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  • Chuck Leavell Interview 2011

    Posted January/February, 2011

    Photo Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    The Allman Brothers. Don McLean. Bonnie Bramlett. Marshall Tucker Band. Charlie Daniels. Sea Level. Aretha Franklin. Chuck Berry. Dion. Gov't Mule. The Black Crowes.  Eric Clapton. Larry Carlton. George Harrison. Rolling Stones.

    How would you feel if those names were on your resume in some form or fashion?  I can tell you that if my resume had those names, my head would swell to twice the size of Texas.

    Chuck Leavell’s resume includes those names and many, many more. When you add to that the credentials of an expert forester, conservationist, author, husband, father, and grandfather and you get an idea of who the man really is.  All of that and, yet, his head retains its normal size and shape.

    How does he do it?  I don’t know but my head did swell just a little bit when I had the good fortune of posing a few questions to the legendary keyboardist.  I pursued an interview with Leavell after reading his 2004 book, Between Rock and a Home Place. As a huge Rolling Stones fan, I, of course, knew about of Chuck’s monumental work with the band and with his own band, Sea Level.  I just wasn’t aware of the huge volume of other work he’s associated with.

    I was also aware of his conservation work – especially at his beautiful home, the family tree farm known as Charlane Plantation. The plantation, in the family since 1932, was inherited by Chuck’s lovely wife of 37 year, Rose Lane, after the passing of her grandmother.   After working their way out of onerous inheritance taxes, Rose Lane and Chuck have developed a thriving, successful tree farm that also hosts hunting and other kinds of retreats.

    It was about Charlane Plantation that I opened the discussion with Leavell, asking about what were the latest developments at the farm.

    “We are always working on our place. My wife, Rose Lane, says it means ‘job security’ for me as I will never get done! Currently we have a good bit of maintenance going on. We’ve just started renovating the exterior of our horse barn, the upstairs of which serves as Rose Lane’s art studio. We built the barn some 18 years ago using lumber that was taken from our own trees . . . mostly ones that were dead or dying… and it’s time to polish it up some.

    “We also just finished renovating an old tenant house into a nice guesthouse. We’ve built most all of our structures out of our own wood, and most of the renovations we’ve done to our existing structures as well. It’s quite a good and special feeling to look at them, walk through them and say… ‘yeah, that came

    Chuck Leavell With Grandson, Miles - Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    from our own grounds’ . . . and to think that our grandchildren and future generations will be saying ‘our grandparents (or great-grandparents) built that back in 1990’, or whenever we built or renovated any particular structure on our place.

    “Of course, we’re always working in the woods, too. We did some light thinning of a few areas last year that had yet to be thinned - sort of like weeding the garden. We probably touched on 150 acres or so, opening the stands up to a slightly wider spacing, which will help the trees left standing grow much better and faster. It also helps encourage natural grasses, weeds and legumes to grow better underneath the stands, making it more attractive for wildlife.

    “We are in the middle of our hunting season, and January and February are booked pretty solid with our traditional southern quail hunts. I’ve been working some new dogs, which I love doing…so there has been quite a lot going on.”

    When I asked if he was the Ted Nugent of Georgia, Chuck’s response polite but direct.

    “With all due respect to Nugent, he’s an ethical and expert outdoorsman, but he’s a bit radical for me. I try to take a more gentle and gentlemanly approach to our hunting. As far as what we offer the public, it’s again, the traditional southern quail hunts, from November through the end of February. We have the jeeps, dogs, excellent guides and have a top notch and top class operation. We have several comfortable accommodations. Our lodge was built about 8 years ago, again, with our own resources and we renovated a historic 1830’s home back in the early 90’s that we use as well.

    “Rose Lane directs our staff in terms of the food, etc. and we have lots of repeat clients year after year. During the off season, we offer ‘retreats’ from time to time. Since Rose Lane is an excellent artist, some of these are centered around art. But some folks like to come just to be in the country, take a tour, walk our nature trail and such. We enjoy sharing our place and meeting new people, helping them to understand and appreciate nature and conservation issues. It makes for a good balance with our ‘other life’ of rock and roll.”

    Leavell wrote in his book, Between Rock and a Home Place, that, because of the predatory nature of our rich Uncle Sam’s inheritance tax code, he and Rose Lane had to sell off a big chunk of the original plantation.  In the seven years since that book was published, I asked if they were able to re-purchase the property.

