Steven Lee "Luke" Lukather (born October 21, 1957) is an American guitarist, singer, songwriter, arranger and record producer, best known for his work with the rock band Toto. A prolific session musician, Lukather has recorded guitar tracks for more than 1,500 albums representing a broad array of artists and genres. He has also contributed to albums and hit singles as a songwriter, arranger and producer. Lukather has released seven solo albums, the latest of which was released in January 2013.
In 1976, when Lukather was nineteen years old, he was invited by his high school friends David Paich and the Porcaro brothers Steve and Jeff to join them in forming their band, Toto. He remained a member until the band split up in 2008, and has been involved in their periodic reunion tours. Lukather's reputation as a guitarist and his association with Paich and Jeff Porcaro, who also became established artists, allowed him to secure a solid flow of session work in the 1970s and 1980s. Lukather has been nominated for twelve Grammy awards, and has won five. While his work with Toto was predominantly based on pop rock music and his solo work ventures into progressive rock and hard rock, many of Lukather's side-projects are focused on jazz fusion. He held a long-time collaboration with jazz guitarist Larry Carlton that produced a Grammy-winning live album, and he was a member of the jazz fusion band Los Lobotomys, a collaboration of notable session musicians.
Influenced by such blues-rock guitarists as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, and such jazz fusion players as Al Di Meola and Frank Gambale, Lukather is known for a "melodic and intense" playing style. He is also recognized for his efficiency in the studio, often recording tracks in one take using minimal sound processing. While he once used many guitar effects in the studio and on stage, he now frequently disparages such practice, and instead advocates clean tones and minimal studio processing. Lukather plays primarily a signature electric guitar manufactured by Ernie Ball Music Man bearing his nickname, Luke. He also plays Yamaha and Ovation Adamas series acoustic–electric guitars.
Steven Lee Lukather was born on October 21, 1957, in San Fernando Valley, California. In an interview with online publication Guitarhoo! he said: "I had a music teacher in Grammar school that made me play the violin. It was 1965. I had been playing guitar for a year, (after the Beatles changed our lives) and they had NO use for a guitar player." He then played keyboards and drums, and then taught himself how to play the guitar starting at age seven, when his father bought him a Kay acoustic guitar and a copy of the Beatles album Meet the Beatles. Lukather has said that the album "changed his life" and that he was greatly influenced by the guitar playing of George Harrison in particular.
In high school, Lukather met David Paich and the Porcaro brothers (Jeff, Steve, and Mike), all of whom eventually became members of Toto. Lukather, who had been a self-taught musician, began taking guitar lessons from Jimmy Wyble. With Wyble, Lukather expanded his knowledge of wider aspects of music, including orchestration. It was during this period in the early 1970s that Lukather became interested in the idea of becoming a session musician, a vocation that provided opportunities to play with a variety of famous musicians.
Jeff Porcaro, who had been playing drums with Steely Dan since 1973, became a mentor to Lukather and furthered his interest in session work. Lukather's first job in the music industry was studio work with Boz Scaggs, after which Paich and Jeff Porcaro—who had become prominent session musicians in their own right—asked Lukather to join them in forming Toto in 1976 along with Bobby Kimball, David Hungate, and Steve Porcaro. Lukather turned down an offer to join Miles Davis' band to accept their invitation.
Lukather was the original lead guitarist for Toto, serving in that capacity for the band's entire history, as well as a lead and backing vocalist and composer. Lukather won three of his five Grammy awards for work with Toto, twice as an artist and once as a producer. David Paich led the band's songwriting efforts during the development of 1978's Toto—he penned all but two of the album's tracks, including all four of its singles. Lukather also credits Jeff Porcaro for his leadership within the band during that period. However, Lukather's role in Toto evolved over time owing to the changing needs of the band. He contributed songwriting to Toto albums starting with the eponymous lead track on 1979's Hydra. In August 1992, Jeff Porcaro collapsed while doing yard work at home and subsequently died of heart failure. The death profoundly affected Toto and Lukather in particular, who considered Porcaro a mentor. Lukather felt that he needed to step up and make sure the band kept going. Thus, he began taking more of a leadership role.
