For a completely different take on Deep Purple, we went to Steve Morse, the man who currently occupies the guitar chair, and who follows in the footsteps of Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Bolin, and later, Joe Satriani. Morse speaks with an awe and reverence about the band and working with its original band members. Lest you think Morse was merely cashing in by signing up with a revival act, look at the songs on their 1995 release, Purpendicular.
Purpendicular features all brand-new originals, and Morse shares equal credit in their composition. At this point in his career, guitar journeyman Steve Morse can do anything he wants to-including not play with Deep Purple, and still have plenty to keep himself busy. So hear for yourself why Steve Morse decided to trade Dixie Blues for Royal Purple, and what happened as a result.
What were the circumstances that brought you to Deep Purple? Did they ask you? Did you hear through the grapevine that they were looking for a guitarist and that it might be you?
The only inkling I had was that I heard something about Joe Satriani playing with Deep Purple, and it was some time before I got a phone call from my manager, who just simply said, "What do you think of Deep Purple?" And in his mind, if I didn't say something good about Deep Purple, he wasn't even going to mention it, because he was real tentative about this. He thought, I've got to run it by him. He figured, Steve- obviously-he's been playing instrumental music for a long time, he's probably not going to be into this. So that was his plan. Meanwhile I'm sitting there thinking, What do I think of Deep Purple? Is the record company now going to tell me I've got to do Deep Purple covers on my next record? I said, "I like Deep Purple, they're cool. Why?" And he said, "They're looking for a permanent member." I said, "Do they know what I do?"
As if there had been some mistake?
Yeah, that's what I thought. Because I'm so used to people categorizing, and doing the same to me, you know? I've been categorized as some kind of countrified southern-rock guitarist who's just going to live in the south and play some country-sound bluegrass stuff. So I figured there'd been a mistake. He said, "No, they know who you are." I thought, well, that makes it more interesting already I said, "Is there any kind of catch to this, do I have to look a certain way? Are they going to try to change me? Do they know that I wear jeans and a t-shirt?" And he said, "I don't know, I'll check on that." Luckily, at this point in my career, because of decades of hard work and some things happening, I can finally do work that I really love to do, and pretty much nothing else. But they have families and they don't stay on the road 290 days a year, and they take breaks. They're into taking their family members along. This was right before I was getting divorced, and I have a little boy, and I'm real close with my boy, so that was one of my main concerns. So, I thought, let's check it out. I met with Roger Glover, the bass player.
He was the first band member you met with?
Yeah. Roger's super-friendly, and ultra-eclectic. He's pretty much heard every kind of music. It turns out, he had heard me playing with my trio.
Yeah. He even heard the Dregs in England, because there was a radio show that used a Dregs song . . . what a surprise, right? It was like, background music for 15 seconds that was the intro to a radio show.
"Take It Off The Top." It was for a BBC radio show. Anyway, I met Roger, and we took a picture of us together. I think Roger had his arm around nothing, and I had my arm around Roger, and they took the picture, and the guys in England took a picture, and somebody put the photos together with a computer. So our first promo picture was all five of us looking all happy . . . a computer composite. I still hadn't met the other guys. So Roger told me a story, kind of a history of the band, and his philosophy, real simply, was that Ritchie was a very original guitarist, and there's no sense trying to copy him with a replacement. So they actually want there to be a noticeable enough shift when a new person comes in. So I'm loving this attitude, and Roger's a super-likable guy, really knowledgeable about music, too. So anyway, it was great being with Roger. We get together, plan to go to Mexico to play some shows. I arrive there, we get set up and shake hands with everybody And the show's in 48 hours.
So you're meeting them two days before the gig, at the venue, in a foreign country, having never met them before.
I was a little freaked, but they gave me some tapes of Joe and Ritchie each playing the set. Actually the set had changed, which I didn't know, but anyway I think I know the stuff. So we just go in and play a few songs down, starting with I think "Highway Star" ... a really tough one to sing, but Ian just walks out and belts it, and I'm pretty impressed, and also pretty nervous about remembering all the parts. But before I know it, they're cueing me-without even thinking about it, they're cueing me, and Jon Lord, my God, he's the most natural-born conductor you've ever seen. In fact, he has conducted, and written concerto's and stuff for The London Symphony. So he's Mr. Music, you know, and between him and Roger, I've got everything handed to me, cue-wise. We practiced one more day, and the second day they were talking about doing something, and I said, "Hey, if you want to go on the drum solo differently, we could try this...." It was an original idea; it's what I do, really throw out ideas quickly. And we worked on another idea, and we're thinking we work together so easily, talking and flipping things around. The vibe was great. Roger came up and said, "I reckon you're in." This is somewhere in the middle of day two. So we were all feeling good.
When you joined the band, did you at all have any thoughts like "Uh oh, I did this with Kansas and now it's Deep Purple, I'm going to get the reputation as hired gun"?
No. Because to me, I came in both bands because they wanted-at least in my mind-some writing ideas that were not going to be normal, and guess what I do?
Be "not normal"?
Exactly. I write a lot. Writing is very easy for me, and I can push anything you want out to left field. Just by virtue of being myself, it's not going to be normal.
