“ALL THE INFLUENCES I’VE HAD SINCE THE FIRST
time I heard the Beatles until I woke up this morning,”
says Steve Lukather, “they all go into my head. That’s
that human hard drive called the brain and the soul.”
Those influences went from Luke’s hard drive onto his
latest solo release, All’s Well that Ends Well, an open,
honest collection of tunes that showcases his songwriting,
playing, and singing talents. The tunes reveal the
depth of a seasoned vet, with a huge range of styles that
goes from Hendrix-y rock to tight funk-pop to Steely
Dan-ish future jazz. The guitar work is stellar throughout,
with Lukather’s emotional bends and fascinating
note choices in classic form. What’s somewhat different
on this record, however, is that Luke’s jaw-dropping chops are kept more in check than in years
past. Gone are the beer- and delay-soaked
barrages of notes that typified what he calls
“drunken jams that were never meant for
public consumption” and in their place are
toneful, melodic, and dare we say sober musical
statements that have dynamics, drama,
and passion. As tough as Lukather’s detractors
on YouTube can be, no one is harder on
him than he is on himself. “I want people
to know that I am aware that I lost my way
and that I may have abused the opportunities
that I’ve had,” he says. “Forgive me
please. I’m human. But I was determined to
get myself together and start over again and
this record is the result.” For a guy who not
long ago described his own playing as “not
moving forward at all,” Luke has some serious
positive momentum going.
There’s a big range of guitar tones on this record.
You cover every level of distortion from squeaky
clean to fully distorted. How did you track?
I just used my Music Man guitar and
three different Bogner amps, which I’d never
used before. I had a whole room full of amps
but I kept going back to those. They just
sounded great—so natural and full. I used a
Tube Screamer once in a while, some T-Rex
pedals, and maybe a Radial pedal. Any delay
or room sounds were either done organically
or at the mixing board. We were recording
through an old Neve—the EMI Neve desk
from London that “Dark Side of the Moon”
was recorded on. You get some of that analog
love mixed in with the modern technology
of Pro Tools and it works really, really well.
You cover a lot of styles on this record. Do you
think in terms of styles?
Obviously you can hear the Steely Dan
influence on the one tune and a Band of
Gypsys kind of a riff here and there. I just
like so many different kinds of music. I
think that’s why I’ve sort of fallen through
the cracks. I’m too rock for jazz, too jazz for
rock. I’ve never totally fit in anybody’s club.
The songs on this record have a familiar feel
but just when I think I know where the chords are
going, you’ll throw a curveball. Where does that
Obviously, Steely Dan was a huge influence
on me when I was a kid. That music
touched me. I’m inspired by the music of
my youth, and I try to modernize it in my
own way. I’m so tired of the obvious chord
changes in popular music. If I hear another
song with Am-F-C-G as the chorus I’m going
to lose my mind. I can shout out the chord
changes to a lot of songs on the radio before
they even happen. So what I consciously tried
to do was not to go to the obvious place. I
tried to find another chord or something
where you could take the melody, revoice it,
and go somewhere else. My partner, CJ Vanston,
who cowrote a lot of the record, comes
from that same school.
Say you have a generic change, like C to Am,
with an E melody note sustaining over them. How
would you de-cliché-ify that?
You could use a Bb in the bass with a C
triad. But the idea is to try to find a way to
get there that’s smooth. The melody stays
the same, but the chords change and you go,
“Wow. That’s cool.” There’s a physiological
thing that happens to you when you hear
a chord change that’s cool. That was kind
of what I was trying to go for with some of
What was your approach to layering guitars?
It depended on the tune and the section
of the tune. In “Darkness in My World,” I
doubled the neck-pickup verse guitars. Then,
for the power chords, I quadruple-tracked
them. I wanted a really strange, fuzzed-out
distortion sound, but I backed it up with
some cleaner sounds so you could hear the
chords. I was sort of going for a Joe Walsh
kind of approach on that.
