I want to tell you about the genius that is Steve Lukather. He doesn’t think he’s a genius, and he doesn’t even really thing he compares with what most of us would consider a “guitar hero”. He’s a pretty sensitive guy, although if you see tidbits of interviews here and there you might think he’s pretty outspoken and outgoing. The beauty of today’s media is that you can find out nearly anything about anyone online. However, there was a time when there was a certain mystery to who musicians really were.

I remember in the 80’s when I got this guitar player magazine in the mail:

Steve Lukather guitar player magazine cover

I didn’t really know who Steve Lukather was at the time. I knew pop music but didn’t really follow the musicians in the bands. Not like ones I should know, like Van Halen, Yngwie, Steve Miller, Peter Frampton, Joe Perry, etc. I did not recognize that face or the name (at the time) but he had already played on some of my favorite songs. Had I known at the time that he was the guy on this song, I might have been a little more stoked when that issue came in the mail:

Hold the line was the first hit by the band Toto in 1978. I was 9 years old, and I remember hearing in the morning in the fifth grade getting ready for school on the AM station CKLW out of Detroit. At the time I wasn’t even a guitar player (yet), but the mixture of the guitar and piano riffs got me every time. It was the same year that Hot Child in the City came out by Nick Gilder, and both were my favorites for a long time.

Fast forward to 1982 when I was 13 years old when Toto IV came out. Again, I didn’t know any of the musicians in the band, but I do remember that the hits Africa and Rosanna were played nearly every hour on the top 40 radio (and both also favorites of mine). Again, I didn’t know until I got this guitar player issue in the mail exactly who Steve Lukather was. Even after reading the article, my takeaway was basically “Steve Lukather is the guitar player for Toto, great player”. What you (and most people) probably don’t know are the hundreds (if not thousands) of tracks he’s played on as a studio musician (both credited and non-credited) since the 70’s. You would be shocked how many of your favorite songs over the years actually feature his guitar playing.

Steve got his start in the mid-70’s playing in the studio with Boz Scaggs. Toto was formed in 1976. As he mentions in his interview on the No Guitar is Safe podcast with Jude Gold, he not only knew the right people, he was in the correct geographic location to get the available opportunities at the time. (Toto members) David Paich and Jeff Porcaro helped introduce people that would help him get his foot in the door as a studio session guitarist. Of course, he had to perform in those sessions or he wouldn’t get called back (which he did) – but again, most people don’t realize all the tracks he played on.

Sometimes he was the hired gun to play the guitar solo, other times he was creating and arranging guitar parts for songs, and even other times he was hired to both write and produce music for stars like Lionel Richie, Chicago, Richard Marx, and Donna Summer. Did you know he played the guitar solo on Olivia Newton John’s hit single “Physical”?

Let’s start with two songs I never knew he both wrote and played on, by one of my favorite bands – “The Tubes”:

Talk to Ya Later – I’ve always loved the guitar riff at the beginning of this song, and never knew Luke both wrote and played it:

She’s a Beauty – I can’t count the number of times I watched this video on Mtv. This song came out in 1983, and I never would have though that the killer intro guitar riff, as well as the cutting outro guitar solo were both written and played by Mr. Steve Lukather of Toto. It never would’ve entered my head. And to think I only recently learned about this after all these years.

Let’s go to one of the most famous songs he ever played on – Beat It, from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Everybody knows that Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo. But who plays guitar on the rest of the song? Steve Lukather (who came up with that famous riff!).

Remember Don Henley’s hit “Dirty Laundry” in the 80’s? Who can forget that searing second guitar solo at the end of the song. It’s so memorable, and the phrasing is impeccable. Probably because (again) it’s Steve Lukather!

I have read that he is credited on 747 albums by 230 artists (and growing). He was a favorite session player of Quincy Jones for many, many years (for good reason). He played on both The Girl is Mine and Human Nature on Thriller. He plays guitar on this track you would never have guessed – Stand Back by Stevie Nicks:

Would you have guessed he played on “If I Could Turn Back Time” by Cher?

The list goes on and on and on, including playing on 4 different Van Halen albums, 10 Michael Jackson albums, 5 Lionel Richie albums, 3 Kenny Rogers albums, 3 Kenny Loggins albums, 4 Joe Cocker albums, 12 George Benson albums, 4 Eric Clapton albums, 4 Elton John albums, 4 Donna summer albums, 15 Cher albums, 3 Bob Seger records, 3 Alice Cooper records, and even 1979’s “Dream Police” album by Cheap Trick.

One of the things he said in the podcast I linked to earlier rings true with my assessment of him as a player, he said “people try to pigeonhole me, but I’m not a metal player, not a blues player, not a country player, not a rock player – you just can’t stick me in any of those boxes. I can’t do what those guys do, and I try not to do what those guys do”.

That is so true of his playing. He can play blues without playing standard blues licks. His tasteful and (seemingly) well thought out lyrical guitar lines always speak to the song and not the technical prowess of his ability as a player. The guitar lines have personality, soul, and style all at the same time without unnecessary in your face flash. His playing screams “I love music”, not “I love speed”. His playing sounds effortless and like he’s speaking through the guitar without having to think much about how it will come out. He has even said that many (if not most) takes of his studio work were done one time. He talks about going out of his way to not do what everyone else is doing but he plays as if he doesn’t have to think about it at all. And it’s funny – listening to his solos in 1975 with Boz Scaggs you can hear (even then) is you listen closely, it’s unmistakable Lukather.

Steve has many albums with Toto, many solo albums, and he has played on dozens of compilation albums as well over the years. You should seek out his playing whenever you can. His signature guitar, a model simple called the “Luke” is a HSS design produced by Ernie Ball Music man. It’s a beautiful, as well as professional touring grade guitar:

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