Versatile musician, guitarist, vocalist, composer, producer and arranger Steve Lukather was born in Los Angeles on October 21, 1957. Before his father bought him a guitar (a simple Kay acoustic) and a copy of Meet the Beatles at the age of seven, Luke started to play drums and keyboards. “I love keyboards, I write all my songs on keyboards except for the real obvious ‘burn’ tunes. I find it much easier; you have all these great synth sounds and you play a C chord and it sounds like God, and you start thinking melodies as opposed to chops.”
The guitar and the Beatles album changed the life of the young boy. “Just the sound of it overcame my whole soul, if you want to call it that. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I remember George Harrison played a solo in I saw her standing there and just the sound of the guitar bending and the reverb struck a nerve inside of me.”
In the years following Lukather taught himself how to play the guitar. He hung out with older friends who showed him how to play and how to set the chords. At high school he met the Porcaro brothers who were a couple of years older. Jeff Porcaro and David Paich were already doing session stuff. “I was self-taught until about fifteen and then I started taking lessons with (classical/jazz/country player) Jimmy Wyble. He taught me how to read and I took a lot of other classes, like orchestration. I wanted to learn. At that point I was really intrigued by the whole session thing. It wasn’t something I wanted to do since I was a little kid. I didn’t know anything about it until I was in high school. I always thought it was kind of cool to be able to play on all these great artists’ records.”
During his high school period especially, Jeff Porcaro turned out to be like a brother and mentor for Steve Lukather. “Jeff was like my mentor; he was a guy I looked up to. He and the whole Porcaro family had so much to do with my getting a break in the music business. Jeff was already in Steely Dan when I met him. That was 1972, and growing up in that whole environment was a gift. We learned the whole Katy lied Steely Dan record before it ever came out. In my high school band I was playing with Mike Landau, John Pierce, Steve Porcaro and Carlos Vega. Everybody else has since gone on to do really well.”
After playing and touring with Boz Scaggs, David Paich and Jeff Porcaro asked Steve Lukather, Bobby Kimball, David Hungate and Steve Porcaro in 1976 to join for their own band Toto. In the meantime David Paich, Jeff Porcaro and people like Jay Graydon involved Lukather more and more in the session business. In the late seventies and the eighties Lukather showed himself a first class and first called session musician, who played with everybody on the planet.
“Toto was Dave and Jeff’s band and vision. I was 19 and so honored to be invited in. You gotta dig, these guys were and still are my heroes. I still can’t believe they chose me!!! It was my personal dream come true and that’s why I stepped up to the plate when someone had to. Paich and Jeff are soul brothers. I use that in the present tense because when Jeff died, so did our leader. Paich was the brains and tunesmith but Jeff was the spirit and soul. You can’t do one without the other. These guys had *IT*! THE thing that you can’t describe. It was like being with geniuses, not in a pompous way at all, just the real thing - the real heart and soul of music. Critics will never understand just how real this band was and still is! Yeah, after four lead singers and my being with the band from day one, I picked up the ball and ran with it! Someone had to! I have NEVER been or will ever be the “leader” of Toto. . . . No one guy is, but I will take the bull by the balls and try and keep this legacy alive.”
In September 1977 Toto released their first album, Toto, that generated the hit singles “Hold The Line,” “I’ll Supply The Love” and “Georgy Porgy.” With the album, David Paich and Steve Lukather started a more than 25-year career with Toto. Lukather did some minor contributions to the songwriting in the first years of the Toto career. However, his contributions increased by degrees. “I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid, but I kind of stopped writing when I joined Toto because Dave had all these incredible tunes. Every day he’d come in and say ‘Dig my new tune’ and when he played it, it would be a killer tune - to my ears anyway. But towards the second album, like the song ‘Hydra’, which was a group written tune and I came up with the riff parts. So it started with that album and on the third album I wrote three tunes and the fourth also had three or four tunes, and then gradually I’m writing more and more. And then there were a couple of hit records with other people, like with The Tubes I wrote “Talk to Ya Later “and “She’s A Beauty” and also the Benson tune, “Turn Your Love Around “with Jay Graydon and Bill Champlin. So I started writing different weird things for other people and that made me a little more confident about my songwriting. Then we started co-writing in the band a little bit more, and by the Toto IV album, we were really writing a lot together.”
The year 1982 turned out to be the most successful (commercially) in Toto’s and Lukather’s career. Lukather, Paich and Jeff and Steve Porcaro contributed heavily to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, which turned out to be the most successful album in music history ever (over 50 million copies). The album Toto IV went platinum and the hit singles “Rosanna” and “Africa” became all time classics. A year later Toto received six golden grammophones at the Grammy Awards; Toto IV and Lukather gained a Grammy for best rhythm & blues song, “Turn Your Love Around,” co-written with Jay Graydon and Bill Champlin.
