WHERE: The Orpheum Theater
216 State St., Madison WI
WHEN: Sunday, September 29, 2019
7:30 PM (Doors open at 6:30 PM)
COST: $39.50, $49.50, 59.50, $79.50
I last had the pleasure of watching the Grammy award-winning iconic rock group Toto perform at the finale of the Waterfest summer concert series in Oshkosh several years ago.
Toto was responsible putting out monster hits such as “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna,” “Africa,” “99,” “Pamela,” and “I Won’t Hold You Back.” Toto’s music combines elements of rock, pop, funk, progressive rock, R & B, and jazz. Widely respected for their outstanding musicianship, individual members of Toto have contributed to an astonishing 5000 albums of various artists. The band has an enormous international fan base. Toto had the honor of being the first group to earn six Grammys for one album, Toto IV (1982).
Toto continues to perform widely. The band has recently been on the road in Europe, and is now in North America, with its 40 Trips Around The Sun Tour to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary. On May 24th, All In, a 13 CD box set of 11 remastered albums, a Live in Tokyo 1980 EP, and an album of previously unreleased material came out. A live performance in Amsterdam from the 40 Trips Around The Sun Tour is also available in various formats.
The current line-up of Toto consists of Steve “Luke” Lukather (guitar, vocals), Joseph Williams (vocals), Steve Porcaro (keyboards), Lenny Castro (percussion), Shannon Forrest (drums), Warren Ham (horns), Shem Von Schroeck (bass), and Dominique “Xavier” Taplin (keyboards).
Toto is bringing back its dynamic, multifaceted music to The Orpheum Theater in Madison on Sunday, September 29th, for perhaps the final time in its current form.
I phoned 5 time Grammy Award winner Toto guitarist Lukather not long ago. He was preparing to head out to Santa Fe from Omaha to help finish out Ringo Starr’s 30th anniversary tour with Ringo Starr & His All – Starr Band as a supporting member. “Luke” was outspoken and full of energy during our conversation. Be sure to catch Lukather’s brilliant versions of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” on YouTube.
Jane Spietz: Hi Luke. You just came off the road with Ringo Starr’s All – Starr Band. How was the tour this go round?
Steve “Luke” Lukather: It’s the most joyous touring experience. I’ve been in his band for 7 years now. Some of the best times in my life. I adore the man and I love everybody in the band. It’s the best. First class everything. It’s like my vacation tour.
JS: You are a self-professed Beatles fanatic. I’d love to hear the story of how you had an opportunity to record with Ringo and Paul McCartney.
SL: Ringo and I wrote two songs together on the last album he did. I had been in the band for a while. I worked with Paul for the first time on “Thriller.” I also worked with him on his movie and I did the Beatles’ 50th anniversary with him. We’re not best friends or anything like that but if I see him I’m like ‘Hey Paul, how’s it going?’ and he’ll go ‘Hey man!’ Ringo and George Harrison and I became friends. After Jeff (Porcaro – late Toto drummer) died, George played with Toto on the tribute show we did for Jeff. And then we hung out for a while until he unfortunately got sick. George was my first guitar hero. So to hang out with my first guitar hero was pretty deep. And with Ringo’s All-Starr Band, I really wanted to be in this band because of Gregg Bissonette, the drummer, who invited me in. Also Dave Hart, the agent/producer. I joined the band in 2012 and we just hit it off. Now Ringo and I have become really great friends and he would invite me up, (using Ringo accent) ‘I’m doing a new album. Come on by and you can write something with me.’ Every time we got together we ended up finishing a song.
So, on the last album, we wrote two songs and basically Ringo and I made the whole record with some great background singers. I was really pleased with how those tracks came out. Then Ringo called me up and said, ‘I loved the tracks but I’m just worried about the bass.’ I had played the bass on the rough tracks. I said, ‘It’s cool man. Call somebody else to come up and do it. I was just a place holder.’ Ringo says, ‘I was thinking about someone else. Paul’s coming over this weekend.’ I’m like, silence, on the phone. Ringo, Paul McCartney and me on a song I co-wrote? I mean, this is so full circle, from the moment I saw them on Ed Sullivan to that very moment. It knocked the wind out of me. Looking at that mathematically, what are the odds of an eight year old kid from North Hollywood ending up in this exact position? It was like the most amazing gift that Ringo could have ever given me in life. And it doesn’t matter if it sold 10 million records or 10 records, it happened. And it came out great. Aside from my children, no one will ever give me a gift that means that much to me. I’m honored to call him my friend.
JS: You have made significant changes in your lifestyle and seem much happier as a result. Was that difficult to do?
