Interview


STEVE MORSE

Jeb Wright, "Classic Rock Revisited", December 2000
www.classicrockrevisited.com



      At some point in his career, Steve Morse has won almost every imaginable 'Best Guitar Player' poll that has been invented.†† His distinguished career began in the 1970's playing with the Dixie Dregs.† Morse quickly made a name for himself as his mixed elements of jazz, rock, bluegrass, country and blues into his playing. †† He has released a number of instrumental albums that showcase his virtuosity. † In the 1980's, Morse took over as the lead guitar player for the band Kansas. † In the mid 1990's, Deep Purple invited him to join.† Morse has had no problem vacating the position formerly held by Ritchie Blackmore.†
      Morse's latest studio effort comes from Magna Carta records and is an interesting and unique collection of songs.† It is essentially a tribute album to the guitar players who have made a major impact on Steve's playing over the years.† Morse took the tribute album in† a direction that had not been seen before.†† Instead of regurgitating songs by the artists he admired, Morse elected to create new musical passages in the same styles as the guitar players he was honoring.†† The result is a unique blend of music that is fresh and exciting.†† Some of the artists styling that are included are Jimmy Page, Leslie West, Kerry Livgren, Steve Howe, Keith Richards, Eric Johnson and Eric Clapton.† The CD really needs to be heard to fully understand the musical statements that are being made.† You can order is at MagnaCarta.net.† Steve Morse is currently a member of Deep Purple, The Dregs and the Steve Morse Band.† Visit SteveMorse.com to find out which one of his bands is coming to a town near you.† Special thanks goes to Magna Carta Records, Anne Leighton and Steve himself.†
      We had trouble finally nailing a time down to do this interview.† A scheduling mix up caused Steve to miss our appointment.† The next day, after a midnight phone call from Steve, we set up a time that worked for all of us!† The result was an very relaxed Saturday morning conversation with one of the busiest and classiest guitar players in the world.† Read on and enjoy.

      Jeb: I just wanted to catch up with you and talk about your new album Major Impacts. I† have been listening to this thing over and over. There is something in your liner notes that I find interesting. You said, "The concept for me was to write music that affected the styles that influence me as a guitarist and as a musician." What is the difference to you from being a guitarist and a musician?

Steve: Things that influenced me as a guitarist were specific riffs or things where you say, ĎOh, I didnít know you could do that kind of picking on a guitar." Things like how a 12 string sounds or how the open tuning on a Stones songs sounds neat. As a musician, someone may influence me the way that the Beatles or George Harrison may use a guitar sound very sparingly.

      Jeb: So it is the different impact of the writer.

Steve: Yeah. For instance, Pat Metheny was a good friend of mine in school. He influenced me as a musician and not so much as a guitarist. He is a great guitarist. As a musician he is very free and he is great at improvising. He always does his own thing, regardless of what the current fashion may be. Pat Metheny influenced me with his philosophy as a player.

      Jeb: How did you limit yourself to choosing the guitarists on the album?

Steve: I had a lot of others that I was considering doing. I was working on a tune with Lynyrd Skynryd influences. I also was working on Santana and Ted Nugent.

      Jeb: Will there be another CD?

Steve: Itís possible. If I felt like I could make it where the people were obvious of the guitar player could understand it.

      Jeb: I donít understand what your saying?

Steve: If one of the influences was Johnny Winter then a lot of people may not know what Johnny Winter sounds like. Then it would not be fun for them.

      Jeb: The first time I listened to it, I did not look at the song titles. You can definitely pick most of them out. You had some interesting comments about Eric Johnson.

Steve: I donít remember what I said but when I first heard him play he was a big fan of Jeff Beck. Eric kind of put a twist on it. That was about 20 years ago!

      Jeb: I would not have guessed Jeff Beck was a big influence on you. I donít really hear that in your playing.

Steve: I donít take a Jeff Beck lick and use it. It was just a time in my life. It was when I first listened to Truth and Beckolo. I just said, ĎThis guy just absolutely rules!í One of my favorites was one that he played on slide with Rod Stewart on vocals called Superstitious. I didnít use that sound on my Beck impact because I knew I would use the slide on the Allman Brothers and on George Harrison.

