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Progressive Rock Interviews

Steve Morse

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Steve Morse from 2010
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MSJ:

It’s been about eight years since we caught up with you. Can you catch us up a bit on your solo career since then?

Well, we just released a new album, The Steve Morse Band, that’s called “Outstanding in Their Field,” and, of course, the picture on the back is us standing outside in a field. It’s, I’d say, a typical variety of music that Steve Morse Band would do. We’re very happy with the album. We just did some touring in the US on a little bit of time off with Deep Purple. Very soon the Sarah Spencer album will be coming out, and that’s called “Angelfire.” Sarah is this wonderful singer with a beautiful, perfect voice, and we ended up writing together. My motivation for doing it was that I just wanted to hear more music of her singing. Even though I play hard rock for most of the time that I’m touring, I like to listen to beautiful music on the other extreme, as well. So, that’s pretty much what’s been happening. On the new album, Outstanding in Their Field, there was a song that I’d written with Kevin, my son. Kevin was playing guitar and he came up with this really cool part. I heard him playing it and said, “have you got anything else to go along with that?” And he said, “Yeah,” and he played another cool part. And I said, “you’ve got the basic part of a song, let me just add something to that and we could do it with the band.”  And, we did. We recorded it and at some of the shows he sat in and played with us – played that live. That was great. The song’s called “Time Junction.”

MSJ:

How about Deep Purple? Any news in that camp?

Well, Deep Purple continues to tour and tour and tour. We’re playing new places still and, I don’t know what the deal is exactly, but people keep coming to the shows. We love playing live. For my tastes, if we could have the tours a little shorter and do them more often, that’d be great. I’d like to see home a little more, but the truth is, the shows are going great. So, we continue. We’re always talking about ideas for recording and stuff like that, but things are different now with recording. The Internet and the downloads and everything have changed the dynamics of recording so much. The fact that, as soon as you play a new song – you know, you play it before it’s “published,” it’s immediately out on Youtube. It’s just different. It changes the way that bands that have been around react to the prospect of recording – so, touring for now. 

MSJ: How did your recent project with Sarah Spencer come about?

I am friends with her father and he played in a local band doing covers, just doing weekend gigs. They’re all doctors, but they just love to play, so they do it as a kind of hobby thing on the side. They invited me to sit in with them one time, and I got to know them all. He asked me to take a listen to some of the music his daughter was doing and see if I could give her any advice. I listened to it and her voice sounded really good.  So, I said, “my advice is to keep on doing what you’re doing. Keep on writing especially, cause singer songwriters have a much better chance of success than somebody that’s coming with an ‘American Idol’ kind of point of view, which is ‘I’m a singer, give me the material.’” So, I invited her to work on a song that I had, something on a classical guitar. She came over and we were able to write together real easily. Her lyrics just suit her perfectly. We did that song. A few weeks later, when I had a break, we got together and did another one. Over the course of a few years we had enough for a CD and decided to do that. I felt like, no matter what is and isn’t commercial, that this was going to be a great collection of music. I still feel that way, very much.

MSJ:

How would you describe that one?

I would describe it as beautiful music with acoustic and some electric guitar and beautiful sounding voices backed up by the Steve Morse band playing more sedate acoustic prog, I don’t know. (laughter) I’m not good with labels.

MSJ:

Have you got any other projects going on these days?

I keep on writing stuff, just like every musician does, and I’ve got some ideas for things. I’ve got a couple song ideas to write with my son, Kevin. Something we can play together to complement his style and mine. But, I’d rather wait and see if he surprises me with something that really grabs me. I’ve already heard some things like that, but he’s using them with his band.

MSJ:

If you weren’t involved in music, what do you think you’d be doing?

Good question. I like that because, I don’t know. I was an airline pilot and enjoyed flying a lot. It’s one of my favorite things to do. As an airline pilot, of course, it’s very structured and you’re limited with the kind of choices you are able to make as a pilot. Your job is to make everything happen smoothly and on time. So, I’m not sure I would be an airline pilot. In people’s lives they make choices when they can, but a lot of times things just go on and they feel like, at some point, that they’re just going to continue straight ahead and they see a way that, if they do, that things can get better.  As a result, they tend to look straight ahead more than to left or to right about what to change. I think I could sure enjoy being something like a mechanic, in the right circumstances. I enjoy fixing things around the farm. It’s as if, when you’re done, you have proof that something has actually happened. A lot of times with music you spend a couple hours practicing and theoretically you’re better off. Although, if you don’t do it, the next day, you’re right back where you started from. So, that’s kind of frustrating. It’s like an athlete trying to stay in shape. If they don’t do it, they’ll lose it – use it or lose. So, I enjoy things that produce results. I could see myself doing lots of different things. That’s probably what would happen if I wasn’t a musician is I’d be one of those people that goes from one thing to another after eight or ten years, just for the experience. Who knows? That’s a good question, though. I enjoyed it.

