Steve Lukather, Co-Founder Of Grammy-Winning Band TOTO, Talks About His New Solo Album And His Classic Hit Songs

Steve Lukather
Steve Lukather

Steve Lukather has had a legendary career as a Grammy-winning artist, hit songwriter and exceptional guitar player. Perhaps best known as co-founder and longtime member of the multi-platinum band TOTO, he has also collaborated with many superstar artists and made musical contributions to their classic recordings.

During the past decade, Lukather has devoted most of his time to recording & touring with TOTO, and touring with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. However, in the past year he has focused on writing & recording a new solo album. Last month, he released his album, I Found The Sun Again (via The Players Club/Mascot Label Group), and he chose to release it on the same day (Feb. 26) that his close friend & TOTO member, Joseph Williams, released his own album (Denizen Tennant).

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with Steve Lukather of TOTO, about the making of his new solo album, I Found The Sun Again, and his collaboration with TOTO member, Joseph Williams.

For his new album, Lukather co-wrote five songs, and he decided to record new cover versions of three older songs. Of the new songs, one of the highlights is the fun uptempo cut “Run To Me,” which features lead vocals by Lukather and Joseph Williams, and drums played by Ringo Starr. Another excellent song is “I Found The Sun Again,” which is a positive, heartfelt ballad.

For the three cover songs, a standout is Lukather’s new version of the classic Traffic song, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” This 10-minute version gives him plenty of space to showcase his superb guitar playing. Another key song is his cover of Joe Walsh’s rock tune, “Welcome To The Club.”

I Found The Sun Again features guest performances by several of Lukather’s collaborators and friends. His TOTO bandmate David Paich plays piano and organ on several cuts, and other musicians include Greg Bissonette (drums), Jorgen Carlsson and John Pierce (bass), and Jeff Babko (keyboards). The album was co-produced and engineered by Ken Freeman.

Here’s the video of Steve Lukather’s song “Run To Me,” that
features Ringo Starr and Joseph Williams.

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Lukather. But before we get started, here’s a rundown of his extensive credits as an artist, songwriter and musician.

For over four decades, Lukather has been the lead guitarist and one of the lead singers and songwriters for TOTO. He co-wrote and sang lead on two of their big hits: “I Won’t Hold You Back” and “I’ll Be Over You.” He has also made major contributions to all of their albums, including their five platinum or gold albums: TOTO (1978); Hydra (1979); TOTO IV (1982); Isolation (1984); and Fahrenheit, (1986).

TOTO’s most popular and acclaimed album was TOTO IV, which was certified triple platinum. The album also received six Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year (for their hit, “Rosanna”) and Producer of the Year.

As a songwriter, Lukather also co-wrote hits for other artists. He co-wrote “Turn Your Love Around” for George Benson, which won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. He also co-wrote “She’s A Beauty” for The Tubes and “Miss Sun” for Boz Scaggs.

In addition to his credits as an artist and songwriter, Lukather is known for playing guitar on many other classic hits. He played guitar (along with Eddie Van Halen) on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” He also played key guitar parts on hits for Lionel Richie (“Running With The Night”), Don Henley (“Dirty Laundry”), and Stevie Nicks (“Stand Back”).

Steve Lukather Interview

Here is our interview with Steve Lukather:

DK: You’ve just released your solo album, I Found the Sun Again. Can you talk about the making of this album?

Steve Lukather: The making of the album is different from the way most people do it these days, because I wanted to do it all live. So we went in the studio, and I wanted to recall the early ‘70s vibe when we cut it. I wanted to get guys in the studio—no rehearsals, no demos, no click tracks, no computers. I said, “Let’s just go out there and play this stuff.” Do all the solos live. So we did a song a day, and I did the vocals at night. The album was done in eight days and then we mixed it.

Here’s the video of Steve Lukather’s new song, “I Found
The Sun Again.”

DK: When did you record the album?

