Steve Morse Interview
Rock, Roots, & Blues – Live
April 5, 2018
Rock, Roots, & Blues – Live [RRB]: Hi Steve. Thanks for taking some time to talk to me again.
Steve Morse [SM]: Sure.
RRB: So, how does it feel to be home for a few days in the middle of the tour?
SM: Busy. I’ve been away and ultimately, I’m the only person that runs the farm.
RRB: How many acres is it?
SM: It’s fifty-six acres. It’s a hay farm. I don’t have any helpers because of a proven history of liability concerns.
RRB: Well that’s too bad.
SM: No, not really. It’s the way I want it. It’s not something I’m doing to put food on the table. But it’s a lot of work.
RRB: Well, you are getting some enjoyment out of it.
SM: Yes, especially when I have time to do it.
RRB: I don’t know how you find the time to do everything you do.
SM: I don’t. I’m always behind on something.
RRB: Yeah, I’m baffled how you can do the Deep Purple thing and turn around and put together this Dregs tour, and then get home [for a few days] and work there, it’s just amazing man.
SM: Well, I’m a workaholic by nature.
RRB: I’ve heard that (laughing). I wanted to thank you: first of all, just being able to see you guys play live. I never was able to catch the band before and the shows were amazing [I attended the DC and NYC shows].
SM: Thank you.
RRB: Thank you! Thanks as well for the access and for allowing me to be able to sort of document this happening.
SM: I’m glad to hear Jeff [Burkhart, road manager] was helpful. He is a wonderful guy.
RRB: Yes he is. He totally took care of me and made it very easy. So, I am really glad you got your guitar back.
SM: Me too. Someone took it during loading [load out in Durham] and I guess it was just too easy to turn down and saw a clear path to get away. I think the publicity that the social networks brought really helped and Janine [Steve’s wife] posted, “Reward. No questions asked” on Facebook. When Joe Bonamassa texted me, we just concentrated on getting the guitar rather than twenty questions about who the guy was. It was all about just getting the guitar back, down to paying a reward to the guy who was the middle man. Bill Evans was very helpful. He is the manager for Flying Colors and helps me with other things. He actually talked to the middle man, and that was good because I would have found it hard to not press for details. It’s a bizarre position to be in, but for whatever reason, the guy didn’t want to hold on to it anymore. I think just finding out it was a felony level theft and that everybody knew about the guitar; it’s very, very distinctive in every way from the color down to all the construction details. I think all that put together made for a pretty happy ending for me. I hope the guy had some redemption in his soul and that was part of it, but who knows.
RRB: Did the guitar actually pass through Joe?
SM: No. One of Joe’s guys that works for him was out on tour and knew of a guy that knew the story. You know, there was a movie about seven degrees of separation from anybody in the world, so we went through about three or four. It started with me and Joe to find the guitar. Especially these days, it is possible, it seems to me, with just seven connections, you could seemingly ask anybody that has access.
RRB: Well, I couldn’t be happier for you that you got it back and I know that all the fans out there as well, couldn’t be happier for you. Is it in good shape?
RRB: So there was no damage at all?
SM: No, it was in a case I’ve had for forty years that I used to use for both #1 and #2 Frankentele guitars. Actually the case for #1 got smashed when the airlines ran a plane over it [over thirty years ago]. The case was actually a loss for me also. They don’t make those kind of cases anymore and it was the one thing I had left from the time we bought all our equipment to start touring. So the case did a great job.
RRB: That’s great. It’s an amazing ending. I remember getting to the theater [in DC] and that’s the first thing I heard about backstage. It was unbelievable to think that it happened. In fact, Janine said you were in a room practicing on the new guitar and you popped your head out of the door and looked at me and said, “This guitar is strung differently, I have to practice.”
SM: It was a narrow neck guitar. We were lucky enough to find one in DC off the shelf that was an electric classical guitar that we could get between the time they discovered it missing and sound check. It was pretty amazing.
RRB: What time did you find out it was missing?
SM: I’m not exactly sure. When they contacted me, we were driving and were in DC traffic. I said, “Call all the guitar shops. Don’t go anywhere, just use the phone.”
RRB: Oh, so you hadn’t even got to the theater yet.
