As a master of jazz-fusion, progressive, hard rock, and heavy metal, Steve Morse has touched millions with a guitar in hand. The broad spectrum of Morse’s work, which includes stops along the way with the Dixie Dregs, Kansas, and most notably, Deep Purple, is as awe-inspiring as it is expansive. To that end, Morse’s influences align with that narrative, spanning all genres creating a blissful stew of six-string ecstasy.
These days, Morse is no longer with Deep Purple, as family matters have taken priority. That said, Morse has gotten out and back up on stage with his namesake Steve Morse Band, treating fans to a change of pace in small, intimate venues. And that’s just fine by Morse, as it allows for a deeper musical connection with the fans and his guitar, that larger spaces sometimes mute. Live music and band departures aside, Morse remains an active listener, leading to a trip down memory lane with ClassicRock.History.com to run through the ten albums that changed his life.
Read on to take the journey…
Steve Morse: 10 Albums That Changed My Life
# 10 – Meet the Beatles – The Beatles (1964)
I first heard The Beatles on [the] Ed Sullivan [Show], which was a family show. I had gotten a small tape recorder and recorded it straight from our TV set speaker. I simply loved the energy, the flawless vocals, the interaction of the guitars, and, of course, the songwriting! Sometime later, after school, my friend invited us to come over to hear The Beatles album. We just sat there and listened, up until the love ballad, which we all agreed to skip, then every song afterward. It was the first time I had listened to an album I instantly loved!
# 9 – Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix (1967)
Jimi Hendrix had so much musical talent, of course. But because of his bold experiments with sounds and his fingering patterns turning up different types of phrasing (an unstandardized stringing for a lef-handed player), he sounded different than anyone I’d ever heard. His deep roots in American R&B, mixed with the English band members, gave him a new, explosive, and infectious sound.
# 8 – Live at Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band (1971)
Living at that time of my life in Georgia, the Allman’s were already legendary for playing at Piedmont Park for the people, always for free. Well, this album captures what the band was so good at: taking blues tunes, adding twists and turns, and very musical jamming… with lots of great guitar solos. Hearing Duane [Allman] and Dickey [Betts] ‘s double guitar lines, sometimes in octaves, harmonies, or unison, sounded very powerful and drew me into their arrangements. Getting to know more about them from our friends associated with them has shown me that they got to be a huge band by loving to play.
# 7 – Wheels of Fire – Cream (1968)
A great double, half-live album. I got to see Cream play in Atlanta, and I was very impressed. Eric [Clapton] was one of the smoothest guitarists I had heard. He wasn’t some young, flashy player who had just learned how to play fast. He was very experienced and naturally played great phrasing on every solo. I’ve never heard him play a bad solo!
# 6 – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)
Actually, this was so appealing not just for the great guitar playing, but the sense of how to emphasize riffs in an arrangement of a song really made me a big Jimmy Page fan. Sound choices, choosing when to play melodically in a solo, balancing the rhythm parts with the riffs, and obvious production talent made his work outstanding to me.
I saw them play live also when this album came out, and I was hooked. Jimmy played “Black Mountainside” on a semi-acoustic (I was too far back to be sure) and did another solo with a violin bow and tape echo, always trying to come up with sonic variety, which really made an impression. I went so far as to copy a lot of what he did when playing local gigs, even buying a violin bow to do “Dazed and Confused.”
# 5 – Truth by Jeff Beck (1968)
Jeff Beck’s playing was already legendary to me from The Yardbirds. But this group, with Rod Stewart, gave him the perfect platform to show his powerful playing, musical phrasing, and just raw talent. I wish they had stayed working together longer! There may be people who didn’t love Beck’s playing, but I’ve never met one.
# 4 – Tarkus by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1971)
I’ve always felt comfortable trying some things on the keyboard, but I was never a keyboard player. ELP didn’t even have a guitarist on most everything. But the arrangements, the sounds, and the aggressive rock playing really got to me. Previously, I thought the best-sounding organ of all time was Steve Winwood’s main motif on “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Keith Emerson introduced hard core; heavy keyboard shred mixed with great arrangements to my curious mind.
# 3 – Fragile by Yes (1971)
“Roundabout” was one of the greatest tunes I had ever heard. It combined Steve Howe’s unusual phrasing and style with such a fantastic band. Hearing Steve play on an acoustic Spanish guitar illustrated to me, once again, that having sonic variety is a great thing for a guitarist to be able to do.
# 2 – Inner Mounting Flame by Mahavishnu Orchestra (1971)
While attending the University of Miami Music School, I was exposed to lots of traditional be-bop jazz, which wasn’t always appealing to me. I learned of John McLaughlin’s playing on some of the jazz albums I was exposed to. However, when I heard him with Mahavishnu, it really changed me because it gave me hope that I could continue to mix styles of music and have a chance of reaching an audience.
That group from this album was booked to play at my school, and the rain forced them to move the concert into our school cafeteria. I happened to be at the right place at the right time and was able to sit directly in front of John McLaughlin for the entire concert. They were so great, John’s writing and arrangements were spectacular, the guitar and violin sound worked so well, and Jan Hammer’s keyboard work was almost too much to comprehend. A big influence, obviously, to me!
# 1 – Well-Tempered Synthesizer by Wendy Carlos (formerly Walter Carlos) (1969)
I go on and on about how important Wendy Carlos [formerly Walter Carlos] was to my appreciation of classical music. For some reason, orchestral arrangements just didn’t reach me as a young man. However, hearing a piece by Beethoven, Bach, Mantovani, or Handel, played by a genius at arrangement, changed everything.
They [Rachel Elkind and Wendy Carlos] recorded every part laboriously as monophonic separate tracks. They used the analog Moog modules to shape the sounds that fit so well and complement the music. So, by making the sound and presentation so powerful, I was able to see the incredible detail and talent in the compositions, which helped to shape my own writing.
Steve Morse Interview: 10 Albums That Changed My Life article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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