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  • Cheap Trick Knoxville 2014

    Cheap Trick
    October 08, 2014
    Tennessee Theater
    Knoxville, Tennessee

    Photo by James Patterson

         

    In my late teens, I clearly remember rocking out to Cheap Trick on the radio, with tunes like “Surrender,” “I Want You To Want Me,” and “Ain’t That A Shame” dominating the airwaves.

    It was all those memories from my youth that I was thrilled to catch this legendary band at the legendary and incredibly beautiful Tennessee Theater. I love catching shows there because of the acoustics and ambience. To see Cheap Trick perform on its historic stage made it all the more memorable.

    Blasting right out of the chute with, “Hello There,” the crowd was on their feet until the last note of the “Gonna Raise Hell” (the last song of their encore).  Hard. Steady. Relentless. Cheap Trick gave the crowd everything they wanted and more.

    Fan favorites like “Come On,” “Hot Love,” and “I Can’t Take It” followed the opener.  When Rick Nielsen introduced “Go To Heaven Tonight,” he informed the crowd that it was THE favorite of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, which sent everyone into one of the most enthusiastic applauses of the entire evening.

    There was a slightly inebriated gentleman a few seats down from me who, after every song, said in varying tones of his voice, “I Want You To

         

    Photo by James Patterson

    Want Me,” in a sad attempt to replicate Robin Zander’s immortalized phrase from the band’s live album. I was praying under my breath, “For

    the love of Budokan, would you guys play it so the guy will shut up?”  They did during the last eighth of the show.

    Throughout the show, Nielsen changed guitars, showing off pieces of his unique, historic collection. Equally as unique and intriguing was Tom Petersson’s twelve string bass. As the band was about to slide into “Surrender,” Nielsen throughout a signed, vinyl copy of the bands legendary “Cheap Trick At Budokan”.  Between all four members of the band, the show was an incredible night to remember.

    If you were a teen in the seventies and have never seen Cheap Trick perform live, you really do need to catch these guys. You’ll never forget it!

  • Kasim Sulton Talks About "3"

    May, 2015

         

    If you’re a hard core Todd Rundgren fan, then you’re familiar with Kasim Sulton. He was part of Todd’s band, Utopia, and is still an essential member of his current band.

    If you’re a current Blue Oyster Cult fan, you’ll know him as the bassist for the band since 2012.  Maybe you’re a Meat Loaf fan. If so, you’ll know Kasim’s work on the “Bat Out of Hell” album.  The multi-talented musician has also worked with Cheap Trick, Ricky Byrd, Celine Dion, Patty Smyth, Indigo Girls, Rick Derringer, Joan Jett and several others.

    Oh, and he’s cut a couple of solo albums of his own, the latest being “3” (reviewed by Boomerocity, here).

    I called Kasim at his home to discuss the making of “3.” But, before chatting about it, I asked what he had been up to lately. He and I passed each other backstage at Ringo’s Greenville, NC, concert back in February so I led in with asking what it was like playing with the former Beatle that night.

    “Well, I had played with Ringo before. It was a very, very long time ago. When I was in Utopia, we did a Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethon one year. They had this huge jam session set up when they were doing it out of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. I forget the theme of it, but there were probably twenty musicians at any given point. Utopia was kinda the house band for that. Ringo was there as was Bill Wyman, Kiki Dee, Dave Spencer, Dave Mason, Doug Kershaw on violin, Rick Derringer, and a few others I can’t bring to mind right now. During the course of the evening, Utopia did some performances by ourselves. Then we did a big jam session, and Ringo was in on the jam session. So I met and played with Ringo before, albeit thirty years ago. 

    “This time was the second time I got to play with him, and it was a little more intimate than ten minutes on stage playing ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’.

    Continuing , he added:

    “Yea, well, that’s a dream gig. Todd’s been doing it for three years, and so has Luke. When a Beatle calls, you answer. You say ‘yes’ no matter what. I had some Blue Ȫyster Cult shows that were coming up that week, and I was a little concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to make the Blue Ӧyster Cult shows. I do about forty or fifty shows with Blue Ӧyster Cult in the course of a year, but they tend to get a little pissy when you miss a show. But if there is anything I was going to miss a show for, it would be because Ringo called and asked me to come in.”

    As for the other things occupying Sulton’s schedule, he said:

    “I have some solo shows coming up this week actually. I leave tomorrow. I have a show in Atlanta on Wednesday; Nashville on Thursday; Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday; and Greenville, South Carolina, on Saturday. I’ve just been prepping for these shows, and getting ready to pile in my car and take a little road trip. 

