Steve Lukather is a guitarist, singer, songwriter, arranger and record producer. He is best knows for his work with Toto. He has also released solo albums, and has done a lot of sessions with other famous musicians. His work with Toto was mostly pop rock, but his solo work contains a much wider spectrum of genres. They contain rock, progressive music, jazz and funk.
Steve Lukather was born Steven Lee Lukather on October 21, 1957 in San Fernando Valley, California. He started out playing keyboards and drums and then learned himself how to play guitar at the age of seven when his father bought him a Kay acoustic guitar and a copy of The beatles album Meet the Beatles. This is one of the reasons that Steve was influenced by George Harrison.
In seventh grade, Steve formed a power trio with friend and classmate guitarist/bassist Ron Sarian. Kevin MacKenzy and Ron’s brother Donny Sarian switched off on drums. In this band, Steve made his first studio recording in 1970 when he was twelve. It was a single with two songs on it, Grass, written by Ron and Leave It written by Steve Lukather himself.
In high school, Lukather met David Paich and the Porcaro brothers, Jeff, Steve and Mike. These are also members of the later formed band Toto. Steve, who had only been self-taught, began taking guitar lessons from musician Jimmy Wyble. He expanded Steve’s knowledge and in this period Steve became interested in the idea of being a session musician, playing with a variety of famous musicians.
Jeff Porcaro, drummer from Steely Dan, became a mentor to Lukather and further interested him in session work. After Lukather had succesfuly finished a tour with Boz Scaggs, Paich and Porcaro asked Steve Lukather if he wanted to join them in forming Toto in 1976 together with Bobby Kimball, David Hungate and Steve Porcaro.
Lukather was Toto’s lead guitarist, but he also sang and composed a lot. When the band started out, Jeff Porcaro was the band leader, and he wrote most of the songs. Later Lukather’s role started looking more and more like Porcaro’s. When Porcaro died, Lukather stepped up and made sure the band kept going.
After firing their vocalist Jean-Michel Byron in 1990, Toto had no lead singer from 1990to 1997. Lukather did most of the vocal parts for the band in that time. He provided lead vocals in every track on 1992’s Kingdom of Desire and 1995’s Tambu except for two instrumental tracks. The Tabu single I will Remember reached the 64th place on the UK charts. Despite the success of the song, reviewers noted that he struggled with the vocals. Toto had to bring their former lead singers Joseph Williams and Bobby Kimball for the collaboration Toto XX in 1988, that’s when Lukather could stop doing the lead vocals.
Lukather’s song writing contributions have grown along the way, and it’s noticeable that only one of the earlier Toto songs was written by him, namely I Won’t Hold You Back. He also admits that lyric writing isn’t his strong point, so he collaborated with other band members to get his musical ideas into hits.
In June 2008, Lukather decided to leave Toto. This also lead to the break up of the band. Steve was already 50 years old and he really felt like his Toto time was over. ‘ "I just cant do it anymore and at 50 years old I wanted to start over and give it one last try on my own." ‘ and:’ "Honestly I have just had enough. This is NOT a break. It is over. I really can't go out and play Hold the Line with a straight face anymore." ‘
Lukather achieved in the seventies and eighties one of the widest sessions in L.A. He played there with artists from Aretha Franklin to Warren zevon. He has performed 700 recordings within 18 years. He often credits David Paich and Jeff Porcaro for giving him the exposure for the industry. He did sessions with Michael Jackson, Don Henley and Lionel Richie. Of course these are just notable sessions, he has done much more. He has also written songs for George Benson, The Tubes and other artists.
Lukather has released five solo albums.
This album came about after Toto had been playing for eleven years and was taking a break. Lukather had some not appeared songs which he had written earlier. He decided to make a solo album of it with dimensions of his playing that most fans would not be familiar with. He also collaborated with many musicians for the album. The album is produced in a very simple studio and one can hear a lot of studio noises such as counting off and other typical studio sounds. He credits a lot of bands and artist, for instance Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix.
This album was recorded and mastered from March until November 1993. It, again, was a collaboration of musicians who were for the most part also in Lukather’s band Los Lobotomys. Ofcourse also Toto members were there. Lukather recorded the the album in mostly live takes with little overdubbing, meaning he didn’t redo parts. There was confusion about whether Candyman was a Lukather album or a Los Lobotomys album. Japan and America released it under the Los Lobotomys name rather than under Lukather’s. The European version was credited to Steve Lukather.
Luke was released in 1997 and was much different then his previous albums. The album contained a collection of many of Lukather’s influences and he let all those influences come out on the tracks. Luke is an experimental album, and was, like Candyman, recorded mostly in live sessions and with low overdubbing. Luke also containes experimental instruments like pedal steel, harmonicas, mellotrons and experimental guit, bass and drums.
