Luke's Transition

28 February 2013 | 11:24 am | Greg Phillips

"It fucked me up. I thought, I don’t want my kids to ever find me like that. I love you mum (looks to the sky), all is forgiven. It maybe saved everybody’s life. It was the point where I went, that’s it... stubbed out the cigarette, put the beer away and never went back.”

More Steve Lukather More Steve Lukather

Some interviews just start off bizarrely. I'm in American guitar legend Steve Lukather's Melbourne hotel room. He's playing the guitar intro to Ringo Starr's It Don't Come Easy to me. He's doing so because I told him I was disappointed that the night before, during the Ringo's All Starr Band gig, they'd started the song with saxophone. “No, bullshit I played it,” he firmly states as he plays the riff. “I'm gunna bust the sound guy's ass tonight.”

Steve Lukather has been a professional guitar player for four decades, knows good sound and expects every gig to be perfect for the audience. His fervency on the matter this morning may have come about due to a sonic disaster at a Toto gig just a few weeks earlier at Disneyland which was streamed live around the world. “That was brutal man,” he recalls. “We had a hundred-channel changeover and the board zeroed out, monitors and front-of-house. Everything just went.”

The reason for today's interview, however, was not to discuss front-of-house sound disasters, but to chat about Luke's new solo album, Transition, which was released in late January. Transition is Lukather's seventh solo record and he's proudly passionate about it. For a player of his calibre though, it would be easy to assume that it would be a showcase for his guitar skills. In reality it's a revealing, quality singer-songwriter album. “I have done the Larry Carlton record, which we won a Grammy for. That is jam band kind of stuff,” he explains. “So I can scratch that itch but at the same time there are guys who do it so much better. You've got Jeff Beck, Satch, Vai, Guthrie Govan ... ridiculously insane musicians. My strength is that I sing and I write too.”

Although Luke was in a playful mood this morning and laughed off the sonic disasters we spoke of earlier, the tone turned a little more serious when discussing the inner demons that formed the basis of Transition's subject matter. “You write about what you know... your life and the people that affect you. That's what songwriters do. Ironically some of the saddest things in life connect with the most amount of people.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Despite the joys and perks of belonging to an international hit band as Luke does in Toto, his personal life featured much sadness. “I was drinking all the time because the hangovers were so bad. Thirty-six years of Saturday night, every night will get to you.”

One day Luke decided enough was enough. It took a dreadfully sad experience to knock some sense into him but he's been clean for four years now. “My mother was an alcoholic,” he explains. “Me and my eldest son found her on Father's Day, dead on the couch with the most horrific, scared, terrified, look... frozen, orange from jaundice with a vodka and a cigarette at noon. It fucked me up. I thought, I don't want my kids to ever find me like that. I love you mum (looks to the sky), all is forgiven. It maybe saved everybody's life. It was the point where I went, that's it... stubbed out the cigarette, put the beer away and never went back.”

Luke has culled much from his life. It's a philosophy that even applies to his use of music gear, especially in the recording of Transition. “It's pretty clean these days. I used the new [signature] Luke III guitar from MusicMan with the DiMarzio pickups. It's a beautiful guitar in blue. I'm lovin' that. Dudley Gimpel [at MusicMan] has been making guitars for me going back to the Valley Arts days in the late '70s and early '80s. He knows what I like. He took my favourite guitar from that era and put the neck on a computerised thing and they got that right. We changed the look and the body is one third bigger. On Transition, I plugged into a Bogner Ecstasy and that was all I used. I used the plug-ins for any 'verbs, delays or any weird effecty thing or I would double a part. I dialled back the gain a little bit. I am not trying to keep up with the ridiculous abilities of the youngsters today. I'm about trying to play interesting phrases and notes. I just plugged the cable into the amp with a volume pedal. I have always been a volume pedal guy. I got that from the Larry Carlton old studio guys.I just use two Bogner's Exctasys in stereo and I got stomp boxes on the floor, which I change all the time. I was a slave to all that other shit for so long. It broke one time too many. I ended up on G3 last year with nothin' but a Boss delay and a Tube Screamer and that was it. I swore off all that stuff almost like the booze.

While billed as a solo album, Lukather is keen to give credit to his co-writing partner and co-producer of the album, CJ Vanston. “He worked really hard on this album. We'd sit down and within an hour or so we would have the structure of a song, the riff and the form or melody or maybe a song title. I'll go OK, that's enough, I'm going home to think about some of these words. He'll go, you do that and I'll mess around here while you are gone. He'll put a rough little drum part down or bass or something. I'll come back the next day and it's like a half produced record. Everybody compresses the shit out of records and quadruple track power chords on every fucking song. Every record begins to sound the same. So we created this atmosphere shit and I thought, this is cool. It's not like we're trying to write a hit to follow what Beyonce's doing or something.”