For a guitarist whose career has spread out over four decades with his jazz/fusion band, Dixie Dreggs, his solo career that spans numerous albums, and his current stint with Deep Purple, Morse has involvement with music has seen his music make it's mark and influence on just about everybody from John Pettrucci to just about anyone who has ever aspired to play virtuosic guitar. Putting him in the category with the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen would truly be an understatement, he of course not only is at the same level of ability as those guys, but yet added other elements to his playing rather than helping to define the whole metal/jazz/fusion guitar style.
Over the past several years, with whatever incarnation his musical endeavors have brought him to, and whatever record company, group, sound, or whatever he has been involved with, Morse has undoubtedly defined a more diverse style, keeping his own style present in full force, paying complete homage to some of his heroes with respect, as heard on his latest release, Major Impacts II, and having the stature to fill yet another influential guitarist's shoes that once belonged to Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple.
Keeping a busy schedule, having just finished the recording for Major Impacts II, as well as the upcoming tour with Deep Purple in support of their latest record, Bananas, Morse found time to speak with me, and as I listened in on his conversation, I could hear his four kids playing in the background, proving that besides his music, his family life is also one of his most important endeavors.
TH: With several solo albums, Dixie Dreggs records, and Deep Purple Records, as well as Major Impacts part 2 being your second tribute CD, Where did you see yourself going with this album, as opposed to your other solo efforts, and other endeavors.
SM: One of the most obvious differences, it was written for the song in mind, as opposed to the Steve Morse Band and Dixie Dreggs, I write to the strengths of the players, and with this I wrote strictly for the song, even if it included a boring part for the drums and bass, and another thing is that I like to arrange the stuff with the guys there so I can get their reaction and read weather or not it is going to be something that they are going to enjoy playing; but in this case this record was done fake drums and bass, before they heard it.
TH: How would you say, in your opinion, did it differ from the first Major Impacts.
SM: Well, I think it is more varied, the first one was devoted to guitar heroes, that was the first thing I thought of really, the next one is, I'd say more eclectic, more varied, you know going from a five piece band to Crosby, Stills, and Nash vocals, there is a lot of different direction there, not to mention the Cajun stuff, it's all varied.
TH: So with MI 2, instead of soloing for the sake of soloing, did you try to play the melodies that a singer would sing?
SM: Oh, defiantly, yeah like the Crosby, Stills, and Nash chorus (Wooden Music), I did a three part harmony with the guitar in the chorus, kind of like Brian May would with his stacked guitar parts.
TH: Seeing how you have been involved with numerous record companies over the years, Capricorn, Arista, MCA, Electra/Musician, High Street/Windam Hill; when you signed to Magna Carta in 2000, what was the basis for you signing, why did you sign to those guys, did you see that they might be good to promote your guitar music and so forth.
SM: Basically I had worked with them doing some material for their tribute records (most notably 1996's Working Man Rush Tribute and the Tales From Yesterday Yes tribute), and everything that I heard that they were doing was something unusual and challenging, like putting musicians together that had never played together, then when I came up with the idea to do (the first) Major Impacts record, original music in the style of, I really thought it was really cool, it was totally wide open, it wasn't like I had to play a certain way, I could basically, challenge myself to the highest degree possible. I love writing, I think that this was one of the biggest challenges I've ever had, and in my mind, I feel that it's successful, in terms of meeting a challenge, my goal was to use the memory of the inputs (artists) and not brush up on them or do any additional listening before I started working on the album, I just wanted to do it all from there. You know how people will say something like, "that looks just like this movie actor," and someone else says "no it doesn't," meaning that two people can have a totally different take on what something reminds them of.
TH: Of all your favorite solo albums you have made, what was your favorite to make?
SM: The most interesting one was Coast to Coast, because it involved setting up recording in Southern California to Florida, so I mixed it in a mobile home using a 24 track Studer that I carried in there myself, which was practically breaking through the floor, as well as recording parts in a trailer, but I think musically, the most important one was High Tension Wires.
TH: When you recorded all these years weather it was back in the seventies with Dixie Dreggs to your current solo endeavors, how has the advent of all this new recording technology like Pro-Tools, The Pod, and so forth affected you.
SM: I use a lot of the new products, unfortunately it made everything I bought just about worthless and all this new technology keeps becoming obsolete itself, I wish something would just stay still. I do appreciate the technology because, it allows me to do things like work a little bit on the road, but the compromises are severe, I have The Pod and the Line 6 midi port.
