of tickets. I NEVER even told the rest of the guys because I never really thought he was gonna show up. It was very gracious of him to spend an evening with me and hang."
"I'm backstage at the (Universal) Amphitheater. Everybody's there and it's very emotional. Somebody tapped me on my shoulder and said George Harrison is here to see you. There was already like the coolest people in the World there and then the room got amazingly cool. He showed up and played with us. I have a picture of it outside my office. We exchanged numbers and he would call me. He came up to my house in a little car!"
The night ended with Luke and Company playing a few songs to the lucky crowd. Luke, Steve Weingart (Keyboards), Renee Jones (Bass) and Eric Valentine (Drums) played "A Song For Jeff" which had a ton of meaning as Luke had just told numerous stories and reflected on his "brother" Jeff Porcaro. The guys hadn't played together in awhile and it could have been very intimidating playing in the Grammy Museum where the George Harrison exhibit was just outside the door! But they didn't miss hardly a note as they also entertained the attentive crowd to Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly" and "Party in Simon's Pants". After the live music Luke went right outside the Theater and chatted, took pictures and signed whatever anyone wanted signed.
Before the night's event I asked Eric Valentine what the night meant to him. Eric told me "It's definitely an honor to be here with a legend like Luke. It's a great opportunity to have a great night". Steve Weingart told me "It's quite an honor to be here. We were walking around the Grammy Museum with Luke and saw the George Harrison Exhibit. It just kind of struck me what this place represents. It's pretty cool. I didn't know what to expect when we came out of the front door today. This whole area of Downtown is pretty elaborate. It's fun to be here. The Theater is great. It's been so long since we've been together as a band. There's a lot of neat things happening all at once." I think most people have heard a few Luke stories. But to hear them all, back to back to back straight from Luke in such meaningful heartfelt precision was a treasure. To see the gleam in Luke's eyes telling Beatles stories and the true sadness to this day when talking about Jeff Porcaro. It was an amazing night of music, stories and questions and answers."
Stevelukather.com, October 24th 2011