    “It’s a real fun show. I make you feel like you’re sitting in your own living room. It’s good. It’s a nice sixty to ninety minutes of some stories and my songs. I do a lot of the new record, probably two-thirds of it, and some Utopia songs. I do some songs from other artists that I’m particularly enamored of.”

    Kasim said this about the reception to his CD, “3”:

    “I did an initial round of press the first couple months. I gotta tell you I didn’t get a lukewarm review in the bunch. It’s really great to see press people, journalists, people like you that are really drawn to it, appreciate it, and aren’t afraid to say this is a really great record. I worked really, really hard. It took me a lot longer than I had expected it to take, because I had some personal issues that happened during the recording of it. With each successive song that I finished, I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t bad. This is gonna be good.’ Then I’d finish another song, and I’d say, ‘Wow, another good song. Ok, great.’ It kinda gave me the courage, the stamina, and the fortitude to push on and make it as good as I possibly could. Even down to the very last steps of mastering and the final mixes, I paid a lot more attention to detail than I ever have on any project I have worked on over the past forty years.”

    He then shared his perspective of the album.

    “I started the record in 2009, I think. I take an inordinate amount of time in between solo projects. I do solo shows pretty regularly and have been doing them since 2000. But records take so

       

    much time, so much energy, so much effort and money. I can’t always block out the proper amount of time that it takes to put one together. I released a record in 2002, and I toured behind it. When I say tour, I did like a couple dozen shows a year along with my other work. At that time, I was heavily involved with Meatloaf, and I was working with Meatloaf probably eight months out of the year. The other four I spend with my family and at home writing. 

    “Come 2009, I was in England, and I had some time off. I had a writing partner in London who’s a very good friend of mine- a guy by the name of Phil Thornalley. I went over to his studio on a day off and said, ‘I’m thinking about putting another record together. Do you think you want to write something?’ 

    “We came up with the first song for the record, and that was actually the first track, ‘Fell In Love For The Last Time’. It just kinda grew from there. I didn’t know where it was going to go. I didn’t know what direction it would take. I didn’t know how many songs would or wouldn’t be on the record. I just continued to write, and with each successive song, I was like, ‘This is going to be okay. This is going to be good’. Most of my material, as witnessed on this record, is very introspective. I don’t necessarily write songs about stuff that I haven’t had experience with. For instance, a song like ‘Clocks All Stopped’ which is the second track from the first single of the record, was my vain attempt at trying to write a song that Utopia might still be recording if we were still together. I co-wrote that one with Phil as well. 

    “The next song, I think, is ‘Watching The World Go By’. It’s my take on my life. ‘The Traveler’ is another one. If I’m in a conversation with someone who doesn’t know me, my history, or what line of work I’m in, and they ask me what I do for a living, invariably I say, ‘I travel’. More than anything else, I’ll travel fourteen hours to work for an hour and a half. So really, most of my life is about traveling, ergo, ‘The Traveler’.

    “Most of the songs, if not all of the songs on the record, are very much about me and my life and how I look at the world. That’s how I put a record together.”

    Sulton then answered a question that he’s had to have been asked a bijillion times: why the title, “3?”

    “It’s my third proper solo record. There’s a couple others floating around the world. There’s a record that I released in 2008 called ‘All Sides’, but that’s a compilation with two or three new songs on it. Most of the songs on that record are songs that had already been released or recorded prior by other people. I had a bunch of demos that I thought might be nice for people to hear, so I put together that record. That’s why it’s a two CD record.

    “The one prior to that was called, ‘The Basement Tapes’, again demos with one or two new songs. So when you come right down to it, my first solo record was in ’80 or ’81 on EMI. My next one was ‘Quid Pro Quo’Then, this one which is my third proper solo record. Also, three is a pretty cool number. It shows up a lot in the universe. It’s body, mind, and spirit; thought, word, and deed; the holy trinity; earth, wind, and fire (not the band, the elements). Three is a good number for me. It just made sense, rather than try to come up with some title like, ‘The Secret Life of Robins and Other Miscellaneous Bullsh*t’, I’d just stamp it with that ‘3’.”

    When I asked if he had ran into any surprises in the making of the album, Kasim opened up a little about the personal side of his life during the recording process.