    “No, that property was in another county, about 50 miles from us. It was about 300 acres of land that Rose Lane’s grandfather had passed on down. It was heartbreaking and really hurt to have to sell it, but we didn’t see any other way out at the time. While we’ve never recovered that tract, the good news is that through the years we have been able to acquire more land, much of which was adjacent to us. Rose Lane inherited about 1100 acres back in 1981 and we now have about 2500 acres, 1800 that is contiguous to her inheritance.”

    Before shifting my questioning to his other conservation endeavors, I asked Leavell what their long term plans for Charlane were.

    “We will continue to manage it as best we know how, and to share it with others through our hunts and retreats. Of course, I would love to continue to expand it, but it’s getting really hard to do because of how expensive land is. While the housing market across America has been hit hard as we all know - and prices for normal housing has dipped - that has not been the case for most timberlands, agricultural lands and recreational lands. It takes a lot of resources to purchase these kinds of lands and to maintain them. But I’m always hopeful that we can find select opportunities. We all know that old phrase, ‘land rich and cash poor’. That applies to a lot of landowners I know. I don’t think anyone would be impressed with our bank account but I’d rather have the land than bits of paper.”

    Chuck is a self-taught forestry expert, having begun his studies while touring with The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  Since then, he’s gained much respect and notoriety as an expert in forestry and conservation, having been award many awards and acknowledgements.  He’s also written two books on the subject with a third on the way.

    Before venturing into the finer points of this field of his expertise, I swallowed my pride and asked Leavell what the difference was between a conservationist and an environmentalist.

    “It’s a good question. I like to think that we are both. The definition of conservation is, in part, ‘The action of conserving something, in particular protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife; the preservation, repair, and prevention of deterioration of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites and artifacts; and the prevention of excessive or wasteful use of a resource.

    “In a nutshell, I think it means to be wise and careful with the resources that you have - to practice a sort of sustainability. I tell people that trees are an organic, natural and renewable resource. We all use things that come from trees every day of our lives - wood furniture, our homes, musical instruments, books, and so many other things. As a conservationist, I want to use this resource for these many fine things but I want to make sure that I am doing it in a way that is conserving the resource - that is, in a way that will assure me it will always be there.

    “As for the word ‘environmentalist’, the definition in part is: A person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment . . . who considers that environment, as opposed to heredity, has the primary influence on the development of a person or group.

    “This can get a bit complicated, and the ‘catch’ is how far you take the second part of the above definition. I certainly care deeply about our environment and want to keep it healthy and vibrant. But when it comes to making certain decisions about what to do with our lands and how that affects us as humans, hard choices have to be made from time to time. We all have to have places to live, to work, for our kids to go to school, etc. So, while it might not be the best thing for our environment to build such structures, or to build more highways, rail systems, expand airports and such, it’s inevitable that we are going to do it. We have to make compromises.

    “Actually, this is the subject of my new book, Growing A Better America, that will be out in mid March of this year. It’s about making careful and thoughtful choices about how we are going to grow. We have 310 million people in our country now, and predictions are that we’ll have 400 million around 2040. There are about 6.8 billion on the planet, and predictions are to have 9 billion by 2045. We are going to have to make some critical choices about accommodating that kind of growth, and how that will affect our environment.

    “My book talks about ‘smart growth’, and looks at positive models of community design, community expansion and such. I get in to energy issues; transportation issues; keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible; preserving natural areas when possible; the importance of green spaces in our metropolitan areas and much, much more.

    “I know that’s a long answer, but I think it’s important that people have an understanding of these things.”

    Chuck Leavell With The Rolling Stones - Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    As a direct result of Chuck’s incredible accomplishments in conservation and forestry, he co-founded The Mother Nature Network and serves as its the Director of Environmental Affairs.  When I asked what the latest developments are at MNN, he answers with the same kind of pride as he does when speaking of Charlane or his musical work.

    “MNN has been a phenomenal journey for me. My partner, Joel Babbit, had the idea to build the site and asked me to participate. He has had a life long successful career in public relations and advertising, serving really big clients like Coca-Cola, Dell Computer and others. We’ve been friends for a while, and he came to me one day saying that his clients wanted to get out to the public over the Internet all the things they were doing to “green” their businesses. And by the way, these companies and all the companies that are sponsors with MNN are doing some great things in that regard.

    “Anyway, Joel did not feel comfortable with any of the existing environmental sites in terms of placing ads and getting messages out on behalf of his clients. After discussing it in depth and doing a lot of research, we looked at each other and sort of said at the same time: ‘should we build it?’ So, we did.

