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Progressive Rock Interviews

Steve Morse

Interviewed by Bob Cooper
Interview With Steve Morse from 2002


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.


Good morning Steve, and thanks for calling. How are things in your neck of the woods?
It's going pretty good. The album is getting good response, and the Deep Purple tour is going along excellent. Now if I could get a little more time at home and get some sleep, I'd be perfect. In between short breaks from the tour I have to run around and pay bills and do interviews and take care of business, and then I'm off again.
MSJ: Do you also have a family to miss?
Yes, I am also Mister Mom too. I am raising my eleven-year-old son, who you can probably hear in the background skateboarding.
MSJ: You have been playing with Purple for about five years at least, and I am really happy that the band is still going strong.
Yeah, actually I have been with them for eight years, and it's been fantastic really. We have noticed that our audience is expanding over that time, and the band is becoming more popular. Part of that is due to our adventurous attitude to go anywhere and play. We just came back from Russia where we did a pretty extensive tour, and we are going to India, China, Indonesia, Singapore, and quite a few other places. And we are going to do our largest-ever tour of the states in June and July.
MSJ: I hope Portland is on the itinerary, because I am so glad to see that the guys are still doing it after such a long career, and doing it well. Damn, they have been around for nearly 40 years!
Yeah, it is remarkable. Now, Jon Lord has retired, and we just did the last leg of the tour without him. He calls us up once and a while on tour though just to see how we are doing and to let us know he's thinking about us, but he just got sick of the 20-hour days.
MSJ: That would wear on anybody I think. Even some of these young pups I see coming around show definite signs of wear, as well as being homesick. I've seen these energetic front-men shake their butts off to the delight of the crowd, and when they disappear to the dressing rooms they are exhausted, but still have to do the meet and greets and try to get some sleep on the way to the next gig. Travel alone is hard on a body.
It used to be that a trip from Seattle to Florida was a long trip, but now we are almost always on the opposite side of the globe when we come or go home. These 30-hour plane trips are becoming commonplace.
MSJ: I hear you also own some small planes and enjoy flying on your off time as well.
Yes, it is a big part of my life, and recently I got a glider rating added on to my pilot's license. I have been up already today for a few hours just gliding around and soaring with the hawks, literally.
MSJ: That has got to be so neat.
Oh, it is WAY neat! My glider is one of those high-performance sail planes-real sleek with long thin wings, and it's got a little two-stroke engine that hides behind the cockpit. That's how I launch it without having to be towed up there. Then whenever I think I get where I can get enough lift to stay up I just shut her off and crank it back down into it's little compartment and close the doors, and away we go. In the afternoons here there is no problems staying up a long time riding the airstreams. They have big competitions here where they try to see how fast you can go a certain distance. You have to stop and gain altitude, and pick the most efficient speed to go through the downdraft (the sinking air) and it's a big mind game, like a chess game.
MSJ: I imagine you would also have to be able to read the winds and drafts and anticipate the outcome.
That and the performance of the plane, and just plain old luck too. When you are looking for lift, sometimes you don't find it right away, so it's also a matter of who finds the lift the quickest too. There are signs sometimes that tell you where the lift is, but it's not always the same from cloud to cloud. I think that added variable is what keeps it exciting as well.
MSJ: I just got your latest CD Split Decision a while back and just love it. How do you feel about it as compared to your other musical works?
I feel that it was done real well and I think it might even be the best album I've ever done because I didn't really care about any kind of format, or any kind of image, or anything. I just picked the songs that I liked, which turned out to be two groups of songs. One set was from a Steve Morse Band type of setting, and group was solo acoustic mellow types of songs. That's how I came up with Split Decision for the title, since I was wondering which way to go, and ended up doing both. That is why the music changes about halfway through. It starts out heavy and turns to a more mellow sound.
MSJ: I noticed that, and I think it is a good way to present the two sounds to the listener, as most prog is diverse in its ideas. Some of the proggers tend to attempt wholeness with their albums as if to suggest it was all written in one big 5-day session. Here there are two different feels to the songs and you make no attempt to hide the fact that it's a collection, or selection, of songs.
I am just glad the record company let me basically do my own thing. The record business is just so weird now, and there's just no way a band can just record for a living unless you are doing very very mainstream music, and that's not what I'm all about.
