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March 10, 2010 | Author – Greg Phillips

stevemorseAlong with fellow British rockers Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple is the third in a triumvirate of bands long considered to be the pioneers of the hard rock genre, a style which eventually morphed into heavy metal. With classic singles such as ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Black Night’ and ‘Highway Star’, Purple has racked up album sales in excess of 100 million. For the last two decades, the on stage responsibility for the band’s iconic guitar riffs has belonged to Steve Morse. The Florida based guitar virtuoso first came to our attention playing amazingly fluid licks with his band the Dixie Dregs. Morse then garnered further kudos with his own band, the Steve Morse band. He has won Guitar Player magazine’s ‘Best Guitarist’ category five times in a row. He also flies jet planes like he plays guitar. In fact, he’s so good at most things, you’d dislike him if he wasn’t such a nice guy. AM’s Greg Phillips spoke to Steve as he prepared for Deep Purple’s upcoming Australian tour.

GP: Where are you at the moment?
SM: I’m in central Florida

You’re at home then … I gather not for long?
Ever since I have been in Deep Purple, being home usually means I just enough time to pack or unpack my suitcase

You grew up listening to the British invasion bands, and for the last 16 years have been in one of the legendary bands. You know Claude Knobs, played Montreux … you play that riff every night. You’re basically living that history now.
Well it doesn’t feel that way. In anyone’s life, it’s not until you look back and say wow, I can’t believe all this amazing stuff. But for now, every gig, no matter where it is, the audience is like the fuel for the gig. My concern is trying to keep that ignited. It’s like being on a team. You are trying to keep things in motion and doing whatever you can to make the whole thing work. You don’t think about what you are doing yourself so much

Deep Purple was always into volume and were actually recognised as the loudest band in the world by the Guinness Book of records. How important is volume to the band these days?
I think that Guinness Book thing was a bit of a fluke because… If memory serves me correct … that was in England where they had some harsh DB levels. I’m sure lots of American bands were louder. Rock and roll is generally loud anyway, but the sound man has so much to do with how the band is perceived as being loud or not. And it also depends on the venue. If a venue is not able to hang the PA, then I would suggest not sitting in front of the PA. The sound man is sitting way back and has made it comfortable for him. The best place to hear any concert is near the sound desk, and it won’t be too loud there.

How much does the set list differ from night to night with Purple these days?
We’re trying to add more songs that we rotate and trying to give more choices to Ian Gillan. If you’re on a tour and you get a cold or something, it really effects your voice. Every tour is like this huge, strenuous multi-week thing. In fact the next one coming up going to Australia is going to be like 7 weeks. So everybody gets a cold or something at least once. With all of the people you come in contact with, it doesn’t matter how many times you sanitise your hands, it happens. So we want to make sure there are lots of choices of tunes for Ian and ones that he feels comfortable singing. We’ve been rotating about six songs lately and there would be around ten different ones since we played own there last time. Although I should say, there probably won’t be ten different tunes on any one night, because we are rotating them.

What can you tell me about a next Deep Purple album? Is anything recorded? Who is writing?
Everybody has ideas and writes, but we really don’t have the time to get together and do it, that’s all. It’s a work in progress, but the progress just hasn’t begun!

You don’t get together much other than touring, so do you use sound check to nut out ideas?
Coming up with ideas is like the least of our problems. We love doing it and it’s as natural as starting up a conversation, especially with a drummer like Ian Paice.

You travel all over the world and play to fanatical fans. A lot of people would want to come back stage and say hi. Have you ever been surprised by who has dropped by?
We have had mayors, presidents, prime ministers. Jimmy Page stopped by bit I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet him … again. I got to hang out with George Harrison, just because of them. I’ve enjoyed some amazing moments because of the long life of this band over so many decades. They just know everybody. Everybody knows Deep Purple and I get to meet these amazing people because of it.

We have some amazing players coming out to tour Australia, could I get a comment on these names … Jeff Beck?
Oh, he’s my man! Everybody loves Jeff Beck because he plays the guitar musically and a lot of people forget , it’s a musical instrument.

Buddy Guy?
He’s one of the must see blues guys because he’s available and out there now playing great. I dunno, if you like the blues, you have got to check the man out.

Peter Green
I don’t know what’s current with him. The old stuff is fantastic. The stuff I know was really inspired and very original.

One of the new guys, Joe Bonnamassa. Have you heard much of Joe?
We just saw him play. The whole band had a night off and we went and saw him. I love Joe. He’s a young guy but playing so brilliantly. he’s bringing a  lot of people into the blues genre through what he does. I think he’s a lot wider too than that blues thing they pin on him. Very polished and professional, you can’t help but love that guy.

I wanted to talk about your gear. I know a lot of it is documented on the net, but you never know what is current. You endorse Engl amps. Are you using them with Purple now?
Yes, in fact I have a Steve Morse model amp. the reason I wanted one made, is so that I could have it. I use Engl with the Steve Morse band too. It is very versatile and doesn’t have that really annoying high end. it has very clear high end. I enjoy that they a very audible but can be kicked out.