    “Through Joel’s connections, we raised commitments of up to ten million dollars to get started. He resigned his position as CEO of GCI, a huge firm he was heading up, and we went to work. We hired really talented and dedicated enviro-journalists, website developers and other staff and opened our offices in Atlanta. We launched in January of 2008 on a wing and a prayer. Since then we have grown from a ranking of something like number 7,200 on the list of environmental websites to be the number one most visited independent environmental site in the world.

    “I have to give credit to our incredible staff.  We have really great folks - about 25 at present - working for us. Joel and I are elated with the progress. The last numbers I had are that we are getting over 2 million unique visits a month, and about 12 million page views per month and still climbing each month. We actually became profitable towards the end of last year, which is quite amazing for any website in 2 years time. We thought it would take at least 5 years to get into the black, so we’re thrilled.”

    With public discourse often dominated by subjects to protecting and preserving the environment, I asked if there is anything that keeps him awake at night from a conservation perspective.

    “There are a lot of things that I’m concerned about. I described some of that in talking about my new book, but in terms of forestry alone, I have many worries. One is that we have seen a great deal of our industry move offshore in the past 10 years or so. This is for many reasons. Like so many other industries, companies find that labor is cheaper in other countries; there is less regulation in other countries; less cost for construction, cheaper land and so forth.

    “I’m not suggesting that we should do the same thing some of these countries are doing, because some of their practices are not good for the environment and somewhat suppressive on their labor force. But any way you look at it, it has caused a huge drop in US forestry markets. What people have to understand about this is that to a degree, it’s ‘use it or lose it’. In other words, if folks like me and so many other family forest landowners don’t have a decent market, there is no good reason for us to keep our lands in trees. So when that happens, families begin to sell their lands. They can’t afford to pay the taxes, the upkeep, etc. and they are backed up against a wall. I’m not saying it’s that bad at the moment, but if the markets for wood keep going down it will definitely get that bad.

    “Other concerns include that tax structure for forest lands, the uncertainty of biomass and carbon markets, the pressures of growth and development, outbreak of diseases and insects, severe weather events and more.”

    Before moving my questions to music related subjects, I asked Leavell what homeowners, or those who don’t even own a home, can do to green up America and the world from a forestry perspective.

    “Anyone can plant a tree. There are many programs around the country where they give out trees to people. Plant a tree in your yard, your neighborhood, your school, your church. I also encourage people to conserve. Turn out the lights when not in use, set the thermostat at a reasonable temperature, drive less when you can and walk or bike to work. Talk to your neighbors about keeping your parks in good shape. Consider buying Energy Star appliances when you need to replace your refrigerator, washing machine, dryer, whatever. I give a lot of these and much, much more in Growing A Better America.

    Chuck Leavell has played keyboard for the Rolling Stones for almost 30 years. As I said at the beginning of this interview, he has also played with other of the biggest names in rock. What many people may not know is that he has also produced several solo albums and is working on a new solo project. I asked Chuck about the album.

    “The working title is Back To The Woods and it is a tribute to pioneering blues piano players from the 30s/40s/50s era. Most of the songs come from artists that are little known: Little Brother Montgomery, Skip James, Leroy Carr, Jesse James and others. I did do a very early Ray Charles track called Losing Hand, and an Otis Spann tune called Boots and Shoes, but those would be the two best-known names.

    “I’ve been recording it up in Athens, Georgia, at Jim Hawkins’ studio. Jim was a principal engineer at Capricorn Studios back in the 70’s and actually built Capricorn in part. He has a nice, comfortable space in Athens now. I used Chris Enghauser on stand up bass and Louis Romanos on drums - both live in Athens and are great players. So far I have Danny Barnes (renown banjo player and guitarist), (guitarist) Bruce Hampton and Randall Bramblett (Sea Level, Traffic, Steve Winwood, Levon Helm and Bonnie Raitt, among others) as guest artists, and have some commitments from others, including Keith Richards. I’m about 80% done with it and hope to finish it by March. No release date yet, but probably May or June.


    In describing his solo work, Leavell says, “Well, I am first and foremost a piano player. That’s what most of my own CDs center around. I might throw in a bit of Hammond B-3 or Wurlitzer now and again, but it’s mostly piano. In terms of style, I’ve been influenced by a wide range of great players, and I think my style reflects that. You’ll hear tinges of blues, rock, jazz, and country, but hopefully you’ll say ‘that sounds like Chuck’.

    “It takes a long time to develop your own sound and style as a player, and hopefully I’ve done that. I don’t think of myself as some ‘master’ player - just an honest one. I do my best to paint pictures with the notes I play - to project emotion, color, and feeling. That’s about the best I can do to describe myself. Perhaps descriptions are best left to others.