Toto went through several lead vocalists over the years, including Kimball, Fergie Frederiksen, and Joseph Williams. After the 1990 dismissal of their fourth vocalist, Jean-Michel Byron, Toto was without a lead singer until around 1997; Lukather assumed most of the vocal duties for the band during that time. He performed lead vocals for every track on 1992's Kingdom of Desire and 1995's Tambu except for two instrumental tracks. The Tambu single "I Will Remember", co-written by Lukather and Stan Lynch, reached number 64 on UK charts. Some Tambu reviewers contrasted Lukather's vocals with those of former singers Kimball and Williams (and indeed, heavily criticized the entire album), some concert reviewers noted that he struggled vocally on certain songs, and a number of backup singers and guest vocalists accompanied the band's live shows during that period. It was not until Toto brought back former lead singers Joseph Williams and Bobby Kimball to collaborate on 1998's Toto XX that Lukather returned to predominantly backup vocals.
Lukather's songwriting contributions grew from a smattering of tracks on early Toto albums to almost every track starting in the late 1980s. He wrote very few of Toto's songs by himself, an exception being the hit single "I Won't Hold You Back" from Toto IV. Lukather has said that writing lyrics is not one of his strengths. Thus, he collaborated with other band members to complete song ideas and make them into viable album tracks. Lukather contributed to all of the songs on Toto's 2006 album Falling in Between.
By 2008, Lukather was the only remaining original Toto member still performing with the band. In June of the same year, Lukather decided to leave Toto. This decision directly led to the official dissolution of the band. In a 2011 interview discussing his career with Toto, Lukather indicated that the band had evolved too far from its original incarnation and that he was dealing with the physical and mental toll of recording and performing. In February 2010, the band announced that they would reunite to support Toto bassist Mike Porcaro, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. They continued to tour on a limited basis in 2011 and 2012; but in April 2011 Lukather indicated that the band would not record any further material. From a press release in January of 2014 "Toto has revealed plans for 2014 that deliver what fans have been waiting years for. The band will record a new studio album, their first since Falling In Between (2006). |date=January 23, 2014 |
Lukather achieved notability in the 1970s and 1980s as one of the most sought-after session guitarists in Los Angeles, playing with a wide range of artists from Aretha Franklin to Warren Zevon. He has performed on over 1,500 records spanning 36 years. Music journalist Jude Gold noted, "It's hard to name a guitarist who has had a more prolific and fulfilling career than Steve Lukather." Lukather credits fellow Toto members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro for getting him exposure in the industry—although he lamented in an April 2011 interview that opportunities for session musicians have curtailed in recent years: "There is no 'session guy' thing any more—not like it was. It's not like the old days when I was doing 25 sessions a week. All the studios are gone. The budgets are gone. The record companies are all gone." His own output as a session musician has slowed along with the rest of the industry—as of 2009, Lukather stated he was only doing a few sessions a year.
Named by Gibson Guitar Corporation as one of the top 10 session guitarists of all time, Lukather has performed on many notable tracks. He performed the guitar solo for Olivia Newton-John's popular 1981 single "Physical", which was Billboard's number 1 single of the 1980s. Other notable session performances include Michael Jackson's "Beat It", two tracks from the Lionel Richie album Can't Slow Down, and the Richard Marx album Repeat Offender. Lukather and Jeff Porcaro were heavily involved in the recording of virtually all of Michael Jackson's Thriller. In addition to recording guitar tracks, Lukather has also written or produced music for Lionel Richie, Richard Marx, Chicago, Donna Summer, and The Tubes. He won a Grammy award in 1982 for the George Benson song "Turn Your Love Around".
Lukather has released six solo studio albums: Lukather (1989), Candyman (1994), Luke (1997), Santamental (2003), Ever Changing Times (2008), and All's Well That Ends Well (2010). In December 2011, he began work on his seventh, Transition, a collaboration with C. J. Vanston featuring musicians Chad Smith, Gregg Bissonette, Leland Sklar, and others. The album was released January 21, 2013.