TH: Do you still usually use your signature Music Man guitar model that you have used for years.
SM: Yeah, I use it for everything except 12 string and acoustic, I've had that signature for close to 20 years now.
TH: What amplifiers do you mostly use?
SM: On the album I use a big mix, one of the things I tried to do was to get different sounds all over the place; I used The Pod, the Peavey 5150, Marshall 2055, Carvin Vintage tweed with a open back 4X10 cabinet, a Legacy, an Ampeg B4, and a little Crate practice amp. I almost have eight mikes up on an amp just to add variety. Other than mikes, there really is not much of an expense to recording, It's now all about the time and the craft, sort of like Photo Shop, you pretty much can do anything, but it still takes a creative hand to come up with something that does work for a particular situation, but the tools are all there, pretty much anybody can do anything, for a thousand dollars, and that just used to buy you the tape.
TH: Switching gears here, where do you see a lot of this instrumental guitar rock going, along the lines of Steve Vai's Favored Nations Label, the Shrapnel Record Label and so forth.
SM: To tell you the truth, I really don't know exactly where it is going, but I see everybody experimenting with something that might result along the lines of something that might result in sales, but big sales are related to mass media, without mass media exposure, where people that tell you that something is cool to buy, so most people tend to be content to do what they want to do for their loyal cult audience, unfortunately it's becoming a critical mass now, more people are dropping out now because (doing music) is so hard to make a living with; it's difficult to tour, it's difficult to find recording time and it's all expensive. The effort to make an album has not changed, but the audience that will pay for one has shrunken.
So what I think will happen, the survivors will survive and the backlash will be more live music and more groups in general, not so much of a dominant group, selling everything like the Beatles, the semi successful; records will be higher in terms of sales, online sales will have a lot to do with this.
TH: As of now, the industry has only a handful of acts that sell five to ten million copies, your Justin Timberlakes, Brittany Spears, Clay Aikens, Evansences, and so forth, there are only a small few that really sell records, which is like saying less than one percent of the performing artists out there are responsible for selling over ninety percent of the records, leaving everybody else in the dust.
SM: Yeah, some aren't really bands, many are video entertainers, can you name any band members for any of these guys; it's almost like comparing apple to oranges, most of the video entertainers are taking most of the sales figures, and that's show business.
TH: So with that said, what are some of the major changes you have seen on the record industry in the your time in the record industry.
SM: Well for one, CDs have really changed the way people thought about putting together an album, many people thought, well, a CD has more space to hold data therefore it should be more full, and what that did was that instead of an artist putting together a great half hour or so of music on vinyl LP, bands would put much more filler material on there, and mathematically you can't put the same type of effort into almost an hour, and people think that an hours worth of music is better. But with LPs, you could get a nice sound with the vinyl, the jackets were bigger, and it had impact, there was a lot to say, easy to read, and that changed, the experience for the record buyer changed, bands could not turn out records fast enough, and sadly the royalty rates were not increasing for the artists in the CD era at the rate the music was increasing, so I think it became harder and harder for bands to come up with quality programming on the CDs, it also put more pressure on the bands. The music video also came in (before CDs) and made the visual impact of an artist sometimes the biggest thing, even bigger than the record, people often got airplay because the video producer was incredibly clever.
The next big change was downloading the music and that threw the record industry into swirl, it seems as if many record companies might have started marketing music towards the people who would not download, who would do the impulse buying, and what that meant for progressive music is that is was left out, most music aficionados are most likely to have the downloading capability and use it, and it is very sad.
The one thing that surprises me, is that live music is attracting more people and more young people for that matter, than ever before; I see this when I tour with Deep Purple; everywhere we go in the world, people love live music, even in the states, where our audience is somewhat harder to reach, things are really picking up, and sadly, the United States is one of the hardest places to play rock and roll, but people do want to hear rock, but at the same time they have a hard time knowing that it is available, but the demand is there for people to hear good music, and as for the people who come to the shows, they are always going to be a great audience.
TH: When you first joined Deep Purple, was there as major transition involved?
SM: No, not really, I had tapes of a few concerts, so with Joe Satriani and some with Ritchie (Blackmore), and I had to guess which parts were improvised, for me the improvisation is natural for me and it was really easy to fall into. The big change for me was suddenly being gone for a long time; it's very hard to leave my family.
TH: Well I believe that wraps it up, on behalf of Prog4you.com, I thank you so much for chatting with me.
SM: Thank You.