[% META title = 'Steve Morse, Interviews' %]

Steve Morse interviewed by 'El Musiquero'

The following in-depth interview was given by Morse to the argentinian music magazine 'El Musiquero' following a press conference given by Gillan, Glover and him at the Hard Rock Cafe when Deep Purple played Argentina in March/97. It appeared on issue Nº 127 of the magazine (with a live Gillan & Morse shot on the cover).

I skipped the intro to the feature but the interview was fully transcribed. Bear in mind that since it was translated to spanish for printing and then I translated it back to english, it might not represent the *actual* words Steve pronounced though the meaning is of course the same.

When are the Dregs coming back to the music scene?

"I don't know, because the other original members of the band are dedicated full time into their respective careers. For instance, violin player Allen Sloan is now a doctor, full time, and our bass player Andy West, is kind of a master in computers. We did a reunion of the Dregs a few years back in '92 where Dave LaRue, bassist of the Steve Morse Band, was included. The violin was playd by a great musician which is Jerry Goodman. He's a legendary character, he was part of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. We also had two original members, drummer Rod Morgenstein and keyboard player T. Lavitz. We even made a record called 'Bring Them Back Alive'. But in certain ways it wasn't the same and I think it neither was for the public...it also wasn't what they expected. Right now I don't think it'd be a good idea to repeat that experience, also I'm myself pretty absorbed by other works and projects. I also know that for many people the Dixie Dregs were something special, but well, there are things that can't be repeated. Or shouldn't be repeated, as you wish to call it."

What kind of guitars are you currently using? I have one of your records featuring the famous Frankenstein Telecaster (Ed.note: a mix made by Steve himself that consisted in a Stratocaster neck put into a Tele body) but later the image of you using a Music Man became famous.

"I'm still with that guitar, it's a Music Man Custom, made by the factory, made by the factory following some specifications that i gave 'em. But it's not a prototype, but a model currently in serial production, that anyone can buy. I'm also fond of using other guitars in the studio, but when I'm on tour I mainly bring the Music Man. I'm with her since like...I think 11 years, and I'm used to it. We're like a couple her and me! (he laughs). It works really well, and I'm one convinced that when something works you don't have to change it."

And which are your amps for touring?

"Well, with Deep Purple I use different amplification than in my solo work; they're very different sounds. With Purple I'm using different combinations of heads and cabinets, depending on the place we're going to play in, because that's very important, if it's a place like a soccer stadium or a way smaller stage. I generally use the Peavey 5150s, with a mix of speakers. Inside they got two Scorpion speakers along with the originals. They sound much better than the ones coming regularly in the 5150s, for some reason unknown to me. After the 5150's preamp to a Lexicon 41 and a Lexicon 42. I also usually log to a couple of effect that I pretty like; for instance an Harmonizer, which has a sound that I love. I can also use a multi effects unit, a Lexicon LXP-5. But then, when I work by myself or with my band, I prefer another kind of amplification. Some of the effects I keep."

For instance?

"I usually use two Peaveys. One is a VTM model, and the other is a Triumph. I also have a Marshall Jubilee that I have used for some recordings and which gave me very good results. When I have to do a solo I plug the guitar to an Ampeg V4, because it has a really fat sound, it has JBL speakers. The Peaveys have Black Widow speakers."

What microphones do you use to mike the speakers?

"It can be a (Shure) SM-57, which is what is generally used, though there are other mics that can have a bit more of bright. There's an Audio-Technica model, which right now I don't remember which one is, that has a much brighter capting than the Shure. But well, it all depends on what you want to get, the tipe of sound you want to achieve. In that sense I'm one to try many different combinations, I don't conform with the first thing that comes out of the speaker. There are may factors which come into play when it comes to sounds. I don't know, the console, the engineer himself...it's a chain with many links. But I like to experiment and take risks."

Speaking of taking risks, I know of your likeness to fly planes. Do you keep doing it?

"Of course!, in fact I asked the promoters that brought us here to get me a plane so I could see Argentina from above, but for some reason they neglected." (he laughs)

Nobody explained them you're a professional pilot.

"It either was that or it was they feared I wasn't going to come alive and safe to the show. When I'm home I get into aviation pretty much, it's something...it's a passion, you know?, so it doesn't have a logical explanation, at least not for somebody who hasn't felt the need for vertigo and risk. Nowadays in the United States it's something very common to fly, and even many people has aerostats and you see them flying over the fields, over the sowings."

What similarity has playing guitar and flying planes?

