Reggie: You did a Tour and the "Falling in Between" DVD with Toto could you tell us about that.
Lee: "It was great! We were in the studio doing one of Luke's solo albums. We were talking and he started telling me about Mike (Toto bass player Porcaro) and what he was dealing with. He told me that playing for him had become very, very labored and difficult because of his disease (ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease). Luke said 'we've got a lot of Tour left to do.' It was like a two year Tour and they had finished about the first year. So he said 'is there anyway you can come in, Mike would love for you to be the guy to do it.' I've known those guys since, I've known Steve since he was 19. Jeff (Porcaro) was one of my favorite drummers that I ever worked with for decades. I've known those guys since they formed the band. They were really good friends. I was really, really happy to be able to help put. I kind of shelved everything I had in the books. I explained to people that I was going to be doing this. I had about a week to learn the Show. I think the first place we went was Dubai. We played the Jazz Festival there. The only thing that was a drag about doing the "Falling in Between" DVD was it was only about ten days into the Tour when they filmed the DVD. The show got so much stronger. A couple of months later it was a whole other animal. But they had already scheduled doing it in Paris. I was very happy with the way it turned out. I would have just loved to have had more confidence in what I was doing at that point."
Reggie: With Luke, Simon Phillips, Greg Phillinganes and yourself on that Tour there are probably 5,000 album credits between all of you if not more and an insane amount of 'A list' people you have played with. What's it like playing with that many people with such a rich musical history?.
Lee: It's pretty nuts! I never really think about that. I just know that I had the pleasure of playing with some of the best players I've ever known. For me it was a double edged sword. I loved being there but hated why I was there. If Mike could have called me and said I'm feeling better, get out of here, I would have geeked for him. I would have said, do you need a roadie? I love the Porcaro Family. It just broke my heart that Mike was suffering through this."
Reggie: I see the look in Luke's eyes when he talks about Jeff and Mike. It hurts me.
Lee: "It's really hard."
Reggie: When a lot of people hear the term Studio Musician they think you just show up, play your parts and split. I have seen first hand that that is far from the truth. You guys add to a song and in some cases even help rewrite it.
Lee: "Absolutely! A lot of people think of a Studio Musician as a cold clinician. Like your're a doctor and you can't have any soul or anything. I've shown up to tons of sessions and they don't have an intro to the song, the bridge isn't there or the bridge in inadequate or there's something not quite happening in the verse. The players sit down, and really without credit, or points or anything re-craft the song for the artist and make it something really special for them. Most of the guys that I know that work at that level that I do are going to take on a project are going to want to make it feel like it's your project. You want to take pride in it and you want to do the best job that you can possibly can. We all feel very fortunate that we are all able to make a living making music and doing something that's real positive, that makes people really happy. Most guys that I know bring a whole lot more to a session than the ability to play an instrument. That's almost the easy part. It's the focus and the concentration, the creative process that differentiates them from the average guy."
Reggie: Both you and Luke have the reputation of being very versatile and spot on when doing a session.
Lee: "From my standpoint versatility would really only mean that one day I would be doing a country record, the next day a hip hop, the next day a jingle, the next day a movie. You kind of have to be a chameleon. I really need to be prepared for anything that's thrown at me. Fortunately to this point I've really had very few dates where I feel that I didn't bring it to the table. Luke is really re-known as a soloist and thee guitar gunslinger. But I've heard Luke on a lot of dates where really the need for him first is to just sit back and be a real supportive type of guy. He's got huge ears. The guy really knows the difference between going out and shredding an unbelievable solo or just sitting back and comping a rhythm part. His ego is huge but well founded and not obnoxious. He really knows that he's capable of doing these things and really brings it when he has to. He's one of those guys, there's a handful of them in L.A. that transcend the ability to play their instrument. They bring so much musicality to the session. I love playing with him. It's always an adventure. Luke and I from a certain level are cut from the same mold. I sort of taught him a lot of his insanity. Like when other people sit with their mouth hanging open at something he might say. Then I bust him and go one better on him. We really have a great working relationship."
