Steve Lukather answers the phone for an interview, but quickly—and politely—needs to bump it another 20 minutes.
“I’m sorry. I forgot. I’m at breakfast and I’m out with Ringo,” says Lukather from a tour stop in Chicago.
Lukather, who goes by “Luke,” has spent the last eight years touring with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. When he isn’t out with the former Beatle, he’s touring with his main gig as guitarist/singer for Toto. The band turns 45 years old this year.
He’s surprised at Toto’s longevity, as is the rest of the band—keyboardist David Paich, keyboardist Steve Porcaro and lead and backing vocalist Joseph Williams—who plays Celebrity Theatre on Saturday, September 21. Lukather released his book, “The Gospel According to Luke” in 2018.
“We were hoping to get 10 years at most, and we thought that would be amazing,” Lukather says after breakfast. “We started in ’77. The Beatles had just broken up a few years before. They did everything they did in eight years. That doesn’t happen anymore—single digits.
“Here I am, 45 years later, doing this professionally and I’m living the dream. I can’t be upset about it. I got a chance to work with Paul (McCartney) and George (Harrison) over the years. George was my first guitar hero.”
Starr is the third Beatle he’s performed with, and it’s a “great thrill for me to be a part of this.”
Holding the line
Lukather was meant to be a musician. When his mother was 19 and pregnant, a family friend predicted her child would be famous.
“My grandmother had very interesting friends – one of them was a psychic,” he says. “This woman put her hands on my mom’s stomach and said, ‘It’s a boy. He hears the music. When he’s 7 years old, something’s going to change. And the world is going to know who he is.’
“My mother was mortified. When I was 7 or 8, I saw The Beatles and everything changed in my whole world. I had tunnel vision. Nobody could tell me I couldn’t be a musician.”
His decision was cemented when he performed at his fifth-grade graduation and girls screamed.
“I was a goner,” he says. “Before sex or money, I was a kid who loved to play music. I said, ‘Mom, your dreams of having a doctor or lawyer son are gone.’
“If you find something you love to do and can make money at it, you never have to work a day in your life. I love what I do. Ringo’s 79 but he looks 40. He doesn’t need the money. He loves to hang with the guys and make music. If I see a guy who’s 79 doing jumping jacks, laughing and grooving, I think, ‘I want to be like that.’”
Lukather, who says he still practices the guitar daily, landed a spot in Starr’s band after Toto’s Jeff Porcaro died. He traveled to Los Angeles to play a tribute show that also featured Harrison.
“We hung out until he got sick,” he says. “He became a little more reclusive.
“When the Ringo thing came up, I said, ‘Please, please?’ They took me in almost eight years ago. He’s a dear friend. Everyone who’s been in and out of the band have been brilliant artist and great friends of mine. It’s great that I get to do both things. I have my high school brothers and I get to do this. It’s the best of all worlds, really.”
At Toto’s two-and-a-half-hour show, the band will perform songs from every record. The musicianship is high end and they have fun, Lukather says.
“I would never sit around and play ‘Africa’ in my house,” he says. “I’d put a bullet through my head, first. At the show, I love it. We sneak in some of the muso stuff, though; stuff in between the hits. My old fans love the deep cuts.”
Speaking of “Africa,” Weezer’s version of the song made Toto a household name, especially among millennials. Lukather calls the cover “a gift, an accident.”
“We couldn’t have planned it or made it happen,” he says. “That band Weezer did it as a (joke) and it blew up in their face. We did one of theirs (‘Hash Pipe’) and the record company shelved it. We got (screwed) a lot over the years.
“Because of the ‘Africa’ thing, our audience is 15 to 70 all around the world, which is really rare. It’s given us a whole new lease on life. It’s really a wonderful time for us. The last five years, we’ve worked really hard on the road. We’ve been received really well. To be honest, there are guys like us who don’t get a second look. We’re playing in front of 25,000 to 40,000 people, headlining festivals.”
Lukather didn’t even have faith in “Africa” when Toto wrote it. The song appears last, No. 10, on “Toto IV.” He thought the lyrics were “silly.”
“At one point, I said I would run naked down Hollywood Boulevard if it became a hit,” he says. “I didn’t mean it. That’s what I thought the odds were of it becoming a hit.
“It’s been a hit like three times. It has had billions of streams—that’s a B—on YouTube. It doesn’t pay anything. Recorded music has been devalued and soon will not have any value. The incentive isn’t there to spend six months in the studio. People don’t have the attention span like we did when we were kids. All I’ve done since I was a little kid was make money with music. I was in my first band at 9.”
Lukather says he and his fellow musicians have appeared on thousands of albums over the years, considering Toto and their side projects.
“Every time something goes on the radio, one of us is on it, if it’s from 1976 to 1992. I stopped being a session player in the 1990s. Old-school critics will say, ‘I hate Toto. I love this record.’ I say, ‘It’s us.’”
Lukather’s 32-year-old son Trev is following in his footsteps as the guitarist for What So Not—an electronic music project helmed by Australian record producer Christopher John Emerson—and ZFG, the “next generation of Toto.” Based in Los Angeles, ZFG is Lukather, bassist Sam Porcaro (son of original bassist for Toto, Mike Porcaro), drummer Josh Devine of One Direction, and singer Jules Galli.
“I’m on the road a lot,” says Steve Lukather, who also has children ages 34, 11 and 8. “I’m a single guy. I have great kids. I take care of a lot of people. This is my job. I asked for this. I can’t be negative about it. I do miss the little ones. They understand. They don’t know me any other way. I call every day and FaceTime is a godsend.”
Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd Street, Phoenix, 602.267.1600, celebritytheatre.com, 8 p.m. Saturday, September 21, tickets start at $40.