Q&A

Steve Morse

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Henry Yates Re­mas­tered spe­cial edi­tions of Deep Pur­ple In Rock and Fire­ball are out now, on pur­ple vinyl, via Rhino.

Deep Pur­ple’s cur­rent gui­tarist on Black­more’s bless­ing, deal­ing with the haters and why gui­tar is the best ther­apy.

They call him the hard­est-work­ing gui­tarist in rock, and he has the ré­sumé to back up the ti­tle. Raised in Ge­or­gia, gui­tarist Steve Morse made his first blip on the mu­sic radar with genre-man­gling fu­sioneers Dixie Dregs back in the 70s, and af­ter that he bol­stered the re-formed Kansas in the 80s. Then in 1994 he be­came the gui­tarist in Deep Pur­ple, with whom he has so far played on six stu­dio al­bums, from 1996’s Purpen­dic­u­lar to 2017’s In­fi­nite, and seven live al­bums. While do­ing all that he has still man­aged to pop out to play with artists rang­ing from Lu­ciano Pavarotti to Fly­ing Col­ors. “To me,” the 64-year-old says, “the guy in the mir­ror looks like he’s been around the block.”

Let’s go back to the late six­ties. Who were the guitarists on your bed­room wall?

Well, a lot of them were Bri­tish. The Bea­tles, John and Ge­orge,

The Kinks, Rolling Stones, Yard­birds – there is no bad solo there. I re­mem­ber when The Who came to town, and I sat right in front of Pete Town­shend at this lit­tle teen club, and just loved the con­trol he had over the gui­tar. It blos­somed, of course, into Led Zep­pelin, Page, Hen­drix, Jeff Beck, Clap­ton with Cream. I got to see Led Zep­pelin at a pop fes­ti­val around the time of Wood­stock, do­ing the thing with the vi­o­lin bow and the Echoplex. I re­mem­ber de­hy­dra­tion and the sun beat­ing down, but the mu­sic was so awe­some.

Were you the clas­sic gui­tar-ob­sessed teenager?

I’d prac­tise sev­eral hours a day. It was just as much fun as do­ing a wheelie on my bi­cy­cle. I wasn’t smart enough to re­alise that you needed to sleep. I’d wake up su­per-early to prac­tise be­fore school; I did my home­work on the bus. I fi­nally got kicked out of school be­cause I was con­stantly try­ing dif­fer­ent things with my hair. I have fairly thin hair, and it seemed like ev­ery Bri­tish rock star had the thick­est hair known to man. I came from a dif­fer­ent stock, I guess. They were al­ways kick­ing me out: “You bet­ter cut your hair be­fore you come back to this school!” Fi­nally, when I reached the age of six­teen, they did it one time too many: “Al­right, I won’t come back.”

Play­ing gui­tar is sup­posed to make you pop­u­lar with girls.

Was that your ex­pe­ri­ence?

No, girls liked the sports guys more. But the mo­ti­va­tor was never try­ing to be some­thing for women. And then play­ing in a fu­sion­type in­stru­men­tal band like Dixie Dregs, you get a lot of women that wear black T-shirts and look like guys. I’m jok­ing – of course, women hated it. But it was like mak­ing a model rocket as a kid, y’know – this con­trolled ex­plo­sion. It was de­mand­ing for a young gui­tar player. But for me the chal­lenge was part of the deal. I see these ad­ver­tise­ments on TV now for Bat­tleBots, and Dixie Dregs was some­thing like that. You could get into it as deep as you wanted to, in­tel­lec­tu­ally. But also there was some­thing pri­mal about it.

Do you think your gui­tar so­los re­flect your per­son­al­ity? Yeah. Which some­times led to the guys in the Dregs say­ing: “Wow, I re­ally liked your play­ing last night, you seemed re­ally pissed off.” Be­cause I’d at­tack the gui­tar more if some­thing was not go­ing well. The fact that you can at­tack a gui­tar was a big ap­peal for me, y’know, get­ting in­tensely into the gui­tar as a teenager.

Has play­ing gui­tar pre­vented you from hav­ing to pay for a shrink, then?

Well, tour­ing gets you ready for a shrink, your band­mates act as the shrink.

How did it feel to step into Ritchie Black­more’s shoes when you joined Deep Pur­ple?

By the time I got there the ice was sorta bro­ken, be­cause Ritchie had left the band and Joe Sa­tri­ani had done such a great job cov­er­ing that. Also, I had been part of the re­united Kansas, when peo­ple mis­tak­enly thought I was try­ing to re­place Kerry Liv­gren – which I wasn’t – so I was used to the mixed emo­tions of the au­di­ence. Y’know, they’re glad to see the band again… but they wish it was the orig­i­nal guys. Ev­ery once in a while, peo­ple will be throw­ing stuff at you – I mean lit­er­ally throw­ing stuff at you. For some rea­son those peo­ple stand out more in your mem­ory. I’ve never met Ritchie, but in the press, his pos­ture was: ‘Good luck’. It is a sig­nal to the trolls if some­body says: “They suck with this new guy.” He didn’t do that. I think he made it pos­si­ble for the band’s suc­cess. It’s been a pretty easy ride, but of course there’s a cer­tain per­cent­age of peo­ple that just hate me be­cause of who I am.

You’re just about to play with Deep Pur­ple in Mon­treux, the town where there was the fire that in­spired Smoke On The Wa­ter. How does it feel to play that riff on stage?

It’s like if some­body handed you a re­mote con­trol that you didn’t de­sign or build. But still, a re­mote con­trol that says: ‘Push This’, and then when you did the en­tire place would cheer and bil­lions of cell phones would come out. It’s kinda fun. But I’m acutely aware of the fact that I didn’t write it. So don’t worry, any­body, if any of those peo­ple are read­ing right now.

What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a gui­tar?

Maybe a thou­sand bucks. I can get gui­tars free now, but when I get one I can’t re­ally sell it. I can’t ever get rid of it. So it’s sorta like tak­ing in a pet – you gotta be re­spon­si­ble for it. It needs to be in an air­con­di­tioned space. And you re­ally need to play it, oth­er­wise you’re just hoard­ing.

Last time we spoke you said your right hand was break­ing down. How is it now?

Well, it’s still talkin’ to me. It’s arthri­tis in the joint. So the less I move, the bet­ter it is. When I prac­tise it’s no fun. Then at the gig I take ev­ery­thing that’s le­gal, and apply ev­ery­thing that’s le­gal to the joint. That and adrenalin gets you through. Then it hurts the rest of the night. At the gig it doesn’t play on my mind, but it’s al­ways there.

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