    “I lost my wife about a year and a half into recording it. We had been married about thirty-one years. I stopped recording for a year while I took care of her. She got sick first. The following six months after she passed away was just me trying to get my life back on track- with my children, being at home, being a single parent- so that threw a monkey wrench in finishing the record. 

    “I quit Meatloaf in 2010. I stopped working with him. That was kinda weird, because prior to that, we had been on the road for a good eight months out of any given year. Six to eight months were with Meatloaf, plus work with other people. I’d go out for a couple months with Todd. My year was really busy up until 2010. Everything rained down at once- my wife being sick, leaving Meatloaf, her passing away, trying to get back to finishing up the record. 

    “I got this brilliant idea that it’d be great to put everybody’s picture on the cover of the record. I solicited the fans and said, ‘For sixty bucks, I’ll put your picture on the cover of the record. I’ll send you a CD and a poster as well as enter you into a contest for me to come play at your house’. I got about three hundred submissions, and the server I was storing all the pictures on crashed. I had to beg people to please re-send their pictures. It was a nightmare.

         

    “Prior to this record, most of my solo work I’ve done by myself. I do all the programming, all the engineering, all the production. I play most of the guitars, bass, drums, keyboards. I thought it would be really nice to have other musicians on this particular record. That presented a little problem, because I was making phone calls to people like Greg Hawkes, Andy Timmons, Todd Rundgren, Roger Powell, Willy Wilcox, and Mark Rivera. I was farming tracks out for people to put their particular expertise on- that was pretty interesting. For instance, when I sent Todd the track for him to play on, I sent it to him in July of 2012. He didn’t send in back until January 2013. You don’t want to be a pest and say, ‘Hey Todd, where’s that track I sent you? Are you EVER going to finish it?’ It’s a favor, so I have to be patient and wait for him to have a free moment to work on my record. 

    “With Roger, I had to actually fly to San Francisco and go into a buddy studio to have him come in and play on it. He didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Look, please. I’ll fly to San Francisco. I’ll bring the tapes with me. We can sit down, do it in the afternoon, and I’ll take you dinner that night.’ That worked with him. 

    “This is the first record since 1992 that all four Utopia members are on. I really wanted to have that little feather in my cap. People like Andy Timmons who is probably one of the best guitar players in the country… he is just the sweetest guy in the whole world. He is a big fan of mine, and I said, ‘Andy, would you like to play on the song?’ He said, ‘Yeah, absolutely!’, so I sent him the track. He recorded two passes at a solo and sent it back to me. It just wasn’t what I was hearing, so I then I go back and say, ‘Can you do it just a little bit more like this?’ 

    “This is what separates this record from my prior solo records. In the past, I might have said, ‘That’s great! Thanks!’ and moved on. I didn’t. I needed to feel like it was right. That was a big thing for me. Even when it came to the mixing process, I thought, ‘You know what? I need outside input on this record, so I’m going to send it out’. I had a couple other people mix the record for me.”

    I never ask an artist what their favorite song is on an album because it’s like picking heir favorite child. However, I did ask Sulton which song he would using a “calling card,” so to speak, to introduce it to people who might not be familiar with his work.

    “It’s very strange. There are songs on that record that I think are really strong, and there are songs on the record that I think are just good songs. One of the songs that I thought was one of the strongest tends to be a song that people gloss over. They’re not drawn to it, and I was a little surprised. 

    “I think at the end of the day, probably the first two tracks are indicative of what the rest of the record is like. I think ‘Fell In Love For The Last Time’ and ‘Clocks All Stopped’ really are the songs that, to me, best represent the entire record. They’re strong songs, good songs. They’re likeable and hummable. People seem to enjoy them.”

    Being very impressed with who all Kasim pulled in to work on the album with him – some whom I’ve had the privilege of interviewing (Mark Rivera as well as knowing and interviewing Andy Timmons) I asked how was it to work with such an arsenal of diverse and amazing talent like those guys and the others.

    “Just the simple fact that all of those fifteen other musicians that are on the record, when I asked if they’d be interested, they said, ‘Are you kidding me? Of course! Just send me the track’ or ‘I’ll be over on Tuesday’. 

    “It’s one thing to have the acceptance, the accolades, the great reviews from fans and people in the music/journalism/radio business saying, ‘Oh, this is a really great record. Thank you very much for it’. It’s another thing to be accepted and get those same accolades from your peers. To me, it is the ultimate compliment to have other people I grew up listening to and people I think are the top in their field say, ‘This is a good record, Kasim. I’m really proud to be on it. Thank you so much’. 

