CLASSIC INTERVIEW SERIES

Steve Morse '96 ~ The Deep Purple Endeavour

by John Stix




For over two decades I’ve been speaking with guitarists at all ends of the food chain, from the Garden headliner to the guy who plays in his backyard garden. And the one consistent message I keep seeing (and repeating) is that it takes talent, luck and persistence to get what you want. Just look at guitarist Steve Morse, for example. His talent has long been recognized by guitar lovers all over the world. His style is as recognizable as Jeff Beck’s or Yngwie Malmsteen’s. His luck has gone up and down over the years. While helping define instrumental rock in the post Blow by Blow era, Morse and his band, The Dregs, never rode it to the top like some who followed him (Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, and Gary Hoey). For Steve Morse just making a living by following his own muse was enough. That he’s still at it makes him luckier than most. And his persistence has now lead to him to the good fortune of joining Deep Purple, and finding the kind of international spotlight he has long deserved.

The combining of these two distinctive sounds, Morse and Purple, is the is heard in the celebratory spirit captured on Purpendicular, their first album as a group. The music they made together, in this honeymoon period, swings, grooves, jams and rocks with a sense of clarity and energy that only comes from a band that makes music looking into each others eyes. This is a group effort in the best sense of the word. Here is an recording based on talent, luck and persistence. Who better to tour it for us than Steve Morse?

Was joining Purple more like joining a family more than a corporation?

I’ve seen both sides of that fence. As a result of doing whatever I have tended to do, and nothing much else, I am still able to work and make a living just going on my very natural musical path. So Deep Purple was not a gig that I needed to do or wanted to do for money. It absolutely had to be a good growing experience musically, and in all ways. I am at the point in my life where I don’t want to do stuff that isn’t going to be a good mixture. And it was a blind date for them too. Having dinner on Saturday night doesn’t mean we’re going to get married. They thought, we need a new replacement for a guy we’ve had for a quarter of a century. How do we do that? Roger took his best guess, that’s all he could do. I took my best guess after knowing how eclectic people like Roger were. Roger was at a trio (Steve Morse Band) gig I did in Orlando. Ian Gillan knew a lot of The Dregs music. A lot of the guys did. The voicings of  Jon Lord’s organ were always a big part of how I related to keyboard players. I would say, “Please voice it like this, so it will be heavy.” When I did that I was thinking back to the way Jon Lord would play the distorted organ. I hate to be California, but the vibe for the band is everything. They could always find a guitarist that would jump up and down to be doing the gig. But that wasn’t the point. The point was, what ingredient does this recipe need? Who knows? They didn’t exactly know. I didn’t exactly know either. It was absolutely lucky that it turned out this way. But when we were rehearsing I would come up with ideas. They were talking about how this drum solo was coming up in a song. Somebody suggested it was kind of sudden and we have to write a different thing for that. Right there I was going, “Hey let’s try this guys. I’ve got an idea.” Before we knew it, we were all trying a different thing and getting off on it. We decided it didn’t work that great, but it was a usable thing. Ian Gillan says, “Hey, I could write some words to that.” They were all talking amongst themselves and smiling saying, “Hey, this is different. Everybody is involved.”  Just change itself, sometimes is a big enough thing. They wanted a different vibe. Obviously the way that one person is used to working is going to be different from another. I come from another way of doing things. It just happened to be exactly what they needed at the time. And they happened to be exactly what I needed too, a band that improvises and loves to improvise. And a front man that does thing like turns around to the band and says something ridiculous over the microphone in a stadium full of people, just to crack up a couple of guys in the band.  It’s stuff like that. He is not a guy that spends a lot of time worrying about how he looks in the mirror. Roger Glover said it best, He said, “He is a man of the earth.” I said, “That is great. This is going to be wonderful.”

Was making this record unique to what you’ve done in the past.

It was absolutely unique because first of all, as I do when I work with very good musicians, I learn a lot. One of the things I learned was how tight on the beat Ian Paice and Roger Glover are. They could nail it when we were doing the rhythm tracks. We basically didn’t do rhythm tracks, we all played together. I was surprised to find  that I was playing along with them and I  just rushed this entrance to this part. Wow, this is so weird. These guys are  really playing smooth in time to where I know exactly where it is. That made it so easy for me to sort out my playing that by the time we were recording, a lot of the stuff that we did with scratch tracks, we could use on the album. “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” was the first take from the day that we wrote it. We left everything. We went in that day to do another song and Ian Paice, Jon Lord and I were jamming on this progression. Ian Gillan walks in and instead of killing it by asking us to get back to work, he says, “Oh I love it man.” He goes in the next room and then he comes back dancing around the room singing to himself. The song just grows because no one is killing it. A song idea is the most fragile thing. You can destroy a song idea with just a glance. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve felt it happen. I’ve probably made it happen. It’s so fragile. It’s like a bubble floating in the air. That’s what I remember most about all the guys. Instead of anything like that happening, they were always, hey’ there’s something there, let’s work on it. It might be as subtle as Roger Glover leaning over to a DAT machine and turning it on while we are jamming. Me and Ian Paice spent a lot of time jamming before the guys would get there. He would walk in, put his jacket down and turn on the DAT machine if he heard something there. It might be a week later, he would bring it up and say  hey what about this? This could make a song. These guys are pros. They have seen so much and done so much to where I don’t know how, but they figure out what it takes to make music, how to relax and make it happen.

