Tag Archives: steve morse

Cruising the Progressive Seas

ctte2017_slide_fish_lodgeFresh air, exceptional, challenging music, calm seas, good fellowship: this year’s floating concert spectacle, Cruise to the Edge 2017 was undeniably one of the best yet. It’s the forth time progressive rock heroes Yes have sponsored this particular festival and it was smooth sailing in almost every respect. This time we were afloat on the Brilliance of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner which experienced travellers said was above average though not the best craft in the league. Made little difference – the real attraction of these trips is the exciting lineup of progressive rock bands new and old, fresh or reconstituted, and this year’s collection of artists ensured there was something for every fan.

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Yes has been joined in the past by their 1970s contemporaries Marillion, Steve Hackett, Carl Palmer, PFM, Three Friends (Gentle Giant), Tangerine Dream, UK, Caravan, and Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), along with newer prog acts Anathema, Enchant, Moon Safari, Lifesigns and many others. Each festival has had something to offer, and has been successful despite each running into a storm during the voyage!

ctte2017_flyingcolorssm_144dpiThis year’s lineup included returning mainstays and new acts: Yes, Steve Hackett, Kansas, Mike Portnoy, The Neal Morse Band, Spock’s Beard, Stickmen, Haken, IO Earth, Patrick Moraz, Bad Dreams, District 97, Anglagard, Curved Air, Frost, Electric Asturias, Focus, The Fringe, Dave Kerezner, Pain of Salvation, and Scott Henderson. An excellent lineup made even better with a special appearance by Dixie Dregs/Kansas/Deep Purple axe-man Steve Morse who surprised the crowd on opening day with a great but short set from Flying Colors, staged during Mike Portnoy’s 50th birthday bash.

 

wettonjohn2017_withuk_72dpiMissing this year but certainly not forgotten was prog legend John Wetton, who passed away just before the cruise was to depart, a very short time after announcing he would not be able to make the event. John Lodge from The Moody Blues stepped in after the unfortunate announcement. There was a moment of silence for John at the opening event, and a number of tributes to him by the other artists on the cruise – possibly the most touching when Steve Hackett dedicated the Genesis mainstay “Afterglow” to our fallen friend. We miss you more …as well.

Once again Jon Kirkman was our eloquent master of ceremonies. Jon is so deeply studied in the prog arts and music in general that his many interviews with band members during the course of the cruise are a always a highlight. Jon’s new book, Yes Dialogue (@TimeAndAWordTheYesInterviews) is hitting stores now. We had the brief chance to take a look at this excellent book, which sports numerous never-before-seen photos and lots of inside information on this enduring band.

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Roger Dean was in attendance again this year, with Michael and the team at Trading Boundaries at his gallery top deck. This was another chance for cruisers to obtain one of Roger’s stunning prints, from the Yes and Virgin Records logos, to the cover of Gentle Giant’s Octopus (UK), or the magnificent cover for Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans. Roger kindly displayed a copy of my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels at his front desk with postcard ads as this tome contains licensed shots of the Yes Relayer tour taken by Martyn Dean in addition to a couple of Roger’s legendary album cover images.
https://www.amazon.com/Rockin-City-Angels-Douglas-Harr/dp/0997771100/

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Roger Dean’s Gallery

One of the fantastic features of this cruise is the Late Night Live sessions. As the name implies live music fills the wee hours from about midnight into the early morning. Organized by broadcaster Rob Rutz and a team of dedicated proggers, this event gives attendees who can play or sing a chance to take the stage and perform with other fans, sometimes with one of the professional musicians who come to cheer them on and lend an occasional hand. This afforded us a chance to see and hear Jon Davison (Yes), Nad Sylvan (Steve Hackett) members of Circuline and others perform side by side with many talented fans, as they work together often for the first time, through long set lists that cover tracks from our prog favorites old and new.

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Late Night Live: Yes “Heart of the Sunrise” Andrew Colyer (keys), Darin Brannon (drums), Rose Danese (vocals) Joel Simches (bass) Tom Maltose (guitar)

As mentioned, there was something for fans of nearly every style of progressive rock music from the big acts to the newer lot. As usually there isn’t time to get to all of the bands. Here are some snaps from the top acts I was able to see:

Yes: Continued their album-pair set that included the hard-driving Drama record and two sides of masterwork Tales From Topographic Oceans. Jay Shellen was there to assist Alan White on drums, and Billy Sherwood was absolutely on fire, visibly happy, relaxed and just nailing bass parts that were absolutely reminiscent of Chris Squire yet still colored by his own unique palette. I could have watched the whole show again just to see and hear Sherwood at that level of excellence. It had to be part of what drove the whole band, including guitarist Steve Howe to perform at the top of their game. That Drama was featured surely inspired keyboard wizard Geoff Downes who was a part of that era’s lineup. Jon Davison also mentioned in interview that it was liberating for him to do some vocals not originally recorded by founder Jon Anderson as this allowed for some stretching out, on material that is more strident and modern (added Howe and White).

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Steve Hackett: played a few stellar new tracks, along with a set list that included several from Genesis masterwork Wind and Wuthering, now 40 years on. These songs included “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” “One for the Vine,” and EP B-side “Inside and Out” along with the oft-played suite that ends the album. During that coda, Hackett dedicated “Afterglow” to fallen friend John Wetton leaving not many a dry eye in the house. Hackett and his band continue to stage innovative progressive rock concerts that are second to none.

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Kansas took the stage for a pair of first time CTTE performances, receiving many standing ovations from the audience. With the addition of Ronnie Platt on vocals and keys, and additional expert musicians, the band is able to present new and old Kansas music with the level of instrumental and vocal prowess once championed by retired founders Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh, albeit without the handstands!

