Welcome to the first installment of the Unsung Guitar Hero series! These posts will be dedicated to spreading the word about phenomenal guitarists who aren’t household names, but probably should be. In some cases, these players are not even well known to your average guitarist!
The first guitarist I’m presenting is the incredible Steve Lukather.
Steve is well known for being a founding member of the group, Toto (“Rosanna”, “Africa”, “Hold the Line”), but he is also a Grammy winner and one of the most recorded guitarists in pop history, having served as a first-call session player in Los Angeles during the 70s and 80s heyday of the “studio cat”.
“Luke”, as he is known to his friends and fans, is responsible for many of the rhythm tracks, riffs and solos you’ve likely heard on the radio over the last 30 years or so. He has also co-written quite a few major pop hits and played on countless gold and platinum albums, most notably, Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Although Luke is well-known and highly respected among his peers and fans, he doesn’t have a lot of name recognition among the average music fan or guitarist. In this post we hope to change that by giving you a short biography and some interesting factoids about our Unsung Guitar Hero, and also treat you to a list of recommended listening and some great videos. Let the games begin!
The Very Short Bio
Luke was high school buddies with the Porcaro brothers and David Paich, the guys who were to form Toto. They were a little older and already becoming somewhat established in the LA music scene at the time. They not only started Toto with him, but they also recommended Luke when Sonny and Cher were in need of a touring guitarist. He was 19.
After that, our Guitar Hero was simultaneously playing and recording with his band, Toto, and also, slowly but surely, ramping up his session work until he was playing multiple recording sessions a day with some of the music biz’s most prominent artists. During the heyday of the LA session musician, Luke was one of the first-call players and always the top choice when the producer was in need of a screaming guitar solo (he was a particular favorite of esteemed producer, Quincy Jones).
Here’s a more comprehensive bio for your reading pleasure: Luke’s Wiki entry
Quick Hits and Interesting Factoids
As a young guitarist, Luke’s first influences were George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Beck, among others. As a mature artist, he’s recorded and/or toured with other guitar greats, such as Larry Carlton, Slash, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Steve Stevens.
First major gig was as a touring guitarist for Sonny and Cher.
Credited on 747 albums by 230 different artists.
Hits as a songwriter include “Turn Your Love Around” (George Benson), “She’s a Beauty” and “Talk to Ya Later” (The Tubes).
Some famous guitar solos include “Dirty Laundry” – 2nd solo (Don Henley), “Breakdown Dead Ahead” (Boz Scaggs), “She’s a Beauty” and “Talk to Ya Later” (The Tubes), “Running With the Night” (Lionel Richie), from Grammy Album of the Year Can’t Stand Still, and “Physical” (Olivia Newton-John), the top song on the charts for the entire decade of the 1980s.
With Toto, Luke played and sang on hits including “Hold the Line” (peaked at #5 on the Hot 100), “99” (peaked at #26), “Rosanna” (Grammy winner for Record of the Year, peaked at #2), “Africa” (the band’s only #1). He also wrote and sang lead on their hit, “I Won’t Hold You Back” (peaked at #10 on Hot 100, #1 on Adult Contemporary).
Contributed rhythm guitar tracks for major hits, including “Beat It”, “The Girl is Mine” and “Human Nature” from Michael Jackson’s record-setting album, Thriller, as well as “Stand Back” (Stevie Nicks), “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (Chicago), “Look What You’ve Done to Me” (Boz Scaggs), “We’re In This Love Together” (Al Jarreau), “Say You Say Me” (Lionel Richie), “I Love LA” (Randy Newman), “If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful” (Whitney Houston/Jermaine Jackson), “I Found Someone” and “If I Could Turn Back Time” (Cher), “The Motown Song” (Rod Stewart), “A Little More Love” (Olivia Newton-John), “Love Is the Answer” (England Dan and John Ford Coley), among dozens of others.
One of the first prominent guitarists to use a Bob Bradshaw-designed switching system pedalboard in the 80s, Luke was known for his effects-laden sound (which he currently regards as being dated).
Has a signature electric guitar (The “Luke”) manufactured by Ernie Ball/Music Man.
Nominated 12 times for Grammy awards, with 5 wins.
In 2012, Luke will be on the G3 Tour with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
Steve Lukather is probably the biggest influence on my own personal guitar style and attitude.
As a child of the 70s and 80s, I came up at the same time he was prominently featured on hit songs, so I heard his playing a lot and was heavily influenced by his sound and style. I accumulated as many of the records he played on as I could, even from artists that didn’t really interest me themselves, just so I could study his solos and rhythm tracks. I also read as many interviews with him as possible, which led me backwards to Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck’s Truth album, and Larry Carlton’s work with Steely Dan, especially on songs like “Kid Charlemagne” and “Don’t Take Me Alive”. Luke’s knack for weaving jazzy, chromatic lines into his blues-rock vocabulary shows the Carlton influence and sets him apart from other rockers. But his use of hyperspeed licks and the whammy bar (or “wang bar” as Luke says) are pure rock star flash!
Here is a clip from Luke’s Star Licks instructional video back in 1985 where he demonstrates the middle and outro solos from “Rosanna”. I remember renting this VHS tape and photocopying the booklet because I couldn’t afford to buy it! I highly recommending searching YouTube for the remaining clips to this instructional video, as Steve has an easy-going, laid back approach to go along with some blistering chops!
Here is also a fantastic performance of The Beatles’, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which became a standard showcase for Luke on the Toto tours. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to embed the video…but you can follow the link and watch on YouTube. The middle solo at 3:34 is inspired stuff:
Share This Post and Stay Connected
If you enjoyed Unsung Guitar Hero: Steve Lukather, please leave a comment below and share it with others on Facebook or Twitter, or however you like!
Stay connected and JOIN THE MAILING LIST in the right sidebar – it’s quick and easy and you’ll get all the latest and greatest articles and free lessons straight to your inbox!
See you next time!