Steve Lukather on 10 essential guitar albums
In compiling his list of 10 essential guitar albums, master axeman Steve Lukather admits that he didn't quite know where to start – not for lack of worthy choices but because of an embarrassment of riches. "There's a staggering amount of amazing guitar music out there," he says. "Picking just 10 records is almost impossible. Going through an encyclopedia might be easier."
And then there's his criteria: Lukather emphasizes that a truly essential guitar album is a collective whole and not simply a showcase for technical skill. "I don't just listen to the guitar," he says. "It's all about the compositions. A great solo does not make a great piece. Rather, a great solo in a great song, that's what makes a 10 out of 10. It's the combination of emotional feel and inventive ideas. These days, uber-fast chops are as impressive as a Twinkie to a top chef."
Even so, certain licks did impress, and during his early years as a player, "when dinosaurs walked the earth," Lukather recalls his pre-YouTube/pre-instructional video guitar training involving vinyl and that painstaking ritual of lifting the needle up and putting it down over and over again. "It was exhausting," he says. "But when I did figure something out, it was an awesome feeling of accomplishment."
Before ranking his essentials, Lukather stresses that the list is changeable – and in this case, it's representative of his thoughts on Saturday, 27 October. "There's so many players that I love and admire," he says. "Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John Petrucci, Mike Landau, Robben Ford, Lee Ritenour, Jay Graydon, John Scofield, Warren Haynes – the list goes on and on."
The Beatles - Meet The Beatles (1964)
"The 'on' switch to my life and the reason why I play guitar. If you are my age or close to it, you remember the feeling of how the world went from black and white to color in that one episode of the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. It was life changing, and only the Lord would know at the time that I would get to know and work with three of The Beatles: Paul, then George and now Ringo.
"I Saw Her Standing – the first solo that killed me! I wore that one section of the album out. George was my first guitar god, and I was lucky enough to eventually call him a friend. He was a sweet man who gave me so much."
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced (1967)
"When I was starting my journey as a young guitar player, I was listening to The Beatles, the Stones and all the British invasion bands, Top 40, Motown and all the great music of the '60s. Then the alien ship landed, and life changed again forever... Jimi Hendrix.
"The otherworldly sounds, the whole vibe – to a 10-year-old kid, it was mind-numbing. I just had to figure out how he did this. I learned the raised 9th chord, which was then called 'the Hendrix E,' from an older kid down the street. I got a Fuzz-Tone and was learning my first blues scale, how to bend strings...
"To this day, I listen to this album in awe and am moved my the sheer soul and imagination that was Jimi Hendrix."
Cream - Disraeli Gears (1967)
"For me, this is Eric Clapton at his best. The sound of his guitar... and those riffs – talk about tone for the soul. I can't imagine music like this on the radio now, sadly. In the '60s people had diverse tastes, which made the musical climate that much better and more interesting. At the risk of sounding like an old fucker, I miss that. You could hear Sunshine Of Your Love and Stevie Wonder on the same station, one right after one another.
"Even though I'm listing Disraeli Gears, I have to mention the live version of Crossroads from Wheels Of Fire. None for note, this could be the best guitar solo of all time. We all had to learn this one note for note. It was a and still is a great lesson in taste and tone."
Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
"I loved all Zep records, but I think they hit their genius stride on this one. Jimmy Page's solo on Stairway To Heaven is another 'best of all time' for me. His layering of guitars and overall production skills, along with the underrated and amazing John Paul Jones, Bonzo and Robert Plant – it's another life-changer.
"The modal stuff Jimmy was doing was really interesting and made rock music sound so new and fresh. A classic."
Jeff Beck - Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (1989)
"I love anything Jeff Beck, but this one finds him really getting to a place where he stands alone. Where Were You – that one just killed us all. It very well could be one of the most beautiful guitar performances in history. I was on a tour with him in Japan in 1988, and I got to see him play it live every night. He's one of the most inventive, soulful and unique guitarists that God put on this earth.
Pink Floyd - The Wall (1979)
"Two words: Dave Gilmour. I love Dark Side Of Moon and all Floyd stuff he did, so it's hard to pick one album, but Comfortably Numb is one of the truly great moments in guitar sound and substance.
"Gilmour's tone is thick and perfectly framed – very present and clear. He oozes soul and taste. There's so much to learn from him. His choice of notes is always perfect. I'm a huge fan."
Van Halen - Van Halen (1978)
"It was 1978 and I thought, Oh, I know what rock guitar is all about. Then along came young Edward, who firebombed the world with his sound and dazzling chops. This album was a huge game-changer. Nobody since Jimi Hendrix altered the face of guitar like Ed.
"My love for him goes beyond his playing – we have been friends for over 30 years. He's one of a kind, a guitarist who spawned a generation of copycats and followers.
"Hearing this album for the first time was a true WTF? moment. His technique was something we all had to learn. And then there's the tone – so good that I really have no words."
Steely Dan - The Royal Scam (1976)
"Another life-altering album. Larry Carlton has always set a very high bar, and I am lucky and honored to call him a friend. We met in 1976 when I was dreaming of being a session player just like him. He was a hero to so many – and still is.
"Larry played jazz lines with a rock sound – the kind of thing I was hearing in my head, but it took Larry to actually do it! I devoured everything he played on, learning from him and eventually watching him. His influence was huge.
"The Royal Scam is so good throughout - great, great performances. But I have to single out Kid Charlemagne, which has a solo that every young player should study. All of Steely Dan's albums are marvelous, though. Google and learn."
The New Tony Williams Lifetime - Believe It (1975)
"The first time I heard this album, it was pre-VH and I had no idea how Allan Holdsworth was doing what he did. Legato guitar had never sounded like this.
"Allan has gone on to do way more intense and beautiful music than what's on Believe It, but the music on this album was truly remarkable. It was fusion but still rocking. The '70s were an incredible time: John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola and, of course, Allan were changing the face of guitar composition, and they set a standard for musicianship that continues to this day.
"Why the word 'fusion' puts people off, I will never know. I loved fusion then and still do."
Joe Bonamassa - Live From The Royal Albert Hall (2009)
"I love this guy as both a player and a person. Man, does Joe play and sings his ass off! He gives a nod to all the things I grew up on and makes them all his own.
"His touch and tone are among the best of the new breed of blues guitarists. Most of all, he does it all with such class. I'm a huge fan. He's quite an inspiration and is also a dear friend."