Steven J. "Steve" Morse (born 28 July 1954) is an American guitarist and composer, best known as the founder of the Dixie Dregs; and since 1994, the guitar player of Deep Purple. Morse's career has encompassed rock, country, funk, jazz, classical, and fusion of these musical genres. In addition to his successful solo career, he was briefly a member of Kansas in the mid 1980s.
Steve Morse was born in Hamilton, Ohio, as the second of three sons. His father was a minister and his mother a classically trained pianist; both were also psychologists. The family moved to Tennessee, then Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Morse spent his childhood. Although familiar with piano and clarinet, Morse ultimately became interested in guitar and his real musical career began.
Morse worked briefly with his older brother Dave in a band called The Plague until the family moved to Augusta, Georgia. In the late 1960s, he played in a band called Three with his older brother and a junior high schoolmate, William Gerald (Jerry) Wooten, who played keyboards. Three performed at a local psychedelic youth club, The Green Onion, and at Legion Halls and church functions.
While enrolled in the Academy of Richmond County, Morse met bassist Andy West and together they formed the Dixie Grit, adding keyboardist Johnny Carr and guitarist and vocalist Frank Brittingham, with Dave Morse drumming. However, this effort was short lived, since covering Led Zeppelin, Cream and the like limited their ability to get higher-paying jobs at local dance halls.
West and Morse continued to play as a duet billed as the Dixie Dregs until Morse's expulsion from school in the 10th grade (for refusing to cut his hair) enabled his enrollment at the esteemed University of Miami School of Music.
During the 1970s, the University of Miami played host to a number of future influential musicians, including Bruce Hornsby, Pat Metheny, and Jaco Pastorius. Andy West also enrolled at the University of Miami and, with Morse, drummer Bart Yarnall, keyboardist Frank Josephs and violinist Allen Sloan, collaborated in a lab project entitled Rock Ensemble II. Rehearsing and performing Morse's compositions at the University brought some attention to his credibility as a composer and player. In 1975 the group compiled a recording used for promotional efforts. This recording was eventually released in 1997 as The Great Spectacular.
Morse was also a commercial airline pilot in late 1987 and early 1988, working for Atlantic Southeast Airlines.
Upon Morse's graduation from the University of Miami in 1975, he and West officially named their group Dixie Dregs. A fellow University of Miami alumnus, Rod Morgenstein, replaced the injured Bart Yarnall and the band began performing regularly; with some of their own compositions, along with covers of John McLaughlin and southern rock favourites. An increasingly heavier performance schedule eventually led to the attention of Capricorn Records recruiters including Allman Brothers Band manager Twiggs Lyndon and, in late 1976, the group was signed by the southern rock label.
Their first effort for Capricorn, Free Fall, established Morse as an important newcomer to the fusion genre, and he was recognised for both his compositional skills (having written all 11 tracks) and his musicianship. Although receiving positive reviews as a pivotal jazz fusion album, it sold poorly.
What If was released in 1978. Writing credits were more collaborative and the band's sound had matured into more than what was strictly considered fusion at the time. Southern rock, classical, folk and country elements were combined to form a cohesive and listenable music. Though supported by a tour, record sales remained flat, but gained Morse and the band an invitation to perform at Montreux Jazz Festival on 23 July 1978. The recorded performance was released the following year on Night of the Living Dregs. Capricorn went bankrupt in late 1979, and the Dixie Dregs were left without a label.
Arista Records signed the band in 1979 to record three albums. Production control was handed to Morse, and Dregs of the Earth was released in May 1980. All eight tracks were written by Morse, and the album peaked at number 27 on Billboard's Jazz Album Chart.
Arista became increasingly concerned about Dixie Dregs' album sales and pressured the band to change their name to simply The Dregs in an attempt to increase the band's visibility in the public eye. Unsung Heroes included eight new Morse compositions in early 1981, but the name change did little to address Arista's worries. The Dregs felt compelled by label management to add lyrics to their next release, appropriately titled Industry Standard.
Morse's compositions on Industry Standard began to sound more like his evolving solo work than Dregs' collaborations, and the album received critical and public praise. Industry Standard was voted "Best Guitar LP" by readers of Guitar Player magazine in their annual reader's poll that year. Additionally, Morse was voted "Best Overall Guitarist" in the same poll, an honour that he would hold for five consecutive years (which ended his eligibility by retiring him into their "Gallery of Greats", a distinction shared only by Steve Howe of Yes.) After fulfilling their commitment to Arista, the Dregs' members, who had tired of touring, disbanded in early 1983.
In the late 1980s, the group reunited for a tour featuring former members Morse, Morgenstein, Lavitz and Sloan. Their return was complemented by a "Best Of" release entitled Divided We Stand. Bassist Dave LaRue completed the line-up for a seven date tour culminating in the 1992 live album Bring 'em Back Alive. Violinist Jerry Goodman, of The Mahavishnu Orchestra fame, filled in for Sloan, who was frequently absent as a result of his medical career. They signed a deal with former label Capricorn Records for their first studio album in years entitled Full Circle in 1994.
Steve Morse Band and Kansas
After the 1983 breakup of the Dregs, Morse then formed The Steve Morse Band, a trio with bassist Jerry Peek and drummer Doug Morgan (formerly a member of Glass Moon). After the first tour of the eastern United States, Morgan left for previous commitments. Everyone's choice to replace Morgan (including Doug's) was Rod Morgenstein. They began recording The Introduction in September. The group toured Germany in early 1984 with Morse conducting clinics, and the group was signed by Elektra Records, who released The Introduction mid-year. A second German tour began in December 1984 and Stand Up was released in 1985. This effort included guest vocalists and guitarists (Eric Johnson, Alex Ligertwood, Peter Frampton, Albert Lee, Van Temple), and violinist Mark O'Connor. He toured with Rush as a main opener on their Power Windows tour.