SM: No. I said look for a Godin. Manuel Barrueco, a real classical guitarist, one of the best there is in the world, had a Godin which he did just a few occasional things [with]. He normally played an acoustic classical, a beautiful expensive handmade one, but he had showed me the Godin he had so I thought that was a pretty decent compromise for getting through the gig.
RRB: Oh, I see.
SM: There turned out to be a little shop in DC that was kind enough to bring it over to us on the promise we would buy it, which of course we did. That was like door-to-door service. So all along there have been really nice cooperative people.
RRB: Like I told you in my email, I could just think that it’s all the good karma you’ve put out over the years coming back to you.
SM: I don’t know…
RRB: So you now own that guitar. Are you going to use it?
SM: No, no. We’re done with that, unless the other one doesn’t work. I mean it works acoustically, I better check it electrically.
RRB: You haven’t played it electric?
SM: No. I’m just sitting here practicing on it.
RRB: Wow. It’s quite a story and social media was lit up about it. People want to understand the story. So, there have been a ton of questions about your #1 and #2 guitars.
SM: Oh yeah, that’s a lot easier to talk about (laughing).
RRB: So have there been modifications to either of those guitars recently?
SM: Yeah, my #1 has been modified in many ways over the years, not realizing it, but when it came time to start practicing the Dregs parts, I realized that the sound, of all the guitars I had, that #2 did the best job. It sounded the most like my old Frankentele. Those parts that were used were from maybe the stock of 35 or 40 years ago, and I don’t know if that makes a difference but anyway, there it was totally bone stock. The only thing I did was put 9s on it [strings]. Tommy rubbed down the bridge pieces with emery cloth trying to get the sharp edges off. There was a weird kind of finish on the guitar and I wanted to get some of that to where it felt like a well-used guitar. So we just rubbed it, not sanded, gently with the finest steel wool, and tried to take down some of that stickiness that new guitars can have – but this one had been sitting for, well, over three decades. It worked perfect and I really hated to use it in fact I even called Sterling up [Sterling Ball] who gave it to me as a gift last year, and said, “How would you feel if that beautiful guitar you gave me, which I’d love to keep in beautiful shape, went on the road to do the Dregs tour, because it’s got the best sound, it’s just really nicely balanced?”
RRB: So that’s the guitar that’s called #2?
SM: Yeah. Well we have another, as in priority, #2 guitar we use with Purple, which is a Y2D guitar, the last prototype.
RRB: You had that with you?
SM: No. I didn’t bring it. The only thing I brought was two guitars. I brought one electric guitar and one classical guitar [the Buscarino] and Tommy [Alderson, Steve’s guitar tech] said, “I’ll bring my guitar in case you break a string.” Tommy also has a low serial number similar Music Man. His is modified.
RRB: Oh ok, so that’s the one that was sitting on stage after the show [that I photographed and posted] that’s his [Tommy’s] guitar.
SM: Yeah, That’s got enough modifications to where I’d rather not break a string. It’s always played great it just sounds different.
RRB: You haven’t played that during a show.
SM: Maybe one night I broke a string and had to do a song with it. It’s a good sounding guitar; it’s just a little brighter than mine.
RRB: So that answers a big question, there are a lot of people wondering what that guitar was because I took a shot of it after the show [in DC] with the empty theater behind it and a lot of people have been asking about it. Some people were wondering if your #2 [guitar] got a new neck, but now I understand why.
SM: Yes, that’s Tommy’s guitar.
RRB: The guitar you were playing was confusing some people. I’m not much of a gear head, but lots of people are and are questioning every little thing.
SM: That’s cool. I like getting into details too. All we did was just rub the finish on the back of the neck. I used some alcohol and Tommy used a little steel wool and we got it to where it felt like it was played for a long time.
RRB: But you didn’t do anything to the fretboard, right?
SM: No. It’s exactly as it came off the assembly line. It just happens to be serial #2. It was given to me as a gift to contrast my #1 guitar. You know, my #1 guitar has been played in a typhoon with the rain like being in a shower and played outside in the snow with Purple. It’s been abused, but it keeps on going. It’s been refretted many times, the pickups have been changed, replaced, and tried to be put back, the bridge has been replaced several times, and the synth pickups have been taken off and put back like forty times, different pots… this #2, just straight out of the box just sounded awesome, perfect for the Dregs stuff. Whereas I was subconsciously trying to push my #1 guitar to sound more and more like a Y2D before there was a Y2D because I was playing with Purple. So that’s why that sort of evolution happened.