How do you have your amp set, is it fairly clean?
I go straight into the dry amp and that’s the one you basically hear all night long. There’s a clean and semi-distorted and a more distorted setting whereby you can pre-set a lot of things on the amp. Then when I need a little bit of delay or chorus, there are outboard effects that go to volume pedals, and volume pedals plug into a second Engl amp. When I press down the volume pedal, for chorus or long delay, that’s only necessary in a few spots where I have a sonic loom in a guitar solo or something. The delay comes through the second amplifier only. So the dry amp never changes, it gets added to from the other amp to modify it.

You’ve had the same guitar for a long time. How often are you switching pick ups in a gig and what’s your most common combination?
I have two versions of my signature guitar. One is the four pick up version with three switches and the newer one that I use mostly with Purple is called the Y2D which the name stands for twenty years now since we built this guitar, it has a five way switch. It’s a multi-pull switch that you can set up in any combination. Those five sounds are; each humbucking separately  (that’s two), the two humbucking together (that’s three), the single coil next to it humbucking by itself, and the single coil next to the bridge humbucking and I use them all night long. I’m constantly changing. Whenever I need to bring it down a bit to get some clarity, I just turn the guitar down without changing to a cleaner channel and then I switch to the single coil pick up. So by turning down I lose some of that high end and by switching to the single coil, I gain some high end. I’m still in the gain but not having such a thick sound. So it is real easy to provide some support and dynamics that way.

Your guitar has played a lot of gigs and would need a lot of care. Who is your tech these days? I know you employed Tommy Alderson mid last year  but he had to leave because his son’s accident. Did that all work out ok is Tommy back with you?
Yes Tommy is back. His son is going to have surgery. He will have recovered by the time we’re on tour

What do you ask of your guitar tech? Whats the most important factor for you?
We do a lot of shows where it is impossible to do soundcheck. I think the most important thing is making sure everything is available and is sounding approximately the same as the night before, at least in the ballpark. So I can walk out on stage without freaking out or adjusting things. Usually when I see Tommy, he hands me a guitar that’s already been plugged in and I walk on stage, and by the time I get to my pedal board, it’s 1,2 , 3, 4 and we’re on. There is no time to be playing around with anything. He has to dial everything in. He’s a really good guitar player, so he has no problem doing any of that.

What’s the worst technical nightmare you have had on stage?
Where do I begin? Oh my god! The most embarrasing one was … we learned a song that was new to me, and the song was in G. For some reason I thought the song was in F sharp after we went over it once. I looked over at Roger  on stage and said that was in F sharp right? He says yeah. He thought I was talking about something else. So the first part of the first verse was so horribly bad, until obviously I changed but that was one of the worst train wrecks I ever caused. These things happen. Like when the power goes off and my amp stops working because it becomes unplugged or circuit breaker problems where my side of stage is off but not the other guys. One time, and I don’t know why but something must have got wet when we were playing in the rain and I couldn’t get anything to work. We were playing in pouring rain and after one of my guitars got shorted out, we brought every spare instrument up until we couldn’t play anymore. the people had been standing in the rain for hours and we felt obliged to play. The rain was coming in sideways. We ruined every bit of our equipment to do this show. There is one other that stands out. It was in Chile and people poured into the stadium. They must have broken down the barriers, because it was over-filled. There was a big sound and light tower and they were climbing all over that. There were like seven people up on this tower, it was like a goal post. They were moving or dancing and the whole thing toppled into the crowd, and it severed the power cables and in the process, hurt a bunch of people. The place went dark, the music stopped and people were screaming. It was just mayhem. It made it onto TV, you know like on one of those worst disasters shows. It doesn’t say Deep Purple on the tape. It was like,’ Look what happens at a rock concert when security doesn’t do it’s job’.

What gives you the biggest buzz … playing to a cheering packed house or the sweetest drive of a jet plane?
You’re talking about two different things but I don’t know, I’d rather do both. I couldn’t get by without doing both. It wouldn’t be life.

They folk at CMC Music (distributors of Music Man and Engl in Australia) here say hi too because they missed you at NAMM.
Oh that’s great. You know Pat Bonham (recently deceased owner of CMC Music) was the first guy to promote me in Australia. He was such a good business man. He said, ‘You know what? I am going to create demand for these products we’re distributing. You’ll do some gigs and I can’t guarantee anything but we’ll split the money together at the end’. I loved the guy. We did it all on faith and he was wonderful.

The way the music business is at the moment, releasing an album of original material, is quite a gamble, do those conditions put you off composing and recording or does the creativity streak just win out anyway?
The creativity comes out anyway. it’s harder scheduling the band now for recording but everyone is always creating and writing. You can’t stop that. But I think it’s very astute of you to notice that things have changed. It’s changed the priority. Life is different now but the live shows are real and they are live! The bands that have the huge records in the pop market, are generally not  live shows. It’s bizare. It’s a strange world.

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