"Well, in both things...certain techniques exist which you can't leave aside, no matter what happens. The concentration is also similar, you have to be into what you're doing. Any kind of mistake can be the last. This can also happen to you playing in front of a fifty thousand crowd. For moments you have to completely give yourself, give your all. For moments it's just a little touch, but you have to be aware to know when that touch is required. The guitar and the plane are under your mind's control. If your mind works, and your feelings are there, then all will come out right. It's a mix of control and emotion you understand? On the other side, you can seriously hurt yourself if you make a mistake. I mean, both things have a dose of excitement that inevitably attracts you. Imagine that if I make a gross mistake in a show, and then I fuck up in another show, and then in another one... three in a row...well, my career's over, the magazines would trash me and the crowd would boo me. In any way, there are things that are not similar. When I'm going to make a solo, it's that I'm going to make a solo, I'm not going to play something cerebral or anything like that. I mean: I open my heart and let the music flow, I let the audience look into my heart."

Anyway it sounds strange: a guitarist that flies planes (laughs)

"Look, when I had to do another job to support my family, I did, and I would do it again. I don't have problems doing any other kind of work if necessary. But there's something I can't betray, and it's that I need to like what I'm doing, any other way it doesn't work. When I decided to fly it was...I think we were at the end of a tour with Kansas, and things weren't going well for me economically. But travelling with them I realised that I liked travelling and I liked flying very much. That decided me, but in any way I expected...well, I had the hope of not totally giving away music, I thought that in the free time left off flights I could keep recording my material and even make some not very extensive tours. In fact I got a good job in a regional airline, that I thought could lead me to a bigger, international, company. So I was working as a pilot during almost six months, and I discovered that it was really impossible to think about doing any other thing on the side, much less make tours with my band and make my music. It came a moment in which I faced a serious problem, and I had to decide. You can see who won."

Are you still making instructional videos?, I have one of them, I think it's the first one you made.

"Was it useful to you?"

Well, some little things I nicked here and there, but you know how those videos are, it's pretty difficult...

"Absolutely. In fact it's been like seven years I don't record any of those videos, I recorded them for DCI. But then I realised that if you don't have a determined learning program it's very difficult...the only thing you're doing is giving away some tricks...it's not a very complete thing. I don't think I would buy any of those videos, it must be really difficult for a guitar student to get something serious out of them. I would make 'em again if I had the time to establish a studies plan, and all of a program, but we would already be talking about a lot of videos, I don't know...right now I'm not doing it."

(at this time a Hard Rock waitress brings Morse a very strange looking chocolate cake. Steve's fork crashes into the cacao coberture without causing any harm to the consistency of the cake, which seems made of rubber. Morse fights a while with the dessert and then leaves it)

"It must be a wooden cake!" (he laughs)

I observed you from afar while you had lunch and I noticed you didn't eat meat; are you a vegetarian?

"Yes, totally. It's an election. It has to do with the mind and spirit more than with a neatly ecological question. I like to eat vegetables, I feel good with that kind of alimentation. I could eat meat, but don't ask me then to go and do a show...it strikes you like a bomb!

I know you have some friends that can play guitar...I recall one of your records, I think from '86 or '87, where Mr. Albert Lee guests.

"Yeah!, we played with Albert just a few days back in California. It also guested another friend of mine, which is Steve Lukather, do you know of him?"

Yeah, Toto...

"Exactly! (he laughs) well, they were both playing at a show of mine, we did like a three guitar closing..."

They might be still looking for rests of crowd over the seats...

"Absolutely!, those two guys do seriously play. It was a show we did with the other two guys from the Dregs (Ed.note: he means Morgenstein and Lavitz) in a pub that generally features blues numbers. It was great fun."

Tell me something about Lee, I'm a fan of his style...

"Really?, me too!. He's a natural musician, super talented, he's one of the best guitar players over the world, and it's not me who says it, you can ask anyone about it. I think there's still a big part of public that hasn't discovered him. Even many musicians I know copy his style, but he's unique, because he has a very natural thing that flows from inside of him, it simply comes out that way from him. Some years ago we shared a tour, and we used to play four or five shows a day, over a month or so. Kind of a marathon over the club circuit. Well, Albert did of every one of those shows a totally different one. He has so big a variety of resources that leaves you stunned, it amazes you, he never repeats himself with a lead. That's for me the difference between someone who copies a style and the guy who invented it. He's a true artist, every thing he does has magic, because it's connected to his soul; he plays guitar with passion."

Why did you choose the guitar as the main instrument for your music?

"Well, it's an instrument where you can play single notes, you can do leads, you can play chords to go along...but most important of all it's that you can carry the guitar with you where ever you go. I started my career learning keyboards..."

Do you keep playing keyboards?

"Yes, I like it, I do it from time to time. But I feel keyboards aren't an instrument as expressive as the guitar. I thought the guitar was an instrument of which I could always learn things about, for the rest of my life. And I wasn't wrong. The voice is the most expressive natural instrument, and the guitar comes second on that list, no doubt about it. I'm also not a close minded guy, I like the sound and possibilities of the saxophone, for instance, very much. But well, there are many factors that came the moment make you choose a determined instrument."