How long had you been with the band before you decided to go into the studio for Purpendicular?
Some months . . . it was hard to say when, but I guess that happened on our first tour, a little mini tour in Mexico, when we did a trial run. That was maybe at the end of '94, so I guess maybe three months later. We did a tour of South Africa and India and Korea that led us to doing the album.
If you were touring pretty heavily during that time, you must've accelerated your knowledge of each other.
Yeah, we felt like friends, and then went to the studio.
All songs on Purpendicular have equal songwriting credit. Was that one of the preconditions for your joining the band?
Songwriting is a tough thing. You get a bunch of people in the room and each person's idea of what they contributed is different. Every time I've seen it happen, there's been disagreements, so we just talked about it once and agreed that we'd try to do it like the old days. Like, okay, the band writes the stuff now-so forget about it, let's write the stuff.
How long were you in the band before you had to have this discussion? Were you writing on the road?
No, just in the studio. But I think it was just before the studio that people were bringing in tapes of ideas and notebooks of lyrics and things like that. We would go in to work on something from someone's idea, and end up jamming and doing something completely different. Many days we'd come up with ideas from a jam session that lan Paice and I would have. He'd come in early and mess with his drums, and I'd come in next, and it was just like a real treat to be able to jam with him. Just jam. I love to do that anyway, of course.
It's entirely a collaborative effort?
Yeah. Working off each other. And then Roger, who is really the producer of the band, he'll come in just flip on an ADAT recorder, the one we keep in the room, to document it, and join in with a great line. He's got songwriting skills, producing skills, and bass playing skills. Everything's covered. So whatever he comes up with is suddenly just perfect. I tell these guys they're like session players-meaning one of the highest compliments-and I remember lan said, "Well, I was hoping it was going to sound like me." But I meant that it was a really good thing to do, to walk in and just nail stuff.
So they're real artists about it.
It's amazing. It's the best thing one can do, to hear the band live. And Jon Lord, by the time we got a song together and he walks in and just picks up on what we're doing, he's just there. He's not just a keyboard player, he's the most unbelievable musician, the most natural, gifted, best set of ears, and the most improvising keyboard player I've ever played with. He's unbelievable. Every time he throws something different out. He can copy anything I do the instant I do it. He can harmonize 4ths, lOths, 6ths-anything. He always plays a different thing, and just blows everyone away. But I don't think anybody is more impressed at the end of the night than I am, because I know what he's doing. The guy is really not just underrated, but undiscovered. And he would be the one that transcribes it to the book of truths, whenever we get an arrangement. He would write it all down in classical format.
What's the book of truths?
That was just a notebook we referred to whenever there was a disagreement about how we remembered an arrangement. Jon Lord was like a studied actor, and he has this great delivery when he talks [adopts a lofty air]: "Let's see now, according to the book of truths, that would be a D minor . . ."
You've talked about everyone except Ian Gillian. What's it like with him?
Here's the deal. We got something going, and Ian, sometimes he'll hide out in the other room, working on Iyrics or something else. When he starts popping, he'll come in the room and just start singing. Not necessarily with the microphone, but just singing loud-just singing to himself. He'll just get physically close to the band because there is some kind of magic when that happens. When you see a guy dancing around the room and having a great time singing lines that go with what you're playing, all it does is charge you up.
Typically, does he come in after the band has the arrangement down, and the riffs and things?
Yes, somewhat. If it's just me and Ian [Paice] playing, he might just come in and say, "That's great, I love that," and then walk out of the room. He'll just pump up the band. It's very inspiring.
Are you using your Ernie Ball guitar for everything?
Yes. I also have a whammy-bar version. I use that for one song.
But everything's the same in it?
Yeah. My strings are .010, .013, .016, .026, .032, and .042. And I use a no-squawk cable so when I change guitars back and forth we can use the same guitar chord.
It's got that little spring pin in it?
Yeah, and we just leave the amp cranked. When I finish a song, I unplug the guitar, hold the cord in my hand, pull the shoulder strap over my head, grab the other guitar, pull the shoulder strap over my head, and then I'm still holding the cord. Then I pull the cord to the strap and plug it in, and it's no problem. And it works, it does not make a noise. I've been using it for over a decade. I think it's by Switchcraft. That goes to a stock A/B switch, B being the tuner, and the tuner is one of those little Boss ones with the red lights and the needle, a Boss CE 12,1 think. They work great. I've used them for years. They're the perfect tuner, because you can see them when it's dark, and they're teeny tiny little things, and they always work. The A channel goes to the pedal board which then goes straight into the amp, the amp in this case being the Peavey 5150. I try to keep it totally stock so that there will be no surprises. In fact, we change from night to night between the spare and the other one.
For what? To prolong the life?
Yes, just to make sure the spare works and just to use the tubes in each one. I go from the preamps to a little passive signal divider that takes the preamp signal and sends it to a bunch of different things. It has at this time, of course, my trusty Lexicon PCM 41 for the short delay, and a GSP 2101 Artist, the one with the presets. It's got a good delay, too.
This is in line with the PCM 41?