The solo in that song sounds like it stays fairly
close to the chord and scale tones that are on the
rhythm tracks. You’re a guy who’s capable of getting
way outside with chromaticism, whole-tone
stuff, melodic minor lines, etc. How do you decide
when to use what flavor?
I was going for more of a straight-ahead
bluesier approach. I knew there were other
tunes with more altered, weirder solos—a
nod to my bro Larry Carlton—so I thought
more of a straight ahead thing on that song fit
better. Using theory is like using chops: You
have to do it carefully and it has to fit the song.
Speaking of chops, you sound like you’re
keeping yours in check and laying back these days.
I am not a shredder. I shouldn’t even try to
be. Sometimes when I did try to be, I looked
like an idiot. That’s not really what my strongest
suit is. There are guys that are younger
and better and faster and that’s all good for
me. That’s really not the arena I need to be
in. I need to be me, and when I stopped trying
to be me is when I lost myself. It doesn’t
mean that I can’t play fast necessarily, but
I was doing it unnecessarily. I really pulled
that part of my playing out of the equation,
with the exception of one song, “Can’t Look
Back.” I fought against that solo but everybody
talked me into keeping it.
It’s a great solo, with a lot of sections and themes.
I was just warming up in the studio. My
son was there and I was getting used to playing
through the changes. I started blazing
through it and my son was screaming, “Dad,
that’s awesome. You’ve got to keep that.”
My co-producer, Steve MacMillan is going,
“This is great. Just do a bunch of takes and let
me see if I can put one together.” I was saying,
“Guys, we can’t do this. This is everything I’m
trying to get away from.” I did about fi ve takes
and left. I came back and MacMillan had put
one together and that was it. I started laughing
when I heard it. I played it for Phil Collen
from Def Leppard— he’s a friend and he sang
some backgrounds on the record and I asked
him, “Do you think this is ridiculous?” He said,
“No. That’s great.” So I sat down and learned
it, and now I play that solo live.
The production, the mixing, and the mastering
of this record are really open and dynamic. You
didn’t crush it, and that really lets all the instruments
Here’s a big pet peeve of mine: people
slamming their f***ing records with compression.
Oh my god. Why wouldn’t you want to
have dynamics on your record? I consciously
made a point of not squashing the hell out of
everything. First off, it opens up the ability for
the guitar to speak a lot more, as well as the
drums and everything else. The kind of music
I dig and the kind of music I grew up listening
to is all about leaving space and letting the
music breathe on its own. Hearing a guy like
Joe Bonamassa break it down and play real
soft, it kills you, rather than a guy that’s on 12
shredding. Look at Jeff Beck. Why people love
him so much is the dynamics. When he does
do something outrageous, it knocks you over.
That’s the approach I’m trying to get back to.
Think back to your studio days. You’re a kid,
you’re a fan of Larry Carlton, Tommy Tedesco, Jay
Graydon, and then suddenly you’re kind of a peer
of theirs. Did that freak you out?
Oh yeah. I’m still a fan of all those guys.
They’re giant musicians—Larry, Jay, Lee Ritenour,
Dean Parks. I always said, “I want to
be like those guys someday.” To think that
some people might consider me part of that
crowd, I’m deeply honored.
When did you feel like you had arrived on
I still don’t think that I have at this
point. Those guys all believed in me and I
owe them so much respect. I certainly don’t
think I’m as good as any of those guys. I still
have a lot to learn, but they sure make me
feel good to be around them. And whenever
I get around them, they sure as hell
make me play better.
I appreciate the humility in your answer, but
come on. In your session days you were the guy they
called for Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson—you
played on some of the biggest records in the world.
When it was all going down, it was almost
so surreal I didn’t realize it was really happening.
There’s a picture of me and George
Harrison playing together in my office and
I walk by it and go, “Wow, that really did
happen.” But I’m my own worst critic, so
it’s tough for me to think I had arrived then
or even now. I guess I played well for the
people that hired me or they wouldn’t have
hired me again. Looking back on it all after
all these years, I suppose I’ve paid my dues.
I see my career as a gift that I am extremely