Steve Morse is reflecting these days. One of the tracks from his band Deep Purple’s 2017 album, inFinite, is called “Johnny’s Band.” Presented as a longform video and song, it conveys a deeper story, too. Morse describes it as “a bittersweet story about how everything has its time, and when that time’s over, the music lives on.”
Since the 1960s, Deep Purple have served as pioneers of heavy metal and hard rock — and as influences on generations of bands ranging from Queen and Metallica to Bon Jovi and Alice in Chains. Never mind that “Smoke on the Water” is the first song many guitarists learn to play.
Twenty studio albums later, Deep Purple’s latest tracks were recorded in the spirit of the ’70s. The writing and recording process followed suit.
“It was organic, old-school,” Morse says. “We had writing sessions sequestered away, along with [producer] Bob Ezrin, and did some work in the Nashville studio where Elvis used to record. The band was there in a circle, playing together.”
Listeners are drawn in from track one, spotting the band’s most beloved elements along the way.
“Gillan’s lyrics always have way more meaning than people realize,” Morse says. “He loves the cryptic crosswords, where you have to figure out the hidden meaning before the actual word? And he writes his lyrics that way.”
Currently on a worldwide farewell jaunt called The Long Goodbye Tour, Deep Purple are also in the midst of releasing three albums: Johnny’s Band EP on August 8; Classic Songs Live in Concert on August 18; and a career-spanning anthology, A Fire in the Sky, on September 8.
Phoenix New Times spoke with Morse in advance of Deep Purple’s farewell stop in Phoenix. As The Dixie Dregs founder, a member of Kansas and Flying Colors, and Deep Purple’s guitarist since 1994, Morse has a style that encompasses rock, jazz, classical, and funk. Rated as a top international guitarist for years, his complex chord structures, rapid arpeggio picking, and improvised harmonics have made him a major influence in music.
New Times: Nowadays, albums can be recorded anywhere, any time. inFinite’s process is a treat for fans.
Steve Morse: I do a lot of work like that, myself. That’s budget considerations; the way most underground musicians have to record. It’s a nice luxury to go back to the good old days and record as a band, together.
There are younger pop stars, like Harry Styles, channeling that ’70s energy into 2017 music.
I remember 1969, 1970, going to pop festivals where everyone was different: Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, Led Zeppelin. Now it’s festivals with 25 similar metal bands. It was a different energy in the ’70s; maybe they’re trying to bring it back. I also think that [modern festival structure] has to do with the way we consume entertainment.
How do you think technology has affected music’s mystique?
The negative is if you play a new, never-recorded song in a show, well guess what, you just basically published it on the internet. On the plus side, everyone can see when and where the gigs are, how to buy tickets.
What challenges you as a musician?
Classical concerts where the audience is silent. A mistake is naked for the world. I’ve played a classical concert in Carnegie Hall; that was more pressure than I was used to.
As such an influential guitarist, who out there continues to influence you?
My friends Bumblefoot, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci … those types of musicians who are really high-level and continue to get better.
Is this a real farewell tour?
It depends on who you ask now. It started off, clear as day, as a farewell tour, but now it’s going into next year because of all the different world stops. As far as I know, it’s still a farewell tour!
Deep Purple are scheduled to perform at Ak-Chin Pavilion on Tuesday, August 15. Tickets are $15 and up via Live Nation.
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