Lukather: It was last February, 2020. I had to sit on the album for awhile because with Covid, nobody knew what to do. So now it’s coming out and Joseph Williams’ album came out the same day. And the reviews have been amazing and the presales are looking great. So hey, knocking on wood.

DK: You timed the release of your album with Joseph Williams’ album. Can you discuss your collaboration and friendship with Joseph?

Lukather: Well, I’ve known Joe since he was 14 and I was 17, and I was in a band with his older brother. Joe was a singer and he was always a crazy man…I always loved him. Then when he joined TOTO in the ‘80s, we had two multi-platinum records with him. And for the last 11 years, he’s been with us.

When we decided that the end of  TOTO was going to happen in October 2019, Joseph and I were the only ones who wanted to keep working. He was already working on a solo album, and I said, “I’ve gotta do something. But I’ve gotta do something weird…not just a solo album that’s full of songs that maybe should be on a TOTO record.

My record company said, “Please play more guitar on this record.” It was their only input to me. I’m not trying to compete with the kids today and have a big hit record. I’ve experienced that…it was wonderful. And you know, these songs still play—thank God, knock wood. But if I’m doing a solo record, I asked myself…What are you gonna do, and what are you gonna say? So I thought…Let’s try to do something that’s as honest as possible and put it out there and stretch out. I wanted to jam on the record, but I wanted to jam in the context of really great songs.

We did the album old school, where we play it live and it’s real. I plugged in with my live rig and I just played one guitar and we did the whole record. I got to stretch out and say…Screw it. I’m goin’ for it. We didn’t want to overproduce the record. There was very minimal overdubs.

DK: I like your new song “Run To Me” that features Joseph Williams and Ringo Starr. How did that song come together?

Here’s a video of Steve Lukather & TOTO performing their hit,
“I Won’t Hold You Back.”

Lukather: That was for Ringo’s 80th birthday last summer. We couldn’t have a party for him, and I’ve been in the All-Starrs for nine years, so it was suggested that we all send him a video or a song or a greeting. So David Paich, Joseph Williams and I wrote him a song. Then Ringo heard it, and I said, “You’ve gotta play drums on this.” So we brought it up to his house and filmed him playing. Then we put it out in July just for a goof, because if you listen to the rest of my album, it’s a very oddball pop song. But at the same time, that’s part of who I am. And it’s a song about our daughters. So I thought it was a nice addition to the record.

DK: I also like your title song, “I Found The Sun Again,” which has a positive lyric theme. What inspired you to write this song?

Lukather: Well, I fell in love with a girl for the first time in 11 or 12 years.  It changed my life…things opened up. I was going through a real dark spot, with the old band falling apart, and legal stuff, and getting older and trying to figure out what’s next. And I knew I was going to do solo records, and then a new version of TOTO came out of the ashes. We put together a new band, with some new rhythm section guys, and we did a livestream in November, playing the old TOTO stuff and seeing how people would react to it. The reaction was incredible. So now we’re going to put it out as a DVD this summer, with a companion DVD explaining why we’re doing all this. David Paich is in it. And since Joe (Williams) and I played on and worked on each other’s record and David did too, there’s a hint of TOTO in all that.

DK: On your new album, you recorded three cover versions, and I like your version of Traffic’s song, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”

Lukather: Me too. I thought that would be a key one, to prove the point of wanting to do a jam on a great song. And I picked obscure ones that people today have either forgotten or don’t know at all.  With “Low Spark,” I wanted to play and stretch out. Everything doesn’t have to be three minutes. I do a lot of different things—I wanted to show off a few different sides.

Here’s the video of TOTO’s hit, “I’ll Get Over You.”

DK: You’re also known as a great guitar player. Are there certain guitar solos or parts you’ve done, that are among your favorites?

