They asked Lukather to join in forming their band, Toto, in 1976 when Lukather was nineteen years old. He was a member of Toto from that time until the band split up in 2008. Lukather's reputation as a guitarist and his association with Paich and Porcaro, already established session musicians, allowed him to secure a great deal of session work in the 1970s and 1980s. He is a prolific songwriter, writing or co-writing many songs for Toto and other artists. His career has encompassed hundreds of performances and album appearances with Toto and other well-known musicians. Lukather has been nominated for 12 Grammy awards, and has won five times.
Lukather is known for his acumen in the studio, often recording tracks in one take using minimal sound processing. Although known for using many guitar effects in the studio and on stage, he now frequently disparages such practice, and instead advocates clean tones and minimal studio processing. Lukather plays primarily a signature electric guitar manufactured by Ernie Ball Music Man bearing his nickname, Luke, and equipped with a custom set of EMG pickups. He also plays Ovation Adamas acoustic-electric guitars.
Steven Lee Lukather was born on October 21, 1957 in San Fernando Valley, California. He first played keyboards and drums, and then taught himself how to play the guitar starting at age seven, when his father bought him a Kay acoustic guitar and a copy of The Beatles album Meet the Beatles. Lukather claims that the album "changed his life" and that he was greatly influenced by the guitar playing of George Harrison in particular.
In high school, Lukather met David Paich and the Porcaro brothers (Jeff, Steve, and Mike), all of whom became members of Toto. Lukather, who had been a self-taught musician until then, began taking guitar lessons from a musician named Jimmy Wyble, who expanded Lukather's knowledge of different aspects of music, such as orchestration. It was during this period that Lukather became interested in the idea of becoming a session musician, which provided opportunities to play with a variety of famous musicians.
Jeff Porcaro, who was playing drums with Steely Dan, became a mentor to Lukather and furthered his interest in session work. Lukather's first job in the music industry was studio work with Boz Scaggs, after which Paich and Porcaro—who had become prominent session musicians in their own right—asked Lukather to join them in forming Toto in 1976, along with Bobby Kimball, David Hungate, and Steve Porcaro. Lukather turned down an offer to join Miles Davis's band to accept their invitation.
Lukather was the lead guitarist for Toto, as well as a lead and backing vocalist and composer. In the early years of the band's history, David Paich wrote most of the songs that appeared on Toto records and in the charts. Lukather also credits Jeff Porcaro for his leadership within the band. Lukather's role in Toto evolved, and following Porcaro's death Lukather felt that he needed to step up and make sure the band kept going. Lukather won three of his five Grammy awards for work with Toto, twice as an artist and once as a producer.
After the 1990 dismissal of their fourth vocalist, Jean-Michel Byron, Toto was without a lead singer until around 1997; Lukather assumed most of the vocal duties for the band during that time. He performed lead vocals for every track on 1992's Kingdom of Desire and 1995's Tambu except for two instrumental tracks. The Tambu single "I Will Remember", co-written by Lukather and Stan Lynch, reached #64 on UK charts. Some Tambu reviewers contrasted Lukather's vocals with those of former singers such as Bobby Kimball (and indeed, panned the entire album), some concert reviewers noted that he struggled vocally on certain songs, and a number of backup singers and guest vocalists accompanied the band's live shows during that period. It was not until Toto brought back former lead singers Joseph Williams and Bobby Kimball to collaborate on 1998's Toto XX that Lukather returned to mainly backup vocals.
Lukather's songwriting contributions grew from a smattering of tracks on early Toto albums to almost every track from the late 1980s. He wrote very few of Toto's earlier hits by himself however, with the notable exception of the hit single "I Won't Hold You Back" from Toto IV. Lukather has admitted that writing lyrics is not one of his particular aptitudes. Thus, he collaborates with other band members to complete song ideas and make them into viable album tracks. Lukather contributed to all but one song on Toto's 2006 album Falling in Between.
