Steve Lukather’s Most Terrifying Session: “It Was a Humbling Experience”

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We recently told you about Steve Lukather’s most surprising studio sessions—dates where he showed up and nailed the part on his first take, or found himself taking on a bigger role than he’d anticipated. 

Here, Steve tells us about his most terrifying session—the one that actually made him break out in a sweat. 

All these stories can be found in Matt Blackett’s great cover story with Steve for the August 2015 issue of Guitar Player.

When we last spoke, you told the story of a terrifying session where Lee Ritenour swapped charts with you, giving you the easier one as he read down the complicated one. What’s another session that scared you?

Let me just say this: Kids, don’t smoke weed on a television film date. I did this session decades ago with Jeff Porcaro, and it was all done live to two-track with 70 people in the room—full strings, horns, singers. It was bumpers for a whole season of TV in one day. Most of the stuff we did in the first half of the day was really easy, so on the lunch break, the horn players and Jeff were like, “Come out and burn one with us.”

I said, “I don’t know—this is like a legit date.” But then I thought, The parts are easy, it’s lunch break—what the hell! I’ll take a toke.

So I take a toke, and it’s Jeff Porcaro’s nuclear weed. I’m freaking out.

Lunch break is over. The conductor calls the next cue we have to record, and I look at the chart, and it’s written like a piano part in Db. It was 16 bars, and not a chord symbol to be found anywhere. On a date like this, you get two takes and you’re on to the next cue. The first take is to get the balance and to make sure the parts are right, and the second take is the keeper.

I’m looking at this thing, and I’m high and the paranoia is causing me to get higher. They count off, “1, 2, 3, 4, downbeat,” and I just froze. Seventy pairs of eyes are staring me down like, “What the hell was that?”

Thinking on my feet, I pulled out my guitar cable and went, “Oh man, I’ve got a bad cable here. I’m sorry.” Jeff Porcaro and the horn players are laughing at me. I’m going, Oh god, please help me. I’ll never get high again. Please, god.

Now I see the chart isn’t that hard—it’s just in a weird key, with no chord symbols. So as I’m pretending to deal with my cable, I’m writing triads and chords on the chart. I gave them the thumbs up, they hit the downbeat again, and I managed to play the part.

I never, ever smoked weed on a session again, and I never took another one of those fucking TV film dates. It was a very humbling experience.

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