Reggie: I was at Steve Vai's Christmas Party years back and Luke was there. He busted out a Luke joke. I immediately laughed when everyone else in the room stood around and looked at each other trying to decide if they should laugh or not.
Lee: "He can usually lay a room to waste pretty easily. I usually look at him like 'that's the best you can do? Come on! I know you better than that.' Then we go off!"
Reggie: Some musicians are known for studio work and some for live playing. You do both extremely well. Which do you prefer?
Lee: "If I was given a choice where somebody said you had to pick one or the other I would choose touring. I like the feeling of the once the note is played it's committed. You can't go back and re-evaluate it, judge it or nit pick it. I like the look on peoples faces when you're playing. The connection you have with them is so immediate. It's like the difference between being a stage actor and being a movie actor. I love it but they are very different. One of the things that the studio demands of you is crafting a real sound. A consistency and a real focus. On stage you can get away with murder. You can have a buzz in your rig, you can hit a clam. You make a mistake and you're on to the next note and nobody's going to sit there and say 'so do you remember in bar 34 where you hit that one note?' Live is a much more forgiving thing. When the eyes see the music they don't focus on all the nuances. In the studio all you have is the music so you really have to do it right. I really do enjoy both though. I really like the process of making, be it records or working on movies. We're doing the new Muppet Movie right now. I'm having a great time on that! The music is so much fun. It's so nuts. When you do cartoony music like that it's a different kind of writing than pop music. I really get off on all of it. I feel very, very, VERY blessed that I'm one of the guys that chose to pursue both. A lot of guys in L.A., when they started working in the studio were paranoid taking a road gig because they felt that if they took that then somebody would fill their spot and they would never get hired for studio work again. I just kind of went, shit, it's the chances that you take. So far all of these years I've been balancing going out for, depending on the year, almost a whole year. Other years two or three months of the year on the road. It just depends what's going on, who's touring. It's not like it used to be like when I was with Phil Collins we'd be out sometimes ten or eleven months. Now when I go out with Lyle Lovett it's about for a month."
Reggie: I just read an interview where they threw ten names at you that you have worked with and had you comment. So if I could throw some different names at you could you please comment on them?
Lee:"Sure whatever you need."
Joe Cocker: "I've loved Joe from the first day I heard him. When I finally got to go into the studio with him and do an album it was so great because you put the headphones on and there's that voice! He was delightful."
Diana Ross: "I've done a lot of her records like 'Mahogany' and all that and I've never met her."
Reba McEntire: "Reba I adore!"
Neil Diamond: "Neil's wonderful. Neil is such a profound piece of our music history. Whenever the opportunity to be in the studio has come up with him it's always been great. He's a really great musician."
Barbra Streisand: "Another great, great artist. I've done a lot with Barbra. The consummate professional."
Billy Cobham: "What can you say? Billy's fabulous. One of the mind blowing musicians. You just go wow! He gave me one of the greatest opportunities of my career by playing 'Stratus'."
Glen Campbell: "Glen is one of the old school Wrecking Crew. A fabulous guitarist and singer. I loved working with him and it's sad to see where he is. I've seen the Wrecking Crew movie a half a dozen times and it's wonderful."
Ray Charles: "I sat in the studio with Ray pinching myself! I was just kind of going, God, that's Ray Charles! We did a Leon Russell song together."
Amy Grant: "I love Amy. I just worked with her a week and a half ago."
Vince Gill: "Vince is probably one of the most gifted singer/musicians I've ever worked with."
Luke: "Luke is one of the most pathetic creatures I've ever known in my life. He could have been Gollum in the Lord of the........No! I am kidding of course. Luke is so unique. He's a fine writer. He's a fine singer. He's so musical it's just ridiculous! I consider him a brother."
David Cassidy: "I really enjoyed working with David. I worked with David. I worked with his brother (Shaun) many years ago. It's always fun when you walk into the studio and you see somebody who you've seen a million times in other circumstances and there he is! He was very nice to work with."
Reggie: How about a couple of Major League Baseball players you've worked with?