Santamental was a collaborative album containing several famous musicians such as Eddie Van Halen, Slash and Steve Vai. When Lukather’s record company called Bop City Records approached him about doing a Christmas album, he replied “Why me? Do I look like Father Christmas to you mofos?” In the end he agreed and the record company hoped he would give the old traditional Christmas songs a touch of Lukather. This was a true challenge for Steve and the recruited keyboardist Jeff Babko and guitarist Larry Carlton to help arrange the songs. The musicians chose for the name Santamental, because it gave the song a bit more of the heavy rock feel. Van Halen again collaborated and recorded guitar tracks for Joy to the World. Eddie hadn’t been in a studio for some time, and Lukather was impressed with his level of guitarplaying. Vai did guitarwork for “Carol of the Bells” together with Lukathers son Trevor, who was then 14 years old. Slash, who did his part in one take, played on the Lukather/Stan Lynch written composition “Broken Heart for Christmas”. Lukather was impressed with Slash and complimented him with being the “Keith Richards of their generation. Michael Landau and Sammy Davis also helped Lukather out with “Look out for Angels” and new verson of “jingle bells”.
Ever Changing Times
This album was released in 2008 and it contains eleven songs. His son Trevor collaborated for this album and so did Abe Laboriel Junior on drums and Leland Skylar (Phil Collins) on bass. Again he mixed musical styles, it goes from tight rock to ballads that are very sensitive. It also contains an instrumental.
When Steve wasn’t performing with Toto, he didn’t sat down either. He had several side projects, like playing with other musicians in the groupe El Grupo and touring with Edgar Winter, Larry Carlton and “Slowhand” Eric Clapton. In 1985, Lukather released a instructional video called “Star Licks” which was later released on DVD. It contains a lot of guitar parts from Toto’s earlier albums.
In 1998, Lukather gets invited to tour in Japan with Larry Carlton after Japanese promoters asked Carlton if he could please have a different annual tour then the one he did the year before. They agreed that a collaboration between the two would be nice and Steve was very happy when he got invited to tour with Carlton. Carlton called him his favourite guitarist. Lukather often speaks about their stage efforts, although the players were also off-stage in the studio. The once stated that “you can hear us having fun on the record, you can hear the smiles on our faces.” After some shows, the duo also started to record their collaborations for their own use, or for publishing. Steve Vai, guitarist and producer, heard of their plans and told them he was interested in releasing it under his label, Favored Nations. Vai and Lukather mixed and produced the album together, and it was a mix of jazz, blues and fusion music. The album they made was released and called No Substitutions. It even won a Grammy award for “Best Pop Instrumental Album” in 2001. The album was supported by a nation tour later on.
Lukather is known for his fast and melodic lines, combined with blues phrasing and jazz phrasing (including so called out notes). This musical style was born due to influences from blues-rock guitarist like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy page, jazz and jazz fusion guitarists like Larry Carlton and Frank Gambale. Steve uses very clear vibrato and very wide bends, accentuating his style. He has quit some theoretical knowledge, so he can read chord charts and changes like most jazz players can. Of course this improves his playing and has a certain value for him. Another noticeable Lukather thing, is that his range of styles is very wide. He can play very tight rock riffs, but also very emotive and calm solo’s. His solo’s are full of feeling and emotion which gives his ballads their excellence, on the other hand his rock riffs are very rhythmic which gives a nice vibe to songs. In “Hold the Line” (one of Toto’s most famous hits) he plays the rhythmic chords.
Lukather has usually been a man of simplicity when it’s about recordings. He normally records his pieces in a few takes, and he even states that some of his recordings are done in one take. Despite the simplicity, he does like the technical tools that the modern studios are equipped with. So he likes the studio, but Steve states that he prefers the more dynamic performances on stage.
In the past Steve has been known for being someone with a complex effect rack, but Lukather now claims that he almost uses no effects after seeing some overdone effects processors named after him. He didn’t want to be connected to using a lot of effects. With an exception for the delay, the didn’t use many effects in recent years. He also has held a long releation to Bob Bradshaw of Custom Audio Electronics, who designed and made the most important elements in Steve’s rack. Steve also is one of the few guitarists who are endorsers of the EMG pickups. He even has is own signature pickup system, the SL20. The system is a single unit including two different types of pickups, also humbucker pickups, single volume and tone knobs and a pickguard.
Steve also is an endorser of MusicMan guitars and has his own signature model called the Luke. This guitar is equipped with his signature, SL20, EMG pickup system. The guitar was firstly built with the MusicMan specs, but was later changed to fit better with Steve Lukather. Steve has also played Ibanez and Valley Arts guitars, leading to some brief endorsements with the release of the Ibanez Roadstar RS1010SL and Valley Arts Custom Pro Steve Lukather Signature guitars in 1984 and 1985. He also uses Tyler guitars, Adamas guitar(s) and a Gibson Les Paul.
Steve has won several prices in his musical career. He has won four Grammy Awards in 1982. These were for Best R&B song, which he earned together with Jay Graydon and Bill Champlin, Producer of the year, for Toto IV, Album of the year, again for Toto IV and Record of the year for Toto’s Rosanna. In 2001 Lukather won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. He earned that one with Larry Carlton with No Substitutions: Live in Osaka.
Here are all Steve’s albums:
Steve Lukather 1989
Los lobotomys 1989
No substitutions 2001
Doves of fire live 2001
El grupo Live 2005
Ever changing times 2008
The list of who he played with is very long. Everyone who is interested can check it on this site.
External links and related GMC pages
Muris Varajic has done a GMC lesson in the style of Steve Lukather and it can be seen on the site, or click the link below.
Steve Lukather Style Lesson
Steve also has his own official site which can be seen here: Steve Lukather official site