Steve Lukather on stage when gigs were allowed
Steve’s reply, before he slammed down the receiver, remains entirely unprintable. It happened twice more, always early in the morning, and both times the caller received the same tetchy, four-letter response. “Yeah, it’s Michael Jackson here…I thought it was friends pulling my leg. Then Quincy Jones called and explained it really was Michael.
“Unlike me, he wasn’t on rock’n’roll hours.”
And that’s how Lukather ended up playing on Thriller…and meeting the first of his childhood heroes.
“In studio, I was going holy s***, there’s Paul McCartney! There’s Michael Jackson, and Quincy Jones…and me! We cut The Girl Is Mine…”
Five-time Grammy winner Lukather is one of the world’s most accomplished and successful guitarists.
Toto have sold 40million albums.
Their songs, including multi-platinum global hits like Africa and Rosanna, have been streamed more than three billion times.
Steve Lukather from Toto onstage at the Over Oslo Festival
But Steve, 63, who releases his eighth solo album on February 26, tells me lockdown has made him reassess his career and count his blessings.
“Nowadays I go to bed at 9pm and I get up at 5am. I’m a different human being. It’s given me chance to evaluate my life,” he says.
“I started out as a teenage session musician and I’ve played with giants.
“The Beatles were the reason I got into music. I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was seven and the world went from black and white to colour. George Harrison’s solo on I Saw Her Standing There unlocked something inside me.
“Now I’m in Ringo’s band. I played with George. I’ve had the honour of working with Paul – he’s the most gracious person. Who’d have thought that a boy from San Fernando would do that? It’s like a surreal dream.
“Even to be around that Beatles magic is a huge deal. They are our classical music! I can’t believe they let me get away with it. I still pinch myself. I’ve had the most amazing life.”
Sir Ringo Starr personally delivered a birthday cake to his house in October.
“It made me want to cry. He’s such a beautiful human being. He’s made me a better person.”
Sir Ringo plays on one track on Steve’s new solo album, I Found The Sun Again, recorded a month before lockdown. The “sun” is love, in the shape of Steve’s beautiful new girlfriend, Amber – the former wife of Kiss guitarist, Tommy Thayler – who shares his home in the LA hills.
“There’s more love in my house than there’s been for over ten years,” he says.
“My girl is from Texas, she’s an unbelievable chef.”
And a canny businesswoman with her own quirky jewellery range.
Lockdown made him take stock, he says. “I was going 1000miles an hour and all of a sudden it just stopped, so I’ve been learning how to be me again. It’s been very enlightening in a positive way. I’ve learned a lot; I’ve let go of a lot of bad stuff.”
Not that he’s stopped planning ahead.
He and singer Joseph Williams, below (the son of composer John) have Toto live shows booked in Europe this Summer, after settling a lawsuit brought by Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro’s widow
Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams of Toto
Successful session men Porcaro and David Paich formed Toto in 1977 with Jeff’s brother Steve and Lukather, all of them Grant High School alumni.
“Dave said ‘Come and rehearse…when Jeff plays magic happens’,” he recalls. “Everybody sounded better with Jeff, he was the greatest groove player ever. He was one of a kind, the big brother I never had and I miss him every day.”
Jeff, below, died on August 5, 1992 aged 38 after a heart attack linked to cocaine abuse.
By then Toto were a global sensation.
Jeff Porcaro six years before his tragic death
Their 1978 debut album went double platinum.
“Fame exploded onto us,” says Steve.
“We never saw it coming, we were just there. It was an incredible experience.”
But critics were hostile from the off.
“We’ve taken more s*** than any band in history,” he says. “They’ve tried to kill us for 40 years and we’re still alive. It’s because we’re not generic, and they didn’t like that we were session players, but we were playing with legends and it all rubbed off.
Toto in Copenhagen in 2010
“Jimmy Page once told me, ‘Look, you’re a session musician. People don’t understand what that is. But you should be very proud. Don’t take any s*** for that.’ I almost got tears in my eyes.”
Page had been a session player himself, as had Sir Elton John, Rick Wakeman and many more.
In his teens, Steve had fourteen guitar lessons with veteran guitarist Jimmy Wyble to try and convince his father – an ex-marine turned film director – that he could make a living from music.
“Jimmy taught me how to read music. I had a really good ear – my mind was ahead of my ability, so I caught up quick. I have an arranger’s ear. I hear other parts and melodies behind melodies. It happened with Beat It. Michael had the riff but I added to it.”
Ringo Starr And His All Starr Band: Steve is third from left
He sneers at disposable modern pop – “cut and paste records, a celebrity and a lap top…I played for 14 years before I was in the studio. Where are the great songs? Put on a Stevie Wonder album now, listen to where he was, listen to Steely Dan, Asia…that’s the bar to hit.”
Lukather’s guitar heroes include Jeff Beck – “so soulful, no one is better than him” – Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen “a dear friend for 40 years, a tragic loss. You get old man, s*** happens, the wagons are circling.”
Steve isn’t the calmest of men.
“I’m not patient,” he admits. “My family talk loud. And I take things personally when I’m attacked. But my sense of humour means I can laugh at anything – my dog, my kids, myself.”
He has no time for America’s tortured politics except to say, “It’s time for the aliens to come, please print that!”
He’s worked hard to get where he is.
“I started off at the bottom. I waited tables, washed dishes, cleaned out toxic liquid in launderettes…every kid should have a s*** job to motivate them into what they want to be.
“I’m lucky I’ve got four great kids. My son Trev is a guitarist, I really dig his band Lavara.”
He goes on, “I have regrets but they’re personal. If I ever hurt anybody’s feelings, I hate that, but we all do it…”
Younger generations have embraced Toto, with Africa playing on hip TV shows like Stranger Things and the band admitted to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
“The hardest part of Toto was always personal issues behind the scenes. Our strength was we were musicians not rock stars. The songs endure.”
In his incredible career Steve has played with A-List stars including Clapton – “the only guy who ever made me nervous” – Aretha Franklin, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks and Miles Davis. He’s not finished.
“I’d love to work with Phil Collins and Steve Winwood – he’s one of the greatest singers. I’m still a fan. And I’m not gonna stop. I’d love to go out just playing the last note on stage, and then die.”
• I Found The Sun Again by Steve Lukather is released on February 26.