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Steve Lukather

Steve "Luke" Lukather (born October 21, 1957) is an American Grammy Award winning guitarist, singer, songwriter, arranger, and record producer best known for his work with the rock band Toto. Lukather has also released several solo albums and, as a studio session guitarist, has arranged, composed, and recorded on over 800 number one albums. While his work with Toto is predominantly based on pop rock music, Lukather's solo work spans many genres including rock, prog, jazz and funk.

Notable session keyboardist David Paich and session drummer Jeff Porcaro asked Lukather to join in forming their band, Toto, in 1976 when Lukather was nineteen years old. He has been a member of Toto ever since. Lukather's talent at guitar playing and his association with Paich and Porcaro, already established session musicians, allowed him to obtain a great deal of session work in the 1970s and 1980s. He is a prolific songwriter, writing or co-writing many songs for Toto and other artists. His career to present has seen hundreds of performances and album appearances with Toto and other famous musicians. Lukather suffers from tinnitus, which developed in the early 1980s. "Yes I have tinnitus, what a drag. I wear earplugs now 'cause of it. I found that it was all the years wearing headphones that did me in more than live playing. I used to have the real expensive plugs, but I found some 2 dollar ones that work just as good and you don't feel bad losing them... My hearing is damaged though. I always have to say "WHAT???", hahaha. Be careful guys, this could happen to you!"


Early life

Lukather was born Steven Lee Lukather on October 21, 1957 in San Fernando Valley, California. He started out playing 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 indicates that the album "changed his life" and that he was greatly influenced by the guitar playing of George Harrison in particular.

While in 7th grade, at Laurel Hall Lutheran School in No. Hollywood, CA., Steve formed a power trio (ala Hendrix) with childhood friend, classmate and fellow guitarist/bassist Ron Sarian. Kevin MacKenzy and Ron's younger brother Donny Sarian switched off on drums. It was in this band, called "English Muffin" in 1970 that Steve made his very first studio recording at the age of 12. It was a single that contained two original songs. Side 1 was called "Grass" and was written by Ron Sarian, featuring Ron on guitar and Steve on bass. Side 2 was called "Leave It" and was written by Lukather, featuring Steve on guitar and Ron on bass. Both songs were sung by Lukather (who sounded like a young Michael Jackson)!

In high school, Lukather met David Paich and the Porcaro brothers (Jeff, Steve, and Mike), all of whom would be eventual members of Toto. Lukather, who had been a self-taught musician thus far, began taking guitar lessons from a musician named Jimmy Wyble who expanded Lukather's knowledge of different aspects of music like orchestration. It was during this period that Lukather became interested in the idea of being a session musician with its opportunities to play with a variety of famous musicians.

Jeff Porcaro, who was playing drums with Steely Dan, became a mentor to Lukather and furthered his interest in session work. After Lukather completed some successful album and tour work with Boz Scaggs, Paich and Porcaro asked Lukather to join them in forming Toto in 1976 along with Bobby Kimball, David Hungate, and Steve Porcaro.


See also: Toto (band)

Lukather is the lead guitarist for Toto, as well as frequent singer and composer. In the early years of the band's history, David Paich wrote most of the songs that appeared on Toto records and on the charts. Lukather also credits Jeff Porcaro for his leadership role in the band. As time progressed, Lukather's role in Toto changed and adapted. When Porcaro died, Lukather felt that he needed to step up and make sure the band kept going.

After firing short-lived vocalist Jean-Michel Byron in 1990, Toto was without a lead singer from approximately 1990 to 1997. Lukather subsequently assumed most of the vocal duties in the band during that time. He provided 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 #64 on UK charts. Despite Lukather's vocal achievements, some Tambu reviewers contrasted Lukather's vocals with those of former singers such as Bobby Kimball (and indeed, panned 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's lead vocal duties subsided.

Most significantly, Lukather's songwriting contributions have grown in number from a smattering of tracks on early Toto albums to almost every track starting in the late 1980s. He has written very few Toto songs by himself; a notable exception is the hit single "I Won't Hold You Back" from the Toto IV album. Lukather has expressed that writing lyrics is not one of his particular aptitudes. Thus, he collaborates with other band members to complete song ideas and make them into viable album tracks. Lukather contributed to all but one song on Toto's 2006 album Falling in Between.

Lukather has expressed frustration in the media with Toto's decline in popularity in the United States since peaking with Toto IV. The American portion of the Falling in Between tour was not well attended and Lukather believes that American audiences prefer the mainstream "cookie-cutter" music typically heard on the radio. He acknowledges that Toto maintains a large overseas fan base, but has criticized the American music industry (MTV in particular) and characterized the industry as catering to "any bonehead with a computer and a cute haircut." He has also criticized popular guitar magazines for covering unremarkable guitarists, citing Billy Corgan as an example.

As one of the original members of Toto, Lukather is the only member of the band to appear in every live show.