      Jeb: How hard was it to write in this vain?

Steve: I think it kind of like balancing on top of a motorcycle doing a wheely at 80 mph! It looks like your not doing anything. It looks like you are just standing there enjoying the ride. But it must be really hard to do it! Once you get up and balance it is probably easy but getting to that point is difficult. For me, the hard part was getting started. For instance, the Santana that I first wrote sounded stupid. It just sounded like I was just copying Santana.

      Jeb: That would have to be hard. I am visualizing that you would make your list and that you would sit down and go to write it. It would have to be a fine line between writing a song with the impact of the other writer and just copying their licks.

Steve: I think that is the whole challenge. That is what was so difficult. I wanted to come up with something that was me and my personality. But I wanted you to be able to obviously find the influence in it. It was extremely difficult to find that balance.

      Jeb: Migration is one of my personal favorites.

Steve: I love everything they did. That is what turned me on to Bob Dylan.

      Jeb: I read where the Bryds versions actually introduced you to Dylan. The impact here is so cool. It is like you made a version of Turn, Turn, Turn using only the harmony to the song.

Steve: It is a very simple chord progression. I sat and analyzed the song and asked myself if this was any actual song I had ever heard. My rule of thumb on all of the impacts was that if there were more than two chords in a row that was from a famous tunes, then I would change it. I did not find that on that song. I wanted the harmonies to sound like a mix between Turn, Turn, Turn, Mr. Tambourine Man and The Bells Of Rhymney.

      Jeb: The Bryds had such a hypnotic sound. Yet they were just as know for their vocals. You had to fill up the empty area of the vocals with guitars.

Steve: That is the supreme challenge, to do a vocal impersonation on guitar.

      Jeb: Did you listen to the bands that you were paying homage to before you began writing?

Steve: No, I made a personal challenge to myself to both simplify it, purify it and make it more difficult. I decided that I was not going to listen to any of it. No homework, just memory of the influence. That is why the Clapton thing is like that. It is just the impression that I got of listening to Cream live. When I saw them live, they were just the most rocking three piece band. The guitar was so free and effortless for Eric Clapton. It was magic.

      Jeb: I really liked the Jimmy Page influence called Led On. I really like the fact that you did not use the Zeppelin influences that you often hear others do. I really hear more of the Black Mt influences. You sound like maybe you were just doing his style of finger slides. You can hear all of his stop and goes and pull offs that others donít copy.

Steve: Iím glad you mentioned that. It was a conscience effort. I saw Led Zeppelin live when they came to the States. Jimmy Page did the Black Mt. Side as a solo piece and John Bonham played on the drums with his hands a little bit. I thought, ĎThis is great! This guy can do anything.í It really struck me how cool it was for Jimmy Page, who could do all this heavy stuff, which he could have obviously done for the rest of his life, but he always went out of his way to put little acoustic things into place. I really love him for that. I really wanted to do it different because everyone has done the Led Zeppelin licks that sound like the Immigrant Song or whatever.

      Jeb: You canít go without talking about John Mclaughlin....

Steve: For me, the big thing was that I spent many years having a few bitter critics say that I was trying to hard to have a Mahavishnu sound with a rock influence. I felt that I should do something different which was to do it acoustic. In my mind, I tried to think what kind of music he would write in the early Mahavishnu days, consisting of ascending sequences.

      Jeb: It seems to me that he is an influence to a lot of people.

Steve: He is a very big influence to people. I think the Mahavisnu Orchestra blend of energy was sophisticated improvisation. It was huge not just for my writing but it was huge for the Dregs.

      Jeb: I donít think you copy him. I think what makes Steve Morse special is that he has his own recognizable sound.

Steve: Well, thatís cool.

      Jeb: Even on this album. You can tell that is you. As you said, it isnít Zeppelin. It isnít the Stones. Sometimes, as a fan of your music, it is tough to wait on you to really rip out and let go. You build the tension and release. You donít show off enough! The tension and release is very strong in your music.

Steve: Thatís what I am trying for. To me, things have more impact if they are separated.

      Jeb: Do you ever get tempted to just show off?