RRB: So what were your feelings after the first few shows and how have the shows changed [for you] in the couple of weeks you’ve been out on tour?
SM: I guess the biggest thing is I’m just finally able to relax enough to appreciate how much the guys are doing, how well they’re playing. It’s a tough gig to do under the best of circumstances (laughing). So I am really glad – Allen’s been playing with so much passion. He just loves it. I sort of love just being part of the reunion aspect. With music, I can always find something to pick at but like I said, the reunion thing is the big deal for me.
RRB: Oh yeah. I saw you a couple of times during the DC show, which was one of the early ones, look over at Allen and smile with a big broad grin because he was pouring his heart out.
SM: Yeah, he does. And Owski [Steve Davidowski] just blows me away, to solo so fantastic. We’re taxing everybody with this stuff, especially Owski; he only played some of these tunes when we were together.
RRB: I saw him between sets in NY, and we chatted for a few minutes, then he got up and said, “I have to go. I have to go practice.” He was going to practice during intermission!
SM: And that’s it. After the first few shows I just stopped and said how much I appreciate you working on this Owski and putting your heart and soul into it, and I said the same thing to Allen. Andy and Rod are like, I’ve just known them forever, and I just expect that you know. I’m not surprised by it. I guess Allen and Owski are the biggest surprise with how much they’ve done.
RRB: When I spoke to Allen prior to the tour, he kept circling back to the thought of how amazing it is for him to be on stage playing with you guys and just how much he appreciated it and how much it meant to him.
SM: It’s amazing isn’t it, what a big deal it is? I was thinking after the shows, and especially after the first show, it was a reminder of how much the audience is part of the experience of being in a band. If you played to crappy audiences that hated you you’d never want to do it. If you play to great audiences, that listen and appreciate little details, it’s this super kind of reward.
RRB: Especially when you wait over 40 years to get the band back together.
SM: It wasn’t exactly us waiting; the band followed the natural evolution and devolution. We didn’t have audiences like this waiting [for us] everywhere either.
RRB: I understand. Audiences were primed for this tour.
SM: If you take an Edsel or even a Gremlin car and lock it up for forty years and then bring it out, more people will stop and look at it, more then they did before (laughing).
RRB: That’s true. There was some aspect of, ‘Hey. What are these guys going to sound like?’ I knew, through my conversations with you and the guys, I’ve gained some insight into your work ethic, what you expect. This Dregs music, it’s all yours.
SM: It’s the way the guys play it though that makes it sound like the Dregs.
RRB: Is it what you envisioned in your head when you developed this music?
SM: Yes, it is.
RRB: The NYC show just had this electricity to it. You could have done two more sets and they would have been there cheering the whole time.
SM: Yeah, that was a great vibe. No question.
RRB: It’s a tough place to get into, but once you’re there…
SM: It’s tough for anybody, playing or attending. There’s no parking, traffic is crazy, prices are high. It takes a real commitment to attend a show like that.
RRB: The show was fantastic. I’m looking forward to the future shows and I appreciate you taking some time to talk with me.
SM: Sure, though I usually don’t have much to add. Rod and Andy tend to put things better.
RRB: Yes. They both are great to talk to and have so much to say about the band, but in all honesty, people want to hear from you. Especially with the Dregs music, it sort of all starts and ends with you.
SM: Well, I’m super glad and grateful for the response, because things could have been totally different. You never know what you’re going to get. I appreciate the generous nature of the audience. That can only come, probably with a very mature audience, people who have said, ‘Yeah, there is this and that, but considering everything, I’m really loving it.’ That’s awesome. In reality, we are doing everything we can.
RRB: Sure. You are playing songs you’ve never even played live before.
SM: Exactly. There’s just nothing we could do to make it any better anyway. If people were to go totally negative that would feel weird, it would be like, ‘What do you want? This is what happened.’
RRB: I wanted to ask about “Cruise Control”. You really extended it. You threw Rod’s drum solo in there too.