1989–1997: Lukather, Candyman, and Luke
The 1989 album Lukather came about after Toto had been recording and playing for 11 years, and the consensus among the band members was to take a break. As Lukather had written a number of songs that did not appear on Toto albums, he decided to pursue a solo album, with the intention of presenting a dimension of his music that fans would be unfamiliar with. He collaborated with many notable musicians, including Eddie Van Halen, Richard Marx, Jan Hammer, Steve Stevens, and fellow Toto members Jeff Porcaro and David Paich. Lukather has said that the album was produced very simply, and that a lot of ambient studio noise—counting off on various tracks, for instance—is audible on it. He also credits bands Pink Floyd, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and guitarists Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton as influences on the album. The single "Swear Your Love" came from the album.
Candyman, recorded and mastered from March 1993 through November 1993, was a collaboration of musicians who were for the most part also in Lukather's band Los Lobotomys. Toto familiars Simon Phillips and David Paich participated as well as David Garfield, John Peña, Chris Trujillo, Lenny Castro, Larry Klimas, Fee Waybill, Richard Page, and Paul Rodgers. Lukather recorded the album in mostly live takes with little overdubbing. Some international fans were confused about whether Candyman was a Steve Lukather album or a Los Lobotomys album. The Japanese and US releases of Candyman were under the Los Lobotomys name rather than Lukather's; the Japanese release also featured a version of the Hendrix song "Red House". The European release of Candyman was credited to Lukather alone. Additionally, the touring band for the album was sometimes introduced as "Steve Lukather and Los Lobotomys" and sometimes as just "Los Lobotomys". The song "Borrowed Time" was released as a single in Europe and included "Red House" as a B-side.
Lukather describes 1997's Luke as a much different and more "introspective" album than his previous two solo efforts. The album is a concentrated collection of many of Lukather's musical influences, and he deliberately let those influences come out on the album. Luke is an experimental album, and like Candyman it was recorded mostly in live sessions with minimal overdubbing and processing afterwards. Luke also features instrumentation not heard on previous Lukather albums: pedal steel, harmonicas, Mellotrons, and experimental guitar, bass, and drum sounds. The US version of Luke includes a version of the Jeff Beck song "The Pump". The song "Hate Everything About U" was released as a single.
Santamental, released in October 2003, is a collaborative project featuring several prominent musicians such as guitarists Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Steve Vai, and drummer Gregg Bissonette. When Lukather's record company, Bop City Records, approached him about recording a Christmas album, he responded with a quip about his suitability for the project. The company wanted him to do the record knowing he would approach the project with a unique angle and produce something different from the typical Christmas album. Lukather recruited keyboardist Jeff Babko and guitarist Larry Carlton, who Lukather had worked with previously, to help arrange the songs. The project was a challenge to Lukather, who had to be creative to turn the traditionally simple songs into something interesting for listeners without altering the fundamental structures. He said of the album, "But I never dreamt in a million years that I'd do a Christmas record."
The musicians Lukather chose for Santamental, most of whom were involved in the hard-rock genre, lent a heavy feel to the album. Van Halen recorded guitar tracks for "Joy to the World" after not having been in the studio for some time but immediately made an impression on Lukather with his level of playing. Vai provided guitar work for "Carol of the Bells" along with Lukather's son Trevor, then 14 years old. Slash, who recorded his part in one take, played on the Lukather/Stan Lynch composition "Broken Heart for Christmas". Lukather spoke highly of Slash after the project, calling him the "Keith Richards of our generation". Well-known session guitarist Michael Landau played on the song "Look Out For Angels", and there is a version of "Jingle Bells" featuring a big band and sung by Sammy Davis, Jr. Santamental was recorded in six days, after which Lukather proclaimed it "his first and last Christmas album".
2008–present: Ever Changing Times, All's Well That Ends Well, and Transition
Ever Changing Times, released on February 22, 2008, is a collection of songs Lukather recorded in 2007 between Toto tours. The album contains contributions from fellow session musicians Bill Champlin, Abe Laboriel, Jr., Leland Sklar, Steve Porcaro, and many others. Lukather's son Trevor contributed as well. Joseph Williams provides backing vocals on five of the tracks. Lukather wrote the songs for the album in a hotel room with his son and a handful of other musicians, using basic equipment. His song-writing philosophy is that if a song sounds good with only guitars and vocals, it will likely sound good after a full production. Lukather collaborated with Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer Steve MacMillan on the project, with the goal of introducing some new methods and techniques into the recording process. Lukather described the final tracks as "perfectly imperfect", preferring to record with the five-piece backing band in one room and in one take. MacMillan encouraged Lukather to use "organic, vintage tones". As a result, Lukather eschewed effects and played the guitar parts directly through tube amplifiers manufactured by Marshall, Vox, and some boutique brands. Lukather commented that MacMillan served as a valuable "second set of ears" in the studio, often encouraging him to keep parts that he normally would have discarded. As Toto had recently disbanded when Ever Changing Times was released, Lukather embarked on a solo tour to promote the album. The shows featured a mixture of songs from the album, songs written for other side projects, and "a few Toto obscurities".
