In late 1999, Magna Carta had an idea that sounded like it would be an interesting project for me to work on. Some months later, I have to say that “Major Impacts” has been one of the most captivating things I've ever done. The concept was for me to write music that reflected the styles of some of the musicians that had really influenced me as a guitarist and a musician. I loved the concept and immediately had ideas all over the place: mental notes, cassette tapes scattered about, even crude wave files on my portable computer. I actually couldn't wait to get started and I dove right in. The challenges were there- like trying to give the impression of a guitarist in a vocal band with an original piece of music that doesn't use lyrics. And what are the components of a style? How to reflect those without actually repeating music? The solution was to use familiar tempos, phrasing, instrumentation, and reminiscent themes that would be literally original but obviously intended to imitate. If part of my record reminds you of another tune, you can be pretty sure that it was intended. I hope you enjoy it.
TITLE: Derailleur Gears
Eric Clapton is big on most guitarists’ lists of influences, of course. For me, it was seeing him play live with Cream that really made me a fan. He showed that he really loved to jam on blues-rock progressions, but he could make it so easy to listen to. Every solo had an elusive, melodic quality, and he was really improvising, like nearly all guitarists of that era. “Derailleur Gears” is based around the tempo of "Crossroads" but the middle section does get a bit weird (sort like Gentle Giant for a few bars) just to provide some relief from the basic theme. Like my memories of Cream, “Derailleur Gears” has a lot of soloing, not especially designed to blow anyone away. Not designed at all, just improvising, just feeling good.
TITLE: Well, I Have
IMPACT: Jimi Hendrix
I loved the way Jimi would change sounds and play strong rhythmic ideas when he wasn't soloing. This tune hits between the extremes of his playing. The intro is syncopated, then falls into a rhythm riff that has some characteristics of Jimi's playing. The melodic riff afterwards has that sort of stoned feeling that he was so good at conveying in his laid back tunes. The wah-wah part is admittedly busier than he would have played on "Voodoo Chile", but allows a distant melody reminiscent of some of his overdubs in "All Along The Watchtower". Finally, the backwards solo in a similar tempo to "Are You Experienced?".
IMPACT: Jeff Beck/Eric Johnson/Alex Lifeson
Jeff Beck is another big player in my book. Most players know him for his clever work with a Strat, but I really tuned in on the time when he was playing with Humbucking pickups. His albums of "Truth" and "BeckOla" made a big impression on me. His phrases could be tricky or simple, but bold and, always, a little bit unusual. I had a mental picture of him just wringing the neck of his guitar on those albums. Years later, around the late 70's, I met Eric Johnson on the road while we were touring as the Dregs. I can't remember if he said it, or I inferred it, but Jeff Beck's influence was a major part of why I was instantly drawn to Eric’s playing. Over the course of knowing each other, touring together, playing together on one of my recordings, we definitely had the opportunity to influence each other. I always loved his immaculate style and writing ability, so this tune actually is the influence of both Beck and Eric Johnson mixed together. However, the intro has a definite Alex Lifeson approach, with the suspended chord arpeggiated and the ninth added. I got to hear Alex play in concert for a number of weeks when my group opened for Rush, and I always liked his tasteful chord voicings. After I heard Alex and Rik Emmett, I thought there must be something special in the Canadian water.
All these guitarists recorded quite often with just a single guitar, no overdubs. Like my Clapton impression, I recorded “TruthOla” as being played live with one guitar, no overdubs. The guitar sound is also a mixture of the early Les Paul - like the sound of Jeff Beck mixed with the distorted Strat sound of Eric Johnson with an Echoplex.
IMPACT: The Byrds
That 12-string sound was the first time that I was aware of fingerpicking style on an electric guitar in rock music. The Byrds selected, or wrote, great songs. Bob Dylan's songs really came alive for me when the Byrds recorded them because I loved that 12-string sound and their arrangements so much. I learned how simple a melody could be on an electric guitar and still be memorable, like the first two notes on Roger McGuinn's 12-string guitar introducing "Turn, Turn, Turn". On my impression of the Byrds, the vocal harmonies are done with guitars. In the second verse, I imagine David Crosby singing a high harmony part, then in the chorus the smooth sound of their harmonies comes in, adding an extra voice on the second chorus.
TITLE: Led On
IMPACT: Jimmy Page
This song was one of the first to come to mind, since I really memorized the first 3 albums of Led Zeppelin in my youth. The intro starts with an open tuned guitar similar to Page's "Black Mountain Side". Shortly, I introduce a theme with obvious influences from India, and then we move to the full band with the guitar melodies mimicking both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.
TITLE: The White Light
IMPACT: John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin was a huge influence on me. Some have said that I have done quite a lot of "tribute" to Mahavishnu Orchestra, his most intense group. When John saw the Dregs in the late 70's, he even commented that he was very flattered, meaning that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Seriously, though, he was supportive, and we ended up working on a tour together with myself opening for him, Al Dimeola, and Paco De Lucia. Since I've done so many arrangements influenced by Mahavishnu, this one is inspired by his beautiful acoustic work as well as his ability to write melodic, sequential phrases that seem to always lift up. On this tune, Dave LaRue plays the most perfect fretless bass solo as well.
TITLE: How Does It Feel?