This record has a smile to it. The rhythm section is in the pocket, easy and groovin’. You sense that people are playing together.

“Rosa’s Cantina” was a demo. There was just no reason to do it over because it just felt right. It’s great. It’s everybody’s first take. When Jon Lord plays live it’s always going to be as good or better than the record because everything he does in the studio is pretty much his first take, and that’s it. He says, “What am I going to do different?” One song that didn’t get on this album because it was really long, had us trading solos back and forth. I hope “The Stallion” it will go on the next one. We did the trade as an overdub, looking at each other.

“The Aviator” is a Steve Morse song.

It’s an idea I brought in. It was my theme song for my boy. When he would crawl around on the floor I would play this little theme. It would always make him smile. Every time he would be crawling around and I had a guitar there, I would play that for him and he would laugh and come over and pick the guitar a little bit with me. I never thought it would be in a song. We were doing something, and I thought if I slowed that down a little bit it would be a neat tune. I was thinking of the way Led Zeppelin does their folk song stuff. I thought here’s a bunch of Englishmen and here’s a folk sounding tune. Why not? Deep Purple isn’t known for that, but why can’t they try something new. It’s totally different than the Led Zeppelin approach. I played it for them and said what about this? I was cosnstantly spewing suggestions about directions.

Did you alter your guitar voice to play with Purple?

I altered my sound a little bit to make it blend with the organ better. The organ occupies some of the mid-range that I love to do with the guitar. So I ended up using an Ampeg that spread out the spectrum to blend better. It’s a 5150 head with the Scorpion speaker. That’s the main thing, I altered.  What I told them was I’m going to keep spewing ideas. It’s in my nature, I can’t help it. If it doesn’t work then fine. I’m not the guy for the job.  At that point we all knew that it was going to be fine. Just tell me when something is too weird. I said this over and over. You’re not going to hurt my feelings because when I go to fix something in my workshop, I have a big case full of tools and I don’t use them all.  If I do I’m really in trouble.  For each job there’s certain tools that work. And that’s the way I look at ideas. Some things will work and some things are the wrong tools for the job, so don’t worry about it. They are real good about it. They said yeah, that’s nice but let’s keep in mind where we’re coming from. I heard that a few times.  Four out of five guys were on Machine Head. 80% of the original band was in the room, so it’s going to sound like Deep Purple.  Especially with me. I was hyper sensitive to the fact that I didn’t want to change their sensibilities. But I was also sure I was going to bring in a different approach. I didn’t think that was bad. On the other hand, “Castle Full of Rascals” has got a stop like Little Richard.  After we played “Speed King” one night, before we did the album, I said, “Ian, I love that you break up the time and you make it punch like Little Richard.” He said, “Yeah, he’s a big influence on me.” I said we’ve got to do another song like that. So I played him this idea I had. It was a “Blood Sucking Leech” bit of swinging rock , but it had the stops. He was into it right away. I said we need something like this. Same way with “Cascades.” There’s a lot of guitar triplets with organ and guitar. I told Jon Lord how I remembered the triplets he used to do with Richie, and how they played them  together, in harmony. I said, we’ve got to something like that. I just love that classic Deep Purple touch. We need to bring some of that back. This is me as a listener. As a fan,  I’m saying this is what I want to hear from you guys whether I’m in the band or not. So they were into it too. Jon had a real clean organ sound at the time. His organ was modified to where he could break the line  to put in a wha pedal. I inserted this Digitech preamp with an on/off and I made a few presets. I set it down and said, “Just check this out, Jon.  What do you think?” This was just going through the Leslie. He got into it. He said, “Yeah, cool, I could use this.” So that became his rig. And the next thing in the studio I said all right, that’s getting a nice distorted Leslie sound but one thing Richie really did that I loved with the band was put the organ straight through a Marshall. So we did the same thing. We didn’t get quite to just that by itself, but at least they were blending it with the Leslie to fatten it up and  make a much more raunchy and fat keyboard sound. I went over with Jon Lord again, how he had changed the way I dealt with keyboard players with his voicings. I would constantly mention to him how with the distortion he naturally changes his voicings  for distortion so that less is needed in a lot of cases. Whereas a big old cluster chord just can sound like mush. He would kind of naturally be sparing with his voicings, especially after we had been talking about that.

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