One for the road: Steve Lukather

(Image credit: Rob Antonello/Future)

Jet-setting with Ringo and producing Spinal Tap are all in a day’s work for Toto’s main man Steve Lukather.

What was your first gig and how did it go?

“In sixth grade I had a band called The Blueberry Waterfall. I had borrowed a guy’s Fender Jaguar and Boss Tone Fuzz, which you plugged straight into a Blackface Twin. It was a little power trio - we were actually pretty good for our age. 

“I sang, pre-voice-change, and we played Back In The USSR, Foxy Lady, Gloria by Them and House Of The Rising Sun by The Animals, etc, in the school auditorium. The girls screamed, it was loud and the teachers were mortified! I was hooked. I was a goner and never looked back since.”

What’s on your rider?

“Raw ginger, sparkling water, Throat Coat tea, organic lemons and some non-alcoholic beer for after show. I stopped all the nonsense many years ago now. If someone sees me with what looks like a beer, it’s always zero per cent. 

The internet… they say I wear a wig, too. I offer a million bucks to anyone that can get this off my head. And who would buy a wig like my hair?

“The internet… they say I wear a wig, too. I offer a million bucks to anyone that can get this off my head. And who would buy a wig like my hair? But expect a punch in the face afterwards when it does not come off!”

Describe your current stage rig…

“My tech, Jon Gosnell, made a great oldschool stompbox pedalboard for me that changes all the time. I play Music Man LIII guitars. I take four out: two in E standard tuning, two in Eb for a few tunes, and Yamaha acoustic guitars. Two Bogner Ecstasy Amps in stereo for the ping-pong delay I use a bit of. I could write a novel on what is on and off my pedalboard. There are so many cool little boxes these days.”

What’s your best tip for getting a good live sound?

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“Don’t play too loud! Bleed-through on stage can be brutal to front-of-house sound. Use Shure SM57s for mics and move them around the speaker to find the sweet spot and don’t overdo delays or reverbs in a big hall or ambient club - I was guilty of this in the 80s… like I was of many other things, too [laughs], sorry! Always make sure you can hear the groove and the singer - if no singer, the lead player. Time and pitch are very important.

“I also find that as much as we all love to shred and build chops in our homes, in a big hall [the sound] gets lost. Even the most precise players sound like a blur. That’s why someone like Dave Gilmour rules in the scenario of playing with a large band in a huge hall and yet his guitar sings over the top of it. The right notes mean more than 1,000mph arpeggios. Record a rehearsal and play it back before the gig - there is always much to learn there.”

What’s the best venue you’ve played?

“Ooh… that’s hard. So many great ones for different reasons. Ziggo Dome in Holland, Budokan Japan, Bercy in Paris, Albert Hall in the UK, and a little club we’ve been jamming in for damn near 40 years, The Baked Potato jazz club in LA. A lot of magic went down in there over the years: priceless times for me growing as a musician with some of the best.“

What’s the worst journey you’ve ever had to or from a gig?

“LA to Cape Town, South Africa: 30 hours, door to door. By the time I got there, my underwear must have been like a used coffee filter. I felt like we travelled to Venus. Worst jet lag ever in my 40 years.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve witnessed on tour?

Me and the Toto guys all went and saw Spinal Tap. We have lived almost all of the silliness in it

“I have a book coming out at the end of the year/early 2018, all about my life in the studios and the road and some crazy shit and great studio stories with the many legendary artists I’ve had the honour to work with. It’s not a salacious ‘I gonna get even’ book, but it is pretty funny. There is a lot in that.”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

“I produced four tracks on [Spinal Tap’s] second album, Break Like The Wind, and I just played on the new Derek Smalls [Harry Shearer] solo album. I love those guys: Christopher Guest, Harry and Michael McKean are really great musicians; it was hard to get them to be funny as they were so good. They were awesome in the studio and I could tell how much they love playing music.

“Me and the Toto guys all went and saw the movie as a band when it first came out and I think we were doing our second album, Hydra, and there were not many people at the 2pm showing. We got stoned and we laughed so hard and no-one else was laughing and that was funny to us. We have lived almost all of the silliness in it. That why it’s been on every tourbus worldwide for the last 35 years!”

Which airline, as a musician, do you find is easiest to travel on?

“Well, I play in Ringo [Starr]’s band and have for the last six years. I adore the man and everyone in the band. It is the best gig I have ever had outside of my own family band and he treats us like kings. He uses a private G4 jet for the band and key staff. After that, you are ruined for life. I love him a lot and we are all grateful for his generosity, believe me!”

What’s your favourite live album?

“Man, this is hard. In no order: Humble Pie, [Performance:] Rockin’The Fillmore; Yessongs; Delicate Sound Of Thunder by Pink Floyd; Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, The Stones; Goodbye Cream; Miles Davis, Four & More. It’s all my childhood stuff that inspired me - and it’s not an album, but Jimi’s live, slow Voodoo Child on Electric Ladyland. Life changing! I could go on…”

Toto: Live At Montreux 1991 is available now on CD and DVD via Eagle Rock

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