Steve Morse says that his biggest challenge in life was playing Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” live, with the backwards guitar solo


By Steve Newton

At first glance, Steve Morse might not seem like the ideal guy to take over Ritchie Blackmore’s guitarist spot in Deep Purple. He is undoubtedly a fantastic player, but he’s more noted for technically awesome country-fusion inflections than chunky power chords.

But as Morse points out from a Deep Purple tour stop in Akron, Ohio, he’s fairly accustomed to the straightforward riff.

“It feels pretty normal to me,” he explains. “I used to play rock ‘n’ roll before I did the Dregs stuff, and that was what I started on–Led Zeppelin and Cream. We even played ‘Hush’ way back when, when Deep Purple was still a pop band.”

Morse has been in Deep Purple for more than four years now, playing live and performing on Perpendicular (1996) and Abandon (1998). He stepped in when Blackmore split during the 1993 The Battle Rages On tour.

“They still had a tour to finish,” says Morse, “so they tried with Joe Satriani fillin’ in for them. He did great, and it kinda proved that the band could exist as long as it felt good about playin’ and everything. Then, when they set about looking for a permanent member, we talked about a trial period of four gigs, which we did, and it worked out really well.”

Morse claims that he wasn’t intimidated about stepping into Blackmore’s hallowed shoes, but he didn’t want to be a clone of the “man in black” either.

“[Blackmore’s] good,” says Morse, “and he wrote some good stuff to play, but my real interest was in the new material. I love playin’ with the guys, but if they just gonna do the old stuff and be a nostalgia act I wasn’t really into that–and neither were they, actually.”

Deep Purple may be striving to stay legit with its new music, but there’s no denying the immense attraction of the band’s ’70s classics to its fans. Morse reports that he most enjoys playing “Highway Star”, Speed King” [“a great jam tune”], and “My Woman from Tokyo”, which he convinced the band to perform live again.

But considering his history with the adventurous and unlimited Dixie Dregs, isn’t playing in a straight-ahead rock band somewhat confining?

“No, no,” argues Morse, “because I do other stuff too. Just before I left on this leg, we were workin’ on material for the Steve Morse Band and we’re wrapping up a project for Windham Hill with 12 other guitarists playing classical pieces that they would never have ordinarily played. People like Dweezil Zappa and Al Di Meola, and John Petrucci from Dream Theater.”

Many guitar-rock bans from the ’70s–everyone from Kiss to Aerosmith–are making a comeback, and Morse figures he has a good idea why.

“I think people like anything that sounds good and feels energetic” he relates. “But you look anywhere in the history of music since it’s been recorded, and people just like stuff that feels good, you know?”

Morse–who is commonly acknowledged as one of the fastest and most precise pickers in rock–had as his main musical motivator another dazzling technician: Jimi Hendrix. Morse has seen Hendrix perform live three times, and brightens when queried about the influence the master had on him.

“First of all,” he says, “my first good electric guitar was a Stratocaster, coincidentally, and I did all of [his] stuff. I mean ‘Manic Depression’ was how I got into one of the bands that I was in for years, ’cause I knew it note-for-note. ‘Manic Depression, ‘Purple Haze”, and “Fire’–we did those every single night of my teenage years. That was quite a big deal.

“And then my big challenge in life was playin’ ‘Are You Experienced?’ live, you know with the backwards guitar solo? Tryin’ to do that solo I ended up breakin’ the whammy bar off at the threads, inside the block of the bridge, and I didn’t know how to fix it at the time. No one in my family was into machine work or anything, the music store couldn’t fix it, so I was just kinda screwed.”

Morse discloses that just recently, when the band was playing a tune called ‘Into the Fire’, a recognizable bass line caused him to knock off an impromptu homage to Hendrix.

“During the verse the bass is like a real insistent ‘dont doont dont doont’, so during the solo, when it came to that section, I started playin’ ‘Purple Haze’ [laughs].”

To hear the full audio of my 1998 interview with Steve Morse–and my chat with him from 1991 as well–subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 400 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

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One thought on “Steve Morse says that his biggest challenge in life was playing Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” live, with the backwards guitar solo

  1. Eric Johnson (whom Steve Morse has known for years), makes it look effortless when he plays what is his take on the backwards guitar solo on ‘Are You Experienced’. Eric isn’t using the whammy bar either.

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