Steve Morse of Deep Purple : Interview from 2000

As Deep Purple’s “Long Goodbye” Tour [something like that!?] comes this way again, i wonder [and presume] it could be my last time to see them. I did see them back in 1997 in Toronto, at The Warehouse, and was fortunate enough to meet them outsiude afterwards and get a few things signed. A few years later I was able to do a phone interview with guitarist Steve Morse. Here is that interview, re-posted from the summer of 2000.

An Interview With DEEP PURPLE’s Guitarist on The Release of His Own Newest Solo Project. Steve Morse has become one of the most well know guitar players in the rock world today.
Through his years with his own trio, as well as The Dixie Dregs, Kansas, and in more recent years Deep Purple! Following the album “Purpendicular” [95], Steve Morse released his own “Stressfest” album [96 Windham Hill], followed by a few appearances on Magna Carta’s tribute releases, another DP studio album – “Abandon”, and a few DP live releases [most recently with the London Symphony Orchestra].
Morse’s most recent project was his new solo album “Major Impacts”, on Magna Carta, and featuring the rhythm section of Dave LaRue [bass] and Van Romaine [drums]. Major Impacts sees Morse paying tribute to some of his own guitar influences via instrumental pieces that resemble those particular guitarists.
Here I had the opportunity to talk with Steve about his new album, as well as few stories from Deep Purple tours, his Kansas days, and some info on his early years, and thoughts on guitar and music today.

For more on Steve Morse check out http://www.stevemorse.com or http://www.deep-purple.com Or for more info on his Magna Carta release and other MC projects http://www.magnacarta.net

Q: The new album is basically based on all your influences and stuff?
SM: Yea, stuff that was part of my really early life of playing.

Q: How did the idea come about to do an album like this, as far as influences as stuff?
SM: Interestingly enough it was the record company that came up with that – Magna Carta. They’re quite a good label to work with and they came up with the whole idea themselves, and it seemed like a good idea for me.

Q: How did you go about narrowing it down as far as guitarists you picked and everything? Did you have a list or an agenda?
SM: Yeah, I sort of made a list mentally, and then just thought of which of them gave me an idea of where to start, you know.

Q: What went into the individual thought to certain tracks, as far as how you put them together?
SM: Some on words. A good starting point for me was to think of one tune that I really loved, where several times – like the Keith Richards one I was thinking of, his rhythm guitar that Keith Richards played a lot like “Start Me Up” or even “Street Fighting Man” or “Brown Sugar”, and then “Honky Tonk Woman” – there was a really neat kinda funky country thing that he did that I really loved, that was kinda like the verses of the tune, and then it rides out with a different feel, kinda like “Gimme Shelter”. The Zeppelin thing i started with an idea…when I saw Zeppelin live in ’69, I was struck with this song “Black Mountain Side” – which Jimmy Page played live; I thought it was so that this really heavy type of band had taken the time to do this acoustic type piece, along with the open tuning, an so that’s how it begins, and then i kind of incorporate some of the Indian influenced melodies that he does. And then I wanted to have a heavy section, and then combine all those things together at the end – that was what the plan was.

Q: You’ve got quite a wide range of guitar players on here, like the late 60s – Beck and Clapton – kind of the standard guys, plus like Leslie West and George Harrison, and the Allman Brothers. I guess you’re in to the Southern Rock stuff from being from down there!? How much was the Southern Rock influence on you?
SM: It was one of the things i wanted to do, but i thought maybe that on another , a second vine would be better, because I had the Allman Brothers thing already, but I hadn’t finished coming up with a thing yet for Lynyrd Skynyrd – that was a big influence. I like Southern Rock stuff.

Q: I guess that stuff’s still big there, where you are!?
SM: I don’t know what’s big, except everybody wearing pants so their underwear shows; that’s the only thing that I can identify as a constant influence here in America [ha ha]. I don’t know what people like. Every young kid that drives by seems to have a lot of low end in their cars, like the sub-wiffers really loud.

Q: Can you tell me a little about each of the tracks as far as inspirations go – the Hendrix track, Jeff Beck… you got Alex Lifeson here of Rush. I think Alex is pretty underrated, because when most people talk about Rush they usually talk about Neil Peart …..
SM: Yeah, I like Rush a lot. We got to open for them on a tour in the 80s, the “Power Windows” tour. They were a pleasure to listen to every night. Alex, one of the things he did that I thought was so cool was to come up with these nice big voicings, and then come up with a melody out of a chord voicing, and incorporate that into a part. I’ve listen to a lot of guitar players that play with just a trio, and it’s a tough gig to do for any guitar player, and all three of those guys – Eric Johnson, Jeff Beck, and Alex Lifeson played in trios at some time.

