With a hearty laugh, Toto singer-guitarist Steve Lukather rejects the idea that his band is like an all-star football team.
“I think we’re all too old and beat down to be bumped into each other at this point, man,” he says during a recent phone call. “I fell down enough stairs in my life, so I can tell you that my ribs can’t take it anymore.”
But the comparison works in the sense that the band functions similarly in that way, both collectively as a unit and individually as players. Toto, as longtime fans will know, is one hell of a band. And 40 years after the release of its self-titled 1978 debut album, it’s having yet another really good year, thanks once again, to “Africa,” the song that keeps on delivering unexpected dividends.
A recent article posted by UltimateClassicRock.com collected more than 40 different cover versions of the song, a list that was inspired by Weezer’s recent cover of the track. Weezer also covered “Rosanna,” both songs originally coming off of Toto’s 1981 album, Toto IV.
“That song has been covered by so many people, from Jay Z to metal bands to country bands to banjo bands to comedy bands,” Lukather says. Toto performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Hard Rock Live. “You know, they have comedians that rip apart every lyric as if we’re writing Shakespeare, you know. We have a great sense of humor about it. We were South Park characters and stuff; Seth MacFarlane is drawing us for his new Family Guy series this year. We get the joke; it’s fucking hilarious, man. We’re not going to be mad about it, you gotta be kidding me! It’s a gift!”
Thanks to Mary Klym, a 15-year-old Clevelander, Weezer added their version to the list. She created a Twitter account, @weezerafrica, in December and spent months tweeting at the band, hoping that they would cover it, at one point saying, “@RiversCuomo, it’s about time you bless the rains down in Africa.”
On Wednesday, May 30, she got her wish, about a week after they had teased the situation with a separate Toto cover that was not the requested “Africa” but instead, a version of “Rosanna.” Were they trolling Klym? It certainly seemed like it. But a week later, they delivered the requested goods. Lukather was flattered by the move, although he admits that he thinks they got more than they were bargaining for when they went into record the song.
“Every once in a while, they do kitschy versions of '80s and '70s songs, just for a joke,” he says. “I think they threw it up, and it was a little bit harder for them to play than they realized. But they did a good version. They did their version of it. We laughed, and we were very flattered.”
He’s seen the effects of “Africa” being featured in so many different areas of pop culture in recent years, including the Netflix series Stranger Things, on which Klym first heard the song, carry over positively into the live shows that Toto is playing.
“Young people show up at the shows and they go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know those guys played that song, wow, these guys are actually pretty good for a bunch of old farts!’ So we laugh and we just go, ‘Yeah man, this is who we are. We’ve been doing this since we were in high school and since we were 15 years old.’ The very people scratching their heads at us, we were the same age when we started in our band. We’ve just been doing this our whole lives and have been lucky enough to be able say that we could do that. Not very many people can these days. I mean, how many 40+ year careers are there?”
Assessing Weezer’s version of “Africa,” the longtime guitarist is impressed and figures that the Weezer version will be in the band’s setlist for years to come, something that they might not have anticipated. The track has already racked up over 25 million streams. “You know, this is the story of the year, I mean, c’mon, ‘Africa’ having this resurgence in 2018; It’s become the song of the year, and then, for them to do it and have their first hit record in 10 years with it is even more funny.”
To boot, both bands have done something positive with the success of “Africa.”
“They’re giving money to Africa, and we’re giving money from one of our t-shirts to Africa, so there is a cause of charity to it as well as a joke. And hey, you never know., [maybe] you’ll see us on the Grammys together as a mashup and it will be the classic mashup of the year,” Lukather says. “I mean, it’s definitely the story of the year as far as the weirdest combination of people ever to get together, but at the same time, is it really that weird? I mean, Steve met the guys in the band, and they’re all like closet studied musicians. They went to MI [Musicians Institute] and shit like that. They actually care about it. They do their thing, and their thing is great, and I’ve actually become a Weezer fan, because I got into their music to try to pick a song for us. I think the guys are real clever. I think what they do is their own thing.“
Toto returned the favor and chose to cover the Weezer song “Hash Pipe,” putting its own spin on the track. The song fits like a glove with crunchy guitars that have a bit of an '80s metal flair while the keyboards have a spacy feel that adds additional interesting atmosphere to the Toto version, particularly on the solo.