Steve: A critic of me would say that is all that I do!! If something is boring to me then I assume that it will be boring to the listener. For me, playing the same thing with the same density, without anything is boring. I strongly feel that it is boring and that I am sending out boring vibes. To me, the best way to show off is to have a mixture of slow/fast, high/low and loud/soft, so that it has more appeal. Most things that are artistic and pleasant have an average of density, color or space. Look at a painting and you will notice that not everything is crammed over to one side. It is dispersed around so that you are always brought to certain things. I am not expressing this well.

      Jeb: I understand. The balance of a painting does not mean that everything is centered evenly across the canvas. If it is meant to draw your eye to the left then you will have to offset a little bit to the right.

Steve: I think the tension and release in writing, be it script writing, music or whatever is important.

      Jeb: The impact on this album that was most surprising to me was Mountain. Leslie West is a hellacious blues/rock guitarist. Itís called Bring It To Me...

Steve: Bring the Mountain to me!!

      Jeb: heh heh! That has to be a guitar influence over a musician influence.

Steve: Definitely. I finally got to hear him much later in life. Actually, when Mississippi Queen first came out, I heard Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels do a cover of it. They thought he was such a great player and it was such a good song that they did a cover of it. I was dying! It is the heaviest tune that I have ever heard in my life. I mean what a great sound. Then to find out that Leslie was a big guy.........

      Jeb: What is that 3 separate notes on the intro.....

Steve: do, do de do..... thatís four notes. do do de do.... they are very powerful!

      Jeb: I think that you hear a lot of people say that less is more but I think that is because they can only do less!

Steve: (laughing) Good point! Your definitely one of the few writers to admit that.

      Jeb: I really do. I think when you are talking less is more that you are talking about something like Mississippi Queen.

Steve: Yeah. Thatís true.

      Jeb: Keith Richards is less is more. He does all the open G tunings and things. That was a surprise to me. I would have thought that you were too good of a player to have Keith be an influence to you. I donít mean that to be rude. Keith is a good player but you are in a different league technically speaking.

Steve: Honky Tonk Woman is a work of art, guitarwise. I thought is was one of the coolest, slinkiest rhythm guitar parts that I had ever heard in my life. The intro to Brown Sugar was enough to get me going. I just love the fact that they recognized so many elements of American music in their music. Especially the Country stuff. If you ever hear Honky Tonk Woman, just concentrate on the rhythm part that he plays. It is so confident, reserved and funky. Itís like New Orleans bayou funk.

      Jeb: Another influence on you was George Harrison.

Steve: A lot of it was being in the group. On his solo stuff you can see that he has a lot of spacing and reserve to bring things out at the right moment. Itís just amazing. One of the best things about my job with Deep Purple was being able to go to Georgeís house and hang out with him. Now I know George Harrison!

      Jeb: What was that like? Was it like being a kid again?

Steve: Oh, I was so excited. He has a huge place. Itís 30 acres on the outskirts of London. It has a brick wall around it. It is like multi-millions of dollars kind of place. He was just out in the garden. He was cutting trees and trimming things. He walked up and said, "Oh hi. How are you doing?" His Wife is from California so she is really easy to relate to. They have a kid that they adore. They were just normal people. Then I realized he has to be normal. He hasnít really done gigs at all.

      Jeb: It think it was the gig he had in the 60ís that kind of set him up!

Steve: (laughing) Yep! The English press is just brutal. If you are on your way up then you are fine but any other time they are brutal. There were a lot of tabloid type papers that were saying that he was bankrupt. George was laughing and he said, "I guess Iím down to my last 30 million!" When the Dregs were recording Free Falling in Los Angeles the producer actually brought in Ringo Starr. He didnít actually play, he just kind of hung out. Quincy Jones daughter was the producers girlfriends and there were just tons of people parading around the studio. This was back when there were a lot of drugs in the studio. That was the 70ís.

      Jeb: There is a whole impact that came there!

Steve: In fact, our drummer, Ian Paice just finished doing performances and an album with Paul McCartney. Ian was requested by Paul to be the drummer. Heís on some TV shows where he is playing in The Cavern Club. Paul McCartney hasnít played a gig for a long time. He has the guitarist from Pink Floyd. He picked guys that were really experienced and good musically and can fall into a good feel.