SL: Getting high and drinking is a lie. It’s like putting a butterfly bandage on an amputation. It doesn’t work. When you’re young, you can bounce off the walls. It’s like, hah, it’s just kids having fun. Living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle we read about, right? But when you get older, you realize this isn’t fun anymore. I really hate some of the things I’ve done and said. You either have to pull it together and get on with your life or you die and lose everything. Teetering on and almost losing everything, I woke up one day and said I can’t do this anymore. Because I had had another round of kids. I have two older ones who are out of the house and two younger ones. My youngest one is autistic. Beautiful child. You can’t be like that around little kids, especially one that’s a special needs kid. It woke me up. I grew up.
JS: Your memoir, “The Gospel According to Luke,” came out last September. I am so looking forward to reading it. It sounds like an amazing read.
SL: My book contains a lot of great stories. I’ve got another book that I’ll be starting soon because the first one did so well. It was a surprise to me. But here it is, here I am.
JS: There’s a documentary in the works?
SL: I’ve got a documentary in the works about my life as a studio player. I can’t tell the Toto story because there’s somebody who just won’t let us do that. Because things have been so tainted by lawsuits, it’s kind of destroyed the band. Which is a shame because we’ve had some of the most successful years of our lives the last couple of years. The madness of “Africa,” as crazy as that was, really helped everything. It brought in a lot of young people, a lot of people. All of a sudden we went from being a guilty pleasure to somebody going, ‘You know, these guys are actually pretty good. We should probably stop messin’ with ‘em.’ And then they come to see us play live. And it’s real. There are no hard drives going on up there. And nobody’s comin’ to see my ass in jeans, so we better play good.
JS: The North American leg of Toto’s 40 Trips Around The Sun Tour is in full swing. Are you amazed that the band is still going strong after 40 years?
SL: I’m the only guy who’s been there since the first rehearsal to the present day without leaving. Am I surprised? When we did our first album, we thought, what if we got like nine or ten years out of this like our heroes, the Beatles, did? And we were thinking, if we could get five years out of it, that would be great. Through all of the successes to the disasters, all of the people trying to keep us from being successful – everything. It was the weirdest thing. Like, if someone took this amount of effort to go from point A to point B for the same shit, it took us five times that to get there because we were running uphill all the time.
Despite the obstacles, we wouldn’t die. We wouldn’t take no for an answer. You have to have that kind of mentality to be successful and to stay in a career. Not in a million years did we think I’d be going, “Yeah, we’re going on our 44th year.” No way. Never saw it. It’s funny to me. I go out and play “Hold the Line.” I did that when I was 19 and I’ll be 62 in a few months. When the snare hits and the opening piano thing starts, the crowd goes mad. And all of a sudden it’s fresh again. We don’t roll our eyes at our hits. When the people react and start singing along, you see the happy faces and you think – they pay me for this? Greatest job in the world.
JS: What is your favorite Toto song to perform and why?
SL: In my mind, if somebody said you have to pick one song that defines what Toto really is, I would say that the penultimate song, even though it’s been played to death, is “Rosanna.” Everybody shines in that song. It shows the great solos, the great production, and each musician has a signature. It was the 1983 Grammy Record of the Year on the Album of the Year (Toto IV). It has every aspect about what is good about our band. If somebody had never heard of Toto and wanted to hear something by us, I would direct them to that song only because everybody gets to shine. And it’s got a really great hook, it’s infectious. It was played live and there’s a lot of improvisation in there that people aren’t aware of. It was produced really well. You have the great Steve Pocaro (keyboard) solo that nobody could ever do. You’ve got all my stuff that was played live. You’ve got the iconic Jeff Pocaro drum groove. You’ve got me and Bobby Kimball (former lead singer) singing. David Paich (keyboardist on health hiatus) wrote a great song and his playing on that was great. That would be it. I know it’s a little obvious.
There’s also a lot of deep cut stuff. I like our more proggy, weird stuff. That’s just cuz I’m a musician. Our hardcore fans love all the stuff that’s not the hits. But you gotta play the hits for the people who are either curious or they wanna come see and hear their favorite song. So, we try to do two hours of all that. And this Forty Trips tour is all about playing stuff from every era. We try to play at least one song off of every record we’ve ever done. And the 40th anniversary is now the 43rd anniversary. So you can see we’ve been on the road a lot.
It’s going to be fun to end up on this last U.S. tour and wave goodbye in Philadelphia on October 20th. I’m flying home on my birthday, October 21st, which is rather ironic. And it’s time for us to go and do other stuff. I can’t predict 5 years from now, but I can say that right now that’s pretty much the feeling amongst us all. That’s why we’re going to be even more motivated to play our asses off up there. So if you liked us, and you want to see us, now would be a good time.
JS: I’m really looking forward to Toto’s performance at the historic Orpheum Theater in Madison Wisconsin on September 29th.
SL: We’re gonna come kick some ass for you. I promise you it’s going to be a great show, memorable. People will go, wow, that was worth the money to go see these guys. That was really good.
Photo credits: Toto, Lawrence DiMarzio