MSJ: Yeah-do you want to compromise your musical integrity by doing such?
And there's no guarantee you would go anywhere if you did. Look at the hip-hop thing.
MSJ: It seems like your label is, in a way, a gift from the gods to progressive music fans and artists because they aren't afraid to release the more eclectic stuff that other labels wouldn't touch. There does seem to be a standard of quality as well, and most of what they offer is "masterpiece" work.
They are pretty picky about things and they do have a high standard for technical quality, which is fine. Artistically speaking, I know they let me do whatever I want to do, and I really appreciate that. That freedom never came with any other labels I have been on.
MSJ: What is the status of the Dixie Dregs now that you have SMB and Deep Purple to occupy your time?
Right before this album came out we were. The album was supposed to come out a lot earlier, and when it didn't we set up a couple short tours the only time I had free this year, and it turned out my drummer couldn't do it because he was touring with Enrique Iglesias, so I did a Dregs tour and we even played a song from my new album. We actually did a West Coast and an East Coast tour with the Dregs earlier this year. However, Portland has become a location issue. It's a one-way street there and back as far as getting gigs, and we have to be able to play for enough people to be able to pay for the trip there and back.
MSJ: What comes after the Deep Purple tour for you? Will you tour your solo act?
I think my next project is going to be Major Impact II. It will be another album of original music in the style of the people who influenced me. Last time it was Hendrix and Jimmy Page. This time it will be the ones that are a little harder to pin down, like Pat Metheny and maybe a Purple track. I have also been wanting to do some Crosby, Stills, and Nash instrumentally somehow. I know-I've got some real challenges ahead. And Ted Nugent, whose style isn't really a household thing to quote. Especially when he was in the Amboy Dukes.
MSJ: Wow, you were a Dukes fan too?
Oh yeah. I lived in Michigan as a kid and they were the big local band back then, so I was exposed to a lot of that music.
MSJ: You also worked with Kansas too. Are they still playing these days?
Of course they are. I don't think Kansas will ever stop playing. It's really amazing, because they still have most of the original guys.
MSJ: I wondered because the last time I saw them they were playing the food fair circuit, and did a killer show at A Taste Of Beaverton. It was intimate yet powerful, and it remains one of my most cherished shows. There are not many rock bands that can incorporate violin into rock music and have it work. By the way, who plays violin on your albums that have violin?
Jerry Goodman from Mahavishnu Orchestra has been our violinist with the Dregs for years now. It is always a pleasure to work with him.
MSJ: I read that Mahavishnu Orchestra was one of your big influences, and I was glad to hear that. When I first heard them in the 11th grade, they blew me away. Here in a time where Led Zeppelin ruled the night, along comes this strange band that melded elements of classical, jazz, and rock into a breathtaking new sort of music. Then Kansas brought that wicked violin into the arena.
Kansas really always sounds good when they perform live, because their material is so strong and also they are still a bundle of energy. They are all great players. Rich the lead guitarist is very consistent, just like Billy Gibbons-everything he plays sounds good. It wasn't quite the Yngwie Malmsteen technique thing, but it is always good-always meaty.
MSJ: Does Kerry Livgren still work with Kansas occasionally?
He did a couple tours with them, and then I subbed for him when he was with them and decided not to be with them back in '91 or '92. And then Kerry wrote a bunch of the material for their last album and recorded with them, but they went on tour without him.
MSJ: What other artistic ventures do you partake in when you have spare time, not that there's lots of that?
I like to fly aerobatic airplane, too - that is definitely an art.
MSJ: You mean like tricky maneuvers?
Yeah. Trying to do these maneuvers just right and get the exact amount of energy you need for each thing to be safe and correct. And the same thing with gliding too. I was just up this morning, and you try to keep it smooth and exact, and dare I say it is almost a zen-like connection and the machine just becomes an extension of your mind and body. I fly almost every day, and spend lots of time up when I'm on tour around the US. I'm not as keen on that as I once was because it is getting to be a lot more difficult, especially in the Northeast, by small plane. There's too much traffic, less and less airports, more congestion, and now all of these crazy rules coming up regarding NASA security. They are taking over the air spaces and declaring it no-fly zone and intercepting all violators, and it is all over such bogus stuff. Here in Florida a guy was flying too close to the nuclear plant and got reprimanded. Well it just so happens that on the coast that is the only safe place to be and…oh, I don't want to get too political.
You'll find an audio interview of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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