Steve Lukathers Session Stories December 2010

ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT the glory days of the session scene was that you typically didn’t get an opportunity to sound like yourself until you made your mark.
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ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT the glory days of the session scene was that you typically didn’t get an opportunity to sound like yourself until you made your mark. Until then, you’d show up, and the producers might throw all these names at you to explain which guitarist they wanted you to sound like. As a young guy coming up, that would always piss me off. I’d go, “Yeah, everybody wants to sound like Larry Carlton, but not everyone is Larry Carlton!” It would be really frustrating to kind of keep within the lines—you know what I mean? Now, everyone’s favorite influences come out in their playing—and I was certainly influenced by Larry—but what you usually get is a bunch of yourself coming out along with a little bit of whatever influenced you. That’s how you discover and define your own style—you can’t get there by copying someone else completely.

So if you wanted to bring your own approach into the studio, you really had to try to blow people’s minds and get your style into their heads. Playing on a hit always helped, because then some of the producers around town would look for the guy who helped make that song successful. And if all the planets aligned, man, they might not ask you to sound like someone else anymore. That was a major triumph for me when that happened.

But I can’t complain too much about having to absorb other players’ styles for certain producers, because it’s all knowledge I was able to use in other areas of my career. This was incredibly helpful to me in everything from helping plan chart success for my band projects and solo stuff, to all the tracks I’ve produced, to arranging or writing for other artists, to jamming on stage with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Eddie Van Halen, Elton John, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, George Harrison and Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Jim Keltner, and all the other incredible guitar players I’ve had the honor of playing with. I learned a lot, and I gained a lot of confidence. And when you’re confident, you can allow yourself to let go of certain things—of fear, perhaps— and just create. Sometimes, it’s scary and humbling, but also a lot of fun and a great honor to play with people I love, and who helped shape me as the musician I am. You also can’t be afraid to make mistakes. We all do. And they go by fast—unless some dick on YouTube points out: “Watch at 1:34 where he f**ks up.” I will never get that, but, hey, that’s for another time. LOL.

One critical lesson the session world taught me was to be mentally and technically prepared for the unknown. I’ve said it before in these columns—the pressure was on when the engineer hit the Record button, and you had to deliver. So what mental tools can you use to survive and succeed—whatever path you take in the music industry? Humor is good. Confidence is good. Belief in yourself is a big one, too. Whatever you do, just be the best you can be. Don’t bullsh*t yourself or the music, and you’ll kill it. Trust me.


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