ATLANTA >> Steve Lukather has a message for Toto fans: “If you want to come see us, come see us soon because I don’t know how long it will be ‘til next time.”
The guitar wizard and founding member of the band that has gifted such soft rock gems as “Rosanna,” “I’ll Be Over You” and the reincarnated “Africa” isn’t hinting at a faux farewell tour. Lukather is simply realizing that after three years on the road celebrating Toto’s 40th anniversary (which means it’s now the band’s 43rd), this final leg is a logical preview for a Toto break.
Last year, the band released “40 Trips Around the Sun,” a hits collection to complement the tour and commemorate the 40th anniversary of Toto’s self-titled debut. In addition to the aforementioned radio favorites, other Toto jams showcasing the band’s predilection for pop melodies integrated with jazz, soul and rock (“99,” “Pamela,” “Hold the Line”) are also featured.
During his conversation with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Kaedy Kiely of The River 97.1 FM, the ever-garrulous and gracious Lukather cheerfully addressed how “Africa,” the band’s No. 1 hit from 1981, has been adopted as a millennial anthem thanks to alt-rockers Weezer.
Following a fan-prompted social media campaign, Weezer released a cover of the song in May 2018. Their “Africa” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart — the band’s first chart-topper since 2008.
Toto countered by releasing a cover of Weezer’s 2001 song, “Hash Pipe,” in August 2018.
“It worked really well to help both camps,” Lukather said. “It’s been a mind-blowing experience for us to have all of these young people (hearing it), and it getting a billion streams. (Weezer) did it as kind of a joke, and it backfired because now they have to keep playing it! We’ve heard so many versions of (‘Africa’), it’s actually silly. … We can laugh at ourselves.”
In concert, Toto includes singer Joseph Williams and keyboardist/singer Steve Porcaro, as well as touring players Dominique Taplin on keyboards (replacing Toto veteran David Paich, who took a hiatus from the road last year), Shannon Forrest on drums, Warren Ham on saxophone/harmonica/flute, Shem von Schroeck on bass and Lenny Castro on percussion.
The set list spotlights Toto’s trove of singalongs from every era of the band, but Lukather, a revered session guitarist in the ’70s and ’80s whose work appears on more than 1,500 albums, has been pulling out a couple of other favorites.
Some fans are still surprised to learn that Porcaro wrote Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” (Lukather contributed guitar and bass to several tracks on “Thriller”), so he and Lukather share that story before performing the song.
Toto also covers George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which the band included on its 2002 album, “Through the Looking Glass.”
“George was my first guitar hero, and he was also a friend,” Lukather said.
Since 2012, Lukather has been attached to another Beatle as a regular member in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.
“Ringo is a dear friend of mine, and I worked with Paul (McCartney) and George. It’s surreal to think some little kid sitting in front of his black-and-white TV watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964 would end up working with three of the four of (the Beatles),” he said. “Ringo is so wonderful. Soulful, gracious, funny. Just the best vibe ever.”
If a Toto break indeed takes root, Lukather won’t be idle.
He’s working on a documentary about his career with director Nigel Cole (“I can’t do anything on the band because there’s a widow out there who won’t let me do anything,” Lukather said, referring to Susan Porcaro-Goings, wife of founding member Jeff Porcaro, who died in 1992; she filed suit in 2018 that Porcaro’s estate isn’t receiving a fair share of Toto royalties).
Then there are his contributions to Supersonic Blues Machine, the rotating cast project that includes ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Jonny Lang and Warren Haynes, and guitar sessions with old pal Lee Ritenour.
Lukather also plans a follow-up to his 2018 memoir, “The Gospel According to Luke,” which he might call “The New Testament.” (“It’s kind of a nudge-nudge, wink-wink thing. I’m not being disrespectful,” he said.)
But most importantly, he’ll “kinda be a dad for a little bit” to his 8- and 12-year old kids (Lukather’s two other children are in their 30s).
Later this month, Lukather will celebrate his 62nd birthday, an occasion that always yields some introspection.
“You get to a certain age,” he said, “and this is why my dad used to say to me: ‘Enjoy yourself, kid, because soon you’ll be going to funerals all the time.’”