[% META title = 'Steve Morse, Interviews' %]
By Alan K. Stout
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Taking over on lead guitar in a band such as Deep Purple could be an
daunting task for most musicians. Unless, of course, your name is Steve Morse.
Morse, who was named "Best Overall Guitarist" five times in Guitar Player magazines' readers poll, was hardly a no-name when he joined Purple four years ago. In addition to his work with Dixie Dregs - a critically lauded act that mixed jazz, rock and fusion - Morse formed the Steve Morse Band and also did a stint with the progressive group Kansas.
Still, the talented player admits he was at first a bit apprehensive about stepping in for the legendary Ritchie Blackmore.
"I'm one of those people that just cannot do a gig if it doesn't feel right," says Morse in an interview.
"We had a little trial period where both myself and the band were unsure if was going to work ... After four dates, I was totally blown away that this band - who everybody thinks as the beginning of heavy metal - wanted to improvise more than I did with The Dregs."
Deep Purple formed in 1968 and now consisting of Morse plus original members Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice and long-time vocalist Ian Gillan has had members playing musical chairs throughout much of its existence. Members have left and returned and the group has even disbanded and then reunited.
Morse says the harmony within this incarnation of Purple is simply the result of good fortune.
"It's really luck and chemistry," he says. "Imagine taking a new guy randomly by their credentials on paper and then finding out that you get along great.
That's all it was...
"Roger is an extremely (open-minded) listener and listens to a huge variety of music. He heard of the trio and all the Dregs stuff and thought it would be really interesting and weird to replace the guitar spot with somebody radically different than Ritchie, so that they wouldn't be seen as trying to copy him.
"I thought it was a bold move. It made me like the band before I even knew them."
When asked to explain the difference between joining two such well- established bands as Kansas and Deep Purple, Morse admits that he was actually more familiar with Kansas' music than Purple's.
"With Kansas, it was unquestionably a band which I knew every bit of the material they had released," he says. "With Purple, I was a big fan during my formative rock years, but when the band broke up and went through the various versions, I was not so aware. In fact, I was just as aware of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow as I was to the rest of Deep Purple's catalogue."
Still, Morse says he's made an unexpected pleasant discovery since playing Purple's music.
"The sections in the tunes are more open than any group I've ever played with," he says, reiterating his love for improvisation. "Jon's got the kind of ears you'd very rarely find ... and Roger is incredibly musical. Ian Paice is as solid as a rock, but he plays a little bit of swing. He's perfect ...
Ian Gillan welcomes me as part of the show instead of trying to dominate. He loves to stand there inside the band and hear the music."
Morse says fans have been accepting and supportive of his work with the band.
He says the band's latest album, titled "Abandon," was named for the group's approach to writing and recording.
"Ian," says Morse of Gillan, "thought the band played with abandon, without fear or without worry."
On the tour trail, Morse says Purple mixes up the classics with the new. "Smoke on The Water" "Hush," "Highway Star" and "Woman From Tokyo" are all there.
"For me, these are tunes that came about at a very happy time of my life," he says. "The teen-age years - that's when everything opens up and your life changes. It's always a great reminder of that to me ...
"And," he adds. "The stuff's good."