Steve Morse’s resumé reads part renaissance man, part hired gun. Rock, country, funk, jazz, classical and fusion music — those styles are all in there, somewhere, on the 47 albums he’s been part of so far.
He’s done stints with Dixie Dregs, The Steve Morse Band, Kansas, Deep Purple, Angelfire and Living Loud, as well as tons of solo work.
Morse took a break from the music industry for a while to become a commercial airline pilot. But it wasn’t that long before he returned to music to perform on a live recording with Lynyrd Skynyrd, a move that reminded him where his passion lay.
These days, Morse keeps busy with his solo work, collaborative projects and Deep Purple, and he still enjoys flying as an escape. So exactly what kind of albums could be notable enough to influence Steve Morse? If you guessed it would be an eclectic bunch, you’re right.
I saw them on TV, and they sounded incredible. I had just gotten a small reel-to-reel tape recorder. I put the microphone up to the TV speakers and made my first bootleg. I listened to it and loved the sound that they got. Then, one of my school friends invited me over to listen to The Beatles album they had bought. It was the best-sounding music I had ever heard. I never got the money together to buy that album, but my brother and I did buy a four-song EP that included “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Yes, I know some of their sound was straight Chuck Berry style, but most of it was a new kind of pop-rock called surf music. I didn’t really care about surfing, but to my young ears, they sounded great, and still do.
This was typical of their albums for me, several songs that I just loved, and many others that were pretty good. I loved the guitar work and the feel of their music. I didn’t have a very long attention span at that time in my life, but it suited me fine.
Every song pretty much spoke to me and still does. Jimi could play with such melodic fury and always played such great rhythmic parts, too.
I was in a band at the time, and I remember the bass player saying, “It seems like there’s no way anybody can do a better record than this; they are such geniuses.” I wasn’t such a big fan until I heard this; then I had to agree. The vocal harmony made me think of a much-hipper Beach Boys; then I heard so many more influences that appealed to me. Actually, I really liked when Neal Young came aboard, too, later on.
I loved their first one, too. This album, however, had every single song sounding perfect to me. Jimmy Page was one of my many guitar heroes, partially because he was so great at coming up with riffs that sounded and felt fantastic.
7. Tallis Scholars
Yes, this one is highly unlikely for somebody who still plays in Deep Purple. But it’s awe inspiring to hear such a perfect performance of an a cappella vocal group performing weaving, carefully written music from long ago. It’s one of those albums that I can only listen to with complete attention and quiet.
8. Mahavishnu Orchestra
“The Inner Mounting Flame”
John McLaughlin will always be one of my heroes because of his superlative playing and writing. He literally charges forward with whatever he believes in, regardless of what is in fashion. He created the blend of jazz and rock that I modeled shortly after that album came out, before we began to infuse our own country influences. I still tour occasionally with one of the original Mahavishnu members, Jerry Goodman. This album is raw, energetic, and the style was so new and inspiring to me.
I came late to the party of appreciating beautiful sounding female vocalists. But this album became one of my favorites because of the haunting, immaculate vocals plus the lush synth arrangements. It’s the kind of album I would play to relax. Yes, it was later in my life that I ever did want to relax, but this one was special; every track sounds appealing to me. It is one of the inspirations that led me to record my own discovery, Sarah Spencer, with a voice that can soothe anybody, any time, in our album called “Angelfire.”
10. Walter Carlos
“The Well-Tempered Synthesizer”
Here is possibly the most amazing album I’ve ever heard. Walter Carlos performed each note laboriously on separate tracks, carefully creating each sound with old Moog patch-cord synthesizers. He picked the pieces perfectly to make them come alive thousands more with his amazing arrangements. I don’t even have a recording of it anymore, just the memory burned in to my brain of the best classical pieces of all time. By the way, Walter Carlos had a sex change operation shortly after this album, and became Wendy Carlos, which totally freaked me out. But, I will always see and appreciate the genius of the most well-planned musical arrangements of my lifetime.