Steve Morse Interview
Rock, Roots, & Blues – Live
November 1, 2017
Rock, Roots, & Blues - Live [RRB]: Hey Steve. How are you doing?
Steve Morse [SM]: I’m good. How are you?
RRB: Good. Thanks for asking. Let’s discuss music. Is there anything that you know you guys are definitely going to play that I can share?
SM: Sure. I think we are probably doing seven songs off the Freefall album. From What If, maybe “Take It Off The Top”. We are tackling “Day 444” which we never played live and also “Go For Baroque” which the band kind of starts on the classical guitar then it turns into a band tune. It’s a really interesting arrangement because it’s constantly changing. It’s not your typical Rock –n-roll tune [laughing], and there are some classics like “Cruise Control” and, we have some choices to make.
RRB: I’m guessing it won’t be the same show every night, or will it be?
SM: It depends on how much we can get Steve Davidowski up [to speed] on. We’re going to be doing “Odyssey” for instance, and how much he plays on it will depend on how much he can absorb. In the old days he used to not play on some sections. He’s already been working hard on learning this stuff. I’m impressed. Plus, when we first got together we were playing the old stuff, I thought, pretty well. That’s what gave me the confidence to go ahead and do this.
RRB: Was that in January?
SM: Yes. Everybody came prepared and it was easy.
RRB: Was there a decision point where this [reunion] might not have happened if you didn’t like what you were hearing?
SM: Oh yeah, yeah. We were just feeling out the concept. And, as you know with the Dregs, nothing is ever done in a purely business sense. Whatever would be the most efficient way is pretty much the way we never did it [laughing]. On the other hand, this just felt like ‘Hey, this was fun. This would be a good reunion and a good thing to share with the public’, and nowadays with expenses of everything and the fact that everybody does have lives we have to charge money to make it work. We are getting professional crews. The old guys that used to work for two hundred dollars a week are now professionals with decades of experience. They’ve done very well in that field. It’s sort of a different story. We have to sell t-shirts and things…
RRB: Well, that’s the business side of it. That will all fall into place, right? Your fans are rabid and I’m betting they won’t have a problem paying a little more to see you guys.
SM: Yes. Frank, our manager has a lot of experience with that.
RRB: So what else did you guys discuss in the conference call that you hashed out?
SM: We talked about Owski’s [Steve Davidowski] equipment and what he’s going to do. I suggested to him to make copies of his presets. One of his keyboards is common enough of a high-end keyboard that he could transfer his settings in case it didn’t work for some reason. You know back in the old days we had a Fender Rhodes and organ, or maybe a mini Moog. They were discreet things that did a limited variety of sounds. But now these days, with these master keyboard controllers and sound banks a lot depends on having already made the choices and quickly accessing those choices. So we talked about that and we also talked about how we were going to monitor the sound, whether to use in-ears or not.
RRB: Did you decide?
SM: I think we ended up that it might work best for Steve Davidowski because he’s coming through totally direct, whereas guitar, bass, and violin, we use amps. I expressed why I don’t like the in-ears, and it’s not because it’s not a great product, but for me, I like being able to change what I hear based on where I’m standing, which could easily be put into a headphone monitor with some sort of proximity locator.
RRB: Do you use anything like that currently?
SM: No. [Deep] Purple is old school.
RRB: It’s all about what you hear and what you’re feeling…
SM: We don’t even have floor wedges for Purple because Ian Gillian doesn’t like them, so I hear his side fill from the left side and it’s amazing that we can cooperate with what we get fed to us so that I get the same mix as the lead singer in a rock band, and I’m still ok with it.
RRB: That’s unusual?
SM: Yeah [laughing]. Yeah, and it’s because Gillian is so cool about wanting to hear the band. He wants to hear the whole thing. He wants to hear himself inside the whole thing. Normally a singer, all they want to hear is themselves.
RRB: Well you won’t have that problem with the Dregs…
SM: That’s true [laughing].
RRB: So, it’s getting close. I think you have plans to all get together soon at your place, is that true?
RRB: Are you going to get together with anyone before that? Steve [Davidowski] was telling me that he was going to fly to Allen’s house for a weekend, which may have already happened, so just those two could practice.
SM: I’m open to it. I just don’t have as much time as they might. I’m going to keep Skyping with Owski. I just sent him some stuff I digitally wrote down to communicate the choruses. The music is pretty much planned out. The problem is in the arrangements of exactly who is going to play what live and most of the decisions are being made at the keyboard level.
RRB: And everything stems from that?
SM: Yeah, like Allen can easily decide that there is, on any recording, what the violin part was. Same with bass and drums, but I have multiple overdubs on some things and Owski, we had multiple keyboard layers. Sometimes it’s just hard to hear which part it was. Sometimes the stuff just gets buried in the complexity.
RRB: But you still want to hear it all.
SM: Oh yeah. It’s those little details that make the music different from most instrumental rock stuff that sort of turned it into a genre.
RRB: When you are together with them or even thinking about The Dregs, do you think of yourself as the leader of the band? Besides being your music, are you conscious of the fact that you are sort of leading the way?
SM: Well I’m conscious of the fact that [if someone asks], ‘Is this an F or an F sharp’, they’ll ask me and I’m very critical of the music and always did try to get the best part for everybody that would fit them and make the band sound good, that’s all. As far as leader of the band, it’s always been more like Andy has always been the voice of the most analysis and reason and Rod has been a different voice of reason. He is the one who would most likely remind us of the human element of our decisions. We were very young guys when we started.
RRB: I don’t think your personalities have changed that much since you started, have they?
