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BOOK REVIEW: "The Gospel According to Luke" by Steve Lukather

Post Hill Press / Lawrence DiMarzio
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BOOK REVIEW: The Gospel According to Luke by Steve Lukather (Post Hill Press) 2018

I will begin by saying that the following “book review” of Toto guitarist Steve “Luke” Lukather’s recently-released autobiography is not going to be conventional, at least not at first. Why? Because there is simply too much synchromystic debris swirling around – dust devil dream-style – this musical entity known as Toto.

I had always like Toto. The songs were smooth, slick, well-produced, melodic and catchy. The sound was big and I absolutely loved the drumming style of Jeff Porcaro, who would shockingly die in August 1992, something I remember being very sad about when I learned of it.

I distinctly remember playing “Africa” (quite possibly the most viewed music video on YouTube – with nearly half-a-billion views to date) on a jukebox at a Pizza Inn in Little Rock in 1983. The song resonated, and I loved that “world music” vibe and the use of place names like “Kilimanjaro” and "Olympus" and “Serengeti.” Who sings pop songs with place name references like that? As a geography nut, it made me love Toto even more. There was an even primal quality that was discernible to my young ears. It had staying power. We just didn't know it at the time. And the same for Toto, truth be told.

So, as a fan of pop/rock music and radio (FM 104 KKYK!), Toto was generally reliable with the hits. But a later hit the band had – “Pamela” – was released in the spring of 1988 (it was on The Seventh One album) and was, as Lukather notes in his engaging and hilarious autobiography, “(keyboardist/vocalist David) Paich put down a track called ‘Pamela’ that immediately sounded like the heir apparent to ‘Rosanna.’” And everyone knows that song. A surefire hit, right?

Paich had written “Pamela” with vocalist Joseph Williams (the son of film composer John Williams) and Lukather writes that Columbia Records was putting a lot of muscle behind both The Seventh One album and “Pamela,” the first single.

The president of the label, Al Teller, swung the full company muscle behind it, so that it seemed as if we were going to have an ‘Africa’-sized hit – top ten or better. We even went to dinner with Teller one night to celebrate how the record was doing,” writes Lukather, “The very next week he left the company. It then took an age for him to be replaced, and with no one at the helm, ‘Pamela’ stalled at 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and fell away. That was the moment that our star dwindled in America and it would take years for us to recover momentum.

I distinctly remember this period. “Pamela” was getting serious airplay and then – Toto seemed to vanish. Oh, they were still big in Europe, but the Los Angeles-based rockers had kind of vanished. Now I knew why.

So, for the past few days I have been playing my CD copy of Toto’s 2018 greatest hits package 40 Trips Around the Sun. I found myself returning again and again to “Pamela.”  It’s a big-sounding song that could have easily fit on their monster-smash album Toto IV, from back in 1982. "Pamela" came out around the time original member Steve Porcaro split the band for a spell.

This morning I listened to it on my way to a workout. I studied every lyric, instrument and note. This song was seriously following me around. I even thought that it would be great to just hear it on the radio, but it was never played on SiriusXM’s 80’s on 8 channel.

While I was at my workout, I caught up with my trainer and how I had been back working on my book – which includes me interviewing Vinton, Louisiana native Bobby Kimball, the first lead vocalist for Toto – about the synchromystical qualities of the 94th meridian, which includes that area where Kimball grew up.

Kimball had explained to me the (obvious?) origins of the band name for Toto – coming from Paich and Jeff Porcaro seeing The Wizard of Oz on TV (it aired on CBS in March 1977 – the year the band formed) and noting the cute terrier, Dorothy’s canine pal Toto.

I had heard other explanations for the band name, but Lukather essentially confirms the “Oz” connection, which always made the most sense to me, and may explain the literal Toto sync explosion I have been experiencing of late.

Again, I know this is supposed to be a review of Lukather’s book – and yes, it is a MUST READ for fans of 70s-90s rock n’ roll – but give me a sec …

So, I am telling my trainer, Jason, about Toto and hits he would know by the band. He then says, “that’s weird, I have a little dog – a Toto dog – a terrier, just like in The Wizard of Oz.” That was bizarre. I didn’t know that.