MSJ:

Who do you see as your musical influences?

Probably the biggest influences are the ones from very early on. That goes back to childhood days, really, in the ‘60s and late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I would have to say my Mom was actually a musical influence. She could sit down and play at the piano or organ without any effort, and we didn’t always have a piano or organ, which was strange to me. She could just open up a book of music and play it easily and it seemed very natural.  So, when I was a kid I would plunk around on the piano if we had one. Later on we did have an organ, electronic organ with two registers. So, that was an early influence. Another thing that I remember clearly was going to a carnival or state fair with my parents, I was a little kid, and I saw this guy. He was a carny, you know, a guy working at a carnival. He was just kicked back, literally, leaning back in his chair, with his feet up, and he was playing this nylon stringed guitar. He was playing something like “Freight Train,” a real nice finger picking melody, and it just sounded so complete and so perfect to me. I thought, “That’s such a cool thing. I would love to do that some day.” Then, a little bit after that, I was still a kid, we heard The Beatles doing their first United States appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

Back then variety shows or talk shows, network shows, were all family things. There were only a few channels and you could watch something like that as a family. That was kind of neat. The Beatles sounded good to everybody. To me, hearing the guitar when they played “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” it was like “that’s rock and roll.” I loved it. So, I thought that would be great to do.

So, we did cover stuff from the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, of course, The Beatles and Beach Boys. There was The Kinks, The Animals, even Paul Revere and the Raiders – basically stuff that had energy.  We enjoyed playing (and hearing) the result of – you know, we’d all gotten used to hearing ourselves playing separately, from practicing. But, when you heard the whole band play something, it just sounded so mighty. It was cool to be part of a group – part of a team.

Later on I got into real intense guitar players like Eric Clapton, Hendrix, and, of course, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jim McCarty with Detroit Wheels (and later with Cactus). There were so many good guitarists. Ted Nugent. Then, when I got really interested in learning about music even more, I got influenced by seeing a fantastic classical guitarist playing in our town in our concert hall.  His name was “Juan Marcadel.” He was the main classical guitar instructor at the University of Miami, which I ended up going to and eventually ended up taking lessons from him. So, that was a huge influence on me. I thought hearing classical guitar  played in a really intense, unapologetic way and be so powerful I thought was amazing.

Also, I got to hear John McLaughlin with the first Mahavishnu Orchestra play live. And, that just blew me away. I thought, “this is so cool!”  The way he wrote and the sound and energy of basically a rock band with jazz players, I thought it was intense. Lots of influences, too, from bands like Yes – pretty much everything I heard was an influence. Around the time I heard Kansas for the first time, we had just finished writing a tune. I wrote a tune that later became a Dregs piece, and I heard, I think it was “Song For America,” and I said, “whoa, that sounds familiar, like something in our song that we just did.” And, of course, they’d already recorded it, and it was the first time I’d heard it. So, it was like this parallel universe, Kerry Livgren writing that in Kansas, and I was in Miami writing something similar. Nothing I wrote was ever as symphonic or as regal as those Kansas tunes, though. They were just fantastic. I was very glad to be able to play in the band, and play some of that stuff.

But, lots of influences. I’m leaving people out just because those were just the first, biggest influences. For instance, while I was at the music school, when I got to play with Pat Metheny, he was a big influence because of his uncompromising approach to music. I don’t think I ever copied anything of his lines or his sound, or anything like that. He was just a big inspiration. He loved music and was never going to consider what the most expedient thing was. It was just all about the music. I loved surrounding myself with people like that. That makes a difference.

MSJ:

What’s ahead for you?

(laughter) Boy, I wish I knew that - nothing like an easy question.  I’d say, one thing I know is always ahead of me is more gigs with Deep Purple. It’s never stopped in seventeen years that I’ve been with them. Definitely would like to do more playing with Steve Morse Band. I enjoyed the gigs we did, Sarah and I, and definitely would like to do more playing with my son and travel more – travel without a schedule. I love traveling without a schedule. When you have to be somewhere it changes the whole deal. I think that’s true of everybody. When it’s something you have to do, it’s work. Something you can do when you feel like it, well, that’s wonderful. Maybe I have to be retired to do that, who knows? I hope I have more years left to do those things.

