In this series of articles, I’m going to spotlight some of my favorite guitar players. Some are well-known, but others are not so mainstream and are, in my opinion, under-appreciated and do not get the plaudits they so richly deserve.
Introducing – Steve Lukather
One thing you can be sure of – You’ve heard Steve playing the guitar, even if you weren’t actually aware of the fact that it was him playing!
Steve is quite simply a master of the fretboard, his soulful and bluesy style of playing is immediately recognisable to those familiar with his incredible playing.
Steve has definite jazz and funk influences as well as rock and blues and was a massive fan of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix (of course!), Al Di Meola and Steely Dan to name just a few. Starting to get a picture?
If you know of Steve, it’s probably as the guitarist from Toto – but he wrote many of those songs, sung on a great many and even produced some of them – so not only is he a truly awesome guitarist, he is an all-round muso!
But, Steve has a much, much broader career than just Toto…and some of his greatest playing doesn’t reside on any Toto album…but don’t under-estimate Toto – there’s some great music on their many, many albums.
He is credited on over 1,500 (yes, that’s one thousand five hundred) albums as a band member, solo artist and session musician.
In fact, the “Gibson Guitar Corporation” has named Steve Lukather as one of the top 10 session musicians of all time – good enough for you?!
My Awakening to Steve’s Music
1982 – I’m busy being a teenager and rebelling against everything. My musical tastes ranged from Van Halen to Rush, from Saxon to AC-DC and not much in between.
But this song Rosanna just had something about it. It was “middle of the road”, it was “poppy/soft” – but yet, it had a catchy rhythm, a good tune and a short guitar solo that just “worked”.
I didn’t know it then, but I had just heard a guitarist that I was to have incredible respect for and try to learn from later on.
Then, I was at University – one day picking through the basket of “CDs to clear”, I came across an album by Toto called “Kingdom of Desire” – what the hell, I could admit liking Toto’s music now, so I bought it as a gamble.
It’s got the usual mix of rock/funk/jazz influenced songs, a couple of “sloppy” songs and then…there’s the last one – “Jake to the bone”.
What a song, fantastic rhythmic changes, a driving guitar riff, adventurous keyboards and suddenly, towards the end – Steve let’s rip…
My awakening to how darn good this guy was coincided with the commencement of my love affair with the guitar and I started to seek out Steve’s music actively from then until now….and beyond!
Steve Lukather is affectionately known as “Luke” by most of the music industry as well as many of us – his fans.
It also happens to be the title of the 1997 album Luke which I purchased after hearing a track on one of the rock shows of the day. I later discovered that this was in fact Steve’s second solo album.
The track that was played was “Broken Machine” – it really captured my attention with it’s somewhat haunting vibe and very live sound and what seemed to me to be a really from the heart guitar solo.
Here is that track – enjoy!
The rest of this album is a great mix of songs and I later discovered that it was a collection of songs Luke had been working on for a while and was more of an experimental album harping back to some key influences than anything else.
That said, it’s an album I still listen to a great deal and was the real catalyst for me to follow Luke from that time on.
So Why Is Luke Not A Household Name?
It’s difficult to say, perhaps absence of early marketing of a personal brand (a new concept anyway), the fact that he played mainly as a session musician or part of Toto.
Let me assure you though – within the music business Steve “Luke” Lukather is well known, well liked and held in very high esteem.
His name is better known today, but still hasn’t really reached the level of general awareness that names like Eric Clapton, David Gilmore and Jeff Beck have, but I personally rate him as one of the really great guitarists.
If you want an example of Luke’s amazing feel and touch, just check this song out from him with his 80’s-90’s collaboration “Los Lobotomys” – Never Walk Alone – awesome, just awesome:
What soul and blues – and he’s a pretty good singer as well – right?