    “I’m very proud to have the career that I’ve had and to have that caliber of people playing on the record. I wish I would have gotten Luke to play on it. That would have been great.”

    In comparing work on “3” to all of the other albums he’s worked on over his long career, Sulton said: 

    “The difference between this record and any record I’ve worked on in the past was my attention to detail. I pained over every lyric, every note, every part, and every mix. I mastered the record once with one guy and hated it. I had it re-mastered by Greg Calby here in New York. I just did not want to leave anything on the table. 

    “Even with a record like ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ which we did in 1977, we rehearsed for about two weeks. Then we went into the studio and cut the tracks within a week. You didn’t look back. There was no, ‘Should we try it again? Should we try it this way? Should we slow it down or speed it up? Should we take this section out?’ It was just like, ‘Ok, next!’ Most records are done like that. You don’t want to make it seem like it’s the last time you’re ever going to record. If you don’t get something right on this record, well, you’ll get it right on the next one.

    “Again, on this record, I just would not leave anything to chance. I just wanted to make sure there were no stones unturned, nothing I wish I did that I didn’t do. The only way to explain it is I worked really hard, and I don’t like to work.”

    Sulton has seen a ton of changes in the music industry in his long career. I asked him what are the most positive and negative changes he’s seen in the industry over the years.

    “I think there are a lot of reasons the music industry is in the shape it’s in. A lot of it is the caliber of music that’s available today. My son is nineteen, and my daughter is twenty-four. My

         

    nineteen-year-old has never bought a record. When I was nineteen, I must have had five hundred records at home that I’d bought over the years. He’s never bought any music, and I scream at him all the time about downloading or using YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, whatever. I say, ‘You’re taking money off your own plate, dude. Don’t do that. I gotta pay the mortgage!’ A guy named Jimmy Bralower produced Mark’s record ‘Common Bond’ which I love and am on, actually. He says, ‘You know, it used to be that water was free, and you paid for music. Now, music is free, and you have a water bill every month!’

    “I don’t want to complain, because at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s not going to change. It’s the Wild West. There are no rules. Anything goes. By the same token, any kid with a laptop can sit down and make a record. It didn’t used to be like that. It used to be that you had to go in the studio, come up with at least a $50,000 budget, then hopefully come up with something the record company likes. It doesn’t matter anymore. Now, you almost don’t even want a record company. It’s the surest way not to make any money, but there are some advantages of having a machine behind you. I don’t have that machine. Everything is on my shoulders. Everything I do has to come from me, from the album design to calling musicians to turning on my studio here at home and recording. It’s a lot easier to reach a vast amount of people, but it’s a lot harder to get them to pony up ten or fifteen bucks for a CD. 

    “These days it’s all about live performances. It’s all about going out, playing live, and getting fans one at a time. That’s not so different than it used to be. Radio is still really important. You get a song on the radio. If it gets picked up, and people gravitate to it, there is still nothing better for you promotion-wise. But it costs a ridiculous amount of money to get a record on radio. If you have a small budget like I did for this record, I hired a publicist, and I got a bunch of great reviews and interviews. It’s still about trying to get people excited and jazzed and talking about it. It’s a monumental task. That’s why I’m going out and doing shows in Atlanta, Charlotte, Greenville, and Nashville. I’ll probably do some more later on in the summer. There’s good, and there’s bad. Like I said, at the end of the day, you can’t complain. It just is what it is.

    “Sirius has been great to me. A guy by the name of Mike Marrone, the program director at The Loft, is a fan of mine. He heard the record and said, ‘Kasim, I love the record, and we’re going to play it’. I did a live show at the Sirius XM studios. They broadcast out about a half dozen times over the course of a month. That kind of stuff is invaluable. But, unless you have anywhere between $50,000-$100,000 to get your record on the radio, terrestrial radio isn’t going to play it. They have forty records they play over and over again. Classic rock doesn’t want to touch it, because they’re busy playing ‘Stairway To Heaven’. You’re really between a rock and a hard place.”

    I choked at the dollar amounts that it takes to get a song on the radio and asked if they didn’t used to call that payola.

    “They still do! In my book, it still is. You hire a radio promo guy. He services three hundred stations around the country. A good radio promo guy is $10,000 a month.

    “These days, what you want is a song and a television show. You want to be on Grey’s Anatomy. You want to be on Shameless or The Big Bang Theory. You get a song on one of those TV shows, and that opens a huge amount of doors to go from there. That’s the kind of validation you want these days.”

