Guitar Player, March, 1988

Steve Morse Takes Off

By Jas Obrecht

"Good afternoon, Ladies and gentlemen. This is your co-pilot, Steve Morse, and the skies are fair today over Atlanta. We'll be flying at an altitude of...."

In a move sure to shock the guitar community, Steve Morse–considered by many to be America's best electric guitarist–has taken a full-time position as first officer for a major Southeastern air carrier. Has the former Dregs leader, solo artist, member of Kansas, and five-time Best Overall winner of Guitar Player's Readers Poll abandoned music for good? "No way," insists the shorn towhead. "But I've been flying for 13 years, and I've always wanted to see what it's like to fly commercially. I doubt if there is a private pilot who hasn't wanted to try flying for an airline. You get to fly bigger equipment than you would ever be able to own. As copilot, I get to fly every other trip, so it's really good experience. I wouldn't be doing it it l had to sit there all day and move switches for the pilot. I love flying.

"The way I figure it, I'm always going to be doing music. There's no way around that. Right now doing the two things is causing me to work awful hard, but as long as I can juggle them, I'm going to. For example, I just went to San Diego and Los Angeles for two days to do Ernie Ball/Music Man clinics and play with Sterling Ball's band with Albert Lee, Biffs Baby's All Stars–that's a fun gig. They mostly do old rock and roll and Albert's stuff, and I sit in with them wherever I can. Then I came straight back to fly." Based in Macon, Georgia, Morse pilots a 35-passenger turbo-prop to Atlanta and several cities in the deep South, including Augusta, Ashville Spartanburg, Montgomery, Albany, and Huntsville.

In times past, Morse had a reputation for almost non-stop practicing. (Rush's Alex Lifeson, who shared a 1986 tour with the Steve Morse Band, observed: "When we come in for soundcheck, Steve's walking around playing his unplugged guitar. While the gear is being set up, he's still playing. They do their soundcheck, he walks offstage, kids come to talk to him, and he's still playing his guitar. He does clinics just about every day. Then, when we go on after his set, he's still playing his guitar while he watches our show.") These days, Steve practices on a miniature guitar while driving the 60-mile commute to and from work.

"When I get there," he continues, "l put that in the trunk and then take out a full-size guitar. A lot of times you have weather problems, cancellations, or the plane doesn't get there on time, and that gives me a little opportunity to play. When we're in flight, somewhere during the day I get a little break, so I can sit in the front row and practice. I can hide the guitar in a little space behind the seat in the cockpit."

For a while, none of Steve's co-workers were aware of his musical reputation. That all changed, though, when Lynyrd Skynyrd played Atlanta: "Gary Rossington was kind enough to invite me up to jam, and it turned out some of the guys who work on the ramp sequencing planes were at the concert. They didn't know exactly what to think! Not too many people recognize me now–I look more like Bryan Adams than Steve Morse."

Steve solos on the new Triumph release, Surveillance [MCA, 42081], and he has a few other projects in the works. "Nothing is written in stone in the music business, but one thing I'm fairly sure about is that I am going to play on the next Kansas album, which will be produced by Bob Ezrin of Pink Floyd fame. My MCA solo album, which features [bassist] Jerry Peek, [drummer] Rod Morgenstein, and [keyboardist] T Lavitz, is slated to come out after the Kansas release. It's almost done. It has four or five Dregs-type songs - hopefully in a more advanced writing style–and it's more acoustic. Rik Emmett may play on it, too." Morse's future clinics will help introduce Music Man's handmade Steve Morse signature guitars.

Meanwhile, Steve is happy flying the friendly Southern skies "If I can move up the aviation ladder to the point where I can support myself and get a good number of days off, I could have more artistic freedom than I've ever had before."

Transcribed by John D. Smith