By Andrew Catania
There’s not much that hasn’t already been written about Steve Morse. A storied career, Steve has done such phenomenal things as being involved in bands as the Dixie Grits, to playing with shredders Steve Vai and Joe Satraini.
Morse’s career took off slowly, often culminating in abrupt junctures where most musicians would simply give up. However, Morse was adamant on driving through these rough patches. A remarkable attribute common to most of Morse’s works was a personified use of melodic rhythmic patterns, intense merging of rock, classical, folk and country elements, and typified stress on experimental arrangements in the compositions. Throughout most of his early career, Morse’s music was meant for only a certain class of experimental music enthusiasts and largely avoided commercial acclaim.
In his early 20s, Morse enrolled in the University of Miami (School of Music), one of the most prestigious music schools of the time. It was here for the first time that his compositional skills were noticed by some of his close friends such as Andy West, with whom he would later form the Dixie Dregs. In 1975, Morse and West began work on a few records under the Capricorn Records label. Most of the works produced would entail jazz, hard rock and fusion elements, with vocals added only very late as a result of commercial pressure. After the releases of Free Fall (1977) and What If (1978), Morse’s compositional ability became widely known and as a result, he was invited to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival of 1978. However, despite the constant efforts of Morse’s mangers to introduce vocals in to their tracks, albums such as Unsung Heroes (1981) and Industry Standard (1982) still had mixed reviews overall. In spite of some regrettable failures in the commercial context, The Dixie Dregs days did manage to bring out some of the best compositions for Morse.
After the band’s separation in 1983, Morse embarked on his own venture, the Steve Morse Band. During this time, albums such as The Introduction (1984) and Stand Up (1985) saw a return to his initial passion to produce instrumental music. Soon after, Morse joined another band, called Deep Purple and collaborated with them on five of their albums, while also occasionally filling in the role of lead and rhythm guitarist in their live sessions. One of his first efforts with the band was the 1996 top charting album, Perpendicular, with Morse taking writing roles on songs like Sometimes I feel Like Screaming. His performances of the song featured some outstanding guitar techniques, with soothing arpeggio arrangements and an impressive use of harmonics. Some of Morse’s recent projects have included bands such as Living Loud, Angelfire and Flying Colors, with whom he has experimented with a number of genres. Morse’s legendary vision, conceptual framework, song writing skills and guitar arrangements are a few factors that have contributed to a long-lasting and successful music career, with artists like John Petrucci and Shawn Lane often regarded as guitarists following in Steve Morse’s footsteps.
In terms of guitars, 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.
Morse has gone on to release 47 albums as a solo artist and as a member of the Dregs, Kansas, Deep Purple, the Steve Morse Band and other groups. And he’s guested on 64 other recordings by artists ranging from Pavarotti and Liza Minnelli to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Morse’s latest studio releases are Deep Purple’s “Now What?!” in 2013, a self-titled album by Angelfire (which combined folk rock, pop, classical crossover and New Age textures) in 2010, and the Steve Morse Band’s “Out Standing in Their Field” in 2009.
To keep up with Steve please visit: stevemorse.com