Bronson Arroyo (Cincinnati Reds): "Bronson was great. The best part of the Bronson Arroyo session was Kenny Aronoff was playing drums. Kenny thinks he's a real jock and he made Bronson go out to the parking lot and pitch to him. He fired one in on Kenny that basically, his hand swelled up and Kenny had a catcher's mitt on. But man Bronson looked at me and said 'I pulled it. That wasn't even one of my better shots.' He loved Rock. It was covers of Classic Rock songs, Toad the Wet Sprocket and music like that."
Bernie Williams (New York Yankees): "Bernie's probably one of the biggest surprises that I've ever experienced in my career because I've done a ton of vanity projects for actors and athletes who think that since they're great in one thing that they're going to be great in the other. As soon as he picked up his guitar we all looked at each other and said 'holy crap, this guy is great!' He was a musical student before he was an athlete."
Reggie: Your career got off to a great start with James Taylor at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. You went back to the Troubadour and played again for a DVD with James and Carole King. Talk about that full circle.
Lee:"It's really interesting how people say that old adage that you can't go home. We actually got to go home and it was great! They were celebrating, I think it was the 50th Anniversary of the Troubadour. The first gig we ever played was there and that was when Carole King was playing piano with James. So we put the original band of Carole, James, Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel and myself back together and went and played all the old songs in the first room. It was really amazing. I didn't quite know what my expectations would be. I think one of the things that made it work so well was that James, Carole and all of us are really still at the top of our game. Unlike most artists that have been around this long we didn't change any of the keys. The songs were all in the original keys. They felt like they did then but maybe with a little more maturity. Then right after that we went out the following year and did one of the biggest, full on Arena Tours of that show. It was amazing to take a Night Club act that we did at The Trobadour and be able to put it in Madison Square Garden and feel just as intimate."
Reggie: When you, Russ Kunkel and Danny Kortchmar play together it's something special. It goes above and beyond your regular musical ability. It's something almost magical. Is there any explanation for that?
Lee: "I don't really think that I can put my finger on it. Yesterday I just had lunch with Craig Doerge who was the keyboard player in 'The Section'. He was the fourth member. Beyond the ability to play an instrument, when you start looking at bands, there is a real thing with chemistry. That's what Toto found. That's what The Beatles found. Any of these people in another circumstance, you may not have the same magic. Us, we didn't realize what we had. James on the early tours didn't really care that much about doing sound checks. A line check was fine then he would just wander off. We were all just so horny to play that we would just sit and jam. Then one night one of the co-managers said ' I want you guys to hear something'. He played us a tape and we said 'God, that's cool! Who's that?' He said 'that's you guys at sound check today.' We didn't intentionally do anything. We were just killing time out there. He said 'you should take this more seriously because there is a chemistry that happens.' I've worked with Russ since 1968. Russ and I literally could be in the studio listening only to a click track and have some kind of chord sheet in front of us of a song and if we go back and listen to the playback we've caught all of the fills together. We just think so muck alike. Danny is probably the best rhythm guitar player I've ever worked with. He's a fine lead guitarist. To me the real test of a guitar player is can he play rhythm and Danny is one of the best I've ever known."
Reggie: You guys have such busy schedules that when you do get the chance to hang in the studio it's kind of like a family reunion. You have your serious musical moments but then there is the story telling, joking, kidding around, there's usually a good meal involved. Just like a family reunion.
Lee: "The music usually comes fast and furious and then the hang goes on for the rest of the day. Like we can sit and bullshit for an hour and then we can get the song done in five minutes. It's really kind of funny but that's one of the things that makes the music what it is. It's the fact that the relationship that is in the studio goes beyond just playing notes. Telling jokes, eating and hanging out talking about what each of us is up to. Then we go how is this song going? Usually I'll nail a song, if the chart's are pretty together and it's not like I'm spending a lot of time rewriting it, maximum three takes. After that my creative juices are being diluted."
Reggie: CJ Vanston refers to this tight knit musical community as 'The Tribe'. You guys are real supportive of each other. I saw you at a Toto show hanging with Lenny Castro. There is true love, respect and admiration for each other within 'The Tribe'.