    I asked Kasim what he would do to fix the music industry if he were named music czar – or if he thought it even needed fixing. 

    “I read an article not too long ago that said Jon Bon Jovi is responsible for ruining the music industry. The article went on to blame, using Jon Bon Jovi as an example, corporate rock, lackluster dreck. I disagree with that. I don’t think Jon ruined the music industry. I think Steve Jobs did. I think iTunes and YouTube ruined the music industry by making it free. I’m not saying that fifteen dollar CDs are the way to go or that music should be expensive. By all means, it shouldn’t be. But if you don’t have to buy something, why bother buying it? Pharrell did an interview where he said his song was streamed 45 million times from Spotify or Pandora, one of those services. He got a check for $2,500 from that. What we’re talking about is the bottom line of money. And it really isn’t about money. It’s not. 

    “I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to start to fix the music industry. I just think it’s about good music. Maybe there should be some kind of forum or something where Jimmy Iovine says, ‘These are the records everybody is listening to these days. Let’s support these artists’.  When something new comes out, there would be a panel of people just like you, other writers… even though David Fricke refused to review my album. He said it didn’t wow him. You know who Bob Lefsetz is, right? Well, a good friend of mine, Glen Burtnik, did a record about ten years ago called ‘Palookaville’. It’s a great record. Somehow, Bob got a hold of it and wrote one of his entire newsletters on how amazing this record was. I called Glen and said, ‘Hey Glen, after Bob did the newsletter on your record, did it reflect in sales at all?’ He wrote back two words: ‘No way.’ The Lefsetz Letter goes out to probably 20-30,000 people, I would imagine, but it’s all industry people. What you want to do is get to people like my daughter, the 24-year-olds. But she’s not listening to me- I’m 59 years old! The last thing she’s going to do is pick up a record from 59 year old.”

    I would pay some nominal amount to access YouTube. I don’t listen to Spotify or Pandora, but if I were to, I would pay $20 a year to listen to those if it was important to me. I posited to Sulton if the solution is simple math- taking a percentage of that income (a recognized percentage, say 35% across the top) then prorate the income from that to those who are getting the most activity. 

    “It sounds like an accounting nightmare, but maybe what the solution would be is to take it a step further with a YouTube music channel. For access to the music channel, you pay a premium of twenty bucks a year or whatever. Any music videos on that channel, in order to access it, you have to pay a yearly fee. Then again, what’s to stop somebody from taking that video, copying it, and putting it out on a free site? It becomes this vicious circle. It’s never going to change. The thing to try to do is how to survive and make a living doing what you do with the landscape the way it is currently. That is merchandise: CDs, t-shirts, what have you, and live shows.”

    Kasim then shared what is on his career radar for the next year to five years.

    “Right now, it’s the shows I have coming up and doing as good a show as I possibly can do for the people who come to see me. I’m putting in some more shows after that. I don’t know where. Usually, I go to Chicago, Cleveland, stuff like that. I love playing those places. I have a pretty decent following in those places. I have some more Blue Ӧyster Cult shows coming up later this month and in May/June. I’ll be busy doing that on the weekends. They’re weekend warriors. For the rest of the year, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking maybe I need to do another record right away. I will probably, at some point over the next six months, sit down and try to put together the beginnings of my next record, even thought I just cringe at the thought. It just takes so much work. 

         

    “As far as my five year plan goes, I turn sixty this year. I was with my family yesterday for Easter. My brother-in-law who is married to my sister will be sixty two months later. We’re going to go to Jerusalem. I’ve never been. I’ve been to the Middle East, but only Dubai. We were talking about going to Cuba: ‘Cuba will be great! We’ll just lay on the beach for three or four days.’ Who doesn’t want to go to Cuba? Then I thought about Jerusalem. He’s like, ‘That’s it! That’s where we’re going.’ So we’re talking about going this year for our sixtieth birthdays.

    “Five years? I don’t know. Hopefully, I’ll still be able to do live shows and doing this. I can’t imagine I’d be doing anything else, because it’s a little late in life to become a plumber. I always threaten myself, ‘You know what? I’m going to just give it all up, sell everything, and I’m going back to DeVry to become an air conditioning technician.’ But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.”

