Dixie Dregs Live In Huntington, New York 2018 – Photo: Thomas Neokleous © 2018
“The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life,” was a phrase coined by Frank Zappa
to describe his 1988 touring band that broke up before most people got a chance to hear how great they were. While many hardcore rock have heard the Dixie Dregs, there are so many that have not, and that is almost criminal because the Dregs were on a level of their own. The Dixie Dregs music has always been difficult to classify or label. Like many great classic Progressive Rock bands such as The Moody Blues
, Jethro Tull
and even Queen
and Led Zeppelin
, the Dixie Dregs music crossed many genres. Perhaps more than any other band, record stores had a difficult time finding the right section of music to place their albums. Were they Rock, Blues, Bluegrass, Jazz, Country, Southern Rock, Progressive Rock, Funk, Classical or Baroque? In short, they were all of those styles. Their music was so original; radio stayed away from them because they did not fit any specific format. Nonetheless, the band did form a large cult following who collected every album the band released and flocked to the band’s unforgettable live concerts.
The Dixie Dregs were formed in the early 1970’s by guitarist Steve Morse and bassist Andy West at the University Of Miami’s School of Music. At the school, Morse and West met violinist Allen Sloan, keyboardist Steve Davidowski, and drummer Rod Morgenstein. Jazz keyboardist T. Lavitz who would later replace Davidowski on piano, was also attending the school at the same time. The University Of Miami’s school of Music served as the breeding ground for many jazz legends including Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny and Danny Gottlieb.
The band would go through several lineup changes over the next 40 years. Bassist Dave La Rue would replace Any West, bluegrass violinist Mark O’Connor and former Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jerry Goodman would also perform in the band. The band’s members would occasionally do side projects as well. Steve Morse would release a series of spectacular solo albums and form the three-piece Steve Morse Band. In 1985, Steve Morse joined the legendary progressive rock band Kansas as the groups new lead guitarist. Steve Morse recorded two powerhouse albums with the band entitled Power in 1985 and In The Spirit of Things in 1988.
Kansas was not the only legendary band that Steve Morse has performed in besides the Dixie Dregs. In 1994, the classic rock world announced the news that Steve Morse had joined forces with Deep Purple as the band’s new guitarist replacing the iconic Richie Blackmore. As a member of Deep Purple, Steve Morse has spent twenty-two years with the band and recorded seven studio albums with the group including the albums Purpendicular in 1996, Abandon in 1998, Bananas in 2003,Rapture of the Deep in 2005, Now What? in 2013 and Infinite in 2016. Interestingly, Steve Morse has recorded almost as many studio albums with Deep Purple as he has with The Dixie Dregs. In the 21st Century, Steve Morse has also either collaborated, formed and played in the bands Living Loud, Anglefire and Flying Colors.
Dixie Dregs drummer Rod Morgenstein has also been busy outside of his career with the Dixie Dregs. In the 1990’s, Rod Morgenstien would join the metal band Winger. Morgensteins’s virtuoso drumming skills were also a major force in the jazz fusion band Jazz Is Dead. The Jazz is Dead band had garnered a large cult following of fans who loved hearing Jazz is Dead’s jazz fusion interpretations of classic Grateful Dead material.
The Dixie Dregs have released seven studio albums and four live albums over the past 40 years. The group has recorded and performed sporadically over time, but when they have entered the studio or set foot on the stage together, they were just as spectacular ever.
The band released their debut album entitled debut album entitled Freefall in 1977. The following year in 1978 they released the album What If. The Dixie Dregs continued their yearly album release schedule in 1979 with the release of the album Night Of The Living Dregs. In 1980, the band released their fourth album, Dregs Of The Earth. The band shortened their name from the Dixie Dregs to simply just The Dregs in 1981. With the name change the band released the album Unsung Heroes. The band would release one more album in the 1980’s entitled Industry Standard in 1982. With the release of Industry Standard the band would end to their six-year streak of releasing an album every year. The band would not release another album for twelve years. Their final studio album was released in 1994 entitled Full Circle.
Our Top 15 Essential Dixie Dregs songs list looks at some of the bands most important material. Like we said before, the Dixie Dregs music crossed many genres. However the Dixie Dregs were also revolutionary in the way they utilized the violin in their music. The violin was a distinctive part of their sound much in the way the flute defined the sound of Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson’s Jethro Tull and the Dixie Dregs were very comparable in how utilized a traditional classical instrument and turned it into a powerful rock and roll ax. The biggest difference between Jethro Tull and The Dixie Dregs was the Dregs music was ninety-nine percent instrumental.
If you have never heard of the Dixie Dregs well than this will be “The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life,” We think this is a great place to get started. If you’re a long time Dixie Dregs fan let us know how we did and add any comments you think would be helpful is promoting the music of the great Dixie Dregs.
# 15 – FREE FALL
We begin our Essential Dixie Dregs songs list 15 with the opening track from the band’s debut album in 1977 entitled Free Fall. The song opens with Steve Morse’s guitar followed by the melody played on violin by Allan Sloan. Andy west comes in with a bass solo around the 36 sec. mark, followed by a synth solo by Steve Davidowski with Allan Sloan doubling on violin. More great fiddle work around 1:39. A keyboard solo at 2:00 is juxtaposed against Allan Sloan’s violin work.. Steve Morse comes in around the three-minute mark with Steve Davidowski doubling on keys to finish out the track.