Lukather's sixth studio album, All's Well That Ends Well, was released on October 11, 2010, in Europe and Japan, and November 16 as a digital download worldwide. The material was written predominantly in collaboration with longtime associate C. J. Vanston, and the album features stalwart musicians from Lukather's touring band. Songwriter Randy Goodrum, who has collaborated with Lukather many times over the years including on the 1986 Toto single "I'll Be over You", contributes to the track "Brody's". All's Well That Ends Well draws from Lukather's personal experiences in the two years since Ever Changing Times. Critic Arlene Weiss noted that the album features three distinct flavors of music: one that "bares [Lukather's] soul and emotional heartache", one that pans elements of popular culture like TMZ.com, and one that expresses optimism and enthusiasm about the future. While Lukather focused on instrumental writing and production on previous albums but collaborated with lyricists, he wrote much of the lyrics for All's Well That Ends Well himself. Lukather describes the album as being a "real" and "honest" reflection of the period between 2008 and 2010, when he experienced difficulties within his private life.
In December 2011, Lukather announced the beginning of work on Transition. The album was produced with songwriter and record producer C. J. Vanston and involved musicians Chad Smith, Gregg Bissonette, Leland Sklar, Steve Weingart, and others. Throughout 2012, Lukather released notes and news of the album development through his web site. The title was announced on October 12, 2012. The album was released January 21, 2013.
When not working with Toto, Lukather has participated in numerous side projects including playing with jazz fusion band Los Lobotomys and with other session musicians, and touring with Larry Carlton, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and others.
Lukather was a long-time member of the band Los Lobotomys, a collaboration of session musicians including jazz and be-bop player David "Creatchy" Garfield and Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro, replaced after his death by Simon Phillips, who also replaced Porcaro in Toto. Los Lobotomys formed in the mid-1980s and played regular shows in the Los Angeles area, often inviting whatever session musicians happened to be available and in the area. They recorded an album under the Los Lobotomys name in 1989, and the band was heavily involved in the recording of Lukather's Candyman. Los Lobotomys recorded a live album in 2004 comprising several tracks from Candyman and from the 1989 album.
In 1998, Lukather received an invitation to tour Japan with fellow guitarist Larry Carlton after Japanese promoters requested that Carlton's annual tours each be different from the last. Lukather and Carlton exchanged some recorded material and decided that a collaboration would be interesting. Lukather was flattered by the invitation to tour with Carlton, citing him as his favorite guitarist. Lukather speaks highly of their stage efforts, although the two were admittedly outside their normal realm of work. He stated in an interview that "you can hear us having fun on the record—you can hear the smiles on our faces." After several shows, the duo realized that they should record their collaboration even if just for their own use. Guitarist and producer Steve Vai heard one of the subsequent recordings and expressed interest in releasing it under his Favored Nations label, also home to such artists as Eric Johnson and Dweezil Zappa. Vai and Lukather mixed and produced the recording, which is said to be a mixture of jazz, blues, and fusion music. The resulting album, No Substitutions: Live in Osaka, won a 2001 Grammy award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. Album reviewers described Lukather as having a heavier style than Carlton. Lukather and Carlton later did an international tour in support of the album.
In 2005, Lukather won critical praise for his rendition of the Jimi Hendrix song "Little Wing" at a gala 90th birthday celebration for jazz guitarist Les Paul. Returning after a five-year absence, the 2012 G3 Tour featured Lukather alongside Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
In the autumn 2006, Lukather contributed his cover-version of the Michael Landau-song "I'm Buzzed" (originally from Landau's Tales From The Bulge album) from a live recording of his side band project, El Grupo, to the album project Artists for Charity - Guitarists 4 the Kids, produced by Slang Productions, to assist World Vision Canada in helping underprivileged kids in need.