    I like to ask this question of people who have been in the business a long time – and I never intend it to be a macabre one but I wanted to know: once Kasim’s stepped off the tour bus of life for the final time and is at the great gig in the sky (to borrow a line from Pink Floyd), how does he want to be remembered and what do he hope his legacy will be?

    “That’s a good question. The greatest thing for me is that I have a body of work that will live on well after I’m gone. I’ve been on some great records that will always be available for people to hear. I have worked with some of the best people in the music industry- past, present, and hopefully in the future. I’m not a Beatle. I’m not a Rolling Stone. I wasn’t in Led Zeppelin. I’m not Leonard Bernstein. I haven’t yet written a song that millions of people can sing the lyrics to. The pleasure and the honor is in the journey. My journey has been long, and it’s not over. There’s still a lot to do. I’d love to write a song that everybody knows, so I’m going to keep trying.”

  • Steve Lukather Talks About TOTO XIV

    March, 2015

    Photo by Heather Porcaro

         

    If you’re a music aficionado at all, you’ve heard of Toto and are familiar with their mega huge hits like “Africa,” Rosanna,” “99,” “I Won’t Hold You Back,” “I’ll Be Over You,” and many other hits.

    What you may not be aware of are these absolutely amazing statistics:

    •They have recently celebrated their 35th anniversary as a band

    •Have sold over 35 million albums

    •Band members were South Park characters, while Family Guy did an entire episode on the band’s hit “Africa.” 

    •Collectively, the members of the band of made their mark on over 5,000 different albums that total a half billion units in record sales

    •It’s been estimated that 95% of the world’s population has heard a performance by a band member of TOTO

    The band is releasing their first studio album of new material in ten years entitled, “TOTO XIV.”  I recently chatted with founding member, guitarist and vocalist, Steve Lukather (“Luke”), about the album. I contacted him at his hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama, while he was on the road performing with Ringo Starr (yeah, THE Ringo Starr).

    Luke accounts for much of the previously mentioned statistics. He’s contributed to approximately 2,000 albums for artists such as Michael Jackson (including much of the “Thriller” album), Rod Stewart, Miles Davis, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Roger Waters, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Larry Carlton and countless others. 

    Before discussing the new album, I asked Luke what he’s been up to.

    “Well, I’m out with Ringo right now, and I just started. This is, like, day three or something like that. It’s going great! I’ve been working on promoting the album, and I’m kinda managing the band and getting the tour together. It’s like juggling a chainsaw, razorblade, and a toothpick at the same time. But I’m doing ok.”

    When asked about TOTO XIV, he said:

    “I never thought we’d do another record, actually. When we got back together in 2010, it was to help our brother, Mike Porcaro, with some of his medical bills. He’s been tragically hit with ALS, and sadly, he’s really not doing well right now. It’s eight years into it, and it’s a tragic, horrible, insidious, cruel disease. That was hard. 

    “We decided to help him in 2010. We put the band back together with the high school brothers- Joseph Williams, Steve Porcaro, myself, and David Paich. We did a tour, and it was really a lot of fun. It was like the band had been reincarnated, and Joseph came back so strong as a singer. He didn’t go on the road and burn his voice out. He was doing television and film for twenty years as a composer along with a few solo albums here and there. But when he came back to the stage, his voice was incredibly strong, and it just kept getting stronger. We did a couple summer tours to help Mike, and we all have bills to pay so everybody wins. 

    “When we decided to do the 35th anniversary DVD, we found out that one of our ex-managers had signed something saying if we ever do anything, we have to deliver a studio album. At first, we sort of fought that, but our lawyers said ‘Look, you should make the freakin’ record.’ 

    “So we all looked at each other and said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we gotta do a really good one. We can’t just phone it in and make this a fulfillment of an obligation.’ 

    “We figured we owed it to the people who have been supporting us for forty years, so we need to come up with something really good. It’s been ten years since we sat down to write a record, so we dug deep. We decided if we were going to do this, we were going to go for it, really go for it. We wanted to dispel the myth that the album is dead, and old guys can’t write music. We said, ‘f*** that- we’re gonna go for it.’ 

    “We spent ten months in the studio making this record. What you hear is the result of blood, sweat, soul, tears, laughter, pain, screaming, arguing, hugging, and working. To me, I figure it’s the best version of the band to be in 2015. We have a lot of old friends back- Lenny Castro, a percussionist and workaholic. David Hungate is back after 33 years, and he’s going to tour with us. It’s an exciting time for us. The DVD went #1 all over the world, and that was a big surprise. 