    Early in his book, Between Rock and a Home Place, Chuck shared how his late mom talked to him about how he played his music, leading him towards how to inject various feelings into the sounds he produced on the piano. When I asked Leavell if he still feels that she still “speaks” to him today in how he plays today, his reply was short, sweet and from the depths of his heart.

    "Every day, in every note I play."

    From a fan’s perspective, it’s hard for me to think that, with the musical resume that Chuck has, there would be anything left that he hasn’t done musically. However, I had to ask him what he hasn’t done that he would still like to do.

    “Fortunately, I’m still getting calls to work with other artists. I still love working with those I’ve worked with in the past, but also like the challenge of working with those I haven’t. Recently I recorded with John Mayer in NY for a week. Fantastic session, fantastic artist. I hope I get another round with John some time this year. Next week I record for about 10 days with Martina McBride. So, I just take it one day at a time and hope the phone keeps ringing! Of course I’ll continue to do my own stuff as well. I know the Stones have been contemplating their options, but they have not come to any final decisions, so we’ll all have to wait on that. I can tell you that I’m ready when they are.”

    Photo Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    Later, Chuck said about his contribution to the Mayer disc, “It was mostly Hammond B-3, but I did play a bit of Whurly and a pump organ on a couple of things. John is an amazing talent. He wrote three of the songs we did right on the spot. He’s got tremendous and infectious energy.”

    I don’t know what on earth possessed me to do this, but I dropped some names from Chuck’s musical past and asked him to share what comes to mind regarding his thoughts about the following musical greats:

     Ray Charles: “The MASTER. Probably my main influence.”

     George Harrison: “One of the sweetest guys on the planet. Truly as great a humanitarian as he was a singer/songwriter/performer.”

     Duane Allman: “Changed the direction of the electric guitar with his slide playing. Never got to know him personally, but always admired him and heard him play many times. Unquestioned and unbridled passion in his playing.”

     Eric Clapton: “Well, he’s Eric Clapton, isn’t he?! Eric likes exploring, changing, experimenting and I have always appreciated him for that. He doesn’t rest on his laurels and isn’t afraid to try things.”

     Gregg Allman: “In the top five of the greatest blues singers ever. A good friend. A survivor.”

     Ronnie Wood: “Effervescent, fun, diversely and multi-talented. Made me feel at home when I came into the Stones, for which I’m forever grateful.”

     When asked if there is any talent that is commanding his attention, Leavell shares that, “I’ve been listening a bit to Grace Potter (and the Nocturnals) and like her stuff. Not complicated, but with deep soul.  I like that. I honestly haven’t been to many concerts in the last couple of years, so can’t say much about live performances I’ve heard. I played with Keith Urban on the Jimmy Fallon show, and have come to really admire his artistry. I’m trying to learn a bit of mandolin, and have been listening to some bluegrass players. Love Chris Thele, Doyle Lawson, Sam Bush. I don’t listen too much to contemporary radio much these days, so I’m not the best person to ask about hits on radio.”

    Since he’s seen a lot of changes in the music business, I asked Chuck what he thought it was going to take to save the business.

    “Man, that’s too deep for me to get into, but I will say that if something isn’t done to improve how musicians and artists are paid for downloads and preventing illegal downloads, it’s going to be a tough future. The genie is out of the bottle, and I don’t know if it will ever be back in. We’ve lost a lot of control over how our recorded music is sold.”

    Wrapping up my time with Chuck, I asked if we were going to see him on the road with anyone any time soon.  While I wasn’t hinting for some advanced info about a Rolling Stones tour, he does comment about it at the end of his answer: “I have very few select solo shows booked - playing Macon at the Cox Capitol Theater Jan 22nd with the Randall Bramblett Band, and a gig at the Wheeler Opera House on March 12th. Other than that, I’ll be promoting my book and finishing my CD as well as doing the sessions I have booked. Nothing to report at present on Stones activity.”

    After the interview was over, I reflected on the vast, rich body of work that Chuck has.  From his iconic keyboard work on the landmark Allman Brothers tune, Jessica, to the Stones, Clapton and many others, I just ran the music through my mind and smiled.  Like the beautiful trees of Charlane Plantation, Chuck Leavell’s work shades our entire musical landscape with the beauty of his work.

    You can find out more about Chuck, his music, his books, and his conservation work at the following websites:



    www.chuckleavell.com      www.charlane.com      www.mnn.com

     

  • 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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