Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Steve Morse

Morse's career has encompassed rock, country, funk, jazz, classical, and fusion of these musical genres. In addition to a thriving solo career, has been (and continues to be) a member of several renown bands.
The future five-time Grammy nominee first played with his brother Dave in a band called The Plague until the family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Later, he played in a band called Three with his older brother. Enrolled in the Academy of Richmond County, he met bassist Andy West and, together, they formed the nucleus of the Dixie Grit, adding keyboardist Johnny Carr, 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 Grits 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.
The University of Miami has played host to a number of future influential musicians, including Bruce Hornsby, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and others. Andy West also enrolled there 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 of Miami brought some attention to his credibility as a composer and player.
Upon Morse's graduation from the University of Miami, he and West officially named the group Dixie Dregs. A fellow University of Miami alumnus, Rod Morgenstein, replaced the injured Bart Yarnall and the band commenced performing on a very regular basis, interspersing their compositions with covers of John McLaughlin and of southern rock gems. Despite their decidedly non-commercial intent, an increasingly heavier performance schedule eventually led to the attention of Capricorn Records recruiters including Allman Brothers Band manager Twiggs Lyndon and the group was signed by the vaunted southern rock label.
Their first effort for Capricorn, Free Fall, established Morse as an important newcomer to the fusion genre, and he was recognized for both his compositional skills (having written all 11 tracks) and his consummate musicianship. Although critically acclaimed as a pivotal jazz fusion album, the LP sold poorly.
What If was released to continued acclaim. Writing credits were more collaborative and the band's sound had matured into something a bit more than what defined fusion at the time. Southern rock, classical, folk and country elements combined to form a cohesive and complex pastiche of passionate and accessible music. Though supported by a tour, record sales remained flat, but gained Morse and the band an invitation to perform at Montreux Jazz Festival. The recorded performance was released the following year on Night of the Living Dregs. Capricorn went bankrupt shortly thereafter, though, and the Dixie Dregs were stranded without a label.
Arista Records then stepped in to sign the band to record three albums. Production control was handed to Morse, andDregs of the Earth was released. 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' commercial 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 brought eight additional Morse compositions forward, but the name change did little to address Arista's worries. The Dregs were compelled to add lyrics to their next effort, appropriately titled Industry Standard, an apparent reference to executive and management oversight of their creative process.
Despite this, Morse's compositions on Industry Standard began to sound increasingly like his evolving solo work than Dregs' collaborations, and the album stood out to 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 honor that he would enjoy 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.) Having fulfilled their commitment to Arista, the band succumbed to the pressures of constant gigging, and disbanded shortly.
Several years later, 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 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 busy medical career. They signed a deal with a resurrected Capricorn Records for their first studio album in years entitled Full Circle.
Morse began putting together the Steve Morse Band, a trio with Jerry Peek (bass) and Doug Morgan (drums). Rod Morgenstein soon replaced Morgan, and they began recording The Introduction in September. The group had previously toured Germany with Morse conducting clinics, and the group was signed by Elektra Records, who released The Introduction mid-year. A second German tour followed, and Stand Up was released. This effort included guest vocalists and guitarists (Eric Johnson, Alex Ligertwood, Peter Frampton, Albert Lee, Van Temple), and violinist Mark O'Connor.
While on tour, Steve had supported several bands, including progressive rock trio, RUSH. Morse continued in the genre by joining KANSAS when they reformed in the late 1980s, replacing lead guitarist and songwriter, Kerry Livgren. His tenure with the band yielded two releases on MCA, Power and In the Spirit of Things. During this period, he co-wrote the band's last big hit (thus far), "All I Wanted," which reached the Billboard Top 20 and received heavy rotation on MTV. Morse left the band after touring the final album, but re-joined the band for a 1991 tour.
After KANSAS, Morse took a break from the music industry, and pursued another passion: flying. Steve worked professionally for several years as a commercial airline co-pilot, enjoying a break from the spotlight. Eventually, though, music came calling again.
Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple in the middle of their 1993 tour. Joe Satriani served as a short-term replacement to finish the tour. Afterwards, though, Steve Morse was asked to join the band as a permanent member (and continues to this day). Together, the band has, so far, released four studio and seven live albums.
Jimmy Barnes asked Morse to join Bob Daisley, Lee Kerslake and (Deep Purple organist) Don Airey for his project, Living Loud, in 2003. They recorded a studio album by the same name, and embarked on a major tour. A live DVD and 2CD set,Live in Sidney, was released in 2004.
In 2009, the Steve Morse Band released the hotly anticipated OutStanding in Their Field, their first release in five years. The critically acclaimed album was supported by a US east coast tour during October-November, and west coast tour in January.
Several dates on that tour featured Steve performing as an opening act, with Sarah Spencer, as Angelfire. Steve had begun working with the young singer in 2007, culminating in the release of an album by the same name on June 22nd, 2010. Angelfire will be a first even for Morse, who has defined his career by exploring and combining numerous genres in novel ways. Stylistically, the album combines folk rock, pop, classical crossover and new age to form a textural, harmony-laden and unique work.
Even after 44 albums, Morse continues to push boundaries and take chances. In addition to his continuing solo endeavors, collaborative projects, and further work with Deep Purple—Steve can look back on an extraordinary career, and forward to near-infinite possibilities.

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