IMPACT: The Rolling Stones
I always liked the Stones, but when I heard the slippery guitar parts on “Honky Tonk Women”, I thought Keith Richards had discovered the most amazing blend of country, blues and rock. On “How Does It Feel?”, the verses sort of recall that feeling and the choruses remind me of "Start Me Up". In the second half of the tune, I had to tune to the special Keith Richards open chord tuning to get that kind of sound that we all know of his rhythm playing, as in "Brown Sugar". In the fade out, I was thinking of "Gimme Shelter"; sort of relaxed, layer upon layer of simple riff soloing.
TITLE: Bring It To Me
Leslie West was, simply, a powerful player. I always imagined enormous strength in his hands when I heard Mountain's recordings. They came up with very heavy riffs and heavy, easy to listen to solos. The beginning of “Bring It To Me” has some of the "Mississippi Queen" feel, then the melody comes in played on guitar (what else?). As the underlying riffs move to the key of G, it sort of reminds me of James Gang but the melody stays in the Mountain groove. The bridge is actually trying to replicate the constantly changing chord concept in "Theme From An Imaginary Western". The chords are different, but the fact that they keep changing every two beats recalls the feeling of that beautiful rock ballad. The solos and stop sections are the result of me thinking of how Leslie West would have done it. There is a two-note lick near the end where the whole band stops. It is that lick that, maybe, is the closest I got to his feel and sound. This was a fun track to solo and improvise over, since my recent years of trying to duplicate a little of Ritchie Blackmore's left hand action really crossed over to Leslie West's style.
TITLE: Something Gently Weeps
IMPACT: George Harrison
The Beatles, as a group, were a huge influence but I had to narrow the focus a little bit to even have a chance of conveying my image of some of George's style. The intro has "him" playing a simple, but delicate, slide melody. The guitar in the background sounds as if it's going through a Leslie rotating speaker, reminding me of "Here Comes the Sun". Then, you hear the guitar playing an ascending line with some of his trademark doubled sound that was so impressive to me when he did it. Next, a relaxed melodic style brings in the theme for this section. In conclusion, there is a build up with a different melody added every other time through the progression until the fade out, a little bit like "She's So Heavy".
TITLE: Free In The Park
IMPACT: The Allman Brothers Band
The Allmans are close to home in a lot of ways. They’re from the same state as my group, the Dregs; plus, our road manager, Twiggs, worked with them until their main breakup. We shared the stage with them at various times, and I saw them play often. They regularly played for free in Piedmont Park to the delight of the whole Southern music community. Everybody loved these guys, kind of the same way as the South really got behind Lynyrd Skynyrd, too. The Allman Brothers were a blues-rooted band taking it out much farther by jamming over the tunes as well as singing. The double lead guitar parts were amazing to me and made their live sound so full as did their two drummers.
For this recording, I asked Van to overdub a second ride cymbal just for me to get the feel of two different drummers. The tune starts with the two guitars in harmony, then goes to a slide guitar section, then one of their stop sections with both guitars in octaves answering. Next, it breaks to just guitars playing a simple blues lick that falls into a new tempo and key. It's more of an upbeat shuffle and it quickly heads for a comfortable groove for the two guitars to play a solo each. Twiggs always told me stories about how the Allmans would have other musicians, such as BB King, sit in with them,. So, at the very end of “Free In The Park”, you can hear my best impression of BB King answering the two guitarists with a few simple, but intense licks. From all that I've heard, BB King and Muddy Waters were their favorite musical guests, especially to Duane.
All the progressive rock groups were some kind of an influence on me, to be sure. Before I ever knew the guys in Kansas, "Song for America" caught my attention as being similar to a song I had just written for the band that ended up as the Dregs. I immediately was drawn to Kerry Livgren's moving triads over pedal tones which were what I was trying to incorporate into our unknown young group. What I really enjoyed about their music was the majestic, classical influence put in easy to digest phrases. I always enjoyed listening to them play and was amazed when I found myself trying to write music for a new reunion album which led to my joining Kansas for some years. Unfortunately, my vision of what I thought the band should do was about 10 years behind what the record company wanted and I, eventually, had to face the obvious fact that I wasn't the best man for the job. But I can point to some very proud musical moments along the way, and a respect for the hard work that they were always willing to put in. So, the first half of “Prognosis” has some themes that I thought would fit them, and a part that comes from my recollection of "Song for America" with the piano introducing one of the arpeggiated sections. Right before the break, the rhythms remind me of Steve Walsh hopping around on stage and still playing very complex piano parts, where staccato, punchy lines syncopate the chugging guitars. As the long ending note begins to fade, it is actually the lead in to a long, building section that was more Yes-like, with a strumming guitar leading the way.
When I first heard Yes, I was captivated by the complexity and beauty of the group's songs. Naturally, I paid a lot of attention to Steve Howe and he became a very important influence on me because of his versatility alone. Since I had recently done a tribute to Steve on another Magna Carta album (“Tales From Yesterday”, MA-9003-2), I decided to make the second half of this tune reflect more of Yes’ ability to find wonderful counterpoint and melody over a simple chord structure to contrast their complex bits.
So what about all the other musicians that I have heard and been influenced by? Sure, there are others, so maybe Magna Carta will have me do another round of them on the next album. Thanks for listening.
released July 11, 2000
Steve Morse - all guitars
Dave LaRue – bass
Van Romaine – drums
Produced by Steve Morse
Mixed by Steve Morse and R. Chris Murphy
Recorded and Mixed at MOR Studio, Florida