Although the next Toto albums were less successful than Toto IV, Lukather was (co-)writing more than ever and appeared to be more and more selective in his session work. “We did the sessions for a long time but we’re not doing that anymore. It kind of bugs me that people still go, “Oh yeah, those studio guys.” I’m tired of that label. I’m proud of a lot of the work I did and I’m ashamed of some of the other work. You know, sometimes you have to polish a turd. That’s the bottom line. That’s what it is, man - get out the brown polish, man, here we go. I just didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to play music that I liked with people that I respected.”
After touring with Jeff Beck, Simon Phillips and Carlos Santana in Japan, Lukather released his first solo album Lukather (1989), music wise a very heterogeneous album with contributions of lots of musical friends he respected and had worked with: Michael Landau, Danny Kortchmar, Randy Goodrum, Eddie Van Halen, David Paich, Steve Stevens, Jeff Porcaro, Richard Marx, etc. In the same year he released the first (self-titled) album of his side project Los Lobotomys, live recorded with the cream of west coast musicians like David Garfield, Jeff Porcaro, Vince Colaiuta and Will Lee for example. “I like to be making records or playing live. That’s why I play with Los Lobotomys. We don’t rehearse; it’s just fun to get together and play in a club just to keep the chops up. I like to feel the tips of my fingers and it makes me feel like I’m doing something.”
In 1991, right after the departure of Toto’s fourth lead singer Jean-Michel Byron, Steve Lukather takes over the role of lead singer in the band. “There are certain techniques that you can learn from professional vocal coaches. I never lost my voice in the all the shows that we did. It was amazing to me. But I warm up properly. It takes me 20 or 25 minutes just to sing along with this tape while I’m getting dressed. Then I’d play the guitar for 20 minutes, have a beer and shoot the sh**, stretch out and I was ready to go. It’s like anything else. It’s like playing guitar, man. If you haven’t played for a while and you pick it up and you start playing all this stuff, after a while your muscles feel tight.”
In 1992, right after the Kingdom of Desire recordings, Lukather had to cope with one of the most heavy losses in his life, the sudden death of his brother and mentor Jeff Porcaro, who died of a heart attack after an allergic reaction to a pesticide he was spraying in his garden. “How can I equate this? It’s so hard for me to actually come to grips with how to put how I feel into words. It’s so hard. I’ll never be the same without him. But he’ll always be with me. I have pictures of him over at my house. I feel his presence.”
“Lots of people think when Jeff died, so did Toto. True in some ways but the rest of us left to now play together would not bring Jeff back. We are trying to keep the music alive. I am the only guy that has made every Toto gig and been there from day one, nor have I backed off of trying to keep this thing burnin’. Maybe we will never write an “Africa” again . . . but we will die trying! We have been together as Toto for 28 years; more if you count high school. We have done amazingly well against all odds and critics hatred worldwide. Jeff lives in our hearts and the music he created with us, and Jeff was always the last word! He just happened to be the coolest and smartest and most together . . . despiterumors, of which there are many!!!”
A few weeks before the Kingdom of Desire tour the three Toto members Steve Lukather, David Paich and Mike Porcaro decided to go ahead with the tour and asked Simon Phillips, who toured with Lukather before in Japan, to replace Jeffrey. This decision turned out to be a ‘lucky’ one, because Simon developed himself as an integral member of Toto and a very stimulating musical partner for Lukather and his band Los Lobotomys. “But I’m still here to play and we’ve been playing. At one point of course we thought we should break up. We haven’t had a record out in the States in five years. This record, Kingdom of Desire, is the last piece of work that Jeff did with us. He had something to do with the writing and the whole spirit of the four guys who went to school together, without the three lead singers who for various reasons just didn’t last. That was always a big problem with Toto as far as identity. We started out as a Hard Rock band and we ended up with the record company getting way too involved with the choice of singles. Since we have a new record company it’s like a new lease on life. Then Simon Phillips came out and played with us.”
After the Kingdom of Desire tour, Lukather apparently had to change his mind – about his life and his musical career. On the Toto album Tambu he and his musical mates did a lot of personal reflection in the lyrics of the songs. “Where do I go from here? How do I find my way? When is it loud and clear, that there’s no turning back? No looking back. Where do I go from here? Nobody gets away. It’s a new kind of fix, for the poor and the rich. You never know what’s coming next. . . .”
Lukather’s second album, Candyman (1994), actually a very coherent and heavy Los Lobotomys project with Simon Phillips, David Garfield and Fee Waybill. His third solo album Luke (1997) is a very personal and musical journey through the past. His fourth solo album, Santamental (2003), is a very hazardous fusion and rock interpretation of classic and new Xmas songs. Toto’s five new projects culminate in the return of Bobby Kimball as lead singer on Mindfields (1999), Livefields (1999), Through The Looking Glass (2002) and 25th Anniversary Live in Amsterdam (DVD/CD), and lots of interesting musical side projects.