# 14 – COUNTRY HOUSE SHUFFLE
This great Dixie Dregs song was released on the album Night of the Living Dregs in 1979. This one starts off with an African sounding drum solo by Rod Morgenstein which evolves quickly into a shuffle rhythm followed by the intro of bass doubling over guitar, then the main melody of violin over guitar, Rod’s shuffle rhythm keeping everything together. Extreme “Dregginess.”
# 13 – ICE CAKES
“Ice Cakes,” was released on the album What If in 1978. The song “Ice Cakes,” begins with Steve Morse doing the real tasty chicken finger picking’ thing on guitar on top an amazing linear funk pattern played by Rod Morgenstein. Perhaps the coolest thing about this is that you can hear Rod grunting and groaning in the background as they play. After Steve Morse’s incredible solo the synth and violin battle back and forth before we come back to Rod’s Funky grunting drumbeat, the main theme and the chicken picking from the beginning. Rod does something really cool with a single bass drum at 4:32 that you will have never heard before. Don’t miss it.
# 12 – WAGES OF WEIRDNESS
Continuing with our 15 Essential Dixie Dregs songs we turn to another song which uses the country picking’ guitar style over a funky drum and bass pattern. It then goes into a crazy jazzy piano part and then back again. Amazing playing throughout at breakneck speed. The song ends on a riff on the theme from the famous western The Magnificent Seven
(more tongue in cheek humor).
#11 – LEPRECHAUN PROMENADE
“Leprechaun Promenade,” was released on the Night Of The Living Dregs
album in1979. This dark and scary track is full of great violin work with a middle section that is reminiscent of the dreamy section in the middle of Led Zeppelin’s“Whole Lotta’ Love.”
followed by a shuffle rhythm from a monster movie. A true Dixie Dregs classic.
#10 – ASSEMBLY LINE
“Assembly Line,” is the opening track on 1982’s Industry Standard. It opens with Andy and Rod playing a very industrial sounding bass and drum pattern, Mark O’Connor and Steve Morse come in on violin and guitar as the song unfolds. Amazing solos by everyone on this tune, especially T. Lavtz’ piano and Rod’s smoking drum solo.
# 9 – THE BASH
From Night Of The Living Dregs 1979, “The Bash” is a mash-up of two Country Western and Bluegrass tunes. Always a crowd pleaser at any Dregs show.
# 8 – NIGHT OF THE LIVING DREGS
The great title track from the album Night Of The Living Dregs released in 1979, The song features Andy West playing his tail off on bass with Rod’s thunderous double bass drumming throughout the whole tune. Great guitar and violin solos as usual.
# 7 – ODYSSEY
The great Dixie Dregs song “Odyssey,” was released on the What If
album released in 1979. “Odyssey,” is sort of a musical journey. It takes the listener through various musical genres, tempos and time signatures. Steve’s opening guitar line is reminiscent of Igor Stravinsky’s
“The Rite Of Spring.” The whole band comes in with a Kansas
meets Jethro Tull
style of playing. The recording of Odyssey is the ultimate jazz fusion meets progressive rock melting pot of originality and pure rock and roll joy.
# 6 – NIGHT MEETS LIGHT
Continuing with our Essential Dixie Dregs songs list we once again return to the great What If? album for the track “Night meets Light.” The track is one of three Dixie Dregs songs including “Hereafter,” and “Day 444,” that have an open airy feeling to them, with no apparent time signature or pulse, but rather just interweaving textures.
# 5 – GO FOR BAROQUE
The great Dixie Dregs song “Go For Baroque,” is the closing track on the Unsung Heroes album that was released in 1981. The song was an all acoustic number performed in a style (Dreggified of course), The music is as tongue in cheek as the title.
# 4 – WHAT IF?
The Dixie Dregs song“ What If” is the title track from their 1979 album What If?
The song is a ballad which features one of Steve Morse’s most passionate solos. One of those great late night drive home songs. It is reminiscent of “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” From Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow
# 3 – BLOODSUCKING LEECHES
The Dixie Dregs song “Bloodsucking Leeches,” was released on the band’s Industry Standard
album which was released in 1982. The song showcases a medium tempo hard rock groove similar to Montrose’s Rock Candy. The song crosses the lines between country and jazz. It speeds up at the end to a “Hot For Teacher,”
meets Billy Cobham’s “Quadrant” double bass drum shuffle with a jazzy ride cymbal over top to finish it off.
# 2 – CRUISE CONTROL
“Cruise Control,” is the only Dixie Dregs song to appear on two of their studio albums, Free Fall in 1977 and Unsung Heroes in 1981. “Cruise Control,” is a straight forward rocker with a heavy rolling bass and drum groove. Everyone gets a say in this one. The only differences between the two versions is an extended middle section on the Free Fall version and the fact that the Unsung Heroes version featured T. Lavitz on Keyboards.. One of the band’s great encore numbers.
# 1 – TAKE IT OFF THE TOP
We close our 15 Essential Dixie Dregs songs list with the phenomenal track “Take It Off The Top.” The song was released on the bands masterpiece What If” in 1979. To put it simply
“Take It Off The Top” is pure IN YOUR FACE ROCK AND ROLL. We could argue all day over how one should classify the band the Dixie Dregs. Like we said, they cross all musical genres. In the end, it just comes down to a handful of musicians who practiced their entire lives, became great musicians and played their butts off when they got together creating a sound that defined the word substance.