“We added solos and did some modulations and did some other stuff to it,” Lukather explains, revealing that it wasn’t their first choice. “I listened to a lot of stuff, and I figured that would be the one that we would actually [pull off well]. We were dicking around with ‘Beverly Hills,’ and I go, ‘You know what, that’s just “Pour Some Sugar On Me” at a slower tempo. I don’t think we can add much to that. I think we need to do something that we can add some music to it.’ And [‘Hash Pipe’] just had the most melody to me.”
He adds, “I thought that [Toto singer] Joe [Williams] could sing the fuck out of it, and I thought that we would get it done right. I love the chorus, I love the lyrics and I love the sentiment. You know, it reminds me of my childhood. We wanted to make the [single] cover just a permutation of Weezer’s logo and our logo put together and just a picture of an old fucked up hash pipe, like something from 1974 that we would have used!” Because we were smoking hash before fucking Rivers was alive, okay? There’s the fucking headline! But really, c’mon guys, you guys think you reinvented the wheel? You didn’t! Also, I really avoided, it was all I could take to not add the Peter Gunn horns to it!”
It’s been a busy year for Lukather and the band. He’s also just about to release The Gospel According To Luke, his long awaited autobiography.
“I’m painfully honest. I throw myself under the bus, I’m not nice to myself and I tell my truths. I don’t take a whole lot of people with me, I avoid speaking of them or I change their names around or ask their permission,” he says. “I don’t want to have enemies at the end of it and like I said, there’s broad strokes on [certain stuff]. I don’t have to get into the gruesome details, use your own imagination, you were there at one point. I do use some funny euphemisms and I do tell funny stories in it, but a lot of it is just about the music I played on and how I came up and the story of Toto and some of the shit that went down and some of the records that I played on. I’ve got the funny pictures in there too.”
This fall also marks the arrival of All In, a huge and comprehensive box set covering the band’s entire classic output, with bonus material added, including a number of newly finished songs. The new songs are actually old songs that that feature Jeff [Porcaro] and Mike [Porcaro] and Jeff or [David] Hungate. The band finished them, and Bob Clearmountain mixed them for the group. Greg Ladanyi and Al Schmitt recorded them, so the recordings sound sharp.
"They don’t sound like they were recorded 35 years ago; they sound like they were recorded last week,” says Lukather. “We spent a lot of time and effort, the four of us, Steve [Porcaro], David [Paich], Joseph [Williams] and myself, producing those up the way that we felt the Toto standards should be, and it would fit seamlessly on any other album. I mean, that’s a big package; it has [video], it has a 5.1 version of Toto IV, it has a big 80-page book; it’s got all of the masters on high end vinyl; it’s got it all on CD. All kinds of shit. It’s a big deal, and there’s a limited amount of them. We’ve sold over half of them, which is more than we thought we were going to do."
The band won't distribute it widely.
"It will be in a few specialty shops, but most places, it will be on Amazon, or it will be on our website, and we’re not going to make anymore after that," says Lukather. "Depending on how it goes, will depend on whether we release it by itself or not. We may not. We may just say, 'It is what it is' and move onto our next project, whatever that is.”
For now, Lukather is grateful to Mary Klym for adding an extra bit of fire to the celebration of the band’s 40th anniversary.
Christopher Klym, Mary's father, says the feeling is mutual. "The interaction Mary has had with Steve Lukather has been great," he says. "They have traded a few emails and he has been really supportive and thankful."
He adds, "As for the whole @weezerafrica thing, it has been fun and exciting and worrisome at the same time. Mary has actually been the one that has been the most grounded about the experience. As a parent who is proud of their child, I would like her to get the credit she deserves for her role in it all. But there is also the concern about her exposure online and her getting too much attention. The internet and social media, as great as they can be, can be a bit scary too and it's important to find the right balance of engagement for a teenager. But as I said, she has been the most grounded about it; hasn't sought out the attention and is just happy to have heard these two bands cover each others songs. It has made her happy; and it makes us happy and proud to see she had a part in making it all happen."
Lukather calls Klym "lovely" and "really sweet," from the brief interactions that he's had with her and says that they have invited her to come out to the show on Saturday.
“She has no idea what she did; she really just lit a fire under both of our bands’ asses, and it was really sweet,” he says. “It’s been all over the fucking TV on various permutations and choirs and all kinds of crazy shit. This thing’s got legs of its own. I’m just sitting back there as a 60-year-old guy going, ‘Am I really going to see this last time, before I fuckin’ take the dirt nap. Am I really going to see us get some love before they start throwing dirt on my face, one last time?’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, why the fuck not?’”
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