Latest release: Transition (Mascot)

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!” Steve Lukather scoffs, incredulous. “I thought I’d made that about as clear as it could be! Why would I play that at a G3 show? I mean, really. That’s insane. I made jokes about that before I even went out!”

The easy-going guitarist with the discography longer than a phone book has just been told that one lone idiot screamed constantly for Toto’s “Africa” during his bracket at his Sydney G3 appearance last year.

“There’s no accounting for people being crazy,” he sighs. “I’m sure he was terribly disappointed as well.”

Possibly, but if so he was likely the only one. At first glance, Steve Lukather may have seemed out of place on Joe Satriani’s guitar-army event rounded out by Steve Vai, but the reaction he got was solidly positive.

“I was incredibly nervous,” he admits. “I didn’t think anyone was gonna like me at all. So it came off really good and we got really good reviews. I think I won over a lot of people. You’re not gonna please everyone. Some death metal guys might not dig me, I guess. But a roomful of musicians is a tough crowd, man. They’ll let you know it if you don’t do well.”

He chuckles, and chuckles again when he learns that Perth prog-metal mob Chaos Divine cut a version of “Africa” last year.
“That’s fantastic!” he says. “I’ll be sure to check that out when I have a chance!”

The fame of Toto’s best known song casts such an immense shadow that Lukather’s many, many other achievements can sometimes be overlooked. As mentioned in Loud’s previous interview, the man has played on a formidable list of recordings since he first went into the studio with Boz Scaggs in the mid-70s. Several hundred albums later, his new solo release Transitions is hitting the shelves in time for his Australian appearances with Ringo Starr’s All Starrs. The title is a reflection of the personal journey he has undertaken in recent years from the hells of drug dependency and relationship breakdown to reconciliation and sobriety.

“I was coming out of the dark, man,” Lukather says of ther personal space he was in during recording. “It was the transition, from darkness into the light. I’m feeling great now, I’m feeling confident. Me and my ex are great friends. My kids are happy, I’m happy. Life is good again. I’ve moved through some things, I’ve had to let go of a lot of resentment and bullshit that one carries around in life for whatever reason. And I’m happier than I’ve been in decades. I’m truly healthier. I’m going into nearly four years without smoking, drinking or being an idiot, so I’m happy being me. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I’m trying to right wrongs and all the rest of it.”

He pours water on the young artists’ stand-by that pain and drugs can be drivers of the creative process. Lukather’s done it all, and now that he’s put it behind him he’s feeling better than ever.

“Well you know that’s a big lie, thinking that getting the buzz on helps your playing or helps your writing,” he says. “Maybe you get lucky once in a while and grab some inspiration here and there. I know I have! But I know I find I’m a much better musician being completely free from all that shit. Really! And I’ve tried every way!”

Sobriety has given Lukather – Luke to his friends and fans – a new lease on life. As he chats, his home is full of people, his children mostly, and assistants getting him ready for what is shaping up to be an astonishing year.

“I’m very blessed to have all these people who want to work with me. In these days where the music industry is taking a shit, I’m busier than ever,” he says. “The record’s being received so well and I’m gonna be on tour all year. The next twelve months is already booked up solid, and I’m very thankful for that.”

Along with solo shows in Europe and the US in support of Transitions, later in the year is Toto’s 35th anniversary tour.

“I’m on three different tours this year and I’ll be jumping back and forth through all three of them. You get your mindset for one thing and then you’re doing something else. It keeps things interesting!”

This week his busy schedule brings him to Australia with Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, playing seven sold out shows in a group that also includes Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie of Santana fame, Mr Mister’s Richard Page, journeyman drummer Gregg Bissonette and Billy Joel’s sax supremo Mark Rivera. He’s been with the tour now since the middle of 2012 after winning the gig while rehearsing for the Antipodean G3 dates.

“It’s a lot of fun now that we’ve all become such great friends,” Lukather says. “The setlist’s insane. Every song’s a smash. It’s undeniable. From that, we just get the groove. It’s an amazing band. What can you say? Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie… you turn around and there’s Ringo Starr playing drums. It’s the best of the best things ever.”

In a career that could already be described as amazing in anyone’s language, it’s clear from his enthusiasm that he considers his current All Starr Band tenure as a highlight. It allows him to stretch his playing across a range of styles as well as feature alongside one of the most famous musicians in history.

“Everybody does three of their hits and of course we do the Ringo Beatles songs and Ringo’s solo hits. It’s a killer set man, it’s everything from Santana to Mr Mister to my stuff… every song’s a smash,” he says. “And a lot of different styles, so I get to play a lot of different things. From rockabilly to Carlos’ stuff to Beatles stuff and I try to keep the sound true and play the parts the way they’re meant to be played, and it’s all good. But it’s all loose and fun. We’re not trying to out-muso the musos. And I love everybody and we’ve all become such good friends. Ringo and I have become really close friends, and that’s the biggtest kick for me: I get a text from Ringo, [adopts credible Liverpudlian accent] “Hey, come on over for some tea”. He’s just right down the hill, so I go over to Ringo’s house. He’s my bud. He’s a really beautiful cat. 70 years old and he looks like he’s 40. He’s an incredible human being.”

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band are touring Australia this week:
11/2: Convention Centre, Brisbane QLD
13/2: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney NSW
14/2: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney NSW
16/2: Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC
17/2: Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC
19/2: Entertainment Centre, Adelaide SA
21/2: Challenge Stadium, Perth WA