June 17, 2023

Question: We all know that Eddie van Halen played that iconic guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s Beat It – but who played rhythm guitar? If you answered Steve Lukather from Toto, give yourself a shiny. Californian axe hero Lukather had been a respected session guitarist way before being called up as a founder member of Toto, and continues to be in demand to this day. Toto continues to tour and perform, with Lukather as the only continuous member since day one, but they have called it a day as a recording entity, so no more albums from the band will be forthcoming. There has been no breakup and no falling out; he still loves and reveres his old bandmates, and they still enjoy playing together – Lukather credits keyboard player David Paich in particular with encouraging his growth as a musician, as he says, “Paich is the guy that not only taught me how to make records, but he was the one that encouraged my songwriting in Toto, and really pushed me in every musical sense.”

Photo by Alex Solca

Nevertheless, times move on, and so do musicians. But having recorded eight albums under his own name, (usually just his surname in fact), Lukather’s ninth offering is something of a tribute to the old crew, and a number of current and previous members of Toto contribute as musicians, writers, or on the production team. Lukather has titled it simply Bridges, as he sees it as a kind of bridge between his own music and Toto’s material. Paich of course has been invited to perform and help write the songs; current singer Joseph Wiliams not only writes, but performs backing vocals to Lukather’s lead, and contributes percussion or keyboards to several numbers.

The writing method is quite unusual; even though Lukather is listed as co-writer on every song (except one – we’ll get to that in a minute), he considers his collaborators to be the real lyricists in the family, so Lukather lays down the basic concept of each song, leaving Paich and Williams, or as it may be, Stan Lynch or Randy Goodrum or others, to mould the lyrics. The opening song is co-written by Lukather’s son Trevor, who also plays guitar, bass, and synth on the song. Lukather plays bass on most of the record, but eagle-eared listeners may also hear contributions from former bandmate Lee Sklar, and even Gov’t Mule bassist Jorgen Carlsson. Drum responsibilities are shared between band alumni Shannon Forrest and Simon Phillips.

All of which is dandy, but how did it turn out? Opening number Far From Over begins with a few ambient sound effects, then powers in on a rock riff, and Trevor adds some great, sliding bass riffage, especially on the choruses. This song also includes a number of varied guitar tones, including an industrial clanging that’s quite unusual. Not surprisingly of course, there is a strong 1980s vibe to the whole record, which walks the same line as Toto between pop and melodic rock. There are plenty of other references though: Second number Not My Kind Of People, which take the form of an angry rant, lyrically at least, is based on a mid-tempo rock riff that would not have been out of place in Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen. This is followed by Someone, a pop ballad with guitar arpeggios and tones heavily reminiscent of The Police – Lukather’s vocal phrasing is similar too, and 1980s keyboard sounds add to the impression.

Emphasis is moved away from the guitar on the piano ballad All Forevers Must End, which recalls some of the more contemplative hits from Cyndi Lauper, such as True Colours or Time After Time – of course, the voice is a bit deeper! When I See You Again raises the tempo with a faster, pop rock style, again reminiscent of Van Halen in their Why Can’t This Be Love era, but the musical bridges are pure Asia – this is one of the album highlights to these ears – check it out at the foot of this page.

Take My Love is a species of slow blues, punctuated with piano, and Lukather’s vocals recall Jeff Healey on this number – he also provides a great, soaring solo, and a bit of jazzy chordage just before the dramatic climb-down at the end of the song. To continue with the ’80s references, Burning Bridges is a slowish, rocking shuffle with deeply panning electric piano, and distinct shades of Steely Dan, while album closer I’ll Never Know is almost pure Pink Floyd, with a very Dave Gilmour-styled playout solo.

And that’s it – with eight songs, at a total length of about 36 minutes, this is a succinct statement by Lukather and his pals. The lyrical content is relatively dark, with most of the songs containing references to bad relationships or reactions to harsh lessons learned, with only one being specifically upbeat, and coincidentally or not, it’s the only one on which Lukather does not have a writing credit – the Steve Maggiora and Warren Mordaunt Huar-penned Take My Love – Maggiora incidentally, who also plays keys on this track, is Toto’s current touring keyboard player, as well as being a member of Californian country rockers Robert Jon & The Wreck.

And while the album does contain strong elements of Toto, which is inevitable given the circumstances, their influence doesn’t come across as strongly as some of Toto’s contemporaries, especially Asia, The Police and Pink Floyd. Lukather’s own musical sensibilities, of course, give it a vibe all of its own, and his singing voice positions the style more at the pop end of the spectrum. However you slice it or dice it though, given Lukather’s musical pedigree and the kind of personnel he can pull together, it was never likely to go wrong.

Bridges by Lukather is now available via The Players Club / Mascot