I first heard Dixie Dregs way back in the late 70′s when a friend of mine whipped out a copy of of “What If” and played the tune “Ice Cakes.” He qualified it with, “Ya GOTTA hear this.” Typically, I get skeptical in moments like that. But this time I was utterly blown away. “Ice Cakes” and all the other tracks on the record were a perfect blend of a wide range of genres. Deep and detailed compositions, sniper-like execution, emotional, dynamic, funny, smart-ass, sensitive… pretty close to being a perfect work. I didn’t know that kind of playing was even possible at the time. My direction as a musician was forever altered at that moment.
Over the years, I’ve had the great fortune to meet Steve Morse and all of his bandmates (including Dave Larue, who’s a close friend and we’ve worked together many times…) several times. Further, I’ve even gotten to jam with him a few times in a few different situations.
A week ago (as of this writing), Steve came up to Berklee to spend three days doing a “Major Artist Residency.” The idea is that he’s available enough that anyone who wants to can pick his brains in detail. Of course I was excited about the prospect because I’m such a giddy fan.
Then Berklee asked me to be intimately involved in the process. Make sure his gear needs, and organizational duties are sorted out. Of course I said yes. Over the weeks leading up, Steve and I exchanged several emails over how best to approach it. Steve really wanted to make sure that school got what they needed. He DIDN’T want it to be “just another clinic.”
On the day he arrived, I called him to discuss any last-minute needs. During that conversation we both agreed that he should perform at the clinic that would take place at Berklee Performance Center (1,500 seat theater on-campus).
It was something that, for whatever reason had fallen off our radar. But with so many talented musicians around, I assured him that getting great people to play wouldn’t be hard. I called Joe Santerre and Larry Finn to play drums and bass. They said yes immediately. Steve asked me to play 2nd guitar. I stammered, “errr… aaaa…. yes” because I knew I’d regret it if I refused. Jamming with Steve is like playing basketball with Michael Jordan.
I can’t tell you how impressed I was with everything that happened. I got to spent three days of my life hanging out with a major musical influence. I had tons of opportunity to ask him all the questions I’d always wanted to ask:
-How to approach all those chromatic lines when you improvise?
-What do you think about when you compose a tune?
-How/where do you find your inspiration?
-How do you set up your live rig?
-What made you set up that “Frankenstein” strat/tele you built years ago?
Most of his answers were surprising, but sensible. Overall, he seems to have a clear picture of what he wants, then sets about creating it in reality. Whether he’s digging a hole, building a guitar, flying a plane or writing a song, the task is already finished in his mind. From there, it’s a question of how to get it done.
Mostly, I learned that he’s the real deal. He’s so not interested in being a rock star. He does it because that’s what he does best. But for him it’s all about the music and how much he loves it.
Steve, thanks for another life-changing moment. I’ll never forget it.