Q: Is that the reason you keep your own band as a trio?
SM: Yeah, a big part of it. It’s fun. I’ve been playing gigs with Eric Johnson off and on for decades, and that’s how much I enjoy listening to him play because he gets to solo with a trio, and I always thought it’d be so much fun to have that kind of configuration. And the other thing, some guys like to travel light, you know that like Dave the bass player gets to shine and solo so much more than if we had a keyboard player or something.

Q: When did you get in to guitar as far as making it a profession, or a hobby that grew into a profession?
SM: I guess about ’66 or so.

Q: Was there anything that really turned you on to it, like any guitarist or event?
SM: It was just the opportunity of having a guitar. My brother brought one home that he had borrowed or rented, and I just thought that it was so cool. And i played other musical instruments a little bit, but when I saw the guitar I said “that’s the thing!” The Beatles were probably part of it, the Chuck Berry sound; it’s just that rhythm that everybody loves, ya know!?

Q: You’ve developed your own sound over the years, like when I hear you on the tribute albums and the Deep Purple stuff I immediately know it’s you. What did your own sound develop out of? Can that be explained?
SM: I think you put together your own sound based on how free you feel to be yourself. I remember some kids were more concerned with learning a solo note for note when they were learning to play, and I was more concerned with learning the atmosphere of the solo and kinda doing my own little adaptation. And just having that kind of attitude started me on my way of being less of a session player and more of the individualist. I like to be good at both, but i remember some of my friends were better at that than me; they could maintain their interest in an exact transcription longer than I could.

Q: Could you pick out 2 or 3 guitarists that got you motivated in the early 70s to doing your own stuff?
SM: Some of them I couldn’t put on the album because I thought that they were just too hard to capture to write a song about – like The Kinks. The stuff that they did was great for a beginning guitar player, like “You Really Got Me”, or The Yardbirds – the stuff with Jeff Beck, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles. Chuck Berry I wish I’d done a piece on him, but I couldn’t come up with anything that wasn’t an exact Berry tune because they’re 3 chord songs, ya know! I couldn’t figure out how to handle that.

Q: Are you going to be touring with this album?
SM: We’re going to tour in a few weeks; we’re probably going to play a couple of songs from it, but some of it is lots of overdubs, so it’s going to be difficult.

Q: Was it a long process?
SM: Yeah, but it was a lot of fun; it was more like doing a huge book of crossword puzzle than it was doing a research project…. – a statistical research project in a foreign language! [ha ha…] It was fun.

Q: You mentioned wanting to do another one. What other guitarist players or bands would you want to include on it?
SM: A later influence, but a big influence was Pat Matheny because we went to school at the University of Miami, he was there briefly and i got to play with him then. His philosophy influenced me about as much as anything about his playing. Metheny, Joe Walsh – especially with early James Gang, Ted Nugent – back before he went solo with the Amboy Dukes, to Carlos Santana’s old stuff, and [let me see…] – Cactus, Rick Derringer, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter and maybe Tommy Bolin. It’s hard to put an exact label on his style though; because he was just kind of slippery and slick.

Q: How about some of the British bands; the progressive – hard rock bands like early Purple, Heep, Yes …
SM: Yes, I think Purple was a legitimate influence. I just felt like it was a little too close to home for this album. It’d be like “yeah right – big stretch!”, ya know!?

Q: What else do you have on the go right now with Deep Purple ?
SM: We’re half way through the writing process of the next Deep Purple album. We’ve got a big tour. We finished a record with Deep Purple and the London Symphony Orchestra doing a concerto that Jon wrote – which is, opposed to them backing us up, is a big classical orchestral piece with the band playing with the orchestra, as opposed to them just being a big string machine. We’re going to tour that later in the year.

Q: Are you going to be in North America with that?
SM: No, it’s South America and Europe so far.

Q: How has the Deep Purple experience been as far as playing with such a band, and opening up to a different and bigger audience, than perhaps you’re used, or in the different territories – that sort of thing ?
SM: It’s been great. When I joined the band they decided they were going to play all the places they’d never played before, that Ritchie didn’t want to go these places. It was like this whole new beginning because the first these people had ever seen the band was with me, and we still had 4 or 5 of the original guys from the Smoke On The Water days. It’s worked out incredibly well. We have been expanding huge markets everywhere – North America being one of the more forgotten ones, so that actually improved; we worked on it for 2 tours here and it got better. There’s lots of emerging countries and former communist countries that are just fantastic places to play.

