Deep Purple's candle still burns brightly
By Naughty Mickie

When you discuss classic rock and influential bands, you would be remiss if you failed to mention Deep Purple. The group has touched a myriad of musicians, from its who's who list of members to the kid listening to the radio in the middle of the night and they continue to reach out.

The current lineup, vocalist Ian Gillan, guitarist Steve Morse, bassist Roger Glover, keyboardist Don Airey and drummer Ian Paice, have been touring in support of their recent release, "Bananas" (Sanctuary Records). They were recording the effort when news of the Challenger disaster came and rather than offering words of solace, Morse wrote an instrumental piece from the heart which appears as the album's final cut. Its notes speak volumes.

Intrigued with Deep Purple's success and honest appreciation of their fans, I was excited to speak with Morse. Perhaps he (and they) can be best understood by sitting back and letting him tell the tale.

"In '93 Ritchie Blackmore quit and they finished a tour, with Joe Satriani, that they were on. Then set about looking for a permanent replacement," Morse says of how he came to join Deep Purple. "Roger Glover had seen the Steve Morse Band in Florida, which is where I live, and they just happened to be recording in Florida at the time. They don't hang around in the United States, they do most of their gigs in Europe.

"The other guys had heard from the Dixie Dregs some of the music that I had that was used for playing on the radio. They thought it would be a good idea to try it with me and, as far as I know, they say that they only had one guy that was going to try out and he couldn't come so they picked me instead. That's the story I keep hearing them say. But the bottom line was I wasn't too sure, just like they weren't too sure, what was going to happen," Morse goes on.

"I was intrigued with the idea of a rock band wanting somebody who's different and weird. I like that about them. I really didn't know them at all. I thought that there was a chance that they could be a classic rock band that's resting on their laurels and not really playing well, in which case I didn't want nothing to do with it. We agreed to four gigs and at the end of the first rehearsal I was convinced that they were very talented guys and I really enjoyed playing with them because they basically wanted to jam. They used to having freedom. I'd heard two tapes of their live shows, that was all I knew, was the most recent two shows before and I didn't know what was planned out and what wasn't. I was pleasantly surprised, talking, saying things like, 'Well, you play a little and when you're done, just let us know some kind of way,'" Morse laughs. "Those are the kind of arrangements I like, where there is a plan, but the plan can be stretched or shortened to fit the audience's reaction.

"It turned out they were all brought to the band one by one picked from other groups because they were really good. And what really showed through was how Ian Gillan kind of embraced me as a part of the band rather than somebody behind the singer. He really wanted me to shine too. He wanted to be part of the band instead of being 'the frontman,' I mean he is the frontman, sure," Morse continues. "That was just an actual thing, they weren't trying to make me feel comfortable, they are just the kind of people I like playing with."

Morse's mother played piano, so I ask him about how his parents influenced him musically.

"My mom didn't play very much because I don't think we had a piano most years, I think she rented one for a little bit hoping her kids would take it up," Morse replies. "I was intrigued by it, but I didn't go crazy over it like I did when I finally got a chance to play a real guitar. I think I was about 10 or 11, I don't remember the exact date, I just remember my older brother bought one and he was learning some guitar chords. I said, 'Wow, that's something I could do.' I really liked that. My brother was also into drums and he played clarinet and stuff, so when ever he put the guitar down, I went over to it.

"I couldn't get anything out of it, so I went to some lessons, in group lessons with my cutting the lawn money to pay for it. And the guy said, 'You can't play this guitar.' I said, 'I know, that's why I'm here.' He said, 'No, really, no one could play this guitar.' He showed me how it was hopelessly bowed in the neck and was broken, the wood front and back was broken, which I knew." Morse recalls, "It only had three strings, it need to be fixed. On that day, I rented a guitar, an acoustic. My parents loaned me the money for an electric soon thereafter. That's how I became a handyman, paying back the loan, painting houses and doing lots of lawns, stuff like that.

"That generation of living too, there was one or two channels on TV and nothing to do, especially where I living shortly after we moved, Augusta, Georgia," Morse adds. "I had nothing in common with anybody and what was really my one hobby that was good was playing guitar."

He embarked on a career in music fairly quickly after taking up guitar.

