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Exclusive: TOTO's Steve Lukather on why he prefers music to sports

Modified 20 Dec 2019, 23:01 IST

Steve Lukather at the 2019 NAMM Show
Steve Lukather at the 2019 NAMM Show's 34th Annual NAMM TEC Awards

As the founding guitarist of the legendary rock band TOTO, Steve Lukather has sold over 40 million albums, played and sang of dozens of charting singles, and won a few Grammys. Yet TOTO is only one facet of Lukather's long career, as he has contributed to more than 1,500 albums -- including Michael Jackson's Thriller -- beyond being a key member of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band for the last seven years.

While TOTO hasn't slowed down in recent years, 2018 was a big year for the band. In the midst of its 40 Trips Around the Sun Tour -- which celebrated the band's 40th anniversary -- Weezer recorded studio versions of two of TOTO's hits, "Africa" and "Rosanna." Meanwhile, Lukather kept busy with preparing the All In box set, which includes 17 LPs and 13 CDs, and promoting his memoir The Gospel According To Luke.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lukather -- who fans and friends generally refer to as "Luke" -- by phone, and sports-related highlights from that chat are below. The full interview will be broadcast later this month on an episode of the Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz podcast, while more on Luke's various projects can be found online at and

Growing up, were sports a big deal to you? Or was it always music for you?

Steve Lukather: I was terrible at sports, man. I was bullied unmercifully as a child. I was really small, shy, super-skinny and terrible at sports. And believe me, they didn't let me forget it. I was tortured on the school bus every day and it was a brutal, man.

The guitar saved my life when I got one and I figured out how to play it. It just started to come naturally to me and then I became a sponge. I loved hanging out with a bunch of older kids because they wanted me to be in their band, and that kind of threw me to the deep end into a lot of things a little kid probably shouldn't see so early in life...

I was never really a "little" kid in the sense of once I strapped a guitar on, I had found my place on Planet Earth. My grandmother -- my mom's mom -- was a bit of a new-ager... She had some pretty wacky friends. I was born in 1957. So one of her friends was a psychic at the time, which was really considered taboo, and she put her hand on my mom's pregnant stomach when she was 19 and told them, "Your son is going to be a musician." That was pretty weird, and here I am.

Did you ever get to come full circle on the jocks by playing the national anthem at a sporting event?


Steve Lukather: No... To me that's a real touchy thing. Jimi [Hendrix] did the definitive guitar version [of the American national anthem] in my opinion, and everybody that straps on an electric guitar after that is just doing an impression of Jimi -- usually some good and some not so good.

I don't see the national anthem as a rock star pose, myself. I love it when somebody sings it great and sings that melody without over-riffage, you know? I think it's almost cartoons it when you do it. Jimi was doing it a time when it actually meant something and no one had ever done it. Before it was considered "Whoa, that was pretty heavy." It was a political statement about the Vietnam War and it meant something at the time. Now it's almost like a Spinal Tap thing to me. I would never do it.

Plus, nobody at a sporting event cares about your guitar playing -- "We want to watch the game." Also playing the Super Bowl, that could be career-ending, and it has been career-ending for some cats. (laughs) One bad [sound] mix and it goes out to a billion people. That's a risky roll of the dice, you know?

Published 12 May 2019, 08:53 IST
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