Q: You guys bring back a lot of the old songs back in to the set I noticed, as far songs that rarely got played.
SM: Yeah that’s something that they are constantly fond of doing. It’s really whatever Ian Gillan wants to do that night, what we play, because he’s got to sing it, and he’s gotta have the stamina for it.

Q: How do you approach the classics, the older stuff in doing your own interpretations?
SM: I just try to listen to what Ritchie did, and to realize that they wanted somebody totally different in the band, not to copy him exactly; so I just do my own take it – what i think would sound good. And if it’s a well known solo or something, I’ll try to capture that, the essence of it anyway.

Q: As far as the new albums go, “Purpendicular” is one of my favorite albums of the ’90s. What can you tell me about how some of the original stuff with Purple has gone?
SM: The new stuff is interesting and is really good because we have all worked on it together in the same room, and we hadn’t done that since some of the early songs of Purpendicular. We got Ian jamming with us on the microphone in the same room when we’re coming up with ideas, so instead of him feeling like “here’s another song idea that just got thrown down in your lap” – he’s there to help you push it in the direction that is comfortable for him; so it’s a really good thing.

Q: Do you have any favorites as far as tracks go?
SM: The opening track of “Abandon” – I love that. The fact that on Purpendicular they let me throw in some weird stuff like “The Aviator”, and I always thought that Deep Purple could benefit from acoustic influence, like Jimmy Page did with Zeppelin.

Q: You said you guys are working on another album!?
SM: Yeah, we’ve got about 5 or 6 songs done.

Q: Is this one going to differ?
SM: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to judge; I don’t notice much difference from album to album. I couldn’t give you an objective opinion because I get so far into the music. I could sit there and play all the songs on the album but I don’t hear much stylistic difference between them; it’s just all music, all tonal music, no big deal. I’m not good at categorizing.

Q: Do you see yourself as having some sort of an influence as far as guitar players go?
SM: I’ve actually got enough to be proud of and die happy with. Just John Petrucci, to have him say I’m a big influence on him is wonderful for me, because he’s such a virtuoso, killer guitar player. And Jimmy Herring, from Atlanta. I remember him as a kid; he used to sit in front of us at the Dregs gigs, and he was always there. And he’s turned out to be one of the most incredible soloists there is. Those are enough to put in my resume!

Q: Is there any guitar player you can say is the best of the last decade?
SM: Those 2 guys … [ha ha]. The last decade has been a little tricky, because it’s been hard to hear much guitar; I mean I hear some stuff with some neat riffs and stuff like that, but most people are consciously avoiding presenting the guitar as a main feature, so it’s hard for … ’cause I can’t quite figure it out.

Q: Well I guess being in Deep Purple with Jon Lord, that’s quite a task ….
SM: Jon Lord really is an amazing musician, and mostly because he can hear and improvise anything on the spot. Every set we have a spot where just he and I will play, but I don’t know what chord he’s going to play next, and I don’t know what melody I’m going to play next, and we just kind of work together, and clothes our eyes and just listen, and try to read each other’s mind – it’s so cool to improvise like that.

Q: How has the response been as far as the Deep Purple fans go?
SM: Great from the beginning, really, because there had already been a year since Ritchie quit, and a lot of people knew that Joe Satriani had done part of the tour to finish, and they were ready for the fact that Ritchie was not there anymore. And Ritchie’s been very good about it too, as far as [you know] – he’s had every opportunity to slag me or the band and he’s just pretty much turned in to his own new project and kept his energy there, which is great.

Q: Does anybody keep contact with him?
SM: I think Roger has talked to him a little bit. They’re not real close or anything, but everybody’s really pleased that the war seems to be not happening.

Q: Can you sum up your few years with Kansas?
SM: I actually got involved with them officially when Phil Ehart [the drummer] and I were both at a Robert Plant concert as spectators, ya know the comp seats are always in the same area, right!? [ha ha]. So we were sitting together and talking and he’s saying ‘we’re thinking of getting the band back together’, and I said ‘great! I love you guys; you should do it!’ And then it came about that Kerry Livgren would probably not be doing it, so i said ‘hey if you need any help – I’d love to write tune with you guys or something’, and he said ‘yeah – we were actually thinking about that!’, so it was ‘Great – let’s do it!’. So we just ended up writing an album together, and then there was some gigs, and then there was another album. It was kinda neat.

Q: Any favorite tracks from that era?
SM: Yeah – “House On Fire”, “Musicado” [sp], “Bells Of St. James”; those are some of my favorites.

