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This article was originally published in issue #15
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There are few guitarists in the world who have sold as many records as Steve Lukather. That's not to say that every single one of you will have one of his excellent solo albums in your collection, or even one of his classic albums with American AOR band, Toto.
Steve Lukather is one of the world's most respected guitarists - particularly by fellow professionals. Michael Casswell interviewed him on the eve of the launch of his latest album, Transition. Levi Clay provides a background to this extraordinarily gifted player.
There are few guitarists in the world who have sold as many records as Steve Lukather. That's not to say that every single one of you will have one of his excellent solo albums in your collection, or even one of his classic albums with American AOR band, Toto. But the chances are you'll have some of Steve's work as one of the hottest session players of the late '70s onwards, his name appearing on top artists liner notes from Elton John and Cher to Aretha Franklin and Olivia Newton John to Whitney Houston and, of course, the biggest selling album of all time, with Michael Jackson. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Steve might be some old timer, with nothing “cool” about him, but that's where you'd be wrong. Still touring the globe, selling out arenas and tearing his way up and down the fretboard with ferocious speed and military precision.
Born in California in 1957, Lukather picked up the guitar at age seven when the playing of George Harrison caught his imagination on the classic Meet the Beatles album. Initially self taught, eventually he found himself under the tutorage of western swing king Jimmy Wyble, who drilled him in everything academic, most notably orchestration and reading, a skill which Steve is still a great believer in today, as he says: “Anyone that says reading music can hurt your playing is either stupid, lazy or ignorant.” Of course with his heart being in the classic Blues and Rock of the '60s and '70s he's never far from the admission, “Having said that, some awesome players never read, so reading is a tool, not a prerequisite”.
It wasn't long before Steve's tools and musical maturity pulled him onto the session scene, initially with Boz Scaggs on the 1977 album Down Two Then Left. In one year he was featured on over ten great records, including an outing with the Queen of Motown, Diana Ross. Soon he was grabbing everyone's attention, including that of his high school friends David Paich, along with Steve and Jeff Porcaro, who asked him if he would be interested in forming a new band with them to fill the gaps in their busy session schedules. Of course Steve accepted (turning down a role in Miles Davis' band in the process!) and out of this was born Toto.
Featuring everything you wanted to hear back in 1978, Toto's self titled debut was a runaway hit with listeners, despite being slated by the press, but songs like I'll Supply The Love, Georgy Porgy and Hold The Line just couldn't be shot down by critics who couldn't get over the ability of such well seasoned professional musicians to also write great songs. Over the years the group have released 12 albums with series of different members, both official and touring, but Steve has always been a constant. There's so much great Toto material out there that it could be tough to decide where to start listening, but 2007s Falling In Between Live is a flawless performance, with original singer Bobby Kimball and some of their best known songs such as, Rosanna, Africa, Pamela, Isolation, Stop Loving You. along with newer tunes like King of the World (which has one of Steve's best solos caught on video!)
In 1989, when Toto were on an extended break, Lukather decided to release some of the material he had written as a solo project, and this would mark the start of a long series of albums where he could pay tribute to all of the music he loves, from Jeff Beck and Clapton to Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Opening with a Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen collaboration, Twist The Knife is a perfect example of what Steve was about at the time.
When it comes to gear, for many years Steve was seen playing Valley Arts guitars and occasionally a Tyler, but by 1994 he had built a close relationship with Ernie Ball and when the Valley Arts company was sold, it was time for Steve to move over to the Music Man signature guitars we're used to seeing today. Check out our review of the Luke III elsewhere in this issue. Also, for many years Steve has used EMG pickups, so it's definitely big news that we can report Steve now has a signature set of set of DiMarzio's (The Transitions) though you can probably still pick a set of his EMG SL20s, if you're trying to chase his sound.
When it comes to amps and effects, Lukather is a self confessed gear addict who has been hunting for the perfect sound for decades. The downside to that is it's really tough to pick one amp which nails his sound, and even if you could it wouldn't come cheap as Steve has a taste for Mesa Boogies, Custom Audio Electronics and Bogner Ecstasies - that said, any high gain valve/tube amp and a set of good fingers should get you in the right ballpark. For effects Steve has used everything from stomp boxes to five foot tall rack units, but a good multi effects unit like a TC Nova system should enable you to emulate his complex switching system, going from crisp compressed cleans to thick overdrive with delay at the touch of a button.
Over the years Steve's career has gone from strength to strength, with him picking up four Grammys in 1982 from Toto's IV, and writing for George Benson. More solo albums followed as well as another Grammy for his live album, No Substitutions, with Larry Carlton. This may come as a curve ball to some but, as the Los Lobotomys album shows, Steve has a strong relationship with electric Jazz fusion, but his mastery of melodic Rock makes him enough of an in-demand player to get out on the road with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, so he must be doing something right!
2013 sees the release of Steve's eighth solo album, Transition. It sees him continue to strike his usual balance of style, power and imagination that we've come to know and love. “Transition is a turning point for the album and a turning point for me,” Lukather explains. “As we were writing the songs, I was thinking about everything I’ve seen - all the people I’ve lost in my life, the great and the difficult experiences I’ve had, and how ultimately it was time to get it together and embrace things for what they are. We’ve only got one life to live so we should make the most of it.”
Steve Lukather’s seventh solo album, Transition, is released by Mascot Records on Monday 21st January, followed by concerts at London’s Islington O2 Academy (March 29) and Bilston’s Robin 2 (March 30), followed by gigs throughout Europe.