He provides insight into “I Won’t Hold You Back” and “I’ll Be Over You,” both signature ballads for Toto, and refutes the idea that he hates another of them — “99.” Lukather also talks about how, despite the fact that his band never got the critical praise it deserved, the legendary Miles Davis tried to lure the guitarist away from Toto …
“I WON’T HOLD YOU BACK,” with Toto (IV, 1982): Written and sung by Lukather, this tune shot to No. 10 in 1983 after Toto won six Grammys for IV, including record, album and producer of the year. Eagles‘ bass player Timothy B. Schmit is featured on backing vocals for the chorus.
Lukather: I actually wrote that during the Turn Back sessions (in 1981). But I thought, since we were trying to make more of a harder-edged record, that it didn’t fit. We were coming to do Toto IV and a lot of people were bringing other types of songs to the party. It became more of a band-written record. That was when the band came into its own. After Turn Back wasn’t much of a hit, everybody jumped on it. We wanted to make something great to prove that we could. That album turned into a centerpiece of our career. We worked very hard on it.
“DON’T STOP ME NOW,” with Toto and Miles Davis (FAHRENHEIT, 1986): When Toto recorded this instrumental piece, an album-closer co-written by Lukather and David Paich, it brought the guitarist full circle: Lukather had turned down a chance to play with Davis to become a founding member of Toto.
Lukather: He called me the day before we left to go on tour. I actually got a call from the man himself. Miles Davis was calling? That guy is a legend beyond legend. He asked me, and I said I couldn’t. We were just getting started. I told him, ‘I don’t even know if I am good enough to be in your band.’ (Lukather begins to impersonate Davis, switching to a gravelly whisper.) He says ‘I like that rock ’n’ roll sh–.’ I was so honored, but I couldn’t do that to my guys. There was something about us that kept us together — even though we were reviled by the critics. We just kept thinking people were going to get it. In some ways, that day has not come yet.
“99,” with Toto (HYDRA, 1979): With a lyric written in tribute to George Lucas’ 1971 film-making debut “THX 1138” (set in a totalitarian 25th century where people are simply numbered drones) and a futuristic video fashioned after one of the film’s scenes, the Paich-written “99” became one of Toto’s biggest earliest hits — rising to No. 26 on the Billboard charts. Lukather has gone on record as saying he hates the song, and it disappeared from the band’s set list for a time.
Lukather: That’s an example of talking out of the side of your mouth. People still ask me about it. It’s an example of how the Internet is so viral. At first, I did think it was a cheesy lyric. But we played it on the last tour — just to prove that I was just kidding.
“STAND BACK,” with Stevie Nicks (WILD AT HEART, 1983): A great example of how Lukather’s stellar sideman work earned him Gump-like entrée into varied rock moments over the past three decades. “Stand Back,” a No. 5 hit for Stevie Nicks, included a performance on keyboards by Prince — whose “Little Red Corvette” had inspired the song’s principal groove — and Lukather on guitar. It’s just one of hundreds of projects to feature Lukather, who was named one of the Top 10 sessions guitarists of all of time by Gibson.com earlier this year.
Lukather: I would like to say I absorbed things, but I wasn’t usually there to absorb much. I was intrigued by watching these legends work, though. I couldn’t help but be. You think about sitting next to Joni Mitchell at the piano, jamming with Paul (McCartney) and George (Harrison). I was sitting in the presence of greatness. I’m throwing these names out, but I never took it for granted. It was amazing.
“I’LL BE OVER YOU,” with Toto (FAHRENHEIT, 1986): A No. 11 hit featuring former Doobie Brothers frontman Michael McDonald on backing vocals. The tune was co-written by Randy Goodrum, who has contributed to hits from a number of country artists — not to mention Chicago (“If She Would Have Been Faithful”), Journey’s Steve Perry (“Oh Sherrie,” “Foolish Heart”) and a host of others. Goodman has since worked on most of Lukather’s solo albums, beginning with his 1989 self-titled release.
Lukather: He’s such a brilliant guy. As a producer, he gets good vocals out of you. He has a very unique style, something that really brings the best out of you. We’ve had a long, long relationship. He’s really good at what he does. That sounds like a throwaway line, but he’s a brilliant musician. Randy’s sense and knowledge of music, of not doing the cliché thing, is there. When you co-write with people, there is a certain chemistry that has to be there. We finish things; that’s the key. A lot of people write a lot of stuff, but do you finish it? It’s great to have that kind of person.