Lee: "I think everybody has a great admiration for each other's abilities. When I was doing the Toto tour I would be playing but I really didn't even think about me. I would be sitting there looking back at Simon going holy crap! This guy is great! Then I'd look at Luke. Then I'd look over at Phillinganes and Tony (Spinner). All the guys that were on that incarnation of the band. I would just be sitting there going these guys are really good. Really I'm a fan. But when I hear these guys playing I just watch like a fan too. I watch like that in the studio too. I've always been a fan. When we're together we all try to do things that will make each others job easier. Everybody's got big ears. Everybody listens to each other when we are playing. It's not all about ME! It's how do I fit into them."
Reggie: You've played on over 2,000 albums and you've played a ton of live gigs. Which ones stand out or are most memorable/meaningful to you?
Lee: "Wow! Probably every time that I ever played 'In The Air Tonight' with Phil Collins it was memorable because I've never seen more 'air drums' in my life! I remember doing a gig in Brazil with James Taylor. We were in Rio. We played a soccer stadium. One of the songs was 'Only a Dream in Rio'. He wrote that after our first time there. Everybody in the audience was clicking a lighter on the downbeats. There was like 100,000 people there. There was a delay in the sound system and from the stage all we saw was this wave of fire from the front to the back. We almost stopped playing. It was one of the most moving moments I've ever seen. I had great moving evenings when we used to play Dante's in North Hollywood. To me it's not the size of the venue. In the studio and different places there's been very emotional experiences. I was in the studio with Reba and it was the first project we did right after her band had all been killed in a plane crash. It was the hardest thing I ever experienced in the studio. She was constantly breaking down. Emotionally it was one of the most draining things I've ever done. I've done probably about 2,500 albums myself. Each one is a unique experience. It's kind of like saying which child do you like the best? It's hard!"
Reggie: You just played two really cool gigs here in L.A. You played the KLOS Radio Station Christmas Party gig and the Harry and Judith Shearer Christmas Show. Luke played both with you and CJ Vanston played the Harry Shearer Show.
Lee: "I've been doing the KLOS show for years. In the early days when we used to do it at the Hollywood Palladium during the Mark and Brian Radio Hour it was at the crack of dawn. To me that was the most fun because you would show up at 5 a.m. and there would be a line all the way around the block. It was insane. Jeff (Porcaro) played drums on a lot of the early ones that we did. So did (Jim) Keltner. This year it was pretty amazing because we got to play with Don Felder (Eagles) and Mickey Dolenz (The Monkees). It was great. I just sat there with Luke and we goofed on each other and had a lot of fun. It was great to be able to go the next night and do Harry and Judith's Show. I did their show last year too and Luke did that one also. It's so loose, so much fun. It's festive. The people that come there have a great time. Anytime I can sit down with Luke and play I'm a happy camper. He's such an entertaining musician and also such an entertaining human being.
Reggie: I grew up a fan of Toto and Luke and now I get the chance to hang with him from time to time. He's an uplifting fun hang.
Lee:"He's a piece of work. I'll say that for him. There's nobody else like him. For that I feel grateful because it would be pretty scary to think of more of him around."
Reggie:What are you currently up to and is there anything I left out or that you wanted to add?
Lee: "I have a few things coming up. I'm going to a friends house tomorrow to put some bass on a couple of songs that he's working on. We're finishing up The Muppet Movie after the first of the year with Hans Zimmer. On the 18th of January I'm going to the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, U.S.C. , and I'm going to do a Master Class/ Q &A. After that we hit NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants). I'll be there every day."
Reggie: Thank you very much for your time. I'm sure I will see you at NAMM.
Lee: "If you see me at the NAMM Show give me the finger!"
Reggie: That's right you collect pictures of people giving you the finger. How many pictures do you have?
Lee: "I'm at over 6,400. I just got Cheech and Chong, Jack Nicholson, Lou Adler and Bernie Williams. Keep your eyes open. Eventually there will be a coffee table book. They are all pictures that I took. My private stock. It's pretty insane."
stevelukather.com, December 2012