Toto Recall – Part One
The US guitar ace remembers his blues / rock influences, in conversation with Pete Sargeant, Steve is friendly and positive and has helped your scribe on a few matters since we spoke.
PS : This my friend, you think it’s gonna be ‘an interview’ but it’s gonna be two guys talking about music. Is that alright?
SL : (Laughs) Well I’m probably more qualified to talk about that then brain surgery! I’m all in, man!
Steve, I’m determined to do two things – one I am not gonna ask you what the hell ‘Africa’ is about…
(Sighs) You know, I still don’t know!
Ok. Also, I’m not gonna use the phrase ‘Hold the Line’…
You know, Pete – I do interviews and people actually do say that to me by accident!
I’m lucky, I talk to lots of musicians all over the world and they’ve all got time for you. Not just on the Toto side but because of the other work that you do. My buddy in America Phil Brown says ‘Steve finds the melody’…
Really? Phil Brown? Wow. That’s awfully nice
Also people like Jimmy Haslip ex of The Yellowjackets.
(Enthused) I’ve known Jimmy since I was seventeen years old. I love that man ! That’s high level musicianship and those guys are all dear friends and I love them all. They’re all genius-level players. Truly
They would say similar things about other players I admire like Earl Slick.
I like Earl. We became pals and he sends me gear and I use his stuff. He’s a sweet guy and a legendary player and he’s got his own thing. I dig him, man
Well the idea of this, this originally started off that we wanted you to pick your top blues favourites. I’ve got this list through your people
Well I kind of just threw that out there. I mean, all the blues guys tell you how much they listen to Robert Johnson records which I have. But it’s really not something I’d put on in the car generally
I came to the blues from the UK as opposed to the other way around. I found out about the black guys through Clapton, Page, Hendrix and the rest of it
Obviously, outfits like The Animals brought the blues back to America and threw it in your faces. Now the thing is, when The Rolling Stones played Chicago they insisted that Howlin Wolf be on the bill and the TV station was like ‘Who’s Howlin Wolf?’ So they had to track him down and bring him to the station
So I mean for that, all of us in America owe you guys in the UK a great deal of gratitude for waking us up to what was actually our own indigenous music. The older blues players really appreciate the fact that all the guys gave the credit where the credit was due. I thought that was really lovely. All of us younger guys coming up came to Howlin Wolf, came to B.B King, Freddie King, Albert King and Chuck Berry. I got to the music from The Beatles and then everything that happened after that. We would read the liner notes and then we started to go back to what they were listening to recreate the music we all loved. That was a musical history lesson about America that we weren’t even aware of.
We had a blues club in Tolworth where John Lee Hooker played, Muddy Waters came in with Otis Spann. They used to be backed by bands from here like Killing Floor and The Groundhogs.
Wow man. How cool is that? Ringo was telling me how they used to listen to some Armed Forces radio and they would sneak around and they’d wait by the docks for guys to bring records in. They were ferociously looking for the ‘race music’ or whatever they called it back then. That’s what turned them on, Little Richard and stuff like that which eventually rubbed off on them that they did their own perpetuation of and sold back to us.
I’ve seen all of these artists listed except one. I saw BB twice,once with The Crusaders… do you have a favourite B.B. King number?
No, man. I’m a huge fan and I’ve gone and seen him many, many times. It’s not like he just made the ultimate economy of notes. He’s just B.B. he’s an original. That vibrato and singing thing in his voice is just absolutely killer. You can’t argue with the guys that invented this s***! You know what I mean? To be honest with you, when I’m listening to music I don’t really question it. I’m just taking it all in and I’m not just wondering about all of that. I’m just playing the music in my soul and how I react to that
One thing you can’t overestimate and that is the impact the Jeff Beck Group had on the rock blues scene
One of my favourite guitar players of all-time. Nobody plays like the guy and he’s always evolving. I’ve had the great honour of working with him and seeing his process. He truly comes from a different place I’ve ever seen anybody come from. Which is maybe why he plays at the unique genius level that he does
Do you regard ‘Truth’ and ‘Beckola’?
Well those were life-changing records for me and they still hold up the test of time for me. Those were part of my musical DNA.
Well Joe Bonamassa will tell you the same damn thing that’s for sure.
Well yeah he’s another dear friend of mine who I absolutely adore. I think he’s become such an important voice for the new version of the blues. The modern blues. He truly is respectful to all that
came before him but he’s such a brilliant guy. I’m so happy for him because he’s such a great cat and a brilliant f***ing guitar player, a great artist and a work ethic like I understand it. The biggest guitar geek I’ve ever known in my life. He’s helping me refurbish my ‘59 Thunder Les Paul with the original screws and everything. He knows more about the s*** than I do and I’ve had the guitar since 1979! You go to his house it’s like Norm’s Rare Guitars! He lives and breathes it man! He’s the real thing and he’s so passionate about playing the guitar. I just love to see somebody like that be successful through hard work. He just kicks ass on the guitar! I love Joe man! I’m a big fan and he’s also become a very good friend of mine. I love him to death!