    “The world is looking at us differently. We’re the classic rock band that hasn’t done every summer in eight configurations. The band is playing better than they ever have, so we are sort of a surprise wild card at this point. There are a lot of great bands out there making the circuit, but it’s the same eight guys in various configurations. We kinda came out of nowhere last year in the U.S.”

    Then, as a little tease, Luke said, “There’s a big surprise which I can’t tell you about yet- I’d like to, but I can’t. We’re going to be touring with somebody really cool, and

         

    Photo by Heather Porcaro

    it’s not anybody obvious at all. The U.S. tour starts in August/September, but we’re doing two months in Europe. Those gigs are selling out- 10,000 seaters are selling out months in advance without getting the record out yet! The UK is going clean, and it was really a surprise to hear Holland with 10,000 seats gone already. We’re co-headlining Sweden Rock with Def Leppard and a bunch of people. We’re doing a bunch of other gigs and headlining other festivals with 35,000 people, so it’s a very exciting time for us right now when a lot of people had maybe written us off. We’re back strong. Everyone is super healthy and focused, and we’re going to prove everybody wrong about the idea that these old guys have nothing new to give. I don’t believe in that, you know?”

    I was a guest of Luke’s at the band’s Atlanta show last year that included Michael McDonald. I mentioned that the pairing of McDonald with TOTO was a masterful pairing.

    “Well, Michael’s part of our family. We go way back. Michael was in Steely Dan with Jeff when I was still in high school. At one point, Michael was actually considered to be the lead singer of Toto, but he had just joined The Doobie Brothers. I worked on his first solo album, played on ‘I Keep Forgettin’’ and all that stuff. He sang on ‘I’ll Be Over You’, so we’ve always been friends. At that time we had the same manager, so that didn’t work out. But Michael and all of us have stayed dear friends and always will. That was a great, special tour for us, and it opened up a lot of doors that were closed for a long time. 

    “Now we’re doing something even wilder and bigger. The U.S. is starting to catch up, and that’s always been an Achilles heel to us. Now the doors are opening that were closed for so long, because we just had poor management and a poor view of us. Our record company wasn’t behind us. It was an uphill battle which all of the sudden seems to have been broken down after persistence and a lot of years… a lot of not taking no for an answer. Like, ‘F*** you, I don’t believe that this is no!’ Now we’re sitting in the situation to be able to do what we’ve always wanted to do in front of the people of our own country as well as the rest of the world.”

    I asked Luke what made this album different for him as compared with the previous thirteen.

    “First off, it’s been ten years since we’ve made any new music. I’m back with Steve Porcaro and Joseph Williams- we haven’t made a record since 1987. And yet, we came to this with a fresh attitude, like ‘We’re going to try to nail this.’ I’m back with my high school friends again, and everybody’s inspired and healthy. It’s a lot of fun, and I think we did something good. Now it’s up to God and the world to see how this all turns out. So far, so good.”

    What surprises on the album can Toto fans expect?

    “Is anything a surprise anymore? We live in this world where people are filming your every move with an iPhone camera. Their opinions are on the internet whether good or bad. 

    “Anyways, we’ve got a couple hundred songs we can grab to play outside of hits with all these records we’ve made. David Hungate’s back. Lenny Castro’s back on the road with us along with Steve, me, Dave, and Joe. We’ve got a killer band to bring on the road, and we’re going to perform this new stuff. We’re going to play a lot of the old stuff we haven’t been able to play. It’s just a really exciting time for us.”

    As for which song from “XIV” he would point to as the “calling card” for the whole album, Luke said:

    “I think my favorite track that we have ever recorded is a song called ‘Great Expectations’ which is written by Dave, Joe, and I. It’s an epic little piece. It’s really what I always imagined the band to sound like. Obviously, the hits have been really good. I can’t deny any of that, and we’ll play them for you- I promise! But this one has a little bit more depth to it. It hearkens back to our love for Seventies prog stuff like Yes and Pink Floyd with an odd twist to it. There’s three lead singers on it- Dave, me, and Joe. Everybody gets to shine on it. It’s a great calling card for where we are in 2015.”

    Is there a story behind the album cover?

    “Heather Porcaro, Steve’s oldest daughter, and her team put the whole art package together. We wanted to bring back the four in a different way. The XIV is interesting, because it’s a Roman numeral. It’s also a multiple of seven which is a reference to Joseph and The Seventh One album. It also has four from the Toto IV album. 

