'An incredible honor for me': Steve Lukather set to tour with Beatles hero Ringo Starr

Steve Lukather, tirelessly active even after 35 years in the business, is rehearsing for upcoming 2012 tours with Ringo Starr and Toto, even as he works on a new studio recording.

The forthcoming solo album, tentatively titled Once Again, promises to be a brisk, nine-song cycle, with release date to be set for early 2013. Between then and now, there is a fall tour with Toto, the multiplatinum group he cofounded in the late 1970s, and a dream gig as a member of Ringo Starr’s newest All-Star band — a tour that kicks off in June.

As for Toto, the group — which now features vocalist Joseph Williams, keyboardists David Paich and Steve Porcaro, bassist Mike Porcaro and drummer Simon Phillips — has reunited annually for brief tours, but only to raise money for Mike Porcaro, who has been diagnosed with ALS. Lukather announced a few years ago that the band was retired from studio efforts. He will be joined on Starr’s concert bill with Gregg Rolie (Journey, Santana), Richard Page (Mr. Mister), Todd Rundgren, Mark Rivera and Gregg Bissonette.

Lukather took a quick break, in the latest SER Sitdown, to talk about his busy year, from appearing as part of the G3 shred summit with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai to getting the chance to tour with a Beatles hero. We began with a preview of the new album, Lukather’s follow up to 2010′s well-received All’s Well That Ends Well

NICK DERISO: You’ve released seven solo records since 1989, appeared on countless recordings as a sideman, and took part in 12 albums with Toto — yet, in many ways, it felt like you finally found your own voice with All’s Well That Ends Well. Is it fair to say you’re coming into your own?
STEVE LUKATHER: Sometimes I would jump from one sound to the next with solo projects in the past, because I was trying to get out things that I couldn’t do in Toto. Now, being that Toto will never make another studio record again — all we are doing is summer shows to help our brother Mike Porcaro out — I have found my footing as a solo artist. This is working. I’m trying to make this work, and I am gaining ground. But it’s not without hard work. I still like to make good records. I think you want to make an artistic statement — a collection of songs that mean something, and capture a moment in time. You don’t see a painter only doing the bottom right corner of a painting, right? What I’m trying to do is tell my story. Every two or three years, you take that living of life — rather musically or emotionally — and it comes out in your music.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Steve Lukather discusses high points from his long career with Toto, and how the band is carrying on after the loss of two Porcaro brothers.]

NICK DERISO: The last album was a great mix of the sleek Toto sound and these harder edged textures. Can we expect a continuation of that on the new album?
STEVE LUKATHER: I’ve been in Toto since I was a kid, and that’s going to spill over. My guitar playing is a little harder edged, because I lean that way in the band anyway. I am famous for the ballads, as well — and I have a killer on this one. This is the greatest breakup song, and being as I’ve lived through it, I figured this will be cathartic. I can get it off my chest, and move on. It’s a continuation of the last one, with the same production team. But this time I brought in a lot of interesting guests to play.

NICK DERISO: The recent invite to participate in Joe Satriani’s guitar-fest G3 shows was just another belated validation for your work. Do you think Toto is starting to get its due?
STEVE LUKATHER: Even an old crusty, bitter Rolling Stone critic, get him drunk at a party and somebody puts “Africa” on — and he knows the lyrics. I think the stigma of hating us now is passe. Now, they’re hating on these poor guys like Nickelback or Creed or somebody like that. They have to hate on something. What does anybody get from that? In the end, I guess that’s part of the payback for having a wonderful life — taking the occasional beatdown. I was in therapy for a while. I almost quit, because I am a very sensitive person, after reading some really hateful things like that. Yeah, there were some drunken jams back in the day where I played sloppy, or I played too much. They would just eviscerate me, and it really effected me. It made me second guess everything that I did, which is not what you are supposed to do. Somebody that I respect told me: “You can’t read that shit, because if you do, you will never take another risk in your life — musically or creatively.” It’s true: You’ll start thinking: “What do those assholes think?” You cant do that. You have to stay true to yourself, and that’s something that’s true for everybody — no matter what you do in life. My shrink was very helpful in getting my past all of that.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: We discuss a few lesser-known favorites from Toto's 'Hydra,' 'IV,' 'Isolation,' 'Kingdom of Desire' and 'Falling in Between' albums.]