During their Japanese tour in 1998 Carlton and Lukather recorded a couple of shows. In 2001 they released a selection of songs recorded in the Blue Note in Osaka,in November 1998, on their live album, No Substitutions. They finally got their honor in 2002 in Los Angeles, when Larry and Luke win a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album for solo artists, duos or group. Luke stated that this award was particularly meaningful for him because of who his winning partner is. “When I was just starting to play, Larry was my hero. To be standing here 25 years later on stage with him with awards in our hands is a dream come true.”
In view of his musical development, Lukather became more and more open, sensitive and pure. His voice developed strong and warm and his guitar sound became more and more direct and sharp, whether he’s raging or playing tender ballads. All these developments seem to come together on Lukather’s contributions to the album Inertia (2001) by Derek Sherinian, with Simon Phillips, Zakk Wylde, Jerry Goodman and Tom Kennedy. “Derek’s CD is probably my best recorded work in my whole career. Simon got the best outta me. It’s just me playin thru a 1/12 Marshall with my guitar, no effects, just a little delay from the board. Great CD! I’m very proud of it!”
In 2004 and 2005 Lukather contributed to new albums and songs of some old musical friends like Van Halen, Joe Cocker, Edgar Winter, Les Paul & Friends and Tommy Lee. On top of touring with Toto and his new own band El Grupo (with Steve Weingart, Oskar Cartaya and Joey Heredia), Lukather spent a lot of time in the studio in 2005 with his Toto mates to record the new Toto album, Falling in Between, released in 2006 and followed by a major world tour in 2006 and 2007. Having Greg Phillinganes as an official Toto member, replacing David Paich at the live concerts, Lukather and his Toto mates have given their best for the new album. Lukather: “If this is the last record we ever make (it won’t be, I hope), I can walk away knowing we threw DOWN the best we got. I hope the fans will all enjoy and appreciate the love and passion that went into making Falling in Between. Our old singer Joseph Williams came back and did a duet with me that’s total radio, almost like “Africa, Part 2”, plus there is Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), the Chicago horn section, L. Shankar (Peter Gabriel), Lenny Castro, Steve Porcaro, jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove and more guests. I think when people hear it everyone will have a smile on the face. EVERYONE in the band brought their best to the party!”
From September 2006 until the summer of 2007, Lukather worked on his new solo album Ever Changing Times, encouraged by his longtime co-writing friend Randy Goodrum. Lukather: “My writing partner / executive producer Randy Goodrum suggested that I should do this record. He got me excited to do something different and work with such great players and songwriters. I was also thrilled that my son Trevor co-wrote two of the tunes with us and my daughter sang on a tune and all my friends and amazing muses came out to support”. The list of special guest also includes former Toto singer Joseph Williams and Chicago’s Bill Champlin on background vocals, Leland Sklar on bass, Steve Weingart, Jeff Babko, Randy Goodrum on keyboards and synths plus a Steve Porcaro cameo on the instrumental track, Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums and other friends and guest stars who all lent their talent to ensure a truly exciting and fresh result.
The results of this new studio effort, released in February 2008, are eleven songs which incorporate all aspects for which Steve Lukather is well known. “The record rocks harder than Toto, but there is enough melodic stuff on there to please any Toto fan. There is also music that sounds youthful because my co-producer Steve MacMillan and my son were keeping me honest and up to date” says Lukather, “It shows a lot of my influences and music I like. If it sounds good, then I keep it”. Of course the release of Ever Changing Times will get a follow up by a solo world tour from June 2008. Lukather: “I’m the guy that’s really gonna go out and go for it right away. I have a cool product and I’m putting together a great band and I got dates on the books. So I’m hoping that the record does well and I’ll be able to build on that and stay out there for a while and get my own thing going on.”
In the summer of 2008 Lukather decided to leave Toto, which meant the end of the band, and a full focus on his solo career. After two years of touring with his own band (Steve Weingart, Eric Valentine & Carlitos del Puerto) he started the recording of his new solo record, All’s Well That Ends Well, in January 2010. In April 2010 he got the international Eddy Christiani Award for 33 years of guitar mastership.
Steve Lukather’s new album Transition (2013) on Mascot Records strikes a perfect balance of style, power and imagination as he takes risks and challenges him in ways most other players can’t even approach.
That’s been standard operating procedure for this high-wire artist of the six-string for nearly four decades, as his career has gone from the studios of Los Angeles to the world’s biggest concert halls to the helm of the multi-platinum selling group Toto and, recently, to ground-breaking tours with Ringo Starr, guitar geniuses Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and the reunited Toto, who have scheduled a follow-up 35th anniversary tour for 2013.
“I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, and now is a perfect time for me to take stock of that, which is part of what Transition is about”, Lukather says.