    “We were sitting around throwing ideas out, and Heather and her team came up with this great thing. We thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool!’ The last thing we wanted to do was put hearts, skulls, angels, typical artwork. It’s so cliché. They came up with something darker and more mature. It’s new, but it’s old. Is this in China? Is this in LA? Where is this photo, this place? We ended up loving what she did with that, and it keeps it in the family as well. I’m really proud of her. We’ve been getting a lot of love on that.

    “She did this little video piece, too. We didn’t want to do a video. We’re not going to do MTV videos- there’s no budget for that. So we asked, ‘Can you put something together for this?’ She was out on the road with us filming stuff, and she just threw that together in an afternoon. She’s a very creative person, and I love keeping stuff in the family. I like to use the people around us. They care, and they’ve grown up with it and been a part of it. It means something to them. It’s not just hiring an art guy and saying, ‘Here, make something for us.’”

    Luke also shared some info about the guitar gear he used in the making of the album.

    “My big guitar is my Music Man, my L3. I do use a couple of the other versions. I use the Bogner amp, but I also use the Kemper Profiling amp which some of the weird, clean sounds came from that.  C.J. Vanston , our co-producer, really had a lot to do with putting this whole thing together. I gotta give him some love. C.J. worked real hard on this. Sometimes he’d just grab my guitar chord and plug it into his box that goes into the computer, and we’d just kinda scroll through to find some weird sound that worked. I kept an open mind and said, ‘I’ll try anything you guys want!’ Sometimes the sound inspired a different idea, a different part. 

    “It was like putting five bulls in a pen with one cow. We’re all very strong personalities, so we needed somebody to referee that. CJ Vanston was that guy. In the end, we all kept an open mind to try new and interesting things, and that’s what came out. I use Yamaha acoustic guitars, which are great.”

    What’s up after the Toto tour?

    “I can’t predict where I’m going to be in two years. I hope I’m still talking to you on the phone, healthy and happy and raving about the great success we have. That’s where I’m focused right now. In a couple years, who knows? Maybe I’ll do a solo record. Maybe I’ll take a vacation. I’ve got little kids I’d like to spend a little time with. This is what I do for a living. I’ve been doing it for forty years of my life. I don’t see anything changing other than just creating new music. 

    “I’m loving being on the Ringo tour. I just did this thing with Larry Carlton, and there will be a DVD out on that. That happened literally two weeks ago. That’s a different side of things, and I might do a couple live gigs with him if we can squeeze it in somewhere. I’m always trying to reinvent the wheel and doing fresh things.”

    Photo by Heather Porcaro

         

    Wrapping up our chat, I asked Luke how he would summarize his life right now.

    “I’ve had an interesting life, man. The dream came true. What can I say? 

    When I was a little kid, I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. And here I stand, in a hotel room working with Ringo. Last year, I did the 50th anniversary Beatles show with Paul and Ringo. I’m standing there right before we go on stage looking at them. They played ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, and there was a certain realization I had. When I was a little kid, if you told me that fifty years later I’d be standing here with these guys… and all these things that have happened in my career… just the records and the success that we’ve had. All the sessions and all the great artists I’ve had the chance to work with. I’ve got four great kids. I’ve had a couple great wives. I’ve met a lot of beautiful girls in my life. I’ve had a million laughs. Partied like a f***ing rock star, but I don’t do that anymore. I’ve had a very interesting life. 

    “There are a few things I’d go back and change. I never wanted to hurt anybody’s feelings. I should have never done any drugs of any kind, but ask anybody who’s been through that, and they’ll tell you the same thing. It was a weird, wacky time we all went through. I would save my money a little differently. But I’ve got nothing to complain about. I’m healthy, I’m happy, I’ve lived the dream. I’m very grateful to the people who’ve supported me and the band through the years. I’m sorry for a few things that went wrong, and I lost my way there for a minute. But when you’ve lived the life I have, it’s not uncommon. 

    “I’ve been given a great gift, and I’m very, very grateful for it - probably more so now than I’ve ever been. Thank you for life. It’s like that movie, ‘Defending Your Life’, where you have to sit and watch all the rough spots. I hope God has a great sense of humor.”

    Catch the latest on all things TOTO here and read the Boomerocity review of TOTO XIV here.

Featured Photo

 

 

george lynch

Our Featured Photo by Boomerocity friend and famed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan (robshanahan.com), is of Dokken's George Lynch! Check out more of Rob's work at RobShanahan.com!

 

 

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