SM: Yeah. Back when we did some shows with The Dregs and the SMB, in the past we were asked when we were going to do some Dregs stuff. I would say we still haven’t done anything with my band. Purple is always is working and I can’t really just go out with the Dregs and haven’t done anything with my band, so Frank Solomon said, “Well, why don’t you do both?” I said “Ok” (laughing).
RRB: How does that relate to the “Cruise Control” extended jam?
SM: He [Rod] did it then and at the end of the night he also did a double jam with Van [Romaine]. Rod remembered that piece from before and he suggested we include it. I was in total agreement with him so we include it in the song. It’s just another glimpse into a great aspect of that brilliant musician. Rod plays so fluidly that sometimes you need to accept somebody who is just playing all the perfect parts and not really knowing it.
RRB: So was there a piece of another song in the middle of “Cruise Control”?
SM: Oh, no. We just jam a little bit. I just made up some of riffs. The way I do it a lot of times when I’m writing music like a lot of the years with Purple, when we were writing ideas, it would be just me and [Ian] Paice is just playing and jamming and trying different riffs. That’s all I do there. I just imagined it’s just me and Rod and try to imagine a part that could be another song.
RRB: So, I wanted to ask you, I don’t know if you watch a lot of television, I’m guessing not…
SM: Oh no, I do. I watch motocross races and a lot of those building shows. I tend to the more technical stuff and my wife likes science fiction.
RRB: Oh, we have that in common! So, there is this channel called AXS which is a music channel and they have a show called Classic Albums. They just did Machine Head with interviews with the whole band. I was trying to imagine your thoughts on Machine Head.
SM: That’s was a great album. That changed a lot of things for the rock audience. It really upped the ante for the kind of interplay you could have with organ and guitar together and as part of a song. If you take Jon Lord’s solo on “Highway Star” it is just incredible. It still is.
RRB: Did Machine Head influence you in terms of The Dregs music and the organ?
SM: I think everything mixes into it, but, yeah. When I heard stuff like “Wring That Neck” or “Highway Star” or the little interplay mix they did in “Child In Time” with the organ and guitar, I thought it makes it exciting when there are instrumental parts that up the energy level. There is more than one way to solo. One way is to make a beautiful recap of the melody, a sort of a reprise but do it instrumentally as a solo. Another way is to do it like Purple does which is just more raw energy but played very well. So, I think all that mixes in as part of your roots and comparing notes with the guys in Purple, we have a lot of the same roots.
RRB: So what are some of your big influences musically?
SM: Oh, the biggest is probably [John] McLaughlin. Before that I was a rock guy. Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Beck, all the guitar heroes, and The Amboy Dukes. As a kid I remember covering the MC5 stuff. Just energy. I was a pre-teen when I started playing. I was learning to do wheelies on my bicycle at the same time I was learning to play the guitar and I had about the same amount of interest and respect for both of these things (laughing). In other words it was just a fun cool thing to do that was exciting and I wasn’t much into the artistry until I got to be a teenager.
RRB: Well, we have a lot of that in common. So, I was talking to your wife back stage in DC and I asked her how you were doing out there playing and she told me that as long as you weren’t frowning, everything was good.
SM: (laughing) Well, there’s some pain involved with playing.
RRB: Pain in your wrist?
SM: Yeah. It just sucks, but everyone deals with stuff.
RRB: Yeah, but for you (a guitar player) to have these issues with your right wrist just stinks.
SM: Well, I’ve been thinking about taking some time off and trying to develop even a more drastic technique that would keep me from having to move my wrist at all.
RRB: What could be more drastic?
SM: Well, I’ve tried it before, but I haven’t put enough time into it, and that’s going all fingers, since I’m a classical player somewhat, sort of going back in time. I just have to change the angle of my hand a little bit. I’m always thinking of stuff of what I can do.
RRB: I’d love to see that! Maybe with five finger picks on your hand…
SM: Well, you never know.
RRB: That would be cool. I can’t thank you enough for your time Steve. I really appreciate it. I’ll be in touch again at the end of the tour, so thanks a lot.
SM: Okay, thanks for calling.
RRB: Have a great day Steve. Goodbye.