Robert Cavuoto: I enjoyed the DVD, and I can really see the sense of passion in your playing live. It’s quite inspiring. I think one of the main reasons I love being a guitar player is seeing people with that passion.
Steve Lukather: Thank you. It’s like #1 all over the world, including the United States, and we don’t know where the fuck that came from. [Laughter]
If I didn’t know, I’d swear it was an April Fool’s joke or something. It’s kind of taken us by surprise.
Robert: Was it difficult to pick the set list, knowing it would be filmed for a theatrical release on a DVD?
Steve Lukather: We have to play the hits; the casual fans have to have that. For the rest, we’re really conscious of mixing it up.
It’s so great to have such a fantastic singer with Joseph Williams standing in front of the band. It makes a world of fucking difference to everybody across our catalogue. He did some of the Hydra songs and “Wings of Time” off Kingdom of Desire, which we dedicated to Jeff and Mike Porcaro, because they co-wrote it.
Robert: The diehard fans will appreciate the fact that you don’t keep playing the same songs.
Steve Lukather: Well, we appreciate them! Generally, we do two-and-a-half hours, unless we’re doing a co-bill like were doing in the U.S. with Michael McDonald. That show is then about 75 or 80 minutes. You have to tailor the set, accordingly.
But when it’s our show, we can go overseas and play the arenas and stuff, we give more people more bang for their buck and make people want to come back and see the show again, because we’re not going to do the same show.
Sure we’re gonna play “Africa”, “Hold the Line” and “Rosanna”. There is a whole lot of other time to fill. We also get fans feedback on Facebook. “What do you want to hear, besides the obvious shit?” Believe me; we’re going on 38 years. I can’t even believe the passage of time.
Robert: Are there any songs that you look forward to performing live? Ones that still make the hair on your arms stand up when you’re playing them?
Steve Lukather: Well, it varies from tour to tour. I enjoy playing the song, “Wings of Time” because it brings back a lot of memories. It’s kind of an emotional piece of music because of Jeff and Mike. Mike’s situation is not good at all.
He’s confined to a bed and can’t move. I’ll tell you ALS is a really fucked-up, rotten disease. We’re trying to bring awareness and raise money.
We’re taking care of our brother, Mike. So when I get to that tune in the set, man, I play what I feel. Sometimes it’s real slow and bluesy; sometimes it’s manic and intense. It really depends on what it is. I’m an older guy now. I’m not trying to keep up with the kids. I’m not running the races, as I did 25 or 30 years ago.
Robert: Tell me about the day of filming and what’s going on around you.
Steve Lukather: You’ve just added another 40 people to your crew because of the filming. They have to add more lighting, which looks strange from the stage, because it lights the audience differently. There are cameras all over the place. It really makes you self-conscious. Because we’ve only got one shot at this.
Surely you can fix things in post these days, but there are certain things you just can’t fix, since there are hundreds of open microphones. It’s not like you can say, “Oh, let me punch in my part,” like you would on a record. You’ve painted yourself into a little Rubik’s Cube. The live CDs are so over processed; it makes Toto look like the Sex Pistols. There’s not a rough edge to it. It’s all compressed, and tuned, and time-corrected and everything – to the point that people think that that’s what everybody sounds like. It’s like women with plastic surgery. [Laughter]
“Dude, you know that’s not real.” We have an unrealistic view of perfection these days with people sitting in their houses and practicing the same thing over and over again and putting it up on the You Tube thing. They’re able to do a hundred takes until they get it right.
In our situation, we go out without a net. If you take me out of the equation and look at it objectively as a band, it’s a great performance of the band. I’m really proud of Joseph. He really shines on this. The band is sounding more like the original intended version of it. At this point in my life, I’m surrounded by my friends. That’s really nice for me.
Robert: What did the band do in preparation for the performance?
Steve Lukather: Relax! Your nerves are heightened more than a normal show. We’ve been doing this a long time and we’ve been on the road for a while, so we thought we were ready to record. We wanted to make sure we had a lot of shows under our belt and were feeling confident about the pacing of the show.
You can train for the Olympics for five years and in one wrong movement, even though you’ve done that move a million times. You trip and fall as human beings do.
You go, “How the fuck did that happen?” That’s what goes through your mind, like something major happened. Not a little sloppy lick or something like that. “The humanity of it all.” [Laughter] Once you’re out there you kind of have to forget it and let it go. The crowd really helps that because that energy is so huge.
Robert: Is there something great that happened during the day of filming that sticks in your mind.
Steve Lukather: The warmth of the Polish people. We’ve done “Live in Amsterdam” a couple of times; we did Paris a couple of times. Choice of venue, choice of country to do it in, we wanted to do something different – an Eastern European thing – and we love the Polish people. We know they’re an insane audience.
Logistically, the arena was the right place to do the production. There was this whole barrage of people, coming to talk to you and ask you all these things, even down to wardrobe. I was going to wear basic black, and everybody was bugging out so I had to wear a wild, whacky shirt.
I said, “Okay. All right, really? Is that what you motherfuckers need right now? [Laughing] And everybody cracked up.
I’m a 56-year-old man; I don’t give a shit if I look like a silly person. I know I don’t look too much like an idiot. I am what I am. I have a great sense of humor about myself.
Robert: You have a great sense of humor in general. You’re a very entertaining, interview.
Steve Lukather: Hey, I’ve been told that before. [Laughing].
Robert: What are your thoughts on guitar tone? Do you think people are getting lost in the tone of the guitar and the products that are promising improvements?
