Steve Morse Residency at Berklee March 26-28, 2012 (what it was like)

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.

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Larry Finn (drums), Joe Santerre (bass) Steve Morse (guitar) and Jon Finn (guitar)

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Jon Finn and Steve Morse kneeling at the altar of effects

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Jon Finn and Steve Morse Jamming in 1996

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7 Responses to Steve Morse Residency at Berklee March 26-28, 2012 (what it was like)

  1. Maxime Bezencon says:

    Very nice article Jon, I was at both clinics and at the Modern Rock Guitar class also. it was just amazing to see one of my biggest influence and being able to talk to him. (He is in my Top 3 of favorite guitar player..)

    Thanks a lot


  2. Joe Feloni says:

    WOW! Great post Jon. I am so glad to hear you had such a great experience. I remember when I was so excited to play on the bill with you and the Steve Morse Band at the Channel in 1990 or so, a million years ago with the Brian Washburn Band. Awesome bro. Hope you are great!! It sounds it!

  3. 3shiftgtr says:

    Awesome Jon. I remember hearing Cruise Control from the Free Fall record while cleaning my room in high school. I stopped cleaning and played it 4 times in a row….it changed EVERYTHING. I had never been so inspired by anything in my life EVER at that time! I’ve met and hung with Steve several times and everything you say is true. He’s the real deal. I’m just jealous…you got to pick with him! Keeewwwllll……

  4. Dave Bova says:

    Excellent work Jon. What a great opportunity to work and play music with the great Steve Morse, the “unsung hero” of millions of guitar players out there. Yrs I’m a little bit jealous! Such a highly respected musician and personality, Mr Morse. If there’s one thing that I really really like about him apart from his intelligence, integrity, tenacity and talent it’s his lightness and down to earth character. His positive attitude and respect for others is awesome and that can only be reciprocal. Good on ya mate, good memory to have…


  5. Bill Mason says:

    Does he offer up anything about your playing?
    Are there areas you disagree?
    Does his amp go to eleven?

    • Jon says:

      Hi Bill!

      He told me he liked my playing a lot but we didn’t discuss it a lot. My role was to be the “sidekick that helps him along”. There were plenty of areas where we respectfully disagree with each other. But for me it’s all good. His opinions are what makes him play the way he does. Even though I’m a rabid Steve Morse fan, I don’t really seek to play like him. His amp goes to 27. But he only turns it up to 18

  6. I could have written that first paragraph myself. The only difference is, I believe, is that my baptism was with the bash. I, of course had to find everything that this mad guitar genius had done. If I hear of the two of you playing together again, I just might spring the money for the travel it takes me to get there. (I live in Arizona) Two of my favorite players on stage together!! WHEW!!!!

    Eric (better known in these parts as “Finncenerated”

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