I part ways in the parking lot and head over to the post office and the bank. I am back to playing 40 Trips Around the Sun and after having read The Gospel According to Luke, I begin studying Lukather’s guitar style more closely. Not only is Luke playing with Toto to this very day, he has played with pretty much everybody!! His writing style is casual, conversational and at times a mix of shocking and hilarious. Even folks who aren’t fans of Toto will find Gospel appealing to read. A who’s who of L.A. recording and playing. All the names you see on the back of the record – the master players of the past 50 years. Lukather knows them all and has pretty much played with them all, as have his Toto bandmates.

Anyway, I’m listening to “Afraid of Love” and “I Won’t Hold You Back,” that last track an amazing power ballad written by Lukather for Toto IV and featuring Luke on lead vocals and a blistering guitar solo.

I then pause the CD and listen to a live Grateful Dead song from a 1973 show (a month before Pigpen died) and then I head over to 80s on 8. Its Nina Blackwood hosting and the song she was playing was ending. I then realize she is counting down the hits of this week in May 1988.

I have no idea where on the chart Nina is, having just only tuned in. Suddenly, something tells me that despite my earlier complaint about never hearing “Pamela” on the radio, that the next song will actually be “Pamela.” It was really weird and I suddenly had this incredible confidence in this thought. Kind of like when I was a kid and I was absolutely certain that the pocket change I had in my pocket – at a particular moment – was the very same pocket change Sammy Davis, Jr. had had in his pocket at a previous moment. And then I read Lukather is a HUGE fan of Sammy Davis, Jr …

And so Nina Blackwood begins introducing the song by talking about “David Paich …” I was stunned. Paich? From Toto, of course! It was really going to be “Pamela!”

And coming in at number 22 this week, 31 years ago, was “Pamela.” This coming a day after I am reading the Sunday edition of The New York Times and see a headline with the word “minefields” in it. I, of course, think Mindfields, Toto’s 1999 album. I turn the page and there is a story headlined “Republicans hold the line …” Hold the line? Like the song Kimball sings, Toto’s first big hit in 1978? Or the title of my recent Toto-themed Dust Devil Dreams post “Hold the line”?

All of this was giving additional weight to Lukather’s already-weighty book, which has been greeted with rave reviews, as he talks about falling in love with rock n’ roll upon seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and his desire to play music was a sealed deal. It was meant to be. Fate.

No doubt about it, mine has been an extraordinary life. Yes, there have been hard times and tragedies along the way, and I’ve had to take some really low blows too, but it’s also been the most amazing journey and I wouldn’t change a bit of it for the world,” Lukather writes, adding, “I don’t want to sound weird here, it’s humbling really, but I happen to believe it’s important that those of us who lived through those incredible times should also share our recollections of them.

And there is plenty of good, bad and ugly in this 300-page memoir. The highs of winning Grammy Awards with Toto and the sadness of losing Jeff Porcaro and, later, bassist Mike Porcaro. And then he found his mother after she had died at home, alone. Lots of tragedy. And then there were the trials and tribulations that seem to occur with Toto vocalists – the aforementioned Bobby Kimball (who is a great guy and has a movie in the works that will likely feature a big Hollywood name), Fergie Frederiksen, the weird Jean-Michel Byron and Joseph Williams, who left and later returned, and continues to sing for them to this day.

Image of Steve Lukather courtesy of TotoOfficial.com.

Lukather talks about being an A-list studio session musician and contributing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, and the excitement (and weirdness) of working with film director and Twin Peaks co-creator David Lynch on the Dune soundtrack, and later with Lynch and his effort to create a surrealistic album cover for Toto’s 1984 album Isolation. A different album cover was chosen, as it happens. I would have loved to see Lynch’s creation.