Steve Lukather: It’s never ending. I don’t think I’ve ever left much of anything intact for very long. I love my Bogner amps. I really went back to a different thing. I backed off the gain a lot, so it’s a little more raw. When you correct the smooth gain – you have to work a lot harder than when you don’t have that help.
My pickups are analog DiMarzios. So, my whole rig went analog. I’m using stomp boxes on the floor, which can vary and change. I plug directly into a Bogner amplifier, with my new L-3 guitar – Music Man guitar – with a cable.
Everybody’s looking for the next new thing, and there are a million boxes these days that everybody swears can change your life. Really . . . you gotta play the right shit in the first place.
A lot of people want to make me things, and I find that very flattering and some of it I’m using. But that’s what’s great about stomp boxes. You can pull one off and put something else back in its place, because there’s always something new and interesting.
New sounds and tones inspire new ideas. How many times can I play frikin’ “Hold the Line,” The first take of that was when I was 19-years-old. It’s an energetic song. I’m not trying to be the smoothest, coolest guy on the planet. It’s like, “This is a rock and roll song. This is how I’m gonna play this fucking thing.”
Sometimes I crank myself up, and then I go, “Okay, that was a bit much; I probably shouldn’t have done that.” [Laughter] That’s just in the heat of the moment when you’re playing live.
Robert: At what point in your career did you realize that your style was truly unique?
Steve Lukather: I’m still working on that one. I’m working on my playing more now than I ever have. When I stopped partying many years ago and just kind of took another look at my life, I realized I have a lot of extra time in the mornings. I try and practice more and play. It’s hard to say, it’s a never-ending question.
Trying to get better and better is not necessarily working on technique, per se. Better is just advancing your harmonic knowledge. You’re trying different things.
If you’ve been in a band for as long as I have, playing the same songs, sometimes you’ve got to throw caution to the winds and just go for it. And not just do a Xerox of the record.
People said, “Why didn’t you play the end solo of Rosanna like the record?” The end solo on the record was an improvisation in one take. So, I had to actually sit down and learn that again. It was like taking a look at my 24-year-old self. Because years go by, and you do change the way you play. It was a different way of playing. Like, “Goddamn, what made me think of that?”
Robert: Was there ever a guitar that you had sold that you wish you could get back?
Steve Lukather: Yeah, my ’58 Gold Top. There was a time I was cleaning up my house, and somebody offered me a shitload of money for it – I mean a shitload of money for it. I thought, I haven’t played the thing in 10 years. What the fuck? My daughter was going to college. I said, “Well, this’ll fucking pay for that.”
I definitely had seller’s remorse after that. I still have my ’59 Sunburst. My guitar buddy; Joe Bonamassa is helping me refurbish the thing back to its pristine 1959 state. He knows what the screw numbers are. I’ve never been that guy. I’m the kind of guy that if I took my guitar apart and put it back together, there would be pieces left over. I’d be, “Well, I wonder where that goes?” [Laughter] So I’d best leave it alone.
Robert: Was there ever a band that you auditioned for that you didn’t get into, or didn’t hire you? And what was the reason?
Steve Lukather: It happened with Frank Zappa’s band when I was 17-years-old. It was nerve wracking, because it was a cattle call. I knew it was going to be kind of hard, but I figured, well; let me go check this out. There were a hundred guitar players in the room, at SIR in L.A.
I’m sitting in the dark, trying to ascertain whether I can exit stage left or right. Frank was looking in the crowd and sees me. I must have looked like I was 12-years-old at the time.
Frank goes, “You’re first, can you read music?”
And I said, “Yeah, I can read, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have to sit down and learn it.”
It was like the most terrifying thing you’ve ever seen in your life. I went, “I’ve got to learn this; it’s a little bit hard for me.”
I was shitting in my pants at this point. Frank is staring down at me with a band that has been rehearsing for three months.
He goes, “See if you can play this.” He gives me eight bars of some whacky, fucking Frank Zappa shit to try to play back to him exactly what he just played.
So I kind of fumble through it and I say, “I’m sorry man; I’m really nervous. Can I do that again?”
He says, “Sure.” He played it completely different.
And I’m kind of shitting myself. And I start to fumble through, and he says, “Bad comprehension. Next!” [Laughter]
A hundred fucking guitar players are staring at me like I’m the worst musician in the world. I’m awful. He’s humiliated me.
As I’m putting my shit in my case, drummer Terry Bozzio comes to me and says, “Kid that was really rough. I could tell you can play. Don’t take this hard. Frank is just Frank, you know?”
I’m trying not to cry because I was so humiliated. I’m walking out in the dark and almost every person left the building with me. I don’t know who ended up getting the gig, but years later I talked to Terry about that.
He goes, “Oh, you were that kid? Frank used you to get rid of everybody! He didn’t want to sit through a hundred guitar players.”
I was just the fucking scapegoat, the sacrificial lamb. [Laughter]. Here I sit 40 years later, cracking up. I love Frank’s music. I still do. When I left there, I picked myself up off the floor, and I said, “I’m gonna prove that motherfucker wrong.”
It motivated me. So, sometimes if you get your ass kicked, it’s good for you.
Robert: That’s a crazy story. He auditioned guitar players while all the other guitarists sat in the room and watched?
Steve Lukather: If he’d have put a piece of coal in my ass, he’d have had a diamond in about two seconds.
I was shaking. I was a little kid. He just beat the fuck out of a little kid in front of every guitar player in town and everybody knows everybody, especially when you’re coming up. Now every third person shreds, but it was a different era. It was the ‘70s!