NICK DERISO: I hear you held your own with Satriani and Steve Vai.
STEVE LUKATHER: How fucking much fun! I was really nervous going into this. I kept saying: “Joe, are you sure, man? I don’t want to get my ass whipped by the shredders.” The thing about me is, I will morph into whatever I need to for the situation. There’s not a lot of cats who go from G3 to Ringo. I can play a little or I can play a lot. I was encouraged to play a lot on that, and really, you can’t help it. But I can’t tell you how much respect and love I have for Joe and Steve. They welcomed me with such open arms. The humor was fantastic, the vibe was great. It wasn’t a competition for me, because I would lose. I didn’t want to win, I just wanted to be in the race. It was like a marathon: I just wanted to finish! (Laughs.) What I brought was a different flavor completely, than say a competitive shredding thing. I brought my more fusion-esque aspect to it. I sang a couple of tunes, and it went down really, really well. There’s no question those guys can play rings around me, but we made a nice team. I was like the odd, wild-card man out. I was just glad to do it, to kind of scratch it off my bucket list. I got to do G3, and at the level of guitar that those guys play at, it was a great honor. I don’t give a shit what anybody says. If you think those guys don’t play with feeling and heart, you’ve never stood next to them. I did and watched, and I felt the soul coming from them. There’s nothing wrong with being technically proficient. They played some really interesting stuff, and they’re really good people.

NICK DERISO: Guys of your vintage might be expected to start slowing down. Instead, it seems like you’re gathering momentum.
STEVE LUKATHER: I’ve really gotten my life together over the last few years. I quit drinking and smoking, got healthy and started hitting the woodshed again. I refocused, started working out every day. And I found the spark behind my dead eyes. (Laughs). It’s my 35th year of touring and making records as a professional musician. I’ve been doing it my whole life. But I’ve got open, clear eyes now. It’s been very positive for me. But if you took music away from me, I am nothing. I have to do this — to take care of my family, and also for my soul.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Toto's Steve Lukather discusses key songs from his career, including "I Won't Hold You Back," "99" and "I'll Be Over You," and the time that Miles Davis tried to lure him away.]

NICK DERISO: Then, there’s getting a chance to play with another Beatle.
STEVE LUKATHER: If you would have told me when I was seven years old: Someday you are going to be on the road with this guy? It would have been laughable. An incredible honor for me. I have worked with Paul, and George was a friend. We played together a few times. I never thought I would know these people. But this one is different, because I’m actually going on tour with Ringo. I actually spent a couple of weeks with Paul (when Lukather appeared on 1984′s Give My Regards to Broadstreet) and then we did the Thriller album together. I see him every once in a great while. But being with Ringo, I will get the chance to get to know him a little bit. And from what I’ve heard from everybody, he’s the best ever. I think, with Ringo, not only am I honored to be asked to tour, but I get to sit there and say: ‘Are you kidding me?’ In my mind, I will be going: ‘Is this really happening?’ It’s surreal, dude. I’m just a punk-ass kid from the valley — and life has turned out really well for me. I think I appreciate it more now than I ever have. You know, you jump on the train and it goes so fast. All of a sudden, I look back and I think, I really did play on all of those records, didn’t I? Playing with Ringo is special, though. Speaking of which, holy shit! I’ve got to get off the phone. I’ve got to get back to practicing!

    

Here are the announced tour dates for Ringo Starr’s latest All-Starr Band, featuring Steve Lukather:

June 14-15 – Fallsview Casino, Niagara Falls, ON
June 16 – Bethel Woods PAC, Bethel, NY
June 17 – Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT
June 19 – Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA
June 22 – Jones Beach Ampitheater, Wantagh, NY
June 23 – Ceasar’s, Atlantic City, NJ
June 24 – Meyerhoff, Baltimore, MD
June 26 – State Theater, Easton, PA
June 27 – Mayo Center, Morristown, NJ
June 29 – St Augustine Theater, St. Augustine, FL
June 30 – Seminole Hard Rock Arena, Hollywood, FL
July 1 – Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, FL
July 3 – Tuscaloosa Ampitheater, Tuscaloosa, Al
July 4 – The Wharf, Orange Beach, Al
July 6 – Fox Theater, Atlanta, GA
July 7 – Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
July 8 – Horseshoe Casino, Hammond, IL
July 11 – Usana Ampitheater, Salt Lake, UT
July 13 – Northern Quest, Spokane, WA
July 14 – St Michelle Winery, Seattle, WA
July 15 – Edgefield, Portland, OR
July 17 – Mountain Winery, Saratoga, CA
July 19 – Humphrey’s, San Diego, CA
July 21 – The Greek, Los Angeles, CA

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.