But do you like acoustic guitars as much of electrics, or do you have a certain predilection for the last ones?

"I love acoustic guitar. I began studying classical guitar, even with methods by south american guitarists. My first instructor was a cuban master called Juan Mercado. He taught me his ideas about guitar technique, which were pretty unortodox. He taught me not to fear about guitar positioning, for instance. He said the best position was the one most comfortable to me. He also taught me that timing wasn't much as important as the passion you put into your performance. I also studied with methods by Aguado, by Sagreras, by Sor...I think I even have many spanish influences that come from that stage when I was studying."

Where your parents musicians?

"No, not...well, my mother used to play piano, and still does. She can read some partitures, not very complex ones, and play them. My father...my father was a church minister, you know?, and used to replace ministers from other churches when they got ill and gave the services, for we had to travel all the time over different cities.

Where were you born?

"I was born in Ohio, but was raised in Michigan which was the area where we used to be around on that time I was telling you about. So until ten years into my life I grew listening to church music, which at that time wasn't much fun to me." (he laughs)

Which were your first and really big influences?

"On the guitar or music?"

On both things...

"Well, Chuck Berry...The Beatles...all those english bands that..."

(a cellular phone rings in the bag of a girl that's besides Morse; he puts his hand inside the bag, grabs the phone and answers: "Room service, can I help you?". The guy can't keep with his genius, he likes to have fun with everything around him)

"Sorry, well, I was telling you that at that time I listened to all the british rock guitarists. But some time ahead one of the influences that grabbed me the most it was Jonh McLaughlin's with those records he made with his Mahavishnu Orchestra...they were colossal!. And another guy who flipped me over was Steve Howe, from Yes. He could play spanish guitar and electric guitar in the same show. So when I saw him, many years ago at a Yes show I told myself: so what's your problem?...you can play with both guitars. It's like saying: you can eat but you can also drink, and both things are cool, you understand?. Howe is one of the best influences a guitar player can have, or at least it was for me. I love the british style of rock. I also like some american guitar players, like Rick Derringer, Johnny Winter and, of course, Jimi Hendrix."

Do you like what Eric Johnson does?

"Oh, yeah, he's my great friend! We did many shows together; I did tours with his band; he did tours with my band, we had a lot of fun together. He's one of the great guitar players today, and he's also going a bit through that thing we talked about Albert Lee, I think there's still a lot of people that hasn't discovered Eric Johnson."

How does it feel for an american guitarist, like you, to be playing in an english band like Deep Purple?

"Well, I don't think about 'em in terms of an english band, you know?. I think more about them in terms of a big rythm section (he laughs). For instance Jon Lord is one of the best keyboard players I could hear in my life..."

We're two then who think the same, Jon Lord can play, really...

"And I tell you more, a great portion of the classic Purple sound is Jon Lord..."

Totally agreed...

"And it goes further of what he knows to play...some nights I think it's something in his ears, he must have something special this guy... every night he does a different solo. Also think about this: who else can do solos like him?...most of keyboard players only play along, but doing leads require...playing leads is something that comes out of the heart , or better don't do it. And Jon can do it. I can play anything that comes through my head on guitar, an he's capable of remembering and reproduce it instantly, note for note, in his keyboard. He has the best ears of rock'n'roll. That simple."

Practically you went through all type of lineups, within music. What differences happen in playing with a trio and then in a quintet?

"With the trio you have to be working all the time; I give the bass player some parts that are quite difficult, but which serve to build the group's sound betweeen the two of us. Nevertheless, most of the time it's the guitar the instrument that works the most. There's almost no time to relax. You have to change dynamics very quickly. Working in a trio opened very much my musical vision, my point of view over the composition and arranging. Instead, with a five piece group the communication is much easier, everybody knows when his part is coming, when to change tempo and things like that. Those are to my understanding the main differences. With Deep Purple I got more rythm parts, of course. And it's not something very complex. In that way you can relax for when your lead spot is coming; close your eyes and go for it, it's all you have to do. Any other way you'd be working...and who wants to work?."

Are you planning to record any new solo album?

"Yes. I got three albums that i'm preparing for this year. One is a record by my group, the Steve Morse Band. Another is the new studio record by Deep Purple, and the other is a compilation...a group of guiatrists i'm producing. Well, i'm not in fact the producer. I'm more really choosing tunes and things like that...i'm like in charge of the recording."

Does it have your name?

