Eric Valentine – drums
Steve Weingart – keyboards, vocals
Steve Lukather – guitars, vocals
Renee Jones – bass, vocals
Steve Lukather is having a bad year. “The worst of my life,” the rock guitar legend amplifies. “My personal life is in shambles. I’m getting a divorce from the mother of my youngest child. My mother died. I’m seeing a shrink twice a week and I’m trying to figure out just exactly what my place is supposed to be in this world — which, I might add, is a mess in its own right.” And yet, his new album with the tongue-in-cheek title All’s Well That Ends Well boasts some of the most beautiful and powerful music he’s made in his illustrious career — a career that began at age 17 when he started doing recording sessions in LA, and at 19 went on the road with Boz Scaggs after his landmark Silk Degrees record, then co-founded the group Toto and entered the exclusive inner circle of first-call Los Angeles session musicians.
Since then Lukather has consistently remained on the honor roll of the world’s top guitarists — a peer and pal to the likes of Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Larry Carlton and other fabled players. He’s also co-led Toto with fellow founder David Paich through every twist of the band’s platinum lined history while playing on albums by Michael Jackson, Warren Zevon, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Nicks, Don Henley, Miles Davis, Roger Waters, Cheap Trick and other rock and pop royalty. And he’s done all that while writing hits for the Tubes and George Benson, plus maintaining a parallel career of his own that began with 1988’s Lukather.
Six solo albums later, he’s arrived at what he calls “his best work,” with the artful, funny and sometimes harrowing All’s Well That Ends Well. “I know I’ve led an amazing life and have a colorful career,” he understates. “But I’m not resting on my laurels. I push myself to write better songs and smarter chord changes all the time. I practice every day. And you can hear the results on this album. “Sometimes I joke that I’m searching for ‘the LOST note,’ ” he continues, “but in a way, I really am. I want to find that one gorgeous thing that’s going to touch everybody. That’s what making music is all about — communicating on that level.”
All’s Well That Ends Well assays the state of that search and other more personal odysseys. The disc begins with a cloudscape of guitar and keyboard that yields to the fall of rain and a literal “S.O.S” signal, setting up the existential cry “Darkness in My World.” Similar themes of pain, uncertainty and regret reverberate in “Can’t Look Back” and “Don’t Say It’s Over.” “I’m nearly 53, and I need to be honest and write about the things that are most real to me,” Lukather says. “I just can’t bring myself to write songs about parties, cars or girls anymore.” But the aural irony of the album’s nine tunes is that even the songs with the darkest lyrics have a shimmering exterior of gorgeous melodies, lush textures and, of course, this virtuoso’s always zestful, uplifting and melodic solos. “Can’t Look Back” offers a stunning composite of several studio takes – a soaring, acrobatic display of what a world-class guitarist can do with a whammy bar, arching melodies, sweep arpeggios, cool chord changes and imagination — that Lukather himself had to study after the sessions to reproduce live. But as usual most of his lead playing is holistic: just his signature “Luke” model Music Man guitar plugged into a Bogner amplifier with maybe a stompbox or two, all aiming for that “perfect note.” “That’s just who I am,” he says. “No matter what the theme of a song might be, I need to hear something magical. I believe in the power of melody.”
Lukather’s been wired that way since age seven, when he was inspired to play after seeing rock’s finest melodists, the Beatles, on TV. His next major influence was his first teacher, the western swing guitarist Jimmy Wyble, who helped pioneer a genre where bands lived or died by melody. In his late teens Lukather met Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro and his brothers. They took him under wing and introduced him to the session world, and together they shared a love of Steely Dan, and Jeff was the drummer for Steely at that time. That classic studio ensemble group’s subtle complexity still drives Lukather.
Like Steely Dan leaders Donald Fagan and Walter Becker, Lukather has always surrounded himself with superb musicians. His core band for All’s Well That End’s Well was his longtime collaborator and fellow session veteran C.J. Vanston, a highly regarded keyboardist, songwriter and sound manipulator, also co-writer, co-Producer and mixing engineer, joined by keys man Steve Weingart, bassist Carlitos Del Puerta, drummer Eric Valentine and percussionist Lenny Castro. Their stunning performance of the closing instrumental “Tumescent” sounds like an outtake from a great lost Jeff Beck album (like the unreleased one that Lukather produced in 1997).
“In Toto, people accused us of being slick, but all of the early discs were recorded live with all of us playing in the studio,” Lukather regales. “We just happened to play extremely well together. And I made this album the same way, with the band playing live in a room. That’s how you get real dynamics and interplay — which is why so many albums today, that are typically recorded one track at a time, sound so stale.” Lukather’s guests on the album include his son Trevor, who adds crunch guitar to the wrenching “Don’t Say It’s Over,” and his daughter Tina, who sings on “Darkness in My World.” Although Lukather is the disc’s lead vocalist — a role he’s played on and off since the very first Toto record, and some of his backup singers include Def Leppard’s Phil Collen and the Tubes’ Fee Waybill.
Waybill also co-wrote “Flash In the Pan,” a song that signals a shift in the album’s perspective. It’s a cutting, hilarious commentary on the cult of celebrity and its vapid populace. The Hendrix influenced “Brody’s” takes that a step further by commentating on the world’s commentators, skewering the skewed views of everyone from Glen Beck to foaming indie bloggers to barstool pundits, while Lukather uncannily mimics slide guitar with his whammy bar and blues-perfect tone. “Well, nobody really wants to hear about my problems for a whole album,” he offers, laughing. “So I thought I’d write about everybody else’s, too.” “But truly,” he adds, ”the world is so divided today, and we spend so much time obsessed about unimportant things like the size of some actresses’ ass or something stupid someone in Hollywood did instead of solving our problems. I don’t understand why things got so far off the mark.”
Lukather’s own aim is for All’s Well That Ends Well to provide some kind of balance for himself and for others. “I’m not writing songs just to play solos to impress my guitar player friends,” he says. “My days of trying to be the fastest gun in the West — which, at one point, I took to a level of near buffoonery — are in the past. I want the music that I’m making now to connect with people. If they can relate to a lyric or a sound or a melody and it makes them happier for three or four minutes of their day, then I’ve done my job — and that’s a job I’ll be happy doing the rest of my life.”