Well the problem with Joe is, I rang him up to talk to him about his new album and we spent twenty minutes talking about Johnny Winter who had just passed. In the end I had to say ‘Joe…’ we HAVE to talk about YOU!
I played a lot with Edgar and I met Johnny a couple of times. He’s another guy who brought the blues to us young guys. We listened to all the Johnny Winter stuff and I had all the records. He was on fire
I don’t know about you, but when I heard him do ‘Highway 61’ I almost fell over.
Oh yeah! That’s the definitive version and even Bob Dylan will tell you that. That’s the version! I mean I love Bob’s version too but Johnny Winter. Wicked! God bless his soul.
Jimi Hendrix – I’ve got a favourite era of Jimi Hendrix but did you ever get to see him?
My parents wouldn’t let me go man. I have a funny Jimi Hendrix story: first album comes out and I’m ten/eleven years old and I’m trying to figure this s*** off the record and I’ m listening to this music that came from another planet. The cover of Jimi with the fish eye lens and I’m playing ‘Third Stone from the Sun’ in my bedroom. My father comes in and he hears like the middle feedback and this is when it just came out. Now people don’t get shocked by anything anymore. But at the time, here’s this little white eleven year old kid in North Hollywood listening to Jimi Hendrix which was odd for a kid my age. Nobody had ever heard sounds like this, it was like other-worldly. I didn’t even think it was human. Do you know what I mean? My old man was looking at it and he picked up the album cover and saw Jimi with the fish-eye lens and the eyeball staring into the camera. He looks at me, then he looks at the album cover and back at me again and says ‘I give up. What the f*** is that?’ Blues Jimi, slow dreamy way, slow ‘Voodoo Chile’, ‘Redhouse’. Even ‘Hey Joe’ is blues. The way he plays that. What people don’t realise is, Jimi came from the old-school RnB playing with stuff that goes harking back to the era before him. But he just turned it upside down. That music really touched me man. Jimi really hit hard. That was the cat where you just go ‘How did he do that?’ The feel of it, his vibrato, the strength. That opening of ‘Voodoo Chile’ when you hear that the amp is just bleeding through every microphone. Eddie Kramer told me the story of how they got that sound; he was playing through a double-stacked 200 watt Marshall that was so f***ing loud that they turned it around and faced the amplifier towards the glass …no closed mikes and it just bled. It was all open mike with delay on it and that whole performance was live. Then close but faraway guitar sound but the strength of his vibrato and that tone. It just sucked you in man. It sounds every bit as good today as it did the first time I heard it
My favourite era of Hendrix was ‘Rainbow Bridge’ and I and I used to close shows with Pali Gap and introduce the band.
I once did a version of ‘Hear My Train A Comin’ on some Hendrix tribute record. I did the live track in the studio the same way; bass, drums, guitar, live vocals with a little delay and everything bleeding through. It was a lot of fun and I did it in one take and the record was done. I could never compete with Jimi Hendrix but we all get inspired by the same stuff
How could you describe it? It’s a trip. Certainly ‘Third Stone from the Sun.’
The thing is, there is some music that is timeless and will always last. Jimi’s music will. There’s a lot of young kids who go ‘I don’t get it. It’s out of tune.’ People say that about Jimmy Page sometimes. People say that about a lot of people. You have to understand the creators, man. These are the creators. We are all the humble students of this stuff
When you look at a Salvador Dali painting, it’s not a conventional photograph type painting. He’s actually taking elements of that picture and he’s melting a clock or stretching an eagle.
There’s no bull**** about that man. That’s for real. You’re absolutely right. I mean, there’s only twelve notes man and many of them have been played time and time again. To the point, where there aren’t new ideas. I mean every song has been written two thousand years ago. You know what I mean? How do you dress that up now?
You don’t do it with auto-tune and robot beats
Its background noise for people’s multi-tasking. People used to give us s*** for being a slick band but we sat in the room and played like that. But by today’s standards we were a punk band.Listen, I like well-crafted music as much as any muso would but there comes a point where you go ‘I like chocolate cake but I don’t wanna have 200 tonnes of frosting shoved down my neck at one point.’ I have to blame a lot of this on corporate radio. Back when I was a kid, radio was the only way you could get to new music and they could play a Motown song, then the new Cream single and then a Lulu song. Nobody sounded the same and they were all great songs, really interesting productions and great performances by real people. People who could sing and play, even the studio guys everybody played live. There’s a magic that happens when you stick a bunch of people in a room that you can never get if you stick one guy on at a time. It’s like too much of anything. There’s nothing to stick your teeth into and immediately brain goes ‘This is not grabbing me at all’.
In part two, Steve continues to talk about Jimi and Stevie Ray Vaughan
Toto are currently on Tour in Europe ; the album Toto XIV out on Frontiers Music Srl (see separate album review on our site) . In addition our Glenn saw the London show. For more information visit: www.stevelukather.com and www.totoofficial.com