Steve Morse interview
December 4, 2000
by Steph Perry
Steve Morse called us from his home in central Florida to talk about his solo release, Major Impacts. Steve and his wife had just returned from a morning of dirt biking, and he was hoping to get to the airplane hanger to get some flying time in before the end of the day.
The Major Impacts record is an unusual package of songs written under the influence of his favorite guitar-oriented artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, George Harrison, Cream, Jimmy Page, and Mountain. It features Steve Morse Band regulars Dave LaRue (bass) and Van Romaine (drums).
When we spoke, Morse was enjoying some much-deserved rest before the holiday season. Steve was also preparing for a Steve Morse Band and Dregs club tour run in January 2001. Steve was awaiting news of the pending Deep Purple tour and also mentioned that there was talk of Jeff Beck co-headlining on some dates.
It’s really great to see you on the Magna Carta label, I was wondering how you hooked up with them?
It had to do with doing some guest spots on some tribute albums they made. There was a Yes tribute album that they asked me to work on because there was some acoustic pieces and since I studied classical guitar and was such a big fan of Steve Howe, doing those acoustic pieces was a real natural thing. And then I did a tune on the Rush tribute. Those 2 things got us exposed to each other. And also, Pete Morticelli was Vinnie Moore’s manager, and Vinnie and I have always been friends. Mike Varney has been talking to me for 15 years about the possibility of doing something whenever it would work out. So we kind of all knew of each other.
Did they come to you with the idea of doing this influences thing or did you come up with it?
No, they came up with it and it was brilliant. I love it when a record company comes up with a creative idea, you know it’s fantastic.
Do you think that this project will impact you as a writer and musician?
Well, if I do another one I think it will. It was a great exercise. It was fun to do, as opposed to doing a bunch of cover tunes. I don’t think it’s gonna change much of my life beyond that. It was great to do while I did it. Once it’s done, you’re done, basically. It’s kind of like those amphibians that lay eggs and then swim off.
Have any of the artists that you honor on the record given you any feedback?
Actually, no. I’m so un-pushy, and we will always be in the underground layer of the music business. I’ve had opportunities to do that, lay my tape on people and possibly even force them to listen to it while I was there, but I would never do that.
I know you mention this in your liner notes, but the song “Well I Have” really conveys how Jimi Hendrix could segue from one musical style to another so easily and flawlessly and how it worked so well in his songs. It’s really powerful and really spiritual in the way it came across, for me anyway.
Oh that’s great, thanks.
Sure, and I just happen to be a big Beatles fan, and to hear something “beatlesque” with a such a different twist…And like you said, it’s different from doing a cover tune, like those tribute albums. You go in there and you do a “Red Barchetta” which is a great song and everything, but this is so much more creative and new and different. It’s just a great idea and it came across so well.
Well, I thought it was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever undertaken because what I wanted to do was make it seem real easy. So when you listen to it you say, “oh yeah that does sound like so-and-so”, and think nothing of it, and just enjoy it…which is a really hard thing to do.
If you were able to do another influences album, who would you include?
Ted Nugent was one that I wanted to do but I guess I did the most obvious ones on this first album. A lot of people aren’t too aware of Ted Nugent’s style, and the style that he was most influential to me was when he was with the Amboy Dukes. And there’s other ones like early Santana, that was a big influence on me. I actually worked on a song for this album, but it sounded pretty corny so I used the other ones that I liked better. Jim McCarty from Cactus was a pretty obscure guitarist in history but one of the very best. Tommy Bolan, Johnny Winter, BB King, Rick Derringer, maybe Tony Iommi…there’s a pretty long list.
What’s it like to be a member of an institution such as Deep Purple. Does that have an impact on you?
What I do love about being in the band is that I’m so comfortable playing with them, we improvise really naturally together. We just fit musically. It’s always a pleasure to play with them. And it’s always exciting and fun.
How did you happen to join Deep Purple?
They had heard of the Dregs and Roger had seen my solo group, the Steve Morse Band. And when Ritchie left in ’93, they finished the tour with Joe Satriani and realized that they COULD play with another guitar player. They were worried that it wouldn’t be possible. After finishing up the tour, they started looking for a permanent member, and they happened upon the premise that they should actively seek somebody that wasn’t anything like Ritchie in order to prevent comparisons and to find a different direction. It was a pretty bold move, I thought.
We saw you and Deep Purple up in Hartford in ’98 for the Abandon tour…One thing I remember when we were backstage, actually watching your set from that perspective, there was one point when you’re doing your solo, and we could see the other band members waiting behind the drum riser while you were playing your solo. It was Roger and Ian and the others. And they were high-fiving each other, they were laughing, they were talking, it was just so cool to see that after all these years. I mean, you hear these bands, they’re still together and doing stuff but you can tell the magic’s gone when you watch them, there’s no bantering back and forth, they’re not pals. And to see these guys from the old school, still around and still creating new music that’s viable, to see them like that on stage. I don’t know if it’s like that every night but it was a magical experience for us.
It is. The guys have taught me a lot about preserving that magic. Something that I sort of brought to the band was the idea that we would all come together and shake hands or wish each other well right before we go on stage. It was almost like a southern rock thing. A lot of southern people do that. They believe in everybody pulling together and wishing each other well and to think about each other when you’re on stage. I did some shows when I was a guest with Lynyrd Skynyrd, also one of my favorite bands, and they would actually say prayers before they went on stage. Whatever it is, as long as you come together and realize it’s a real spiritual magical thing to communicate by music to a crowd. There’s an enormous amount of power and potential there and you sort of wish everyone to handle that power with respect and have fun. They’ve taught me a lot about keeping the vibe too. The guys have an unwritten rule, about 20 minutes before the show, you don’t talk about any business things or anything bad, you don’t bring up anything political, it’s all about relaxing, keeping it light and getting excited about the show. And these guys have been around and that’s the way they still do it.
Did your broken wrist heel up okay?
It’s good. I can’t use it as an excuse any more. There are some lasting complications that are unfortunate but I can get past all that.
Do you look to any non-musical influences as inspiration?
I’m a non-denominational but religious person. Music is very much a huge power and awesome responsibility. I feel that every thing you experience in life you can express in some way in music. It doesn’t have to be strictly biographical of course, although some people write lyrics that way. I feel that the more your life is full of experiences, the more you’ll have to say to somebody who’s listening to you play.
Besides the dirt biking and airplanes, are there any other interests or causes you hold dear?
Yes. I study martial arts and that helps me physically and mentally. One cause that I’ve always tried to support is through a group in California. It’s an effort to help these Native Americans that are being relocated against their will by the government breaking another treaty. The government gave them the worst land that was known to man and are now taking it away because there’s minerals underneath.
Do you use the internet much?
Yes, it’s something I use constantly. It’s my first question when we get to a new country and we’re at a hotel – how do we hook up? It’s how we do everything from paying bills to checking mail to communicating and it’s really a cool thing.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
There’s something interesting about the fact that we’re in the age where records get very little airplay. The Deep Purple thing, as an example, we’re doing so many international things, is in a growing popularity mode. We don’t know why, but we think that there’s something unique about people being willing to go out and play live. And there is some mystery to that — to human beings — that we still are herd animals despite the fact that it seems that we’re turning into TV watching eggheads, we still have the instinct to come together. Our live shows are doing great and we’re really glad and want to thank those people for supporting live music as well as the internet. Thanks a lot for doing this.
Thank you and take care.
You too. Bye.