Q: You’ve done a few tribute albums. How do you feel about those, because those seem to be quite the ‘thing’ the last couple of years!?
SM: Well I got off pretty easy because of the main things I did, like on the Yes album I got to play Steve Howe’s acoustic stuff, which is a pretty neat gig because you don’t really have to match anybody else’s work, as far as playing with others, strangers, because you know how the mix is going to sound as soon as you send it off, because you’re just sending off one guitar.

Q: Do you have any plans to do any more of those? Is Magna Carta putting any more out?
SM: Good question, I don’t know. I was just a guest musician on those, I wasn’t an intricle part. I think we’re looking at doing a John Petrucci and Steve Morse album, but I’m not sure what label it’s going to be on.

Q: Instrumental album?
SM: Yeah, guitar duos – that type of thing.

Q: Can you give me any stories from Deep Purple?
SM: There’s always something crazy going on [let me think…] We finished our last tour in Korea, there was a typhoon coming in, and Dream Theater was playing before us there. They pretty much got to do their set, and when we began playing it was starting to rain. And the rain was coming in sideways, so we were in the rain – playing. And we kept playing…. And the drums, every time he hit, we’d see just sheets of water come off the heads of the drums, and Jon would slide his hand up and down the keys when he was playing his solos you could see a rooster-tail of water. My guitar stopped working, I had to switch to another guitar, because it’d just literally like totally shorted out. And the same thing happened with Roger’s. We had my pedal board covered in plastic, as if that was going to do any good. but it was real slippery, and I was slipping trying to move the pedals and everything, and Ian was just out there singing and getting soaked, and he was happy, because he loves stuff like that. We kept playing until our equipment wouldn’t work any more. We used up all the guitars; they all got shorted out. The only drag was because it was the last day of the tour, everything immediately got thrown into boxes, shipping cartons – as it’s raining, this typhoon, and it got shipped on a boat for like a month – totally wet, so everything got ruined. And then shifting channels to a gig recently… We’re playing somewhere in Switzerland, we get there, and ride up this incline – railroad, for like a mile and a half, and it’s snowing! And the only problem is it’s an outdoor gig! So we’re playing in the snow. [Ha ha..] It was just so bizarre. And the dressing room, which was the little station where the trains come and they work on them and put grease on the wheels and stuff – that was the dressing room. The snow was too deep to walk to the stage, and we just had like regular clothes on, we weren’t dressed for the outdoors. They had one of those one of those big snow caps that they use in ski resorts bring us from the “dressing room” to the “stage”, and the stage was just a wooden platform with plastic around it [ha ha ha]. And the snow’s blowing in our faces and you can’t feel your fingers … it was just so bizarre! So we do some weird gigs.

Q: Must’ve cost you a fortune in equipment!!?
SM: Ha ha , Yeah!

Q: Would you happen to have any recollections from tour with Uriah Heep?
SM: They were nice fellows, and I think we did about 8 or 9 shows together. They were all just real pleasant guys, and they just loved to play; they were just happy to be out touring, and that’s the main thing I remember. I was impressed with how jovelant and nice they were, that they really enjoyed what they were doing, and I love musicians like that.

Q: Do you do a lot of stuff outside of music, as far as hobbies go?
SM: My farm here as an air-strip on it, and I fly airplanes here. I fly everyday. I study Tae-Kwan-Doe with my little boy; and I enjoy it now, it’s my work out. And we’ve gotten into skate-boarding, although I’ve just recently broke my left wrist skateboarding, so I’m in bad shape.

Q: Anything else you want to add in as far as your new album goes?
SM: I’d just like to say that the album was fun for me to make. And I think that it’s easy to listen to for a lot of different people — you don’t have to be a musician to enjoy to get some fun out of listening to it. And it’s a fun thing to do with a group of people – to play the songs and see if they can guess “who’s that?” – who the writer [me] was thinking of. Because you know, you do that a lot with pop music; you say “I wonder why that song’s a hit – because it sounds just like another song that was a hit!” So now people can do it without being cynical, because it’s meant to be influences.

Q: Do you listen to much new stuff these days?
SM: I listen to radio. There’s always good songs. One of the best songs things I’ve heard though was 20 years old – a new version of an Abba song – an impeccable production of “Dancing Queen”. I heard a nice sonic song by Rage Against The Machine, and the Santana thing I thought was good.

Q: Do you get on the internet much?
SM: Yeah, just for Purple oriented things; i don’t have much time to surf anymore.

KJJ, July 2000.

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