A guitar legend leads his revolutionary band back onto the road 40 years after they first blazed musical trails.
By Steve Houk
Ya know, Steve Morse is not hurting for work.
The 63 year-old guitar master with the exceptional 40-plus year career just got off the road with legendary hard rockers and Hall of Famers Deep Purple, who have been going longer than even Morse has but still sell out shows worldwide, and in this most recent case, it was Europe and South America that got its Smoke On The Water goin’ on. Morse has played and written with Purple since 1994, amidst multiple other dynamic collaborations and fulfilling projects that have always come fast and easy to such a renowned player as Steve Morse is.
So then why resurrect one of the most well-known hard rock fusion bands of all time? I mean, the band was formed almost 50 years ago. Well, because the guys can still flat out play, and also because the last time they got together, tragedy surrounded them near their short tour’s end, so Morse and his mates yearned for a fresh reboot.
“We had been doing little reunions every year,” Morse told me just before beginning tour rehearsals with his Dregs bandmates. “However, the last time we got together, my father died near the end of the tour, then our keyboard player T Lavitz died, then Mark Parrish died. So recently, I said, ‘Tell you what. Why don’t we get together and play, do some songs. Let’s just do some Free Fall songs and see how it feels before we go crazy with anything.’ And we did. That was last January, and everyone did really well. If anybody was struggling it was me. I could play the stuff in my sleep, but playing it for real…”
Dixie Dregs (also known as just The Dregs later on) were a unique musical powerhouse in the 70’s and 80’s, a stunningly strong band that fused elements of hard rock, Southern Rock, even classical and jazz. They were on Leno, Letterman, and touring constantly. The music vibe fit a versatile player like Morse to a tee.
Now, four decades later, the Dregs just finished up rehearsals and are embarking on a major world tour, with a stop at DC’s Lincoln Theater on Wednesday March 7th. It’s the complete original Dregs lineup to boot, with Morse, Rod Morgenstein, Allen Sloan, Andy West and Steve Davidowski. So how does Morse think a bonafide Dregs reunion fits in to the music world in the 21st century?
“I think it’s almost like rebuilding a classic car,” the engaging Morse said. “When you get it finished and if you make it look really nice, it draws a lot of attention. But the reason it does is because there’s not very many of them around. And because of that there aren’t very many places to get parts, and there aren’t many places to get service. And there’s not that many shows for them. So I guess there are fewer musicians in the position of being able to, say, be a bass player in a fusion band. And there are fewer places to hone that craft. Fewer gigs. So if you have a band, especially one that’s been around before and has some, you know, history, if you do a good job, I think it does attract a little bit more attention.”
Being a member of a legendary yet waning band like Deep Purple for the last 25 years has been a powerful experience for Morse. He has been instrumental in helping to revive and sustain a band that really helped form the hard rock sound, and the band still has a rabid and loyal following worldwide. But who knew that replacing an iconic departed guitarist in Ritchie Blackmore made even a virtuoso like Morse the recipient of some fan backlash when he joined up.
“Everything was so great for me when I started playing with them. And then the first year when we played England, it got a little less great. There was a bunch of embedded fans that just didn’t like not having Ritchie, and they were ready to take it out on whoever was within throwing distance. There was a certain percentage of the congregation who didn’t get converted. They were a minority but tried the best to have the biggest possible internet voice. It’s not a job for the fainthearted.”
Morse is quite reflective as he sees himself and his bandmates aging, and some passing, so the urgency to give the Dregs one more real try was palpable.
“The true world is that every month people hear about musicians dying, whether it’s Tom Petty or someone else. Everywhere we look. We’ve had two keyboard players already die and I think it’s starting to dawn on people my age that, you know, it doesn’t last forever. The music may last forever, but being able to play for my life is not going to last forever.”
The Dixie Dregs perform Wednesday March 7th at the Lincoln Theater, 1215 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009. For tickets, click here.