Its the most maddening question of them all.
Who is the greatest living player? Its not a fair question. Generally the most common answer I know of is Steve Morse. My answer has always been Steve Lukather.
The over 1500 records he’s played on convince me that there’s nothing he can’t play. Everyone has heard Luke play in one way or another (especially on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album) and often with fellow session gods, the Porcaro brothers. But the names add up. Boz Skaggs, Hall and Oates, Alice Cooper, Earth, Wind and Fire, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Warren Zevon, Don Henley, Lionel Ritchie, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne, Rod Stewart, and God knows how many more.
Steve Lukather shaped the way you play and listen to music. You just didn’t know it.
Often there are holes in a player’s chops. Its no shame. Great lead players have trouble spicing up their rhythm parts, rhythm guitars have uninspiring leads. Some guitarists play the same riffs all the time, others cannot improvise. Jazzy players can be fantastically clever, but perhaps not memorable. Rock players can sometimes lack diversity.
Lukather has none of those weaknesses.
If I were pressed, I suppose I could say that for a while, Lukather overused two hand tapping and some effects, forsaking his divine fretwork, but that isn’t saying much. (Lukather has come to the same conclusion as well.)
I’ve always had a love affair with the pure studio musician. Its a system that apparently isn’t around anymore. Lukather would arrive at the studio for an album and musician he didn’t know. He would be required to sight read a piece of music with little to no mistakes. He rarely needed two takes.
He did it for 36 years.
Its not like he didn’t tour either, whether it was with hit band Toto (35 million albums sold) or in support of various artists. Like most top guitarists he has enjoyed a robust solo career as well.
Lukather has to the ability to work like a jazz player, running a different scale for every chord change, but with the power of a rock guitarist. He can read flawlessly but can improvise in an instant.
Steve Lukather is from an era where professional guitarists were supposed to be diverse and immensely skilled. There aren’t any to replace his kind.