      Jeb: That would have been interesting for you to see what kind of a take you could take on David Gilmour.

Steve: Heís one of the people that would be considered for the second album. The problem is coming up with a tune that doesnít rip him off. There are only a couple of Floyd tunes that have been really played to the public a lot. The influence with Floyd is just like with the Grateful Dead. The influence was from the really early days. Jerry Garcia doing Dark Star!. That is when he influenced me. I tried to do a Jerry Garcia influence song but it didnít really sound like Garcia. It wasnít anything anyone would recognize because all anyone is heard of him is Truckiní.

      Jeb: I have to talk about on of my personal favorites, Kerry Livgren of Kansas. You speak about Song For America in the liner notes of your CD. That is the quintessential Kansas track.

Steve: It is great. It is just fantastic. I used to wait in line and pay to see them. I remember taking days off when I was recording with the Dregs to go see them. When we did our first demo in 1974, I heard Song For America come out and it just flowed. I had done a similar section in a song and I was just blown away. I was like, ĎThis is like a parallel universe!" It was the blending of classical and the simplistic overlaying of different chords over different bass notes that I had been trying to work on. The first time that I heard it was after I had published my album. It was a totally unknown album but theirs was nation wide!

      Jeb: How did you end up playing with Kansas?

Steve: They moved to Atlanta when the got big success. It was easier for them to travel and fly out of there. The Dregs were based out of there and we became friends. Weíd seem them at some of our gigs and vice versa. Steve Walsh invited me to play on his solo album Schemer Dreamer. That was around the time that he quit Kansas. The band eventually broke up. What happened was that I was at a Robert Plant show and Phil Ehart was there. We were sitting there talking and he said, "Weíve been talking to Steve Walsh.." He wouldnít say Steve Walsh..... you know how guys are..... heíd say, "Weíve been talking to Walsh..." They are the most totally normal people. Anyway, he said, "We are thinking about doing something with the band again." I said, "Thatís fantastic that you are getting everybody together again" He said, "We are not sure that we are going to be able to get Robby or Kerry to do it. We may have to have a blend of new people." I volunteered to help out anyway that I could and he invited me over to write some material. So I did and we instantly came up with some good ideas. We kept on and pretty soon everyone was thinking that we could do something as a group.

      Jeb: Power was the best one that you were on in my opinion.

Steve: It was. I was sitting in a basement writing. I mean Phil Ehartís basement is real nice. It has a view out to his lake but itís still a basement. We didnít have any record company or producer telling us that is wasnít going to work. We just did it. Once we had the material done, we got a record deal. At that point, they started messing with the music but they couldnít do too much to it because it was already written. On our second album, we had a really good producer named Bob Ezrin. The record company was involved very heavily right from the beginning. There was a big push for hit singles.

      Jeb: Was that when All I Wanted was released or was that earlier?

Steve: That was on Power. That was a tune that Walsh had for years that he wanted to finish and make into a Kansas tune. I added a little instrumental bit that changed the structure of the tune slightly. Iím credited with a portion of that song but in reality the ballad was something that he already had. What I did was change it to make it seem more like Kansas. The other guys jumped on it and said that they could do that now. That was not the case of someone coming to us and saying, ĎWe need a power ballad and you guys need to come up with it." That is what happened on the next album, In The Spirit Of Things. There was so much pressure that outside songs were brought in. They said, ĎHereís your next song.í We did sessions with outside writers. We were getting steered by the record company and management to much and I started getting cold feet. I did not enjoy it. I thought that what they really needed was for Kerry Livgren to come back. He just had a magical blend of what they needed and what they expected.

      Jeb: I think they the record company tried to take away the Kansas trademark which was an 8-10 minute epic.

Steve: I was pushing more into the longer more complex area. It was just a bad time for them. Kerry was the guy that I was actually supposed to replace but it just couldnít be done. Thatís the truth.

      Jeb: The King Biscuit album shows that you were still playing live like a mother......

Steve: Our lives shows have always been good. Kansas is a great band. Walsh is the hardest working entertainer that I have ever heard in my life.

      Jeb: Glossolalia is one wild trip of an album. He goes places there that have not been gone before!!

