Jeb Wright, "Classic Rock Revisited", December 2000
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
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
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
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
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
Steve: Thatís what I am trying for. To me,
things have more impact if they are
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
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
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!
Good point! Your
definitely one of the
few writers to
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
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
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
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
them at some
of our gigs
me to play on
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jeb: That was good! What is your take on the whole MP3 situation?
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.
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