Interview Notes: Rick Beato & Steve Lukather

This post contains my notes from Rick Beato’s interview with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather.

Steve Lukather is one of my favorite musicians and guitar players. Everything from his tone, to his lead and rhythm playing, inspires me to be a better guitar player.

This is Steve’s second interview with Rick Beato. Here are my notes from the first interview.

Steve has also written a book, “The Gospel According to Luke“, which goes in-depth into his life as a session guitar player in LA.

Watch the full interview on YouTube here.

Sight reading

Not many guitar players are good sight readers. Lukather in his youth had a great ear and could play well, but had to start as a beginner to sight read. Wished he had started to learn to sight read at the very beginning.

Lukather met and became friends with guitarist Lee Ritenour in his early days as a session musician. He considered Lee Ritenour to be one of the elite sight readers among studio guitar players.

Studio guitar players

“Tommy Tedesco was the grandfather of all studio guitar players. He had a photographic memory and could sight reading anything.”

“Dean Parks is one of the most unheralded as to where he should be. Ask Larry (Carlton) who was the baddest cat he ever sat next to, he will tell you, Dean.”

“Jay Graydon taught me so much about getting my sound, recommending me for dates, hiring me for his stuff, he’s been a dear brother of mine for 46 years.”

Larry Carlton shared with me the way he thinks, in terms of triads with different bass notes. A lot of people get freaked out over the whole 13 flat 9, what do I play over that. Larry opened up a different way for me to look at it. Play a D flat triad. Look at it as a D flat chord with an E in the bass. It will open up a lot more real-estate for you as to where you can go with that.”

Your own style

To come up with your own playing style, learn the solos and tricks of the artists that you admire. Incorporate that into your own playing. Eventually you’ll start to develop your own sound.

Play along to records. Figure out why the rhythm feels good. A lot of records didn’t have clicks.”


“Steely Dan, those guys were a huge influence. The Beatles are my number one, but Steely Dan is up there as well. What they did harmonically, I just love their music.”

“The Nightfly” album by Donald Fagen is one Lukather’s dessert island albums. The song “Ruby Baby” has what Lukather considers a perfect piano solo.

Arranger’s ear

“I have an arranger’s ear. That’s what successful studio musicians all had. When you sit down and look at a chart, and it says B minor, A, G, or E. You have to be able to listen to the music and hear parts around the melody and the changes.

A great example of Lukather using his arranger’s ear is the muted guitar part he came up with on the song “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson. The part utilizes Common Tones from the harmony and also incorporates the melody from the song.

Delivering under pressure

The red light fever is real. The pressure is deep. You can’t fold up because things are tough. You have to double down or you are out.”

Solos on “Rosanna”

In Toto’s song “Rosanna”, the original plan was to end the song after the final chorus. While recording the second take, the band was happy with the take so they didn’t stop playing after the final chorus. The result ended up being the ending jam in the song. Lukather improvised that solo on the spot.

“It has notes from a rock pentatonic thing. I would never call myself a Jazz musician. I’d call myself a Rock musician that studied music, loves Jazz, loves R&B, loves Fusion, loves all of it, but I’d never transcribed a Coltrane solo in my life, I didn’t sit with the Fake Book, I don’t know every two five one turnaround.”

“It wasn’t a typical pentatonic. I was using chromatics while defining the actual shape of the chord without being obvious.”

Relaxing when playing

Relax your wrist. If you play stiff, it’s harder to execute and you’ll get tendonitis.

When it starts to hurt from practice, please stop. Get up, stretch it out, walk around. Otherwise you’ll practice yourself into hell.”

Honest critique of modern rock music

“If I could have one honest critique of modern rock music, or modern pop music in general, there’s a lot of phenomenal players that make you go wow, what there’s not is a lot of phenomenal songs.”

“The harmony. The chords not being a stupid one-three-five simple. Having altered chords, sevenths, ninths.”

“I’m not trying to put down modern music. But music for us, that was it. No cellphone. No distractions. For a new album we went to the guy’s house with the best stereo and we take these records, take the artists effort, it meant something.”

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