Steve: Heh heh heh.... He has a lot of stories to tell. He is a very complex guy and I have never come close to figuring him out! But for an artist to be complex is not a bad thing.

      Jeb: You and Kansas are label mates.

Steve: Yeah! I heard that they are on Magna Carta now. Itís great.

      Jeb: Are you still with Deep Purple full time?

Steve: I just came back from a tour of Europe where we played for two months where we played with an orchestra. Jon Lord wrote an orchestra for concerto that we have been playing along with the other songs that have been done with a pseudo ĎWe have an orchestraí fashion. Our first show was a benefit at the Royal Albert Hall in London and it has been released on CD.

      Jeb: That explains that fact that I lost track. You guys have been gone.

Steve: Fortunately and unfortunately, Deep Purple is an international band. America is one of the places we go but the rest of the world just wants us more.

      Jeb: Is America more picky because there is no Ritchie Blackmore?

Steve: No. When we did play America, we started very modestly and then built up. The more we play the better the response gets in attendance. That is the rule that I have seen over the last seven years. The Blackmore thing..... I mean the die hard fans miss him, Iím sure. If your 15 years old and you see Ritchie Blackmore then you go back years later and someone else is there, of course you are going to say, "Gee that was a real magical time of my life when I saw Deep Purple with Blackmore 20 years ago, now this new guy is not the same guy!" What we have noticed is the energy level of the band that has happened just from that change is that everyone is relaxed and having a good time.

      Jeb: Iím not trying to say that you canít play the Blackmore stuff. I really meant that the loyal die hards will say that Purple has had Bolin and Satriani and now Morse... what next! I have not seen you guys live.

Steve: Things are going really, really well live. I think some times people like to paint a picture a certain way. The guys have done millions of interviews but sometimes they donít see when someone is painting the picture a certain way. The guys have been through so much that they are not guarded as to what they say. Talk to them and you will get an answer!!

      Jeb: Let me ask you this..... It would have to be a thrill to be asked to play with Deep Purple.

Steve: It sure was but Iím more realistic than getting into something just because it would be exciting. I genuinely felt that I did not want to be in a band that didnít need what I had to do. I sort of learned that from working with Kansas. You donít want anything that you donít deserve. That is my feeling. I donít want any kind of job where Iím not the best person. I donít want a job because I knew somebody. Being asked was meaningful but it was not such a big deal. My real concern was could I be the guy that could add something unique to the situation and deserve the job. The best job insurance you can ever have is to be irreplaceable. That is what I strive to have. I want to be such an essential ingredient that you are irreplaceable.

      Jeb: It sounds like you did not want to just go up and play Ritchieís stuff.

Steve: Exactly. I thought there were better people suited to do that and I even said that to them. They knew. For instance, Yngwie Malmsteem had met Ian Gillan and he was interested in doing the gig. I think it was more from being influenced by Ritchie.

      Jeb: Yngwie could have obviously stepped in. He even dressed like him.

Steve: You can see that there is a similar vibe. What they wanted was to avoid any guitarist being categorized as trying to replace Ritchie. Just that fact that they would consider me impressed me. I remember asking my manager, "Do they know what I do?í

      Jeb: Are you putting new spins on the old stuff as well as playing new material?

Steve: Oh yeah. We are resurrecting a lot of old material that they never did live. All the rules that used to exist in the band when Ritchie was there got blown wide open. One of them was that he would not play certain Countries. As soon as I joined the band we went places they had never been. We went to Africa, India, Korea and Central America. We played to Eastern Soviet Countries.

      Jeb: Did it surprise the band members to discover the width of their popularity?

Steve: Yeah, although Ian Gillan had done some solo tours. He was kicked out of the band when Ritchie was there. It has been a very volatile thing for a lot of years. Ian did tours in Eastern Europe where he would play a stadium two times because the first one was sold out. He knew that people in the most unlikely of places were fans.

      Jeb: What does the future hold?

Steve: The tour we just did with the orchestra and Ronnie James Dio was a lot of fun. I played some songs with him. We were going to do that in America but I think we are back to a different plan now. Iím going out with the Dregs and the Steve Morse Band. Both bands for each night in January. After that, I am doing more Purple stuff in Australia. After that, I have heard rumors of a Jeff Beck/Deep Purple tour.