In 1986, Morse joined the rock group Kansas. While with the band, they released two albums, Power and In the Spirit of Things. While he was with the band, Kansas had its last big hit, "All I Wanted," which reached the Billboard Top 20 and on which Morse received co-writing credit. Morse left the band after touring behind the latter album. He re-joined the band for part of their 1991 tour.
From late 1987 to early 1988, Morse worked as a commercial airline co-pilot.
In 1994, Morse joined the British hard rock group Deep Purple, replacing Ritchie Blackmore (though Joe Satriani replaced Blackmore for part of The Battle Rages On tour). Since then, Morse has played on five studio albums Purpendicular, Abandon, Bananas, Rapture of the Deep and Now What?!, as well as seven of their live albums.
In addition to playing with Deep Purple, Morse, together with Jimmy Barnes, Bob Daisley, Lee Kerslake and Don Airey, formed Living Loud in 2003. The group released one studio album and a live DVD in 2004/2005. In Spring 2010 it was reported that Steve Morse and Bob Daisley started work on the new studio album which was set for a release in 2011.
Morse began a collaboration with singer Sarah Spencer in 2007 entitled Angelfire. The album, of the same name, was released on 10 August 2010 on Radiant Records. The album features Dave Larue and Van Romaine of the Steve Morse Band on bass and drums, respectively. The album has a textural, acoustic sound that differs from Morse's previous work. Angelfire opened for the Steve Morse Band for several shows in California (January) and Florida (March) of 2010.
In 2011, Morse formed Flying Colors, an American supergroup composed of Mike Portnoy, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson and Neal Morse, whose debut eponymous album was released on 26 March 2012, and debuted at No. 9 on Billboard's Hard Rock chart, and No. 11 on the BBC's Rock Album charts.
Influence And Technique
Morse is considered one of the hardest working guitarists in the world. He is widely known for his stylistically diverse compositional skills and was voted "Best Overall Guitarist" by Guitar Player magazine for five years in a row, qualifying him for their "Guitar Player Hall of Fame", the only other members being Steve Howe of Yes and Eric Johnson. He is regularly cited by John Petrucci as a major influence. Guitarist Shawn Lane regarded Steve Morse as one of the most talented guitarists of his time. Morse has proven himself throughout his career as capable of playing highly complex chord structures in classical sequences, as well as being able to play fast, alternate picked arpeggios. He is well known for using harmonics and improvising them in songs during live performances, such as in Deep Purple's "Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming".
Gear And Equipment
Throughout the 1980s Morse was using a custom "frankentele" guitar, made up of a Tele body with a Strat neck, a Gibson trapeze-style tailpiece (coming from a twelve string guitar) and four pickups in HSSH configuration. At one time, the guitar had a fifth pickup, a hexaphonic pickup with a separate output for each string; it provided the signal to drive a 360 Systems Spectre guitar synthesizer.
Morse was then approached by Music Man Guitars to create a signature model to his specifications; he is now one of the longest endorsees of the company. In particular he's been using prototype n°1 of his Steve Morse signature guitar for more than 20 years (the guitar has been refretted eight times). He now has two signature models with MusicMan guitars:
- The first one is an exact replica of his n°1 guitar which features a poplar body with maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, 4 pickups (a DiMarzio Steve Morse bridge and neck model Humbuckers, and two DiMarzio single coils, a DP 117 and a custom wound Steve Morse single coil in HSSH configuration) volume and tone controls. The switching is also particular: it features a three-way selector that changes between the bridge humbucker, the neck humbucker and the first single coil ( aligned with the Bridge Humbucker), a mini switch that adds the bridge pickup to any configuration and a third switch that adds the second, slant single coil to any configuration. This switch also allows for independent single coil selection.
- The second one, the Steve Morse SM Y-2D, is an updated version with quilted maple top same neck & body, three pickups (the slant single coil has been eliminated) and a 5-way super switch.
Both are available with a stop tail piece or floyd rose bridge.
Morse has stated that the pickup configurations that he uses the most are the bridge pickup by itself, the neck pickup by itself, the bridge and neck humbuckers together, and the bridge and first (aligned) single coils together.
The super 5-way switch on the newest SM Y2D guitar replicates these combinations.
Morse has released two signature humbuckers with DiMarzio; the DP 205 Neck model and the DP 200 Bridge model. They are evenly balanced to allow playing all over the fretboard, since Morse plays high notes on the neck pickup and low ones on the bridge. They are the main pickups into his signature model. Dimarzio also wires a custom wound single coil pickup for Music Man to use into the SM signture model.
Morse is an endorser of ENGL amps. He has released a signature model, the ENGL E-656 Steve Morse signature Amplifier. It is a three channel amp specially designed by Morse with a custom version of the famous ENGL "midrange matrix". In the past he used Peavey 5150 amps with Deep Purple, Marshall Jubilee, Peavey VTM 120 and Ampeg V4.
Morse's live equipment includes two ENGL E 656 Signture heads and several Music Man guitars (both models), his #1 still being his favorite. He splits up his signal to six different cabinets; four dry (without any FX) and two wet (with FX). He uses three Ernie Ball expression pedals to blend the fx into the mix. He uses a custom skrydstrup switching system to perform all the switching and the blending. His FX are very simple, consisting only of a Boss OC-3 Octaver and two delays: Electro-Harmonix Memory Man now replaced with the newest TC Electronic FlashBack TonePrint delay (Morse has created custom presets). He is also using a TC Electronic Polytune Mini guitar tuner.