No, they're each getting their own signal. There's no loop, by the way. If you just take the effects send and don't return anything, you're not cutting off the signal, you're not breaking into the amp loop. All you're doing is paralleling off the preamp sound. So I'm not using it in the loop.
You're just using it to get the preamp sound, and you're going to bring it back into a different amp.
Exactly. For a little solo section I do there's a modified PCM 42 for long delays. It's basically a sampler and I use it like a JamMan. It has a repeat/hold momentary pedal for defining loops. Then there's a Lexicon PCM 80, which does reverbs really nice. Then I have an Eventide 3000-series Harmonizer.
What happens to all these outputs?
This is where the maze gets complicated. I use Ernie Ball cables that are color-coded and super-insulated. I got these pretty long runs, like 25 feet or something, so everything goes from the wet output or full-effect output-I program it to be full wet-to my volume pedals.
You have four volume pedals?
Five, actually. From right to left, which is the order that I use them in, there's the long delay which has the GSP 2101, and then the short delay, which is the PCM 41, and then next is the PCM 80, which is basically reverb, so when you press the volume pedal down, you're adding reverb-which is kind of an interesting way to do it. That's going through another amp, too. The next is the PCM 42.
You said you're using Peavey amps for this tour?
Yeah. Most of it is stock. 5150 heads, an ATM amp for effects returns. Those are both Peavey, with Scorpion speakers and BlackWidow speakers in them.
And each of the six cabinets is the same? They're identical to each other?
Actually, they're two, two, and two. My normal two are for the main Scorpion speakers, and the effects return goes to the Black Widow speakers; there's two cabinets for that. But for the tour, as soon as I plugged that up, and ran it with the one 5150 head, and got it on the first huge stage, it just disappeared. So we got a couple of more cabinets, and these are the stock ones, so there are three different kinds of cabinets up there.
Three pairs, but only two heads?
Right. So the main goes through the 5150 head with the Scorpion speakers plus the stock cabinets.
And then the effects return is powered by the VTM?
Yeah, powered by the VTM, but going through the Black Widow speakers. They're the big-magnet, super-duper, heavy-duty kinds of speakers.
And is the theory there that you don't want those to break up or to have as much character?
Yes, because we're using preamp signal to go to the effects, and so there's already a bunch of clipping that's being effected.
Is there anything you think should be said on behalf of the Ritchie Blackmore issue?
I was expecting a little bit more of a problem of being the guy that's taking Ritchie's place on stage, you know? And we really haven't had a problem with that at all. I think he came up with a bunch of great stuff. In fact, he was one of the people who influenced me with the idea of having a very strong, noticeable and powerfully fast vibrato-that's something that I always liked about him. Plus he's very free and expressive.
Before you went out, did someone say, We've got to have an official company line for when the subject of Ritchie comes up?"
Nope. The band is not scared to take any question and just deal with it or throw it right back. The first gig we did was Mexico, and we did a press conference there, maybe 30 different people there with cameras and videos and newspapers, TV, everything. And the first question is, "Why don't you have Ritchie?" or something about me and Ritchie, or how could you do this without Ritchie. Ian gets to the mic and lambastes the guy, saying Ritchie's been out of the band for over a year, first of all. They're not scared of dealing with any kind of question. But there definitely was no official line.
So it's not like they have a strategy in dealing with it.
Absolutely not. But one thing I've noticed is that, almost amazingly, there's been no fighting between him and the band. It wasn't like Deep Purple goes out while the lawyers from both sides try to stop the band from performing. You know the kind of stuff that can happen when a founding member leaves a band. There was none of that, that I knew of-that I heard of-and absolutely no name calling from Ritchie, especially. They've been pretty careful to make sure that nothing bad is said about him. I really like that. Some people just dig for stuff. The people writing are not happy unless they've dug up some kind of bad or negative quote. I would just like to say that the guy did a bunch of great stuff, guitar-wise. I'm happy to play the solo from "Highway Star." I played it before I met the guys in Deep Purple. When I was in cover bands, I always thought it was one of most exciting guitar solos I'd ever played. I play it mostly like he recorded it.
As an homage?
Well, yeah. What better way to play it than his way. Like "Woman From Tokyo" is basically a four-bar solo, it's not really any problem, and "Smoke On The Water" I kind of do the ending the way he did it, because that's a famous riff. So some of the stuff I do like he did. I mean, my brother used to listen to Deep Purple because of the heavy interaction between the guitar and the organ. I'm really glad to be in this band. I wouldn't have the opportunity to do this if Ritchie hadn't quit, though. There's definitely no axe to grind here. I think he deserves a break. I've seen some press things happen where they've really wanted some dirt and couldn't find it, and went away figuring a way to twist something.
Twist it so there was dirt. There's really nothing complicated about it.
The band had plenty of disagreements and uncomfortable times together. That seems to be the documented truth. But musically, there are some inspirational moments. I know I can't be Ritchie, I can't be that again, but whenever somebody comes on to me that way about Ritchie, I say, "Hey, there's no way I'll ever say anything bad about the guy" No way.
Transcribed by John D. Smith