Lukather has frequently expressed frustration in the media over Toto's decline in popularity in the United States since peaking with Toto IV. The American part of the Falling in Between tour was not well attended, and Lukather commented that American audiences prefer the mainstream "cookie-cutter" music typically heard on the radio. He acknowledged that Toto maintains a large overseas fan base, but has criticized the American music industry (MTV in particular), and characterized the industry as catering to "any bonehead with a computer and a cute haircut". He has also criticized popular guitar magazines for covering unremarkable guitarists, citing Billy Corgan as an example.
In June 2008, Lukather decided to leave Toto. This decision directly led to the official dissolution of the band. On his website, Lukather stated: " Honestly I have just had enough. This is NOT a break. It is over. [...] I just cant [sic] do it anymore and at 50 years old I wanted to start over and give it one last try on my own."
Lukather achieved notability in the 1970s and 1980s as one of the most sought-after session guitarists in Los Angeles, playing with a wide range of artists from Aretha Franklin to Warren Zevon. He performed the famous guitar solo for Olivia Newton-John's biggest single ever on 1981's "Physical", which also doubled as Billboard's #1 single of the 1980's. He has performed on over 1,000 records spanning 36 years. He largely credits fellow Toto members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro for getting him exposure in the industry.
Notable sessions include: Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and "Human Nature" (co-written by Toto member Steve Porcaro), Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back" single from Nicks' 1983 album The Wild Heart, several tracks from the Don Henley album I Can't Stand Still, several tracks from the Jackson Browne album Lives in the Balance, two tracks from the Lionel Richie album Can't Slow Down, and the Richard Marx album Repeat Offender. Besides sessions, Lukather has also written hits for such artists as The Tubes and George Benson, for whose song "Turn Your Love Around" Lukather won a Grammy award Lukather also sang background vocals on Van Halen's three new songs on their compilation album, The Best of Both Worlds.
When not working with Toto, Lukather has participated in numerous side projects such as playing with other session musicians in the band El Grupo and touring with Edgar Winter, Larry Carlton, Eric Clapton and others. In 1985, Lukather released the instructional "Star Licks" guitar video featuring many of the guitar parts from the first five Toto studio albums. It was released on DVD in 2005.
El Grupo is a band made up of Los Angeles-area session musicians that plays occasional shows at local clubs. Their sound is a mixture of funk, jazz, and Latino influences, and they produced a CD of live performances in 2005. Lukather has been a long-time member of the band Los Lobotomys, a collaboration of session musicians including jazz and be-bop player David "Creatchy" Garfield and Toto drummer Simon Phillips. Los Lobotomys formed in the mid-1980s and played regular shows in the Los Angeles area, often inviting whatever session musicians happened to be available and in the area. They recorded an album under the Los Lobotomys name in 1989, and the band was heavily involved in the recording of Lukather's Candyman. Los Lobotomys recorded a live album in 2004 comprising several tracks from Candyman and from the 1989 album.
In 1998, Lukather received an invitation to tour Japan with fellow guitarist Larry Carlton after Japanese promoters requested that Carlton's annual tours each be different from the last. Lukather and Carlton exchanged some recorded material and decided that a collaboration would be interesting. Lukather was flattered by the invitation to tour with Carlton, citing him as his favorite guitarist. Lukather speaks highly of their stage efforts, although the two were admittedly outside their normal realm of work. He stated in an interview that "you can hear us having fun on the record—you can hear the smiles on our faces."
After several shows, the duo realized that they should record their collaboration even if just for their own use. Guitarist and producer Steve Vai heard one of the subsequent recordings and expressed interest in releasing it under his Favored Nations label, also home to artists such as Eric Johnson and Dweezil Zappa. Vai and Lukather mixed and produced the recording, which is said to be a mixture of jazz, blues, and fusion music. The resulting album, No Substitutions, won a 2001 Grammy award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. Album reviewers described Lukather as having a heavier style than Carlton. Lukather and Carlton later did an international tour in support of the album.
In 2005, Lukather was noted for his rendition of the Jimi Hendrix song "Little Wing" at a gala 90th birthday celebration for jazz guitarist Les Paul.
Lukather has also been participating in projects such as the Fermatta Master Class Series showing his support for music education around the world.
Lukather and his second wife reside in the Los Angeles area. He recently became a father again. His daughter Tina (from his first marriage) resides in Germany, and son Trevor is an active professional guitarist, frequently performing and attending events with his father.