Toto Guitarist Steve Lukather Talks ‘Africa,’ New Autobiography, Touring The World And More
Steve Lukather, also commonly known as Luke, has lived a rockstar life since 1977. He tells it all in his new autobiography, “The Gospel According To Luke.” It’s an honest, raw look at the guitarist’s music, his band Toto, drug addiction, sobriety and more.
The authenticity that makes the book special and recognizably Luke is the same genuineness you feel when talking with him. We had the opportunity to interview Luke, who is playing with Toto at the Pompano Beach Amphitheater on Oct. 28, about his career, his new book, the reign of “Africa” and more. Highlights from our conversation are below.
What made you want to write an autobiography?
I didn’t want to. I mean, they came to me. What happened was, I was asked to do a Q&A at the GRAMMY Museum by Scott Goldman, the head of the GRAMMY Museum. I brought my solo band and we played a couple jams and mostly it was just a Q&A. He did his homework, man. It was really funny. He brought up stuff, and I started telling stories, and the place was jam-packed, and I had everyone pissing in the aisles laughing.
My agent came to me and said, “You’ve got to write a book, dude. You’ve got to do a TV show, you’ve got to do something. These stories are too good, they’re golden.” And I said, “That didn’t even scratch the surface!” I said, man, listen, I’ve had a pretty crazy life, I’m not so sure anyone really wants to hear about all that. I said I’m not so sure I want to tell everybody about that. But then all of a sudden, you know, I start getting these calls from the U.K.: “Listen we’ve got to have you.” And I said well, I’m not just going to let you guys have your way with everything I say, because I’m pretty loose about what I say to people.
I said if I can have final cut, in other words if I talk and I go, "You just can’t tell that story," I’ll give you the edit rights to the other s***, OK? I can’t hurt this person’s family and all that s***. You say something and then the domino effect is it could take someone completely out. Those stupid things we did when we were young can come back to haunt you 40 years later. I don’t need to do that to people. Once we made those perimeters of possibility, I said yeah.
We started working on it. For two years I was doing interviews with Paul Rees, who I picked because he was the editor of Q Magazine. I liked the book he wrote on Robert Plant. That was cool. He let me edit my own work too. We spent two years going back and forth and I got first draft rights.
Paul sounds like a proper Englishman. I said, “Paul I love you, this makes sense, but it doesn’t sound like me and no one’s going to believe it. So I’m going to have to go through this line by line and make it sound like me.”
In essence, I did write the book. I didn’t just talk into a tape recorder and put my name and put author on it. First off, I have too much respect for real writers and authors to call myself one. I’ve just told the story about my life; I think that’s a better way to put it.
How did you ensure that it sounded like your voice and not Paul’s? What were those edits like?
I said man this is not how I talk! I use the word f***, I use this, and I am the way I am with my kids, with everybody. Anyone who knows me is going to know whether it’s my voice or some guy just writing. I wanted it to be raw. I wanted it to be real. Which is why it’s getting incredible reviews from the fans, the people. Everyone’s going, “Wow this sounds like you man. Dude, I know you. This is so funny.” It’s my sense of humor. The way I speak. Stories the way I wanted them to read from my point of view. This is the way I told the story, I want it to be like that. It doesn’t have to be super correct. It has to be who I am.
In your book you talk about partying and getting sober. Tell us a little bit about that.
Yeah, I don’t recommend overuse of anything. You understand, we were teenagers when we got checked into this. I never went to college. I didn’t have that experience, you know. My college years were on the road with a private jet, flying around the world. I was still a teenager. Half the band couldn’t even go to the bar after the show. We were underage. So, the bar came to us. Every night’s a party. Every night’s Saturday night. You can do that through your 20s and 30s pretty good. Hit 40, it starts to hurt a little bit. When you hit 50 it’s like, you’ve got to be f****** kidding me. And that’s when I pulled the plug.
How has sobriety impacted your life?
