Steve Lukather is still finding it hard to believe, after 42 years in the same rock band he started in Los Angeles with his teenage classmates, Toto is bigger than ever, thanks to Weezer’s unlikely cover of “Africa,” which has climbed to the top of both the iTunes sales and alternative airplay charts.
And now, Toto has taken on the challenge and is about to return the favor, with their own cheeky cover of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe,” which is being rush-released on Republic Records this Friday (August 10) after the idea originated with a fan at Universal Germany.
“This is like the weirdest, coolest thing ever,” Lukather gushes on the phone from Oakland, CA, where Toto was set to play at the historic Fox Theater, the fourth date of its North American “40 Trips Around the World” tour will run until November, marking four decades since the release of their self-titled debut in 1978.
That the band has become synonymous with the “Yacht Rock” genre, to which SiriusXM has programmed an entire channel — with Toto on heavy rotation — is not lost on the guitarist. “Even if Weezer is poking fun at us, we don’t care,” says Lukather. “We’ve always had a sense of humor -– look at our name. But this is a real win-win for both of us.”
Indeed, Toto has already unleashed its version of “Hash Pipe” on its audience, performing the song as the final number in the set. “We just go out there and f—ing kick ass,” says Lukather. “It’s so much fun to play. Our fans flip out when they hear it, but they’re all singing along like it’s one of our songs by the end.”
So far, keyboardist Steve Porcaro, who produced Toto’s version of “Hash Pipe” in his home studio, is the only one to actually meet Weezer, sitting in with them on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” to play the solo in “Africa.”
“Steve said the band was really nice to him, but I’ve never met the guy,” says Lukather, referring to Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo. “I’ve actually reached out to thank him. Even if he is taking the piss out of us, it’s cool.”
What started with a social media request from a 15-year-old Cleveland Weezer fan named Mary Clem, who heard “Africa” on the Netflix hit show “Stranger Things” and began a Twitter campaign under the handle @weezerafrica, urging her favorite band to cover the 1981 Toto tune.
“I just want to kiss her,” gushes Lukather, who surprised Mary in a video message that featured Ringo Starr – with whom he tours as part of his All-Starr Band – in the background flashing his trademark two-fingered peace sign.
“We could actually have a hit record at alternative, which is the funniest f—ing thing I’ve ever lived to see,” says Lukather, who explains Republic will be supporting the release with a radio promotion campaign at the format, where “Africa” has given Weezer its first radio hit in several years.
Lukather admits Weezer’s use of a heavy guitar sound in their version of “Africa” has even influenced Toto’s current live rendition. “I enjoy being able to crank out the solos on that song,” he laughs. “It’s about time we put some nuts on that tune. I’m no musical snob. I listen to Miles Davis and Slipknot.”
Lukather’s 31-year-old son, Trev, is even reaping the rewards of the resurgence of “Africa,” joining Aussie EDM DJ What So Not (Chris “Ehmo” Emerson) – whose set includes a version of the song – as a tour guitarist.
Lukather said he left the choice of which Weezer song to cover to Steve Porcaro, whose neighbor sealed the deal. Steve explained: “He told me, ‘There’s nothing like driving down the freeway at 80 miles an hour with ‘Hash Pipe’ cranked.’ That stuck with me when it came time to decide.”
“Beverly Hills” was also considered, but Lukather admitted, “it was too cliché, considering we’re from that area.”
The brilliance of this inadvertent Toto-Weezer collaboration is how it joins the two separate fan bases into a coalition that mirrors the use of “featured artists” on so many hit pop and hip-hop records. Like a political campaign, today’s rock bands must assemble several constituencies for maximum market penetration.
“With everything going on, I’m beginning to believe in the Mandela effect,” says Lukather about the durability of “Africa.” “The Good Lord has seen fit to let us go out with a bang. This is what you dream about. I’ve got the coolest job in the world. Blowing up in our 60s? Are you f—ing kidding me? Rock ‘n’ roll is far from dead and I’m living proof. After all, they’ve been trying to kill off Toto since we started.”
With a busy slate of tour dates through the fall, Lukather will see his memoirs, “The Gospel According to Luke,” written with Paul Rees, published on September 18, while the definitive Toto limited edition box set, “All In,” will be released by Sony’s Legacy Recordings this fall.
In the meantime, Lukather is having a ball, introducing Toto’s cover of “Hash Pipe” every night with the same wisecrack. “We were smoking hash before those guys were alive.” Although these days, Lukather admits, marijuana in other forms is his go-to to kill the pain. “This cannabis cream saved my life,” he boasts. “I’d put it on my c— if I thought it would help.”