      Jeb: That would not suck (much laughter)! How about new material?

Steve: Iíve been working on a new Steve Morse Band CD. I have already started recording the guitar parts. Iíve got to tell you, the industry has changed any sense of urgency that I have ever felt for recording. It is an absolute guarantee that no one is going to play it. Hardly anyone is going to buy it. It is too easy to copy it. In foreign countries where I have made some inlays to popularity, there are no copyright laws. Most countries we go with Purple counterfeit stuff. They do it with impunity. They donít have copyright laws. In some places they have laws but they are totally ignored.

      Jeb: So the meal ticket is really on the stage.

Steve: Yep. Recording is something you do for your fans. Just like I try to answer emails and write stuff for them. I feel a need to do it but the sense of urgency that I used to feel is gone. Partly because in this environment, it is going to be........ one little speck of dust in the wind (laughter).

      Jeb: That was good! What is your take on the whole MP3 situation?

Steve: Musicians have always had the problem of being broke so I understand that. Musicians have always been taping albums and making cassettes or whatever. But with MP3 and putting peoples material out there without there permission....there is no way that I could think that is okay. But what I did and what I think that MP3 is for is to give some of it to the public to advertise your album. I made a collage of four different tunes for release and they were telling me that no one had ever done that before. It was through my record company. It just seems that it is the only logical thing to do. Make it okay to copy but donít give away the whole songs but give away the idea. If you like it then get the album. That is what I think MP3 is perfect for. A lot of people were giving one or two songs away, which I think is great. That is just what you would do if you went to a super market and got a free sample. That is what the free part should be in my mind. It absolutely is pirating to say that Metalica is making to much money so they put the album on the web for anybody to take for free.

      Jeb: It is a lot different than recording album onto a cassette. I side with you that it is wrong to take dollars out of peoples pocket. The quality is so much better than it used to be.

Steve: Itís not just that the quality is better than a cassette. It is that it is available for billions of people.

      Jeb: Are you still writing columns in magazines?

Steve: The magazine that I did them for went out of business. It was called Guitar For The Practicing Musician. The publisher put out another magazine called Guitar One where they are trying to get more of the young, angry players. I have a positive, sophisticated approach to playing that does not fit into there plans. I wrote for the same publishers from the magazines inception.

      Jeb: It seems that you still enjoy teaching.

Steve: I do. I occasionally do guitar seminars while out on the road. I have plans for a semi-retirement doing interactive teaching. There is SteveMorse.com that has some rare CDís and stuff that is out of print. They are copies made under license. It is nothing fancy.

      Jeb: I do want to thank you for meeting with me and talking.

Steve: I want to thank you for your patience. I take interviews real seriously. This one I just didnít get. There was a really weird message from the publicist, "I hope you had time to call Jeb." I thought, "What is she talking about?" I went back to my computer and I had like 900 emails. You know how you can copy and paste into a notepad? That is how I copy my emails. I donít print the whole page. You know how you can go to far when copying and you get everything so you back up? I didnít get the end of the email and that is how I blew it.

      Jeb: I know how things can happen. I have worked with Anne and I knew it was just a mix up and that it would get straightened out.

Steve: It was in her email and I was the one who screwed up. She left that message that said, "I hope you get the time to call him again." Iím going, ĎWhat is she talking about?í It wasnít until later that I had time to fire up the computer and do some research and find out what she was talking about. If I had not thought about it twice I might not have even done that.

      Jeb: Well, Iím glad that you did.

Steve: Me too. Itís scary how bad I screwed up! Thank God you are such an easy going guy.

      Jeb: I knew we would hook up. I really appreciate your taking the time and talking to me. I will keep an eye on your schedule and when you come around we will come out and do a concert review. I would love to see you live.

Steve: I would love to have you there and I appreciate you patience.


Home   WWW . DEEP-PURPLE . RU



ÔÓšŗūÓųŪŗˇ ůÔŗÍÓ‚Íŗ ÍÓūÓŠÍŤ ÔÓšūÓŠŪÓ Ūŗ ŰÓūůžŚ