SM: I don’t know about the other guys, but I know in my case it has.
RRB: In what way?
SM: Just more appreciative and tolerant of the work that it takes for everybody to do this.
RRB: Is that just because of their current situation and their careers or just to play the music, just to learn it, just to do a good job and have fun?
SM: Yeah [the latter]. Ever since the very beginning it was just an assumption for me as a young man that of course everyone is going to do a good job and if everything isn’t perfect, I’m here to point it out. I was more of a drill sergeant/task master. It would have been nice if I could have been born with the wisdom of the ages.
RRB: Ah… well we all have that problem. You’re not alone.
SM: [laughing] I would have liked to put my hand on everybody’s shoulder at times they were struggling with a part and said, ‘You’re doing fantastic, just keep at.’
RRB: What did you do?
SM: ‘No. No. No. Hey, here’s a take. Learn it. Let’s play it perfect’, or if someone says they can’t do it, I would say, ‘No, you can do it. Everyone go outside’, and me and the person would sit there and drill it for five or ten minutes and at the end they would be playing it, but thoroughly stressed and sometimes embarrassed that they were being singled out, but playing it.
RRB: You got them over that mental hurdle, right?
SM: Yeah, and like a coach or a drill sergeant there may have been a tiny bit of nostalgic attachment to me after decades but most of it was the other kind [laughing], you know, the love/hate relationship. There may have been some love, but it was more of the other.
RRB: Has that changed for you now?
SM: Yes. Like I said, I have been through a lot more situations in life, a lot more experiences with musicians; this is a point I’ve slowly gotten to through the years. I just want to appreciate everything about it and hopefully surround myself with people that naturally will do an excellent job. I don’t want to be the one to push people or point out their flaws, but when it comes to rehearsals, of course I’m going to be the guy saying, ‘Nope, change it.’
RRB: Well, it is your music.
SM: But, even if it wasn’t my music, I would still be the guy saying, ‘No, no. That’s not working. We have to rehearse this.’
RRB: Do you do that in Deep Purple?
SM: Oh yeah… [laughing]
RRB: Sounds like that doesn’t’ go over very well sometimes.
SM: The other guys do it too. Everybody has their own things they focus on.
RRB: You mean they’re not intimidated by you Steve? [laughing]
SM: [laughing] Oh no….I’m the kid. I’m the kid who doesn’t quite fit in.
RRB: Well, you fit in now. It must be cool to move through the different dynamics of the bands you’ve been in. It’s been a while since the Steve Morse band has toured, right?
SM: Yes it has. I’ve learned a lot from my older brothers, a lot about life and about music too. I learn constantly from working with people, just like everyone does. There’s definitely a different dynamic working with me now than there was before when I just had less patience.
RRB: Well, I’m going to ask them [laughing]. Will any of the shows be professionally recorded?
SM: Not that I know of, because if you’ve seen any close ups of how we look, you’d have to fade them so much for someone to edit those shots, because it would be like a horror movie, you know?
RRB: No. I’m not sure I know what you mean.
SM: Well, the images of the guys would be so scary that you wouldn’t be able to pay the editor enough to put them in the close up shots.
RRB: Why is that?
SM: It’s just that everyone ages differently. We’re just a funny looking bunch.
RRB: Even if you just put a HD camera at the back of the theater and captured it without ever moving the camera – that would be awesome.
SM: Well, I know. There will always be somebody that wants to do that. My position has always been that live shows are meant for the people who bought the tickets. I’m usually outvoted in every band I’m in. Even with Flying Colors we did two or three live things.
RRB: And you were against that?
SM: Yes, [although] it allows people to enjoy it that weren’t there, I guess for me there is just too much of everything. There’s too much available. I will never be able to go back to those days when you could try a new song on an audience without having it published world-wide the next day.
RRB: Or the next minute.
RRB: So does that drive you crazy when you’re playing, all the cell phones in the air?
SM: Yes. And what’s even scarier is that it’s starting to not matter to me as much. In other words, I’m starting to become numb to it just like our culture is.
RRB: Hopefully it doesn’t affect the playing. If you are becoming numb to it and now it’s not affecting anything about your playing, maybe that’s not a bad thing?
SM: Yes, that’s true. Maybe that’s it. I just think it’s sad because there’s such an overall encroachment of media in every part of our lives that used to be private. In fact if I buy one thing that involves putting your phone number down, you get sales calls the rest of your life from robots. Whenever I try and resolve a problem it’s, ‘What’s the last four of your social?’. Every step of every way people or robots are mining information from us. I’m a fan of the Internet for the educational and reference and willing free exchange of information and research. It’s awesome. It’s one of the most incredible things of my lifetime.
RRB: So, back to my question, there are no plans to have any of this professionally recorded?
SM: Not that I know of, but I haven’t been privy to all the talks. Remember, this all started with Frank [the Dixie Dregs manager] and Rod and then getting Andy involved and them putting their heads together about it way before I did. I talked to everybody and just said, in general, ‘Yeah, that would be great. Whenever.’ So they’ve done a lot more discussing of details.
RRB: So something may or may not come out of it?
SM: If there is a close up, seriously, we’re going to have to put up a warning [laughing].
RRB: [Laughing] Musicians have aged at an increased rate.
SM: Objects in mirror may appear scarier than you may remember [laughing].
RRB: That’s a great name for an album! Well Steve, I’ve taken up a lot of your time, but I really dig talking with you.
SM: Same here.
RRB: Thanks a lot. I am hoping to continue these conversations with you.
SM: Me too. Thanks.
RRB: Have a great day Steve. Goodbye.
Photo credit: Janine Morse