My whole life is better. It’s been almost 10 years now. I quit smoking. I quit poisoning myself is really what it was. I was poisoning myself from self-loathing, and insecurities, and beatdowns, and loss, and failed marriages, and disappointing people that I love, and hurting people or being hurt. Had both sides of the fence on all that. Making money, having it stolen from me, getting it back, all of that. Death. Drug addiction. Alcoholism. Family members, people that you love turn on you. It’s the story of life. Your name here. It’s just my version of your name here.
What’s your favorite song to perform in front of audiences and why?
That changes every leg of the tour. Some songs where you’re like, “Oh, I gotta do this one?” I make friends with again. I try to find new ways to play it and excite myself with it. We try to change the arrangements a little bit to keep it fresh for us, not to the point where it’s unrecognizable, but we do fun little things. But really I just love doing it. I mean, there’s nothing in particular that I can give you on this.
Some of the ones that I like are more obscure ones. I know you want to hear me say, “‘Africa’ is my favorite song.” But it would be a lie. We open it up and it’s fun to play it in front of an audience to get them excited about the song, but it’s not like I sit around the house playing it. I love the song, I love what it’s done for us, but to me that’s not really the ultimate Toto song. That’s an obscure, deep cut that just got legs and ran away from us—in a positive way.
How do you feel about the fact that “Africa” has become an anthem for millennials and younger generations?
First off, I laugh out loud, in a positive way. I’m very grateful for it, I mean who would’ve guessed? This has been great for business. This is completely organic. Nobody could’ve written this one. I think the Weezer team is as surprised as we are. They struck a nerve in their audience in that age group.
All the “Africa” meme stuff, and all the jokes on TV, and the people, the choirs and the death metal version, the bluegrass version, you know, it’s just become a thing, man. You have the guy who’s going to play it for six hours in a club; I’d f****** hang myself. I mean, we’ve never been more famous and visible, so it’s good for our business. Quadrupled our guarantees. So, thank you, for all of it. I can laugh all the way to the bank. We’re going to be “Family Guy” characters. I’ve been a “South Park” character. I mean it just f****** tickles me to be a part of pop culture. It’s f****** hilarious. What’s not to love? How could I hate this?
You just ended your tour with Ringo Starr. That must’ve been so cool.
Oh man, I adore them. I adore everything about that whole hang; all of the people I’ve gotten to play with in the last going on seven years. And I’m going to do it again next year. I was asked to come back and now I’m one of the longer tenured guys in this band. Me and him are friends. He lives eight minutes from my house and I was able to write some music for his new record and spend time with him. I just love him, Barbara and the whole hang up there. It’s been a real high point in my life.
Is there any other particular artist in mind that stands out when you look back on your career and who you’ve been able to collaborate with?
There’s a lot of people on there, man. Sometimes I forget that I did all this stuff. The back of the book is like a partial discography. That’s 21 pages of very small print, not repeating itself, you know? I looked at that and I went really, did I f****** do all this? And that’s not even all of it. I mean even the ones where you kind of crack up and go, "Oh wow you did that record? That’s kind of cheesy." I still learned from the fromage and it was still great to be there. I’m just happy to be working. “How can I please you today?” That was my job. I found it a great challenge and something that I got good at, and I really enjoyed doing it.
What should our readers expect from your show in Pompano?
Dude, we’re playing the hits. We’re playing all kinds of stuff from 40 years ago from all our albums. The deep cuts, some fun stuff. Some fan favorites. But obviously the stuff that people know well, we’re going to play. We’re not going to let anyone down but we’ve got 450 songs—you can’t play them all. We’re trying to do a broad, career retrospect packed full of the hits. Different acoustic stuff. When we do our full show it’s two hours plus. It’s all the crazy stuff we did, and people walk away going, "Wow, that was full-bodied."
To buy tickets to Toto’s upcoming performance in Pompano Beach, visit theamppompano.org.
Pompano Beach Amphitheater, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach; 561.223.7231; theamppompano.org
Photo courtesy of Toto
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