Why Axe Legend Steve Lukather is the #1 Session Guitarist of All Time

The average session musician does not usually become an Axe Legend. However, one session musician who has made a huge name for himself in the music industry is Steve Lukather. When it comes to session guitarists, no one ranks higher than Steve Lukather. Many famous musicians have sought his guitar talent for over 40 years now. He is one of the few versatile guitarists who can play across multiple music genres, including rock, jazz, blues, and R&B.

Musical Style

Lukather has a unique music style that critics describe as 'melodic' and 'intense'. While other guitarists follow standard “linear scale” playing formats, Lukather prefers “chordal clusters” often employed by jazz musicians. His axe legend inspiration comes from the blues and rock guitarists he listened to growing up, such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. 

Axe Legend Steve Lukather

Association with “Toto”

Lukather’s work as a session guitarist did not earn him much fame amongst music fans. Most people recognize Lukather as the original lead guitarist, vocalist, and composer for the band “Toto.” When the band released a self-titled album “Toto” in 1978, it ranked amongst the Top Ten on the music charts and spawned a hit single entitled “Hold the Line.”   

At just 20 years old, Lukather was already considered a rock star. He continued to play in the band while recording guitarist sessions on the side. You can hear his guitar playing on the albums of Cher, Leo Sayer, the Pointer Sisters, Alice Cooper and Boz Scaggs. Surprisingly, most “Toto” fans were unaware that their axe legend had recorded guitar sessions for these other musicians and their albums.   

When Lukather recorded two new albums for “Toto” entitled “Hydra” in 1979 and “Turn Back” in 1981, they did not achieve as much success as the first album. But Lukather didn’t let these minor setbacks keep him down. The band continued working on their fourth album, “Toto IV,” which was released in 1982. It ended up becoming their most successful album of all time. It generated a whopping two hit singles in a row, “Africa” and “Rosanna.”    

The success of “Toto IV” caught the attention of Michael Jackson. He recruited Lukather and his band to record sessions for the future cult classic hit album “Thriller.” Whilst another axe legend, and best friend, Eddie Van Halen, recorded the infamous solo on the Thriller album, Lukather played on every track, earning him more attention from other musicians, who sought his session services. 

Guitars

But for a brief spell in the 1980s, when Steve Lukather endorsed Ibanez guitars (the Roadstar model), he has been using guitars made by Music Man. His latest signature version, the Luke III, features an alder body with a figured roasted maple neck and rosewood fingerboard.
Steve Lukather Music Man Luke III guitar pin

Going Solo  

By the late 1980s, Lukather was more interested in recording solo guitar sessions and albums without his “Toto” band members. His first solo album was the self-titled “Lukather” of 1989. Numerous contributions were made to the album by legendary musicians like Richard Marx, Eddie Van Halen and Steve Stevens.    

“Toto” had several new band members come and go over the years. It got to the point where Lukather served as both the lead singer and guitarist. In 2008, the last original band member left in “Toto” was Lukather. He decided to step down after more than 30 years of being in the band. His departure resulted in the dissolution of “Toto.”    

According to Lukather, he was not happy with the evolution of the band. He didn’t feel it was the same band he created in the 1970s. On top of that, Lukather was mentally and physically stressed from all the guitar performances and session recordings. He wanted to cut it back a bit.    

“Toto” came back in 2010 on a reunion tour, but they did not record anything. In fact, Lukather recorded his last solo album in 2013. He didn’t record anything again until 2020. 

Awards and Accolades

  • Lukather has received numerous awards and accolades to make him worthy of the title “Best Session Guitarist of All Time.” In fact, the Gibson Guitar Corporation has already put him on their list of the “Top 10 Sessions Guitarists of All Time.”    

  • In 1982, Lukather won a Grammy Award for his work on the George Benson single entitled “Turn Your Love Around.” It was deemed the Best R&B Song of 1982. His co-winners for this award included Jay Graydon and Bill Champlin.   

  • In 2002, Lukather won another Grammy Award in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Album for his work on “No Substitutions: Live in Osaka.”    

  • In 2015, Guitar Player Magazine honoured Lukather with a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Where is He Now?

Lukather is still alive and well. He may not be as active as in his younger days, but he continues to perform in moderation. His last project was the solo single “Run to Me,” released in August of 2020. He also has a new album coming out in 2021 entitled “I Found the Sun Again.”

Check out the new Axe Legend Lukather set!

Axe Legend Steve Lukather

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Comments

James Jordan - July 18, 2021

The article should read, “How Many Songs Has Steve Lukather Not Played On!”
Check out how prolific he is on this Spotify link:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2wsIcRLcqckqBU3o2jJuWs

Great article and I bought the Geepin Steve Lukather pin, which is awesome! Keep it up Antony Scott.

James K.

Lewis Yendall - July 18, 2021

Love the article. I’d think it should have been entitled “Why Steve Lukather Is The Number One Most ‘Uncelebrated’ Guitarist of all Time.” He’s always been a favourite of mine, not so much for Toto, but mainly for his playing on so many tracks and albums but he rarely seems to get any acknowledged. So for example, everybody associates the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s massive hit “Beat It” with Eddie Van Halen. But, Lukather played all the guitar parts, including bass on Beat It, expect the solo.
If you listen to the guitar parts on some of Lionel Richie’s great tracks, like ‘Running With The Night", it’s all Lukather. And the great song ‘Turn Your Love Around’ by my all time favourite guitarist, George Benson, was co-written by Steve Lukather and his finger prints are all over the track. So, a big thank you for recognising this amazing guitarist who has contributed so much to contemporary music.

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