Toto is one of the few bands left that started out making records in the 1970s and are still recording new music. And hits like "Africa," "Rosanna" and "Hold the Line" are still in regular rotation on classic rock radio stations. The band is once again selling out shows around the world, with a live album recorded last year in Poland that has been a big seller.
Toto will co-headline a show with former Doobie Brothers frontman Michael McDonald on Tuesday, Aug. 12, at Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City.
Toto and Michael McDonald
When » Tuesday, Aug. 12, at 7 p.m.
Where » Red Butte Garden, 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City
Tickets » $62 general, $57 garden members; VIP meet-the-bands packages available; www.redbuttegarden.ticketfly.com
Founding member and guitarist Steve Lukather, who has recently been playing with Ringo Starr, talked from his home in Los Angeles about a release of 11 new songs coming out next spring, about why Toto has lasted this long and about his life as a journeyman musician who has played with the biggest names in the business. (The interview has been edited for brevity.)
What’s happening on this tour you’re doing with Ringo Starr?
We’ve been in the U.S. for 6 weeks, and then we took a couple days off and had his birthday the other day. ... He’s the best. We’ve become really good buds. It’s a joy to play with all of the All Starrs, all of the guys, just to be around them. We wrote a song for his new album. He’s become a good friend of mine and I love him to death. It’s a great honor for me. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, in my career, but being involved with one of the incarnations of Ringo and the All Starrs is real high up on my list of coolest things I’ve ever done in my life.
Weren’t you influenced by the Beatles early in your career?
They are the reason why I play. I got to do the Beatles 50th anniversary event on TV in February. I was in part of the All Starr band. And I was standing there — and I worked with Paul and George over the years, you know, George was my first guitar hero, and Paul is so great, and then getting to play and hang with Ringo over the past few years — and I’m standing there looking around and I see a clip of "Hard Day’s Night" and I look at Paul and Ringo standing a few feet away, and I’m looking around where I am 50 years later. It was a mind-(expletive) to me. It was kind of emotional, like I kind of had a moment to myself, where I went, ‘Holy (expletive), man. I pulled it off. I’m standing here with these cats 50 years later.’ ...It was like, when I was a kid you might just as well have told me I would be the first kid on Venus or something like that. It was one of those dreams you have as a kid, ‘You know, I’m going to play with the Beatles someday. Right, kid. Yeah, sure. Make sure you study for your finals, though.’
Do you identify more with being in Toto or being a journeyman musician who has played with everybody?
It’s all part of me, man. It’s all part of my DNA. Which one do I love the best? I love them all. I just go, ‘Wow.’ It’s almost hard to believe that we (members of Toto) did all those things when people throw out these numbers, like you all collectively have 225 Grammy nominations, a half billion records with your names on them. That’s a lot to take in. C’mon, really? I mean, you go to a party and someone puts on an ‘80s station or something like that and every other song is from a record I played on. And I just go, ‘Wow, I forgot I did that.’ I’m always living in the now.
Speaking of live performances, what has been the reaction to Toto’s most recent release "Live in Poland," which you recorded in June 2013?
It’s been No. 1 all over the world. That was the scariest, most bizarre thing that has ever happened to us. Without any hype we all of a sudden went to the No. 1 position. How does that happen? Best reviews of our career. I don’t know, have you seen the thing (DVD)? It’s really cool. It’s just a great moment. ...It’s not all super flashed out. It looks really cool. And we didn’t fix it, and there are mistakes all over the (expletive) thing. We wanted to leave all that in to prove a point. Because the last (live album) we did, we had to auto tune the cats so badly because it was just so unusable otherwise. We took a lot of (expletive) for that. But this time Joseph (Williams) has such a great voice. That’s really him. … He got his voice back. He’s better now than he was in the ‘80s. … And we’ve stayed friends — we were childhood friends. There was never any bad blood with Joey.
What’s on tap for Red Butte Garden, which may be a smaller venue for you?
It’s 4,000 people, so it’s not that small. We make a big noise, man. Our stuff is real high-fi. ...You know, I mean, we’re not a heavy metal band. We do have big dynamics, we can be very soft or we can be very powerful. That’s the thing that has always confused people. We can play a funkier track, then a ballad and then we play some heavier (expletive), it just freaks people out. They could never put us in a bag, what with four different singers.
To what do you attribute Toto’s longevity?
I just think the songs really have more of a life than an image. You know what I mean? We were never an image band. We probably should have worked harder on that (laughs). That’s the deal with the horrors of the Internet and reliving some of the outfits and hairstyles that record companies would hire a stylist for. .. I was wearing ripped up jeans and Pendleton shirts in the ‘70s, way before Curt Cobain dressed like that. It’s who I am, man. And everyone said, ‘You can’t be like that.’ So, you see me (in pictures) pouting like a little (expletive) kid. I remember on the first album cover photo shoot, they cut my hair and they put me in this outfit. And I’m like, ‘What the (expletive). This ain’t rock-n-roll.’ But, you know, I was a 19-year-old kid. I had no say in it. You do what you’re told.
What would it take for Toto to go back to the studio for one more album?
We’re almost done with one right now. It’s really (expletive) good. It’ll be out March 20. We really dug deep. It really surprised a lot of people. It’s not a bunch of old white-haired fat guys phoning it in for a check. ... We beat each other up harder than anyone else ever could. We just pushed each other. ‘That’s not good enough, do it again.’ So, we have 11 tracks that we think are a great version of what we are in 2014. And we still have the classic elements that people dig. You know, I’m not ashamed to say I like a big production, so, it’s big.
What’s happening with Toto’s band members these days?
The band is a little different. … The front line is the same, me, (David) Paich, Steve (Porcaro) and Joe (Williams). It’s a little period of flux right now, but at the same time it seems to be working out really, really well. … We’re headlining a bunch of big festivals in Europe. We just got back from Japan — sold out Budokan there. Did a lot of arenas in Japan — it was all sold out. So, it’s a new feeling of like, ‘Maybe we can do this one last time. Maybe we can pull it off if we don’t (expletive) it up (laughs).’
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