This book inspired me to start playing guitar again and composing music. It also got me listening to a lot more of Toto’s music. If you’re looking for a highly entertaining and inspiring read that takes you deep into the world of the LA music scene in the 70s 80s and 90s, this is one you should not miss.
Summary Notes & Quotations
The Early Days
In the 70s for a guitarist to become a session musician, they needed to get one solo to kick things into motion.
“This is how it worked for me and so I was told: if you got to have a solo on a hit record, soon enough everybody would go, “I want that guy.” Things really took off for me after I played on Boz Scaggs’s Down Two Then Left record in 1977. There was a song on that record called “A Clue,” and the solo I did on that broke me out. After that came out, and with the endorsements and recommendations from all my new friends, my phone started to ring off the hook.”
Before Steve and Eddie met…
“There was another time at Guitar Center that has also stuck fast in my mind. Once again, I was playing in the back room, and one of the guys who worked there came in to listen. When I was done, he said to me: “You know there’s another kid comes in here just like you. He’s from out in Pasadena and real good too – you should meet him.” In fact, the two of us wouldn’t get to meet for a few more years yet, but it turned out that other kid was Eddie Van Halen.”
The music industry is a small world.
“Through John Pierce, another musical guy I met in high school was Mark Williams. Mark’s dad was John Williams, the famous film composer. He also had a little brother, Joseph, who was fucking nuts and who twelve years later would become the singer in Toto.”
Getting Session Work
“The one thing you had to be able to do to be a successful studio musician was sight-read music.”
“Soon enough, I started to pick up casual work. I could play rock-and-roll and also now a little bit of jazz and funk. Often as not, I would have to wear a suit and sing the goofiest songs of the era, but hey, I got paid to do it. You would also get asked to go into studios and play behind wannabe singer-songwriters on their demo tapes. Those gigs would pay twenty-five dollars a song.”
“For a musician at that time, LA was boomtown. Once you broke into the circuit, there was a natural cycle to how things would happen. Guys would every few years jump off the train and move on to become an artist, arranger, songwriter or producer. That left a void for younger players such as me to come in and fill. Graydon and Carlton were just then getting ready to make that jump, and Graydon started recommending me for the sessions he couldn’t do and the ones he was producing.”
“Mike Landau: Luke’s musical growth happened very quickly. I would say the defining moment where he officially became a complete badass on guitar was when he recorded the solo on Boz Scaggs’s “A Clue” in 1977.”
The Frank Zappa Experience
This was one of my favorite stories from the book. As Steve’s distinct way of storytelling really shines here.
“Frank sneered at me: “You have terrible comprehension. Next!” I put my guitar back in its case and had to do the walk of shame out of there, trying my damnedest not to cry. Frank Zappa had just told me that I sucked in front of what seemed to me like every guitar player in LA. I felt as if my life was over. Years later, I would become close friends with Steve Vai and he was in Frank’s band after this period. I told Steve the story of my humiliation and he just laughed. He said Frank wouldn’t have wanted to audition a hundred players, so he made me, as the youngest and most unqualified-looking candidate, the sacrificial lamb in order to empty the room. Apparently, almost everyone did end up following me right out of there. Cats were thinking, “I’m going to have to do that? Fuck this.” Driving home that day in my little VW, I had tears pouring down my cheeks. But then, I had a moment of clarity. I thought to myself, “I’m going to prove that motherfucker wrong.” I resolved to study harder, and deeper, and that I wasn’t going to be kicked in the ass and walk away. (Years later, I got to know the Zappa family; I told them the story and they laughed.)”
As I covered in my different guitar tunings post, you need to know G tuning in order to play the Rolling Stones songs properly.
“It was Waddy who taught me Keith Richards’s famous G tuning (which was actually Ry Cooder’s famous G tuning and maybe some old blues guy’s, but who knows . . .) so that I could finally play the Stones’ songs right. Whenever other people do the Stones, it always sounds wrong because they don’t understand what Keith did. Waddy was Keith’s buddy and here’s what he passed on to me. What you do is to take the low E string off a Telecaster, Esquire or guitar of that nature. Then you tune the other five strings to G-D-G-B-D, so that when you then make a barre chord, one finger across and two fingers down, you have the third and fourth right next to each other. And then, and only then, is when you get that “Start Me Up” thing going on and can play a host of other Stones classics properly.”
“The situation could not have been more cut and dried when Toto checked into Sunset Sound to make our fourth album. We had been signed up to a four-record deal with Columbia and now it was time to sink or swim, shit or bust. We knew that we had to stop second-guessing ourselves and go back to what had made our name in the first place, which was writing songs that married rock-and-roll with funkier grooves and hooks that sounded great on the radio. This was a do-or-die record for us.”
If you were to pick just one song that defines Toto’s sound, the song would be “Rosanna”.
“As far as I’m concerned, that eight-bar solo that Steve Porcaro conjured (with a little help from Paich) is one of the great synthesizer moments in recorded history, it was so perfectly composed. As a friend and as a musician, I was real proud of that one for him. It is a legendary recorded moment that few can duplicate. In my opinion, that track top to bottom really defines what Toto is musically. When asked, “What song do you think best represents the band?”, my answer is always “Rosanna” as it has all the elements and we all get to shine on it.”
On Recording Solos With Just A Few Takes
This is an important lesson to remember especially when today, you can record as many takes of a solo as you’d like.
“Some people also refused to believe that one or two takes was enough. They assumed that if they kept on pushing you, things would get better, whereas more often than not the reverse was true. All the life and passion would get sucked out of the room and there would be nothing left to play off. Spontaneity and angst is what made so many of those records from that time great, and sometimes you had to keep something that was a little bit rushed or out of tune because it was all done to tape. With digital technology, there is nothing that can’t be recalled and fixed. Records are like plastic surgery nowadays, where everybody is cut to look and sound the same.”
“At midnight, I called up Paich and he also came over and played a rip-roaring synth-bass part à la Stevie. Jai Winding played my piano part properly; Jerry Hey and his horn section killed it; essentially we finished up the whole song in just that one night. Next thing you know, “Turn Your Love Around” was a hit record for George. And Jay, Bill and I, three of the whitest motherfuckers you have ever seen in your life, got nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Song that next year.”
“Best R&B Song. I leaned over to the guys and said, “No chance in hell.” When they read out, ‘Jay Graydon, Steve Lukather and Bill Champlin for “Turn Your Love Around,” it was as if I were sleepwalking on acid.”