And speaking of Twin Peaks (a topic I can talk about for days), Lukather was best buds with actor Miguel "Miggy" Ferrer, who was the son of actress Rosemary Clooney. Ferrer was sarcastic pacifist Special Agent Albert Rosenfield, who appears in the crazy scene with David Bowie’s character in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in 1992, which also featured FBI characters played by Kyle MacLachlan and Lynch himself. That was Luke’s close friend – up until Ferrer’s death in 2017 at age 61, right before Twin Peaks: The Return was released on Showtime, to critical acclaim. (As a side note, this Twin Peaks fan blog notes the amazing similarities between The Wizard of Oz and Twin Peaks: The Return. Apparently Lynch is a huge Wizard of Oz fan and perhaps befriending the band Toto seemed like the thing to do. 

While Lukather reveled in the “rock n’ roll lifestyle” as a party animal and heavy drinker for many years, fatherhood and the ever-creeping specter of mortality have seemingly made Lukather a more thoughtful person. He gave up alcohol, made amends with old pals – even Bobby Kimball! – and is embracing life, something that seemed to play a role in the creation of this very book.

And this book is nothing but honest. Sure, there's lots of cuss words and accounts-aplenty of evil record executives and unreliable singers, players and hangers-on. Or when original bassist David Hungate (who played on Boz Scaggs' Silk Degrees record along with Jeff and Steve Porcaro and David Paich - just prior to Toto forming) up and quit to become a family man and Nashville studio musician. It happens, y'know?

At times the recounted experiences had a Spinal Tap quality. What's funny, is that Lukather would not only play with the actual Spinal Tap, helping out their '92 album Break Like the Wind, but his idols George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney - the lads from Liverpool who led Luke to this whole crazy world of pop and rock music. And one thing Lukather always worked towards was being recognized as a serious guitarist, composer and singer/songwriter. I think if Ringo has you touring as part of his All-Starr Band, you are the real deal. Luke has lived the musician's life to a "T" and "T" stands for Toto!

And with all the Toto-related synchronicities happening to me of late (read this Dust Devil Dreams post, following the death of Twin Peaks actress Peggy Lipton, and tell me something isn't going on. Lukather is in it too!), that "Yacht Rock" book I've been considering writing seems that much closer to actually happening. 

And the circle of life is just that a circle. Lukather may not be particularly spiritual (although he seems that way to me, along with his embrace of Transcendental Meditation), but interest in Toto is at levels in America not seen since, well, The Seventh One was released and “Pamela” got as high as 22 (or was it 11, as Lukather noted? 11+11? Toto and double digits ... like "99" ... Synchronicity!) along with that sexy music video.

Interestingly, Toto is filling arenas again and Weezer’s recent remake of “Africa” has been getting a lot of interest and airplay, bringing Toto a new generation of fans. Four years ago I reviewed their studio album Toto XIV, giving it 4/5 Rusties, and highlighting the musical brilliance of songs like "Chinatown," "Holy War" and "Unknown Soldier (Song for Jeffrey)." Lukather's "21st Century Blues," from Toto XIV is a particularly poignant song, with his lyrics: " "everything's upside down / it's all a big lie." Luke has a finger on the pulse of a divided America. I suspect Civil War buff Jeff Porcaro would note the similarities brewing between 1859 and 2019, if he were with us today. For a while, Jeff would appear to Luke in dreams, reassuring him that a drummer replacement was a good choice. 

Frontiers Records

Toto continues to tour. And one hopes for new music in the near future. Perhaps ol' Bobby Kimball will get to pop in on a couple of tracks. His solo material is solid. 

Meanwhile, it's weird to think that there is a stereo somewhere in the Namibian desert in southwestern Africa that is playing “Africa” on loop from now until the end of time. For eternity!!! Now that is something to be proud of!

Noted CNN in an article from Jan. 31, 2019: "Even though 'Africa' by Toto was released 1982 it is still very much present in today's pop culture and frequently used for memes and even entire Reddit pages are dedicated to the song," Siedentopf, who is based in London, said. "I was very intrigued by this and wanted to pay the song the ultimate homage and physically exhibit 'Africa' in Africa."

Hey, if I went to my grave knowing I had contributed to a song (like Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” on Voyager’s “Golden Record” out in space) that was intended to play for eternity, because of its cultural value and a link to the continent where humanity first came about, well, I would die with a smile on my face.

Steve "Luke" Lukather has plenty to smile about in light of all he has accomplished, including this wonderful book. 

Photos, unless otherwise noted, are from Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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