Gimme Five: Steve Lukather on Toto’s "Hold the Line," "Pamela," "Hydra," others

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As Steve Lukather and Toto return for a series of concert dates, the celebrated guitarist stops by to explore a number of tracks from his time in the band — including “Hold the Line,” “Hydra” and “Pamela” — as well as a memorable moment as a sideman with Eric Clapton.

Upcoming shows in Europe and America are included below …

“HOLD THE LINE,” with TOTO (TOTO, 1978): A No. 5 hit in the winter of 1978-79 featuring a crunch riff from Lukather, the David Paich-penned “Hold the Line” was Toto’s first single off its self-titled debut. The period-piece video, featuring Lukather as a very big-haired teen and some old-school picture-in-picture editing, was a recent top of discussion.

STEVE LUKATHER: I was at a friend of mine’s house, he’s a famous movie star, and his girlfriend is younger. We were up there, and he was breaking out some of the 1980s TV shows that he was on. Then he breaks out my old MTV videos: “Hold The Line,” when I was 19 years old; “Rosanna.” This girl is laughing, saying: “Yeah, I know that song. I wasn’t born then.” I was explaining what was going on at the time. They don’t know it’s me, but they know the music. It’s timeless. I laughed, but on the 1980s channel, I played on every third song. You feel almost weird when you’re somewhere, and they’re always playing old classic rock, and I’ve embraced that. I’m honored to be a part of it. We get to play concerts, and there are young kids in the audience who learned it from their parents.

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

“WITHOUT YOUR LOVE,” with TOTO (FAHRENHEIT, 1986): A Top 40 hit, “Without Your Love” was another in what had become a tradition of big Lukather ballads to be released as singles from Toto albums, even if there would often be more guitar-oriented tracks to found elsewhere on the same projects. Lukather, of course, was often the featured vocalist on these softer-edged cuts (as on “99,” “I Won’t Hold You Back,” and the earlier No. 11 Lukather-sung hit “I’ll Be Over You” from Fahrenheit), yet he still bristles when the group is defined by those standards.

STEVE LUKATHER: The pop hits, if you listen to the whole album, they would take a single off of it — and it would be the ballad, or a softer song. But there was always rock stuff on all of the albums. If you come see us live, people will say: These guys are a lot tougher live than we would have imagined. That’s just the way we play. We’re not trying to prove anything. We’ll morph from style to style. That was the thing that was confusing about us, and it maybe pissed off the critics. But it gained us a lot of other people who actually buy records. I just want to make music that I like. I like pop music, I like heavy music, I like fusion. I like funk. I like jazz, I like classical, I like Americana. Why can’t I like all of that? I love the blues. I love a hook, I like things that feel good. Why not? After making records in six different decades, I’ve seen it all — and yet there’s still more to grab on to.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: It’s real easy to make a call on Steve Lukather’s 2010 solo effort — if you liked Toto, you’ll like ‘All’s Well That Ends Well.’ If you didn’t, move on.]

“HYDRA,” with TOTO (HYDRA, 1979): One of the more interesting, prog-rock inspired deep cuts on a Top 40 album whose sales were admittedly driven primarily by the hit ballad “99.” Lukather co-wrote this David Paich-sung title track, which our own S. Victor Aaron reminds was “anchored by an insistent, three chord vamp, a solid bottom coming from Jeff Porcaro and David Hungate, Steve Lukather’s tense guitar and and Paich’s emotionally charged lead vocals.” By the time it’s over, a band that always struggled with a soft-rock label has offered (again, in Vic’s words) “an extended, seven and a half minute mini-epic with multiple sections running at different tempos, and dramatic, story-telling lyrics about a modern-day fairy tale of saving a damsel in distress from the “wolves in Times Square” and “the Dragon Lord playing solitary.” To Lukather, it’s further proof of just how misunderstood Toto always was.

STEVE LUKATHER: That’s a cult classic! I’ve been listening to that recently, because we’re digging out some of that old stuff for the new tour. We’re going back deep, besides the hits we have to do — back to some album cuts that we’ve never played live, ever. We’re trying to bring something new. Hydra was one of them. I listen to that album, and I think “how high were we?” (Laughs.) I was, like, 20 years old when we started that record. I turned 21 while we were making that album. You listen to that stuff, and you can hear the youth in it. But at the same time, we were trying to find our way. We were just experimenting, and we didn’t care what anybody thought. They already hated us! It’s fun to listen to and think: “Wow, that was really cool!” And also: “That lyric, whoa. Are you kidding me?” We have a really good sense of humor about all of it.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: We delve into a few lesser-known Toto favorites from the ‘Hydra,’ ‘IV,’ ‘Isolation,’ ‘Kingdom of Desire’ and ‘Falling in Between’ albums.]

