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"I guess I’m a rock guy trying to play jazz" – Steve Lukather talks Rosanna, Eddie Van Halen and his new solo album

Steve Lukather
(Image credit: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for Life is Beautiful Music & Art Festival )

When MusicRadar catches up with Toto leader and guitarist Steve Lukather, talking to us via video conference from his home study, we find him on fine form indeed. Right now he’s excited about his guitar work on latest solo album I Found The Sun Again, and – given the state of the world over the last year or so – grateful he managed to get anything recorded at all...

“This was all recorded a year ago before Covid,” he explains, “so we were all in the studio together with no need for masks or hazmat suits! By the time I needed to master the album, which we recorded in about eight days, things were starting to look different. The world had changed and things had gotten pretty scary. But I’m really proud it’s finally out and the reaction to the singles has been great.”

“Everyone brought their very best to the table"

The eight new tracks include five originals, as well as three covers chosen by Luke –The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys by Traffic, Joe Walsh’s Welcome To The Club and Robin Trower classic Bridge of Sighs. Despite everything that happened in the months that followed, Lukather describes the recording process as the easiest and most enjoyable of his career to date, with creative sparks igniting in every corner of the room. It worked out as a song a day, so he’s right to say there was chemistry…

“Everyone brought their very best to the table,” he recalls of the sessions. “I was lucky! A lot of it came down to the other players on the album – guys like Gregg Bissonette, who is a very old friend of mine, and Jeff Babko and David Palch.”

The album also features contributions from Toto singer Joseph Williams and Ringo Starr, whose All-Starr Band Lukather has been a member of since 2012. Here the Toto guitarist explains more about the tones on the album, his approach to scales and joining forces with Eddie Van Halen on Michael Jackson hit Beat It...

There are some great whammy bar moments on this new album – Along For The Ride and Journey Through having a bit of a Jeff Beck flavour at points…

“Thank you for saying and definitely. I had a lot of fun with Journey Through, as it’s an instrumental. And there’s probably a bit of Jeff Beck in there on Along For The Ride too. I guess like most players all my heroes get mixed up in my head and it all comes out as this mishmash of influences. 

"We recorded pretty much all of this album live and wanted it all kept very old-school, except for a couple of guitar parts and the vocals, which were dubbed. It was all about keeping that 70s feel to this record, I wanted it to feel like those classic albums which we all know and love. And of course, Jeff Beck is a huge hero and friend of mine...”

"I really don’t think in terms of scales, to be honest"

The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys by Traffic is an interesting choice of cover, with that drawn-out Dorian jam...

“Yeah, it was one of those lesser-known tracks I wanted to include. But, funnily enough, I wouldn’t really know if it’s Dorian until someone tells me (laughs). I really don’t think in terms of scales, to be honest. I look at the sheet and see the chords. Another big influence of mine is Larry Carlton and he told me to look at the triads for each chord I’m playing over... that’s his approach. 

"You start learning where every triad is across the neck, and then looking for other triads that sound good. Then you start looking for other triads that don’t sound good. They might sound weird or fucked up... which might come in handy when you want to sound more unusual.”

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Ernie Ball

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

Ernie Ball Music Man Luke III 

Run To Me has quite a Beatlesy feel, but then again it features Mr. Ringo Starr himself...

“Yeah, I mean, he’s only one of the smaller names on this record. Just joking! Having played in his All-Starr band for all these years, I wanted to have him involved because I mean, c’mon, he’s one of my biggest heroes. As a kid growing up in the 60s, I totally worshipped The Beatles. I remember seeing them on the television, they were incredible. To call him my friend is still completely mind-blowing for me.”

You’ve been playing your own signature Music Man guitar through a Bogner for many years now. What is about those companies that inspires that kind of loyalty?

“I honestly think Music Man make the best guitars in the world. My relationship with the Ball family stretches back a long way. I actually used my latest guitar from them for pretty much the entire record. It’s a beautiful instrument, and they custom designed the pickups for me... they sound really really good. And the same goes for the Bogner amps I’ve used for a long time, they just seem to sound better than everything else. The Helios is the one I’ve been sticking with on the more recent Toto tours.”

We also noticed you’ve been using the Gurus Echosex 2 and its compact sibling the Foxgear Echosex Baby for delay on recent sessions and shows…

“Oh, those pedals are incredible. They’ve become a really big part of my sound since I started using them – and I find they’re able to open up my tone in ways no other pedal has. I can’t say enough good things about them. I’ve also been using a double overdrive pedal made by Ulrich Rodenberg which seems to work really well for me. I like the Strymon Lex for rotary sounds. I have my signature pedal from Toneconcepts, The Luke, which I use more as a post-EQ kinda thing. 

"There’s the Xotic SP Compressor, but to be honest, those kinds of pedals get switched out. My tech knows more about my board than me... mainly because a lot of these pedals get kicked in for one song and that’s it. I don’t really use them more than that. The ones which get more use are the Gurus and Foxgear delays and whatever overdrive I have at the time for a solo boost.”

"I wasn’t really thinking in terms of modes or anything, I was just playing what felt right at the time"

Rosanna has been continually voted one of the greatest guitar solos of all-time. How did you go about constructing something like that?

“I didn’t (laughs)! I just played, man. The engineer said, ‘Go!’ and I went for it. Then they asked if I could double-track it and I said, ‘Probably, let’s give it a go!’ and I managed to do it. I might have corrected one thing later on, but that was pretty much it. .”

And yet there are definitely some interesting chromatic notes mixed in there...

“I guess I’m a rock guy trying to play jazz... but I’m not actually a jazz guy, I’m pretending to be one. When I think of players who are good at that stuff, I think of people like Pat Metheny or John McLaughlin, who are incredible players. I’m coming from more of a bluesy rock background and throw in a few extra notes where I can!”

" I miss my friend dearly. He was very special to me"

You and Eddie Van Halen both played on Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Looking back now, what do you remember most about working on that track?

“Firstly, I have to say there will never ever be anyone like Edward Van Halen. He did so much for rock guitar. We never actually recorded together for Beat It, all of my stuff was done separately. And actually we had to really work on it. I think I had quadruple-tracked these Marshalls which sounded huge but Quincy Jones came back to me asking if we could make it less metal. 

"I was thinking having Eddie on there meant I could really go for it (laughs)! So we had to fix a few things. I joked with Eddie after it came out saying that now everyone was going to see him as a session guy too and naturally he’d end up getting the same amount of shit I had been dealing with all these years (laughs). I miss my friend dearly. He was very special to me. What a huge loss it is to the guitar community now he’s gone.”

I Found The Sun Again is released on 26 February. For more info and pre-orders visit Steve Lukather