"Right away I started getting gigs. They'd give me a pizza or they'd give me 10 bucks, which was cool, to play with this band." Morse explains his enterprise, "I got in the habit of getting my friends to play at this coffee house for a percentage of the door. We played for like three bucks each or something because we earned a percentage of a 20-cent admission, so there was not much to go around, but it was always worth it. It paid for our gas and we played different music each weekend and tried different things and that was really cool."

Morse didn't neglect his education, attending the University of Miami to learn more about music.

"I started thinking I was going to be a classical guitarist because that was the reason I went there. It was after hearing the head of the classical guitar department play a concert, I thought that's really cool. But he didn't take on beginners and so I started registering with calculus to go in for electrical engineering, but I at the last moment I changed it to music at the jazz department, which they would let me in there despite the fact I couldn't play jazz because I played electric guitar. I think there were only six guitarists in that program at the time, I was one of them. I just didn't fit in anywhere because I was the only guy playing Led Zeppelin, Yes and originals. They wanted to her me play jazz and the classical guy wanted to hear proper classical guitar. So I was a little bit orphaned by both sides, which was not so unusual for me and was not so uncomfortable for me actually," Morse admits. "I ended up being in the jazz department getting a studio music and jazz degree. My principle instrument was classical guitar and in the last years I finally did study with the master, Juan Mercadal. I got to do a little bit of everything. I was never in love with playing old-time jazz, that was never my music. It wasn't the style that turned me on, but I did definitely appreciate the people that could for their talent."

Morse tells me about a few of the now-famous musicians who went to school with him, including Patti Scialfa, wife of Bruce Springsteen, who was a vocalist in some of his classes.

"When I first got there, I came from a small city in Georgia and to hear people like that, wow, these are just normal human beings! It must be a lot harder for me to play music that I thought," Morse laughs.

In addition to his hands-on musical endeavors, Morse still writes for several publications, including Guitar Player magazine. And he somehow still manages to find time for fun and one of his passions-- flying.

"Today I was flying the acrobatic plane, it's a Yak 55, just a big engine with a little cockpit, just enough room for one person. I have a Cessna 180 and Janine (Morse's girlfriend) has a 182 that I got for her, she's going to learn how to fly." Morse continues, "I have a motorglider, it's basically a high performance sailplane with a retractable two-stroke motor which comes out of the fuselage. That's how we get up in the air, then I shut it down and crank it back in the fuselage. I really love doing that. And I have my boy and Janine has two girls and I have two stepsons from another marriage, lots of kids. They don't all live with me, just the three, the two stepsons live just down the road. They're all skateboarders."

"Do you skateboard too?" I ask.

"Just a little bit," Morse affirms. "When Kevin was first learning, I skateboarded enough to show him what I knew and then promptly broke my wrist when I was trying to demonstrate something. So I stopped doing that. It was three days before a tour and I had to go on tour with two broken bones in my wrist, with a cast on, and tour the world. I broke my fingers, it was the toughest gig I ever had.

"Right now I out on the tractor trying to straighten out the driveway, it's been raining. I work, I do a little carpentry, building ramps for Kevin and little half-pipes for him to skate on."

We return to discuss music and Morse's approach to writing.

"There's different approaches depending who you're working with, for example, with the Dregs I'm lucky enough to where I can pretty much bring in an idea that I believe strongly in and commit the other guys to playing it. With Deep Purple it's best not to bring anything in already done because chances are slim that it's going to get accepted just the way it is." Morse explains, "The band prefers to throw in their two-cents worth all along, so it's best to just, if you have a general idea, keep that in mind, but don't really work on it too much because it's just going to get changed. I bring it in and I try to write and edit myself very very quickly, on the spot, and if somebody says, 'Stop,' I'll give them three other choices right then. I try to keep momentum going and basically I just give them more ideas than they can handle and they pick the one that sounds like Deep Purple. That way it's not me telling them what the band should sound like, it's them picking things that are flying by."

We discuss today's music scene.

"I think it's changed mostly because the video and recording business has changed, mostly because of the Internet," Morse says. "The music business seems a little more functional that ever before, that is there's music that's strictly called this, hip hop-slash-dance-slash-

R&B and they even have divisions in that, I mean real rigid divisions to some people. And then there's pop music that looks good on TV that's sort of show business, vaudeville, entertainment, where the singer's expression and facial profile make a big part of the sale of the music. Bands that have their own character don't seem to exist as much and don't seem to have as many outlets or places to play. And because of the Internet, the recording business is concentrating more and more on demographics, masses of people that are less likely to be on the Internet downloading stuff."