"No. We don't still have a name...it could be Economical Classical Music; it's played by guitarists that don't commonly play classical music. There we have perople like Vince Gill, who is a country singer that also plays guitar very well, he's very famous in the United States. Then there's Trevor Rabin, from Yes; there's also Steve Howe, both doing fantastic classical pieces. There's... let me see... John Petrucci, from Dream Theater, with a piece that's even difficult for him. And know that Petrucci has an amazing technique. Also supposed to be there will be Eric Johnson..."

What's the idea, put out just one record, or do something more?

"Well, you know what happens?. It goes that every one of those guitar players has a manager, who in turn has a couple of lawyers, and sometimes things turn difficult... I mean, this should be very simple. I went and said to 'em: look, I want this and that person on the record. Everyone does a piece and we all get the same percentage of the earnings. But every manager came out with that they wanted more than the rest."

I suppose whom least problems gave you were the musicians themselves...

"Exactly. Most of them have even recorded their song already, which means it's all ok with 'em. But I don't think we'll do anything else, besides the record."

And what's the piece you chose for that record?

"Well, it's a combination of something that I wrote myself years ago with Händel's "Música Acuática". It's all guitars, it's pretty crazy but it sounds...effective. The idea is for young people to be able to listen to classical music, with a bit of an 'easy listening' sound...to open new heads and bring them closer to classical music. That's all."

What's your execution style?. I mean: do you play with your fingers, with the pick or with a combination of both?"

"Well, I usually hold the pick in the articulation of the ring finger, this way (shows with his hand) and I use two fingers and my thumb to play. In parts where I need more dynamic or quickness the pick comes out. So depending on the situation I use either technique, fingers or picking."

What strings do you use on the electric guitar?

"Ernie Ball, medium gauge. So it's 0.10, 0.13, 0.16, 0.26, 0.32, 0.42."

What kind of music do you listen to the most?

"All kinds of music (he points above and asks me to listen. By the speakers comes out an old ABBA tune). I love good sounding pop music. These boys didn't know how good tunes they were making back then. I think they were Swedish or Scandinavian, right?"

Yes, ABBA, from Sweden. So the most important thing for you is the tune?

"Yes, exactly. Wherever you look there's good music, but it's difficult to find it sometimes. I mean: you gotta know where to look for it."

Listening to some of your old records it's not difficult to find a certain country touch, not only in the arrangements, but also on the guitar parts. Do you like country music?

"Yes, definitively. For me bluegrass is heavy metal music without that loud electric volume. And in fact in my new record, the opening track is titled 'Heavy Metal Bluegrass'. That's my idea of bluegrass. We recorded it totally live in the studio and it worked very well, people will love it. People loves bluegrass. Maybe what they can't stand is the image of the guy with cowboy hat and all that, but if you make them listen to any of those great banjo players, the public will love it, because it's a beautiful music, an universal music and it's also very well played. Those guys have an special hability, not everybody can play bluegrass."

And what about the blues? Do you like to listen to them, do you like to play it?

"Yes, I like the blues. But what I can't do is to be all night listening to the same chord progression over and over, with a guy in front that only talks about the problems in his life. Man, that's too depressing, it bores me to death. I need the blues to have a element of special interest. I like more the blues of the Allman Brothers, of ZZ Top, of Stevie Ray Vaughan. There's a little energy twist there, it's not blues so plain and basic. I love B.B. King, I love Muddy Waters, but not all night long (he laughs). It's that I need more energy..."

In a sense I think that with your instrumental songs you could be like the follower of those instrumental bands of the sixties, like The Shadows or The Ventures, or those of the seventies, like the Mahavishnu or Return To Forever. A bit like the art of music without words.

"Sure, absolutely. I think it's not that difficult to mix the styles, like jazz, rock, or classical music. And I was left so impressed by the Mahavishnu's music, when they mixed jazz with rock...and to that I naturally added the bluegrass, because I love that music and I grew with it, and also classical music. Also, instrumental music works really well in clubs and small venues, the public loves it. What happens is that record companies and radio stations are who supposedly impose popular taste, and sometimes a band that only does instrumental music...well, it's difficult. But on the other hand the audience always responds. The public always has better ears than the people in the music business, no doubt about it."

Do you have a favourite guitar player over the rest, someone who you admire?

"No. That's impossible. Every one is different, that's like...it's like women...damn it!...every one has something nice and something different, and you like them all. Or almost all. There's so much guitar players I like...when I was at the Miami University we did jams and recorded them. I recall to have recorded one which also had Pat Metheny on it. A fantastic guitarist!. He was so real with his improvisations. Same with Albert Lee, same with Eric Johnson...the most pristine techniques, the most beautiful tones. Steve Lukather...great ears!, he can play any style with feeling, with emotion. I don't know, I can't really answer this question...could you remove it from your interview?" (he laughs)

Well, that was the last one then. Thank you for your kindness.

Transcribed by Julio C. Errecart.