How do I put this… y’know ‘music?’ If you’ve ever listened to it, the chances are extremely high that Steve Lukather was involved. Michael Jackson’s “Beat It?” Luke. Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” – Luke too. Richard Marx’s megahit album Repeat Offendor? Luke. Hell, he’s even contributed backing vocals to a few Van Halen songs. But session work is only part of the story. Lukather’s band Toto are legendary within hardcore musician circles as well as to general pop radio audiences – an almost impossible feat to pull off – and his solo albums somehow manage to bring together the whole breadth of his professional career under a single banner without sounding disjointed. In fact, recent albums like All’s Well That Ends Well and Ever Changing Times sound incredibly current.
Coming up for Lukather in 2012 is another solo album (currently in the works) as well as touring as a member of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. But he’s currently in Australia for a series of G3 shows with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, as well as a monster set together at Bluesfest. Like all G3 line-ups, this one came about through Satriani putting the word out. “At first I said, ‘Are you sure you want me? I’m the right guy for this?’ We’ve all played together before – as a matter of fact, all three of us have played together in LA – and we were friends, but I was a little nervous about it at first. Then I thought, why not? I’m a different flavour.” Luke says he’s also a different person to the man he used to be. He’s now sober, he gets up at 5am, practices guitar for three hours a day. “I don’t party any more. I’ve refocused my energy into refining my instrument. I used to just get up there and flail away. Now I take a really hard look at everything and take it very seriously. I’m not sitting around trying to be a speed demon – there are so many other guys that do that so much better, why bother? But I’m trying to refine the positive aspects of what I liked about my playing and what other people did. Mixing the jazz stuff with the rock sound and refining my touch, my tone, my intonation, my time… a more mature version of myself, rather than the drunken buffoon I’ve been in the past, and been eviscerated for – and rightly so, in some cases!”
So given that the G3 crowd is fairly guitar hungry, what exactly will Luke play? “I’m not going to try to compete with the boys. That would be like beating up an old man. But I’m a huge fan of the guys and it’s a great excuse for us to hang. And it’s an opportunity to show another side of myself. We live in an internet world and there are a few YouTube videos of a few drunken jams there where I just kind of flailed about, and it’s not really who I am. It’s not really a fair judgement.” So in that sense, the G3 tour represents an opportunity for Lukather to reclaim his title as one of the world’s best guitarists. “I love the guitar again. Shit got away from me for a minute there. You do this shit for 35 years, you don’t really realise how lucky I really am. And I really am lucky to do this for a living. I’m not taking this lightly. It’s going to be a lot of fun to me but it’s very serious business as well.”
Lukather’s live band is highly skilled at taking his studio arrangements and turning them into stage-ready versions – which can’t be easy. “I make these big, bloated, overproduced records and I love it!” he says. “I don’t give a shit what anybody says! I like to make big-sounding records. Look at Dark Side Of The Moon. Look at So. Look at Sgt Peppers, for that matter. But you can’t do four part harmonies live. So I do another take on things. But ironically it does sound like the records: it sounds like the songs. It’s just a different take on it.”
Wherever Lukather goes, you’ll find his Ernie Ball Music Man signature guitar. At the 2012 NAMM Show the company debuted the LIII, a slight departure from the existing Luke model. “I’m loving mine. I wanted to do a different take on it. Non-active DiMarzios, a little bigger body. It’s a simplification. But we’ve had such fantastic success with the guitar over the years, why not see where this goes?” The new, larger body shape was a response to requests from players who felt that the standard version made them look too big. “I listen to what people say,” Luke says. “Constructive criticism, I’m all about. But if someone’s going to go on the internet and beat the shit out of me for a laugh, there’s not much I can do about that. But I listen to these things. They (Ernie Ball) were a little bit opposed to this at first, but we found a happy medium and so far the reactions are really positive.”