In February 2012, Ringo Starr announced that Lukather would be the guitarist in his All Starr Band for their summer tour. Lukather has been touring with that ensemble since that time, performing three Toto songs ("Hold The Line," "Rosanna," and "Africa") nightly.
Lukather periodically contributes material and expertise to instructional and educational enterprises. In 1985, he released the instructional "Star Licks" guitar video featuring many of the guitar parts from the first five Toto studio albums. It was released on DVD in 2005. The guitarist has also been participating in the Fermatta Master Class Series project, an educational cooperative organized by the Fermatta Music Academy in Mexico.
Musical Style And Equipment
Influenced by such blues-rock guitarists as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, and such jazz fusion players as Al Di Meola and Frank Gambale, Lukather is known for a "melodic and intense" playing style. He has also cited Steely Dan as a major long-time influence—one that emerges prominently in later solo work such as All's Well That Ends Well. Journalist Jude Gold notes that his vibrato is very pronounced and his "exaggerated wide bends" are distinctive and quickly recognizable. Well-versed in music theory, Lukather can follow chord charts and changes in a way typical of jazz musicians—this ability enhances his value as a session musician. In interviews, he has explained how he thinks of the guitar in a "chordal cluster" format, and not the typical "linear scale" format.
Lukather's approach to engineering his sound in the studio is usually simple. He is not known for doing a large number of takes or for incorporating much overdubbing—rather, he has a reputation for doing only single takes for many parts. He has said about this approach: "If a solo didn't work—either because I didn't have the right sound, or because I wasn't inspired at that moment—I'd just move on. A part either works or it doesn't. You can't batter it into submission, or force inspiration to save you. It's always better to just surrender, and then come back later to give it a go with fresh ears." Although he enjoys the technical mastery that is possible in the studio, Lukather prefers the dynamic of performing live on stage. He has stated that dynamics are the most important element of producing a recording with good sound quality.
Despite being known in the past for having an intricate set of effects units, Lukather now says he plays mostly free of such modifications after seeing some overdone commercial unit configurations named after him. Other than some delay, he has not used many effects in recent years. He has held a long association with Bob Bradshaw of Custom Audio Electronics, who designed and manufactured key elements of Lukather's effects rack. Lukather was one of the few official endorsers of EMG pickups, having collaborated on his own Lukather signature "SL20" pickup system, which is a single unit incorporating two different types of pickups (including a humbucker), single volume and tone knobs, and a pickguard. He has a line of DiMarzio pickups called "Transition".
Lukather endorses Music Man guitars and has a signature model named "Luke" that incorporates his signature EMG pickup system. The guitar started out with only MusicMan specifications (including a Floyd Rose locking vibrato, later replaced with a vintage-style fulcrum bridge), but in 1998, the manufacturer made several customizations to the model to better fit Lukather's playing style. Music Man also produces a Ball Family Reserve Steve Lukather Model that features an alder body with a mahogany "tone block" inlaid under the pickups, capped with a figured maple top and transparent finish. In 2012 a new version of the guitar called the LIII was introduced with a 3% larger but similarly contoured body, all-rosewood neck and passive pickup options (dual humbucker or single single humbucker) combined with an active preamp and 12 db boost activated from a push/push tone pot. In 2013 Lukather changed to a roasted maple neck with a rosewood fret board, citing the exceptional stability of roasted maple while touring as a factor in his decision. As a result the LIII specification and production was changed to match Lukather's preference. Lukather has also been known to play Ibanez and Valley Arts guitars. His relationship with Ibanez and Valley Arts yielded an endorsement for a brief time in the 1980s with the release of the Ibanez Roadstar RS1010SL and Valley Arts Custom Pro Steve Lukather Signature guitars in 1984–85. He has played Ovation Adamas series acoustic–electric guitars. Starting before his 2010 All's Well That Ends Well tour, Lukather began playing and endorsing Yamaha Studio Response Technology acoustic–electric guitars.
Lukather has spoken of his friendship with former Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison. In 2013 he said, "Ringo’s truly a pal, you know? He’s become a mentor." Of Harrison he has said, "he turned me on to Transcendental Meditation and very positive spiritual stuff that I still use daily."