Lukather: Oh gosh, where do you want to start? One that gets a lot of attention is Lionel Richie’s “Running With The Night,” which I was just running through. I didn’t even know they were recording. They said at the end of it, “You’re done.” I was out of there in 10 minutes…it was pretty funny. So that one sticks out because I played all over it. That was memorable, but there were a lot of those. I played on “Dirty Laundry” with Don Henley and “Stand Back” for Stevie Hicks, and I did a lot of pop records. I did a lot of with Quincy Jones, and I worked with Michael Jackson, Chicago, Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Roger Waters.

DK: With TOTO, in 1982 you had a huge success with the album TOTO IV, which went multi-platinum and won several Grammy awards. Can you talk about that album and that period for the band?

Lukather: We were coming off the album Turn Back, which didn’t do that well. And the record company said, “If you don’t have a hit record, you guys are done.” That pressure was put on us. So we said, “Okay, we should go back to what we do best, instead of trying to be an arena rock band that nobody was interested in.” So we said, “Let’s go back and make a classic TOTO album and bring in the best songs. Do it the old school way. We got the great engineer Al Schmitt, and the first song we cut was “Rosanna.” And Dave brings in a song or I bring in a song or somebody brings in a song. That’s how we cut “I Won’t Hold You Back.” It was late and I was playing the piano part, and Jeff (Porcaro) was digging the tune and we were recording it. Then Dave (Paich) walked in and I said, “You should play the piano part on this.” So he learned my piano part and we made that track, and it turned into a big single.

DK: You also wrote another big hit for TOTO, the ballad “I’ll Be Over You.”

Lukather: Yeah, I wrote that with (hit songwriter) Randy Goodrum. I had a really good demo of it. We were actually going to write it for somebody else, and I played it for the guys (in TOTO) and they said, “No, we’ve gotta cut this,” because they thought it would be a hit. And of course, we made this great album (Fahrenheit)—it’s rockin’ with Joseph (Williams), and (jazz legend) Miles Davis is on it. Then the label wanted to put out the ballad (“I’ll Be Over You”) first. So that immediately cemented us into the soft rock world. We lost all of our credibility at radio and they stopped playing us.

Here’s a video of George Benson performing his hit “Turn Your
Love Around,” which was co-written by Steve Lukather.

DK: “I’ll Be Over You” was a great ballad.

Lukather: Well, it’s a great song. I’m not sorry for it. But it just bugs us. People would come see us live and go, “Wow, you guys are a real rock band.” Yeah we do it all. We can do prog, we can do pop, funk, jazz, and we play our style of music. And we have different singers and all this other stuff. So it’s kind of confusing to let’s say, a layman rock journalist, trying to figure us out. How can a band have “Hold The Line” and “Georgy Porgy” on the same record? And we have a silly name, so it was easy to pick on us. By today’s standard, the name TOTO is no more stupid than any of the other names out there (laughs).

DK: You’ve also written hit songs for other artists. I’ve always liked your song “Turn Your Love Around” for George Benson, and you won a Grammy for it. How did you write this song with Bill Champlin and Jay Graydon?

Lukather: Yeah man, that’s Jay Graydon, who’s one of my dearest friends, mentor, thrill seeker and godfather to my oldest son. He was producing George Benson and he said. “Hey man, you’ve gotta come over and help me write a song for George.” Well I had the whole piano riff—I brought that over to Jay’s and we finished it. Then Bill Champlin came over and wrote some words with us, and we did the demo that night. George loved it and the next thing you know, we won a Grammy for it. We had fun doing this.

DK: During the past year we’ve all experienced the pandemic and shutdown, and bands haven’t been able to tour. So when things open up, do you have plans to tour?

Lukather: We have big plans. I’ll be on tour with both TOTO and Ringo. The TOTO show is now going to be all the TOTO hits, plus deep cuts and some solo stuff. You’ll still hear all your favorite TOTO stuff with a kickass band. And I’ll be going on the road with Ringo, too. I’ve been doing that for about 10 years.

Here’s the link to Steve Lukather’s site:

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima