How Steve Lukather influenced my guitar playing and learning

This is going to be a longer and stream of concsciousness-type of post, so if you lose interest just jump to the final paragraph for the morale of the story…

My alltime top 5 guitarists are probably Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, who can ever tell. There was a time – when I started to get serious about playing electric guitar – when I spent 3-8 hours a day practicing, working mostly through scales, songbooks by Extreme and Mr. Big, and improvisation. Ear training was done by learning Satriani’s melodies (remember the times when you couldn’t look up everything at aztabs.com?). Vai’s crazy stuff I learned from my guitar teacher, as well as some Dixie Dregs just for fun.
Later Dream Theater entered the fold and Petrucci’s lines became the training material, until the Under a Glass Moon solo became somewhat bearable.
So this was a time where everything was about guitar. I read every issue of Gitarre&Bass (think ‘Guitar’ in German), collected every issue, listened to records, chatted with friends about this solo phrase, that tone, and every detail you could imagine.
A time when you think you saw it all (Van Halen and tapping was old news in the early 90s) and string skipping (Paul Gilbert) and bending a string off the fretboat to play it percussively (George Lynch) were the rage.
My best friend was a Malmsteen maniac, so all those songbooks were available as well. It became apparent though at that time that he and I were following different paths. He was recreating the original, often with the greatest attention to detail, pick overtones in The Audience is Listening come to mind. I was more interested in rocking the song, getting aquainted with the guitarist’s chops and trying to take what I can for my own style.
And I’ll get to Steve Lukather now, just in case you were wondering. The year before I graduated high school Steve published the Candyman record. Rocking, grooving, bluesing away, with an ultimate band feeling. I had listened to Toto before of course, though not quite with the passion my three year older band mates did. I actually liked Africa and Rosanna, but was more of the Hold the Line and Home of the Brave kind of person. We covered Home of the Brave with the band and it was always the instrumentalists own tiny moment right then and there. Kingdom of Desire and Tambu were also cool, those were the days.
We had seen the Candyman tour once already in Hamburg’s Fabrik, getting a somewhat uncomfortable but perfect view crouched down on the second-floor floor directly above the band. Then Simon Phillips had an appearance scheduled at the Frankfurt Music Fair which ended up not being a workshop, instead he started playing and never stopped for 45 minutes – musician’s bliss at that time. On the day after my graduation party we saw Lukather again in Hannover. Slightly hungover I got my last live fix for 17 years, until finally, in late October of this year our schedules matched when he came back to Hamburg and rocked the Markthalle, including parts of my favorite, Party in Simon’s Pants. After seeing some other bands playing to half empty stands it was great to see that he seemed to have sold out the venue.

The thing most people don’t know about Steve Lukather is that he is not just the guitarist and face of Toto but also one of the most accomplished studio musicians, lending his chops to the who-is-who since he was 19 and you can hear it when he plays and in his compositions. He can play, for sure, but there is this melting pot of style that enables him to pull off a lengthy ballad plus solo as credible as a faster rock number. He’s 54 now, but that means in the business for more than 35 years…

Coming off age as a guitarist from 92-95 there is one quote of his that deeply influenced me. He freely imagined that his style was the result of taking a pinch here and a pinch there, sort of “stealing” from other guitarists. That it was almost impossible not working like that. I took that to heart and but looking back at reading the interview and taking the advice it feels like an epiphany. Because it obviously is great learning advice that works for everything, life and business. You look at things, judge what you like and what seems to work and emulate it, adapt that part into your own life, work and guitar playing. The other thing he embodies is that you need to surround yourself with the best people in order to grow. He plays with great musicians on his records and live (boy did he have a great band in October) which in turn make him better and make him record stronger songs. Looking forward, always.

(Read more info about him on wikipedia, his website, follow him on twitter and listen to his latest record – it’s really good.)