Toto co-founder Steve Lukather on his emotional new solo album: ‘I really dug deep’

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2012 has been a busy one for Steve Lukather, who toured with childhood hero Ringo Starr; and with G3 alongside Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and John Petrucci. He even made select appearances with Toto, the mega-selling band he co-founded in the 1970s.

Oh, and he’s got a new album coming out next month, too.

Transition, produced by CJ Vanston and due January 22, 2013 from the Mascot Label Group, is Lukather’s seventh solo project — and it may just be his most personal yet. See, despite all of those musical highs, Lukather has also dealt with a series of devastating losses over the last few years, including a divorce, the death of his mother and some business setbacks.

Embracing a theme of acceptance, however, Lukather assembled an all-star cast to help him realize his vision for a new album, and somehow completed recording, mastering and mixing it while keeping up an impressive road schedule. In fact, Lukather will return to the concert trail in 2013 with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr band — hitting Australia, New Zealand and Japan beginning in February. A European solo tour will follow, including two UK stops in March 2013.

Lukather — a first-call sideman who’s played on countless recordings — joined us for this Something Else! Sitdown to talk about Transition, working with guest stars like Tal Wilkenfeld, and how a sessions player’s essential anonymity has worked in his favor over the years …

NICK DERISO: A new album? Really? How have you had time for such things?
STEVE LUKATHER: I’m really proud of it. I really dug deep, and the songs are really good. It sounds ridiculous for me to say that, but I had a lot of help. In the blink of an eye, I managed to do two tours and then finish an album since the beginning of the year.

NICK DERISO: Well, you also kept this one short and sweet — a rarity in this age of overstuffed CDs.
STEVE LUKATHER: It’s nine tracks. That seems about right. People don’t want to sit down a listen to 80 minutes of music. How about 40 minutes of quality?

NICK DERISO: Even with the abbreviated recording schedule, several interesting musical collaborators stopped by — from Leland Sklar and Chad Smith, to Lenny Castro and Tal Wilkenfeld. How did they impact the album?
STEVE LUKATHER: Tal is sort of my adopted daughter. I called her “No. 5.” (Lukather had four children.) I actually met her through my son, who’s 25 — same age as her. I think she brilliant. She’s so good, so effortless. It almost should be illegal, for someone to have that much talent. And yet there is a child-like innocence to her that makes me want to father her. I’ve got her on it, Lee Sklar. We’ve got Chad Smith; he came in on a track, and killed it. Greg Bissonette. Richard Page, who I went on tour with last summer for Ringo. We’ve been friends since the 1970s. It’s really added a nice little touch. I like to employ musicians, especially my friends.

NICK DERISO: Of course, your association with Sklar goes back to your teens.
STEVE LUKATHER: He’s one of my oldest friends. I love that guy. He’s a legend. He’s Leland Sklar; he’s a god! That’s another guy that if you said he would be a lifelong friend, I’d be, like, are you kidding? I’ve become friends with a lot of my heroes, which is odd to say — because we know each other so well now. I was thrown in the deep end, though, and I got to meet all of these people and 35 years later, you develop relationships. I’m still a fan, too. You run around in the same circles for this many years, and you become friends. We’ve all paid a lot of dues, emotionally, musically and so on. So it’s hard to relate to this life, unless you’ve lived it.

NICK DERISO: Even after all of this time, I’m still coming across albums that I never realized you were on. The other day, it was Chicago 18, with the remake of “25 or 6 to 4.” I knew you were a huge part of 16, cowriting one song and playing on three other tracks including “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away,” but that one had gotten past me.
STEVE LUKATHER: We’re all friends. Our kids went to the same schools. We couldn’t help but run into each other. I love all of their music. I grew up listening to that music, too. So it was weird for me to play with artist whose records I owned when I was a kid — guys I copied and learned their songs and played them in Top 40 bands.

NICK DERISO: For all of the things you eventually accomplished, as a member of Toto, a solo artist and do-anything guitarist, it seems like you’ve remained not just grounded — but in some ways rather anonymous. Would you have it any other way?
STEVE LUKATHER: I get to be friends with people who are really, really famous — and I see that they can’t go anywhere. There’s a prison of fame, with paparazzi everywhere. I have the best of both worlds. People show up and see me play, but I can walk around and almost nobody knows who I am. It’s certainly not to the point where I can’t leave my house. My being anonymous is a blessing, the way I see it.

Track Listing for Steve Lukather’s ‘Transition,’ due January 21, 2013 via Mascot Label Group:
1. Judgement Day
2. Creep Motel
3. Once Again
4. Right The Wrong
5. Transition
6. Last Man Standing
7. Do I Stand Alone
8. Rest of the World
9. Smile

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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