“FOREVER MAN,” with ERIC CLAPTON (BEHIND THE SUN, 1985): Lukather played rhythm guitar on two tracks from this Phil Collins-coproduced mid-1980s effort, including “Forever Man” (a No. 1 Billboard Rock Tracks single) and the album cut “See What Love Can Do” — both written by Joe Lynn Williams. The late, great Donald “Duck” Dunn, an alum of Stax legends Booker T. and the MGs, and Toto’s Jeff Porcaro are featured in the Godley and Creme-directed video — though a still-starstruck Lukather for some reason wasn’t.

STEVE LUKATHER: I talked my way into the Clapton session, because I wanted to meet him. It was the only time I have ever been nervous in my life. It was pretty funny. I just played a little rhythm guitar. I kind of froze up a little bit. It was the only time that ever happened to me. I kept saying: Oh, my God. That’s fucking Eric Clapton. It’s funny, because I’ve worked with Jeff Beck. I’ve worked with Eddie (Van Halen). I’ve worked with most of the great guitarists in every style. But, how can you not be mesmerized by greatness? I am. When I am around people who are that good, wow.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Toto’s Steve Lukather discusses key Toto songs 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.]

“PAMELA,” with TOTO (THE SEVENTH ONE, 1988): This No. 22 hit was co-written by Paich and lead singer Joseph Williams, who was appearing on the last of his two albums with Toto. Williams has since returned to the touring edition of Toto, prompting a reevaluation of this era of recordings. In fact, Lukather says as the group nears its 35th anniversary, he expects that they will begin adding more and more cuts from deeper in the Toto catalog.

STEVE LUKATHER: Seventh One was one of my most fun records. We’re digging deep into that one, because Joseph is back in the band. That quietly sold millions of records. We had two massive hits off that — “Pamela” and “Stop Loving You” were both Top 5 records all over the world. The thing is, we’ve got 450 songs that we can choose from, and just an hour and 45 to play. Over the next three or four years, it’s our 35th anniversary, so we’re going to keep adding songs. Albums like that one, Fahrenheit, some of the more obscure things, those are going to creep into the set. IV left the biggest mark, for obvious reasons. We were almost thrown off the record label before we delivered that one. We were trying to find out way. It took us a while to realize we just had to be ourselves. When we did that, when we did what we wanted to do, it went well.

Here’s a look at Toto’s upcoming tour dates …
03 – Aug – 2012: Vienne, Théâtre Antique, France
04 – Aug – 2012: Sursee, Magic Night of Rock, Switzerland
05 – Aug – 2012: Schwäbisch Gmünd, Open Air in University Park, Germany
06 – Aug – 2012: Colmar, Foire aux Vins d’Alsace, France
08 – Aug – 2012: Stavanger, Sandnes Brygge, Norway
10 – Aug – 2012: Stockholm, Skansen Solliden, Sweden
11 – Aug – 2012: Smögen, Havsvallen, Sweden
12 – Aug – 2012: Skanderborg Festival, Denmark
14 – Aug – 2012: Leipzig, Parkbühne, Germany
16 – Aug – 2012: Altusried, Open Air, Germany
17 – Aug – 2012: Mosbach, Großer Elzpark, Germany
18 – Aug – 2012: Saturday, Coburg Schlossplatz, Germany
19 – Aug – 2012: Cologne, Tanzbrunnen, Germany
21 – Aug – 2012: Budapest, PECSA Music Garden, Hungary
22 – Aug – 2012: Vienna, Arena Open Air, Austria
24 – Aug – 2012: St. Gallen, Summerdays Festival, Switzerland
25 – Aug – 2012: Landgraaf, Pinkpop Classic, Netherlands
08 – Sep – 2012: San Jose, Awesome 80’s Fest, Costa Rica
13 – Sep – 2012: Santa Ynez, CA, Chumash Casino, USA
17 – Sep – 2012: Friant, CA, Table Mountain Casino, USA
21 – Sep – 2012: West Wendover, NV, Peppermill Concert Hall, USA
22 – Sep – 2012: Henderson, NV, Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino (Ovation Showroom), USA
23 – Sep – 2012: Scottsdale, AZ, Talking Stick Resort & Casino (Showroom), USA

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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