MSJ:

Are there musicians with whom you’d like to work in the future?

Oh yeah. Sure, starting with all the original influences in my life, yes, I got to play with several of them – John McLaughlin and Steve Howe. Well, the guys from Lynyrd Skynyrd. I got to jam with Dickey Betts a couple times. Of course, I played with Kansas, Deep Purple now.  It’s fantastic. I get to do things like this. Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani sat in with us a few times and invited me likewise – Warren Haynes and Jimmy Heron. There’s musicians everywhere that I’ve been able to play with that I think are just the greatest. So, if I could add to that list right now, I’d say, “Jeff Beck, let’s jam.” Jimmy Page, you know, just the old childhood heroes. “Eric, come on over here and let’s try this song.” Jan Hammer, also. Someone else I should have mentioned with some of the musicians I got to play with, I got to play with Jerry Goodman from Mahavishnu Orchestra since he’s been the violinist in the Dregs for many years. I’ve definitely enjoyed that, too. Those are a few. Oh, and I’d love to do some playing with The Chieftains on some of their traditional Irish stuff.

MSJ:

Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?

That’s a great question because it’s very controversial, and it’s not black or white. I guess part of it is black or white. That part that, if somebody is able to take an album in its entirety illegally, that the record company paid thousands or tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce, yeah, that’s gonna have an impact on their sales and what they do in the future. There’s no doubt about it.

On the other hand, when I see young bands put their stuff on myspace or youtube or their websites, and they want people to listen to it, I think it’s fantastic that there is that access.

But, the question was about illegal downloading. It’s one of those things I don’t see how to stop without really having a burden on the people that do buy it. There’s technology with which you can encode it. There may be ways of digitally encoding the music that people actually buy by somehow getting a key – some kind of password type key, if you actually own it. You get one unique number that goes with each published copy. Maybe then you have access to a lot more stuff, or discounts on other things in the future.  In other words, instead of trying to catch and punish everybody that is illegally downloading, you make an incentive for buying it. Having the price lower would really help and having something you get extra.  I think the availability of online downloads that are legal, I think that’s helped. I guess just price point and getting something extra out of it would be the incentive that I think would swing it to where it’s a lot easier, and a lot better, to buy it.

Right now, with software, for our computers, you can get free stuff that works, but usually (and this is a generalization) you can get better stuff if you buy it. Over the long run, it’s just too much of a pain to deal with the problems of untested stuff or freeware that isn’t as rich in features. Personally, as a consumer, I usually end up buying anything that’s got any complexity at all in terms of software.

That’s one solution possibly. The record companies definitely do have a point. However, of course, record companies are always going to be one step behind because the amount of intellectual power that’s available on the Internet that wants everything to be free is massive. And, I don’t think anybody’s going to be able to beat that for very long. So, I guess the solution is to have music that is intended to be downloaded and have other music that you get something extra if you buy it. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

Well, youtubing of live shows is one of the reasons music is changing from a spontaneous, exciting, you never know what’s going to happen next thing, to a little bit more reserved and more planned out. Like I said in an earlier question, if every time you try a new song, it’s immediately published by somebody on Youtube…and, yes, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a big deal because there’s millions and millions and millions of Youtube submissions, and what are the chances somebody would actually hear it? Still, just knowing that you can’t do anything without it being published. In other words, you can’t take chances in which you are likely to fail some percentage of the time unless you’re fine with having those failures posted on the world wide web. I don’t like people recording live music for later listening, by anybody. I just don’t like it, personally. The reason is, that the show is there for people that took the time and trouble to attend it. You can’t recreate that moment again. You can record it, but the limitations of where you’re standing, what you’re hearing in that particular place, and especially the response of the microphone and without the whole visual and the whole visceral connection of actually being there, it seems like a dismal tribute to the actual event. And, for the record, if anybody gave me a choice, I’d prefer not doing live albums to studio albums. But, for a lot of reasons, like the fact that there’s a lot of different people in the band, not just me, things like that do end up happening.

MSJ:

If you were a superhero what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

This is the kind of question I don’t like, which is, “give me something negative.” There’s enough negative out there where I can’t pin it down to one person. My arch-nemesis is negative music in general.  OK, I realize there’s teen angst and problems and frustrations in the world, but there’s got to be a way to express it without being really vile and hateful. I like music that does take the frustration and the absurdities and inequities of life and put them in front of people for them to consider. But just cussing and being crude just for shock value doesn’t seem like a good use of the powerful medium of music.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
You'll find an audio interview of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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