Session work

Lukather achieved notability in the 1970s and 1980s as one of the most sought-after session guitarists in Los Angeles, played with a wide range of artists from Aretha Franklin to Warren Zevon. In all, Lukather has performed on over 700 records spanning 18 years. He widely credits fellow Toto members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro for getting him exposure in the industry.

Notable sessions include: Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and "Human Nature" (co-written by Toto member Steve Porcaro), several tracks from the Don Henley album I Can't Stand Still, two tracks from the Lionel Richie album Can't Slow Down, and the Richard Marx album Repeat Offender. Besides sessions, Lukather has also written hits for George Benson, The Tubes, and other artists.

Solo albums

Lukather has released four solo albums: Lukather (1989), Candyman (1994), Luke (1997), and the holiday album Santamental (2003).


Lukather came about after Toto had been recording and playing for eleven years and the band consensus was to take a break. Since Lukather had a number of songs written that did not appear on Toto albums, he decided to pursue a solo album. His intention was to present a dimension of his musical work that fans would not be familiar with, and he collaborated with many notable musicians. Among the people involved in Lukather were Eddie Van Halen, Richard Marx, Jan Hammer, and fellow Toto members Jeff Porcaro and David Paich. Lukather has stated that the album is produced in a very simple manner and that one can hear a lot of ambient studio noise such as counting off on various tracks. 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 Pêna, Chris Trujillo, Lenny Castro, Larry Klimas, Fee Waybill, Richard Page, and Paul Rodgers. Lukather recorded the album in mostly live takes with little overdubbing.

There was some confusion 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.


Released in 1997, Luke was a much different and more introspective album than Lukather's 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 afterward. Luke also features instrumentation not heard on previous Lukather albums such as 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 You" was released as a single.


Santamental was a collaborative project featuring several prominent musicians such as guitarists Edward Van Halen, Slash, and Steve Vai and drummer Gregg Bissonette. When Lukather's record company, Bop City Records, approached him about recording a Christmas album, he quipped, "Why me? Do I look like Father Christmas to you mofos?" 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 result was a challenge to Lukather, who had to be creative to turn the traditionally simple songs into something interesting for listeners.

The musicians Lukather chose for Santamental, most of whom are hard rock veterans, 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." Famous session guitarist Michael Landau played on the song "Look Out You Angels," and there is a previously unreleased version of "Jingle Bells" sung by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Future projects

In September 2006, Lukather announced plans to record two solo albums, one of which will be instrumental.

Side projects

When not working with Toto, Lukather has participated in numerous side projects such as playing with other session musicians in the band El Grupo and touring with Edgar Winter, Larry Carlton, and others. In 1985, Lukather 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.

In 1998, Lukather received an invitation to tour in 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 guitarists 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 artists such 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, 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 was noted for his rendition of the Jimi Hendrix song "Little Wing" at a gala 90th birthday celebration for famous jazz guitarist Les Paul.

Style and equipment

Influenced by blues-rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, jazz guitarists such as Larry Carlton, and jazz fusion players such as Al Di Meola, Lukather's style is unique. He is known for fast, melodic lines that often combine blues phrases with jazzy 'out' notes. His vibrato is very pronounced and unique. Well versed in theory, Lukather can follow chord charts and changes as a jazz musician would, and this 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 is known for his unique approach to using triplets in music, a technique that has been the subject of study and demonstration in Guitar Player magazine. He has also developed a trademark soloing style that is recognizable on tracks he has performed on.

Lukather's approach to engineering his sound in the studio is usually simplistic. He is not known for doing a large number of takes or for incorporating much overdubbing. He has commented that most of his solo recordings consist of single takes. Although he enjoys the technical mastery that is possible in the studio, Lukather prefers the dynamic of performing live on stage.

Despite being known in the past for having an intricate effects rack, Lukather now claims to play mostly free of effects after seeing some overdone commercial effects processors 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 is one of the few official endorsers of EMG pickups, having collaborated on his own Lukather signature "SL20" pickup system. The pickup system is a single unit incorporating two different types of pickups (including a humbucker), single volume and tone knobs, and a pickguard.

Lukather is an endorser of MusicMan guitars and has a signature model named "Luke" that incorporates his signature EMG pickup system. The guitar started out with only MusicMan specifications, but in 1998 the manufacturer made several customizations to the model to better fit Lukather's playing style. 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.


  • 1989 Los Lobotomys (with Los Lobotomys)
  • 1989 Lukather
  • 1994 Candyman
  • 1997 Luke
  • 2001 No Substitutions: Live in Osaka (with Larry Carlton)
  • 2003 Santamental
  • 2004 The Official Bootleg (with Los Lobotomys)
  • 2005 El Grupo Live
  • 2008 Ever Changing Times


  • 1982 - Best R&B Song: Steve Lukather, Jay Graydon, Bill Champlin (for George Benson) - "Turn your Love Around"
  • 1982 - Producer of the Year: Toto - Toto IV
  • 1982 - Album of the Year: Toto - Toto IV
  • 1982 - Record of the Year: Toto - "Rosanna"
  • 2001 - Best Pop Instrumental Album: Larry Carlton & Steve Lukather - No substitutions: Live in Osaka