“I looked at Lee – all the color had left my skin... They start counting off the tune, he sees the panic in my face, and reaches over and switches charts on me. He gave me the easy part”: That time Lee Ritenour bailed Steve Lukather out at a session

Steve Lukather (left) and Lee Ritenour perform onstage
(Image credit: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images, David Redfern/Redferns)

It's no state secret that Steve Lukather is one of the more recorded electric guitar players of the last 50 years, with a mind-bogglingly large discography. But, we all have to start somewhere, don't we? Even a player as seasoned and well-respected as Lukather – difficult as it is to imagine now – had some early learning experiences in sessions.

Case in point was one Lukather wrote about in a 2010 GP column, which occurred when the guitarist was just 19 years old. 

Due to a flat tire, Lukather arrived late to the session, to find an incredibly dense arrangement awaiting him, and Lee Ritenour in the other guitar chair. 

“Gene Page was the arranger, and he was notorious for writing out all the parts. So I’m 19 years old, and I’m late, and I’m panicking,” Lukather wrote. “Lee Ritenour is in the Guitar One chair, obviously, and as I sit down, I’m looking at my part – which is Guitar Two – and it’s really the piano part in Db with no chord symbols anywhere. Everything was written notes. Now, I know we’re getting one or two takes to get this down before they move on to the next tune.

“There are 60 musicians in the studio, and time is money. If I had gotten there on time and relaxed, I could have gotten it together, but I’m all flustered. I’m late, I’m young, and I’m new. I’m trying to make a name for myself, and if I fuck this all up – well, bad news travels fast. And people want to kick you down, because it will open a spot for somebody else to come in. When you’re trying to build a reputation, there’s no room for error.”

Though Ritenour was the first-chair guitarist on the session, Lukather discovered that the former's part didn't quite match his in terms of intricacy.

“I looked over at Ritenour, and all the color had left my skin. And I peek at his chart, and it’s ‘tacet,’ ‘fill’ – nothing. Just nothing. And my part is copying the piano part with all these voicings and five flats. I don’t think I took a breath for two minutes. They start counting off the tune, and Rit sees the panic in my face, and he just reaches over and switches charts on me. He gave me the easy part.

“He didn’t have to do that, and I could have choked,” the Toto guitarist explained. “Of course, Rit can sight read anything, so he just relaxed through it, and at the end, I almost tongue kissed him. I go, ‘Dude, you could’ve thrown me under the bus.’ He just goes, ‘Ah, I like you.’ Back then, a guy like that could make or break you. We’ve been friends for 35 years now.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.