Other Solo Albums
Luke has so far made 7 solo albums:
- Lukather – 1989 – mostly a collection of songs Luke had written but that never appeared on Toto albums, recorded his way in a really live environment. 80’s sound, but a great album;
- Candyman – 1994 – a close collaboration with members of “Los Lobotomys” and in fact often labelled as such. Just a great live sounding album with an exciting mix of styles – wonderful production, by the way;
- Luke – 1997 – well, we’ve talked about this one in my journey of discovery, but it’s quite an introspective album from Steve “Luke” and remains a firm favourite of mine to this day;
- Santamental – 2003 – an interesting take on a Christmas album, featuring some other guitarists you may just have heard of like Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Slash! – a bit different this one and in Luke’s own words “my first and last Christmas album”;
- Ever Changing Times – 2008 – a really pleasing mix of rock/funk/blues that has flavours of influence from Toto, Steely Dan and others with Luke’s unique and trademark sound – definitely one to add to the collection;
- All’s Well That Ends Well – 2010 – a mix of backward and forward looking songs with degrees of introspection and optimism – sounds a bit psychotic doesn’t it, but it’s a really strong album;
- Transition – 2013 – one of my personal favourites. A really highly produced album with some outstanding songs and, of course, mind-blowing guitar work. Yet another progression in Luke’s expressiveness.
Here are a couple of other songs to wet your appetite…
“Rest of the World” – from Transition:
“Stab in the Back” – from Ever Changing Times:
Ok, so Luke has played on many famous songs and with many famous artists:
- ”Physical” – Olivia Newton-John;
- With Richard Marx;
- With Aretha Franklin;
- With Earth Wind & Fire;
- ”Beat it” – Michael Jackson (yeah, not the solo) as well as most of Thriller;
- With Lionel Richie;
- With Chicago;
- And with The Tubes;
- And that is just touching the surface.
Luke has also had a great touring career, most notably with Larry Carlton and later on as part of Ringo Star’s all star band.
Here’s one example of Luke’s amazing versatility and, to be asked by Larry Carlton? That’s a pretty ringing endorsement if ever I’ve seen one…
Probably one of Larry Carlton’s most famous songs, Room 335 with Luke:
Back To Toto For 1 Minute!
Toto’s music is classy – it’s well written, well produced and some of the songs are simply outstanding.
It might not be to everyone’s taste – a little middle of the road? But that might just be the singles.
The musicians in Toto are all, without exception, top notch and produce a deceptively slick sound.
With music and albums spanning well over quarter of a century, do not write them off, there is a strong mix of music on many albums and it is all really well played and there is something there to suit all tastes.
However, in 2003, Toto did a concert in Amsterdam (The Netherlands, Europe)) billed as the 25th anniversary concert that was recorded and released – it is 80 minutes of pure music heaven.
I rate this album as one of the best live albums ever – alongside “Frampton Comes Alive”, “Seconds Out”, “Live and Dangerous” and so on.
If you’re only a partial Toto fan, check out the 25th Anniversary – Live in Amsterdam – here is one track from this album, a phenominal cover rendition of Bodhisattva by Steely Dan – just amazing!
Toto – 25th Anniversary – Live in Amsterdam is a great choice if you just want to browse the shop window of what Toto is all about with a high class performance, stunning audio quality and musicians simply enjoying themselves!
If you know of Steve “Luke” Lukather, it’s probably because of Toto, but I hope I’ve shown here how full and diverse Luke’s career has been to date – and long may it continue.
He now has his own signature model guitar from Ernie Ball/Music Man – in fact, I think this is now on to its 3rd generation. I’ve played one and it’s beautiful!
He has done instructional videos – and is so part of the music industry having composed many songs as well as arranging and producing that it would be impossible to list them all and to highlight just how influencial Luke is.
So, this is my genuine attempt to bring Steve “Luke” Lukather to your attention or open your eyes to his broader career, with the very small number of tracks I’ve linkd here, I’m sure you will agree that he, apart from anything else, one hell of a guitar player!
So – What do you Think?
Are there any other less mainstream guitarists that you’d like to see put under the spotlight?
What are your thoughts on my “Guitarist in Focus”, Steve “Luke” Lukather? — Do let me know in the comments section.
All the best and keep on rockin’