So does Morse use the Web?

"I use the Internet as a reference tool," Morse tells me. "There used to be weather on the Weather Channel for instance. I remember I've seen it, I was there when the Weather Channel was started, we were living in Atlanta too. We used to talk to some of the people. Slowly over time it became, I don't know what it became, but you can never see the weather. So it's a lot quicker, even with an incredibly slow dial-up connection like we have here, there's no cables, to go to a Web site. In fact the channel's Web site is way quicker to get weather than the TV show. If people want to find out when we're touring, they can find out. In that sense, the Internet has given, as well as taken away with my livelihood."

Morse gives me his opinion as to why Deep Purple has survived.

"Part of it is it didn't take them very long to come back after they broke up and when they did, they came back strong with 'Perfect Strangers,' and it was the original lineup. Ever since then they've never stopped touring and I mean never stopped. It's not like the band is making a series of comebacks, the band for the last 20 years has played constantly with no more than a couple of months off, mostly outside of the United States, of course," says Morse. "But now we're starting to include the United States more. I think that's a big part of it, for us anyhow, to tour on a regular basis, a somewhat regular basis. A real difference is you can go to five shows in a row and hear different stuff each time because during the solo segments and the feature segments there's always going to be different things, because that's one of our points of pride to try to play a different solo each time and it's bare expression to the audience."

I remark on their popularity in India and ask him about it.

"Probably not that many people have cultivated the Indian market because first of all, every album they sell is counterfeited, so there's nothing in it for the artist from that standpoint," Morse tells me. "The record company is never going to say you need to go to India. And secondly, at the time, I don't know how it is now, but at the time we played there it was impossible to take their money out of the country and so basically your gigs are charity gigs. In fact, we usually play for incredibly low ticket prices for a huge number of people in the name of some charity and then our expenses come from some huge sponsor.

"It's basically like they're buying the airline tickets and the hotel room and stuff, so it can all work out. Those two things alone would be the kind of business disincentive. But for Deep Purple, we pretty much have to play every town, every place that likes rock and roll and they really love music, they really love the band. I don't know exactly why. Partly because the band has been around a long time, yet there are current enough albums where people from many generations can jump on the train and get into it," Morse sums up.

The future shows no signs of rest for Morse.

"I have solo album coming out called 'Major Impacts II.' Major influences on me, the album is written in the styles of different artists that were big influences on me, but instead of making a tribute album where I play their music and just reproduce it instrumentally, I actually write original music that sounds like the artists." Morse offers more, "There's artists like The Who, Aerosmith, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Crosby, Stills and Nash, all with guitar. And then bluegrass and Bach, all on this album. Lynard Skynard's another one, ZZ Top's another one. So it's a real writing challenge and it's something that I think is totally different. It's not like a normal tribute album. It's on Magna Carta, the label does a lot of weird progressive things."

We're getting along well and Morse feels comfortable enough with me to share a story.

"I was at a Spinal Tap gig where they invited me to jam with them which is a real cool thing." Morse remembers, "Sometime in the show there was a break and I overheard them seriously arguing about the arrangement of something, like really yelling. It was so amazing that they were so into it. They put on an act that they're sort of morons to get a laugh, but they were so into it. They were upset if something didn't go right. It was so neat. They're musicians who want to be comics, but when they want to be comics, they also want to be good musicians."

Before parting ways, I ask Morse what advice he would give to an aspiring musician.

"I think it would be great if every player could play what they love first. Reality sometimes dictates compromises to be made in almost anything, but never stop creating or trying to perform what you really love. That's ultimately what you can sell the best," says Morse. "And another thing would be, for an up-and-coming musician, to play at least once a week in front of people even if it's just friends in the garage. Force yourself to prepare something new every week. You'll learn a lot about, know the difference between playing something after 10 tries in your bedroom by yourself and playing it on the spot with people watching. That's very important to learn the difference, for instance, how ingrained something really needs to be in order to play it convincingly on the spot.

"And never forget the responsibility that people have that have microphones, that have writing positions, that have TV shows, that have guitars in their hands, they have a responsibility to use that mode of communication to enlighten people." Morse adds, "At some gigs it seems like that's an impossibility, but it can always be done to some extent."

"That's beautiful," I comment in awe of his powerful and wise words.

"I can preach forever," Morse laughs.

Discover where Deep Purple has been and where they are today at www.deeppurple.com

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