There has always been a certain segment of the entertainment paparazzi who believe there's an age limit when it comes to rock and roll, a mantra that suggests that if you don’t fall within a certain age bracket, you need to either disappear or die.
So it’s no surprise that guitarist Steve Morse, now entering his 19th year with Deep Purple, says it’s easy to see how a journalist getting a review copy of the band’s new album might shrug his shoulders and say, Now What?!.
Considering the time commitment that’s involved in spending months writing, recording and traveling, Morse sees the return on investment for creating a new album these days mainly as one of artistic satisfaction.
But aside from the reflection of ignorant reviewers and the subtle nuance of the title, the band’s first album of new material in eight years is a refreshing sonic blend that comes from a variety of influences, with the song “Above and Beyond” being a classic example.
Morse originally wrote the song with a vision of the band possibly recording with a full-fledged orchestra.
“People have used the term ‘prog-rock’ when describing parts of the album because of that kind of thing,” Morse says. “But I think it's good to have different influences.”
Then there’s “Vincent Price,” an eerie, yet catchy track that started out with a much busier riff. The band already had a lot of creative ideas flowing when they met up with producer Bob Ezrin, who encouraged them to try different things and ultimately played a big part in helping to simplify the song and make it work.
And then there's that song title — "Vincent Price."
“Don [Airey] is usually in charge of creating ironic, funny working titles for songs and was the one who came up with that title, which basically just described the mood of the song," Morse says. "Then we discovered Bob had worked with the real Vincent Price in the past, and Ian Gillan loves using biographical references in everything he writes. So it just took off from there.”
The band dedicated Now What?! to the memory of longtime Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord. Morse remembers when he heard of Lord’s passing last summer.
“I was overdubbing guitar parts when Ian Paice told me the news," he says. "I remember being surprised, because I had just recently been in contact with Jon. I had played several parts during his Concerto recording and even got a warm email from him saying how much he had loved the result. Although he never spoke a word about it, I thought his treatment was going well. It just hit me like a ton of bricks.”
After his nearly two decades with Deep Purple, I asked Morse to reminisce a little on how he became a part of the “Unholy Trinity” of British hard rock, an honor shared with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
“After [Ritchie] Blackmore left the band in the early '90s, [Joe] Satriani filled in for a stint and did a few tours. It was during that time when it was decided that the band needed to have another full-time member. Even though Satriani had enjoyed it very much, he really wanted to get back to doing his own thing.
"By that point, the band needed a different dynamic, and I just happened to be the guy who could fill the slot of what they needed. And certainly not what Ritchie Blackmore had been doing. I couldn't do that or be that same person. I'm more of a facilitator or an idea guy. I come up with a lot of possibilities for a given situation. It's something I've always been good at.”
In addition to the new album and tour with Deep Purple, Morse continues to work on other projects as well; including being five songs deep into the next Flying Colors album.
“The biggest challenge right now is scheduling.” Morse says when asked about the timing of its completion. “Purple is working and [Mike] Portnoy has a few projects going on, so there isn't much time off right now. But we'll get it done.”
When asked if he has any advice to offer aspiring guitarists, Morse is quick to answer.
"Play what you love. We don't need any more people in entertainment who aren't driven solely by creative and artistic love and the need to express themselves. If you think you’re going to get into music to make a lot of money, your odds are better with lottery tickets. If you really want to make a living of it, you need to spend time improving yourself as a musician; and that means practicing, writing, recording, making contacts and learning about the business.”
Morse’s philosophy can actually relate to any vocation and not just on finding longevity as a successful musician. The truth is, you'll always get plenty of opportunities in life to prove yourself. But when the time comes, it's up to you to be able to deliver the goods.