Part classical maestro, part jazzer, part bluegrass and rock shredder, and part Southern rocker, Morse’s playing is melodic to the extreme. For more than 20 years, he relied on a heavily modded Fender Tele that sported a Strat neck, a Tune-o-matic bridge, and a smorgasbord of carefully placed pickups. But, in the mid-’80s, he switched to a Music Man Steve Morse Signature model, which he continues to play.
The Dixie Dregs, What If, 1978
Without a doubt, the group’s watershed record. Described by Morse as “electronic chamber music,” the wonderfully heady compositions “Odyssey” and “Night Meets Light” back up the claim, as violinist Allen Sloan criss-crosses Morse’s potpourri of tones, which range from spanky clean to sustained and mean. And, for a display of amazing classical chops, dig “Little Kids.”
Steve Morse Band, The Introduction, 1984
After a decade of composing for a five-piece with the Dregs, Morse decided it was time to power-up a power trio. With bassist Jerry Peek and former Dregs drummer Rod Morgenstein, Morse hits all of his stylistic marks with aplomb. “Mountain Waltz” showcases Morse’s bluegrass-by-way-of-Celtic compositional strategy, and the stomping country shuffle “General Lee” features Albert Lee for some bonus 6-string titillation.
Steve Morse Band, Southern Steel, 1991
Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Morse’s hard rock influences would occasionally surface, but Southern Steel was his first super-concentrated dose of strutting grooves and heavy riffage. Morse sports a thicker and more saturated tone than previously, but his trademark vibrato—one of the widest in the biz—and highly melodic compositions, make this album a no-brainer. Never one to be pigeonholed, Morse sports lovely faux pedal steel textures on the epic “Vista Grande,” and launches a classically inspired nylon-string workout on “Point Counterpoint.”
The Dixie Dregs, Night of the Living Dregs, 1979
This half studio/half live album is one of the Dixie Dregs’ best. On the studio side, “Punk Sandwich” sports an energetic drop-D figure as the launching pad for some swiftly picked melodic fireworks, and “The Riff Raff” is a lovely classical guitar tour de force. The live portion, however, is where things really get cooking. “The Bash” is a country two-step that Morse absolutely devours with snaking bluegrass-type lines, punctuated with squawking artificial harmonics, and “Leprechaun Promenade” has a short psychedelic interlude where Morse furiously works a wah pedal.
Steve Morse, High Tension Wires, 1989
Voted Best Guitar Album in the 1989 GP Reader’s Poll (beating out SRV’s In Step and Mr. Big’s debut), High Tension Wires came out after Morse quit the music biz in favor of flying commercial airliners. But as shown by blazing, baroque-infused head of “Tumeni Notes,” and the atmospheric lilt of “Country Colors,” Morse’s time away certainly didn’t impact his musical skills.
Steve Morse Band, Coast to Coast, 1992
On this follow-up to Southern Steel, Morse kept the rock urgency intact, as well as the anthemic, hook-ridden tunes. “User Friendly” mixes a tough, bare-knuckled riff with a poppy B-section that wouldn’t sound out of place on an XTC record, and “Runaway Train” puts Morse’s virtuosic chicken-pickin’ skills front-and-center.
The Dregs, Industry Standard, 1983 and Steve Morse Band, Stand Up, 1985
Caveat time: These two records contain some amazing guitar playing—and how could they not with guests like Albert Lee (Stand Up) and Steve Howe (Industry Standard). But if you’re at all adverse to goofy lyrics, and even goofier singing, you’re going to be stopped dead in your tracks.