Steve Morse announces his departure from Deep Purple after 28 years with the band

Steve Morse onstage with Deep Purple in California, 2019
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Steve Morse has stepped down permanently from Deep Purple to care for his wife, Janine, who has cancer. Earlier in March, the guitarist announced that he would be taking a hiatus from the band, in the hope of returning to the fold once her health improved.

In a statement shared on the official Deep Purple Facebook page, Morse said that there was no way he could commit to tours under such circumstances. The situation had come to head in last fall, when Morse had to leave a writing session in Germany, after which he suggested to the band that they might need a substitute. Simon McBride duly stepped in to the touring lineup when Morse announced his hiatus.

“Almost a year later, we are learning to accept stage 4 aggressive cancer and chemo treatment for the rest of her life,” Morse wrote. “We both miss being at shows, but I simply couldn't commit to long, or far away tours, since things can change quickly at home. I suggested lining up a substitute guitarist last autumn, hoping we could see the miraculous cancer cure all of us have heard about. As time went by, I could see the way things were heading though, after 28 years of being in the band.”

I simply couldn't commit to long, or far away tours, since things can change quickly at home

Steve Morse

Morse’s final show with Deep Purple was at the Rock Legends Cruise on February 14. As for his replacement, Morse said that McBride had the gig “nailed”. 

“I’m now handing over the keys to the vault which holds the secret of how Ritchie’s Smoke on the Water intro was recorded,” Morse wrote. “I guess you have to jiggle the key just right because I never got it open.” 

Morse thanked fans for turning “every show from a dress rehearsal to a thundering, exciting experience” and said he will miss the band and crew.

“Being Janine’s helper and advocate has made a real difference at many key points,” he continued. “As Janine adjusts to her limitations, she is able to do many things on her own, so we will try to play some shorter nearby concert tours with friends to, hopefully, get both of us out of the house!”

Deep Purple's Roger Glover, Ian Gillan and Steve Morse play the Paramount Theater in Seattle, 2019

(Image credit: Jim Bennett/Getty Images)

Morse joined Deep Purple in 1994, recorded eight studio albums with the band, and is their longest-serving guitar player. Paying tribute to him, Ian Gillan described Morse as a “musical genius.”

“I first became aware of Steve through the Dixie Dregs, particularly the track Take it off the Top, which was the theme tune for Tommy Vance’s BBC rock show and impressed me mightily,” wrote Gillan. “I didn’t realise at the time that one day I would be lucky enough to stand on stage with Steve and enjoy his consummate skills up close and dangerous.

Steve has a legacy with Deep Purple that can never be forgotten, and that smile will be missed

Ian Gillan

“I got to know him as a very kind man, full of ideas and the patience to see them developed. He would say, ‘You never know until you try it’. We sure had some fun debating that approach, but mostly in good humor and he always gave as good as he got.

“Steve has a legacy with Deep Purple that can never be forgotten, and that smile will be missed. It would be wrong to comment on his personal circumstances, suffice to say he’s in a bad place right now but dealing with it bravely and as best he can; we all admire his devotion; he’s been a strong family man all his life.”

Drummer Ian Paice echoed Gillan’s comments that family came first, and that Morse’s talents had reinvigorated the band, presenting them with new ideas and musical possibilities. “Like most great creative musicians, he has the ability to come up with musical ideas that no one else has thought of,” wrote Paice.

Bassist Roger Glover said that playing with Morse was an education, and that the band had recorded some of their strongest material with him. 

“He’s a teacher, he inspired us, me in particular, with his energy, encouragement and wisdom, and his contribution and legacy in this band is beyond words,” he wrote. “He will be missed but our friendship will remain. Sadly, life has intervened, and different challenges are upon us. Janine needs him now, and my best wishes and thoughts go out to them.”

Don Airey, who joined the band on keys in 2002 after Jon Lord announced his retirement, described Morse as a “shining light both musically and personally”. With Paice, Glover, Gillan, Morse and Airey, Deep Purple enjoyed their most stable lineup in their history. 

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.