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Mike Portnoy celebrated his 50th birthday, and for his fans and admirers this was a key event on the cruise. Of the various bands he’s been in, my top vote goes to Flying Colors and they were the toast of the launch.

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Haken: They get the award for continuous improvement. I’ve seen them over the years and each time their performances just get tighter, both instrumentally and vocally, fronting compositions that increasingly achieve balance between light and dark for a melodic and powerful form of prog.

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Anglagard: Similarly this exceptional Swedish band continues to amaze as they endure. Their first performance was cut short by late night rain, but the full set the next day found them astutely blending electric and acoustic piano/sax/flute against electric frets for a compelling strain of prog, most reminiscent of the 70s era while still sounding new and all their own.

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IO Earth: beautiful compositions and performance that blended middle eastern motifs with rock instrumentation.

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Focus: They sounded better than any time I’ve seen them – great sound and performance by this Dutch band, fronted by the always entertaining, Thijs van Leer.

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Curved Air: Legendary British band fronted by long time inspiring vocalist Sonia Kristina closed the cruise with the final set late Friday night.

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Electric Asturias: Exceptional blend of jazz-fusion and prog forms hailing from Japan.

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Stickmen: Masters of dissonance Tony Levin/Pat Mastelotto/Markus Reuter were fantastic as always.

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Patrick Moraz: legendary keyboardist on his own at the piano…. Magnifique!

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District 97: Highly talented band, brilliant set.

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Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard were crowd favorites I ended up missing, but everyone I talked to who saw them, John Lodge, Bad Dreams, Alex Machacek, Frost, The Fringe, Dave Kerzner and Pain of Salvation loved those sets.

Back on dry land this week …vive le rock (y tambien, terra firma)!

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goodnight proggers…

Dixie Dregs Soldier On

DixieDregs_Live5_72dpiDixie Dregs was an American band formed in the early 1970s by guitarist Steve Morse and bassist Andy West. Their music was almost exclusively instrumental, fusing rock, country, and a bit of jazz into a potent brew that was designed to showcase each band member’s virtuosity. Their core compositions were typically rooted in traditional country & western, most frequently upbeat and exciting. Their live shows were absolutely fantastic. One of their signature and most entertaining feats in concert was a game of “musical chairs” where each musician would trade off soloing in round-robin fashion, taking leads for ever decreasing measures until each would play just one note, passing from one to the next at lightning speed in an amazing display of talent. Musicians came and went from the Dixie Dregs, all of them exceptional, and founder Steve Morse has always been at the helm.

After two early albums, the band was signed to Capricorn Records and released their most progressive album What If (1978), produced by Ken Scott, featuring Morse and West joined by Rod Morgenstein (drums), Mark Parrish (keyboards), and Allen Sloan (violin). After completing their first tour that year, they combined a few of the live recordings and several new pieces to create their most popular Grammy nominated album, 1979’s Night of DIxieDregs_NOTLDCover_72dpi.jpgthe Living Dregs. The opening track “Punk Sandwich,” is a perfect introduction to the band for any fan or casual listener. Rapid-fire guitar and violin leads backed by electric organ bridge the tuneful melody. The second track “Country House Shuffle” leads off with a drum solo that demonstrates Morgenstein’s apt skills. The second half of the record is punctuated by the live track “The Bash” which demonstrates one of the country-western jams that featured their signature round-robin solos. I caught the band live on this tour at some small venue in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles and it was a spectacular show from the first note to the last.

The band signed with Arista at the end of the 70s, and released an excellent follow up album, Dregs of the Earth (1980) with the talented T. Lavitz replacing departed Mark Parrish on keys. I was fortunate to see this tour as well at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, and recall being surprised that Lavitz was able to meet the challenge set by their former keys wizard. It was another exceptional concert experience.

Widespread success eluded the Dixie Dregs, though they managed to build a core following of eager admirers. As the eighties wore on, the group hoped to expand their audience by changing their name to The Dregs, after which they released Unsung Heroes (1981) and Industry Standard (1982) the latter with guest vocalists. Soon after they disbanded but have continued to stage concerts sporadically to this day. Steve Morse plied his axe during a short solo career, and also took on lead guitar duties in years since with Kansas and then Deep Purple.

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ON FILM

DIxieDregs_LiveCover_72dpiFortunately, there is an excellent film of the Dixie Dregs in their prime on the tour supporting What If. This is available on DVD titled Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1978, featuring a nearly complete set from which the live half of Night of the Living Dregs was taken. The 60 minute long concert includes fourteen choice songs, captured at 144:1 aspect ratio, preserved with a fine clear image and respectable sound considering the era. The only complaint would be that there are not enough clear shots of guitarist Steve Morse, and the ones that are presented suffer from an awkward angle. By contrast there are too many shots of violinist Alan Sloan. With a group of musicians this balanced it would have been better to afford nearly equal time to each. Also there are few perspective shots that capture the entire group across the stage, something that would be helpful on those collaborative jams. Nonetheless, the footage is excellent, and it is a rare document of this important band. The DVD is rounded out by a couple of television appearances, one at “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” and a second as The Dregs on “American Bandstand,” which includes a moment of conversation with host Dick Clark. Highly recommended.

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Billy Sherwood and Citizen

BillySherwood_CitizenCover_72dpiBilly Sherwood’s inventive new concept album Citizen is available now. Each of 11 songs follows a central character, “the citizen” who is reincarnated into different periods in history, experiencing the time he’s inhabiting, whether it be as a WWI soldier, an American Indian on the trail of tears, or a stock broker during the market crash of 1929. It’s a vehicle that allows Billy to delve into many emotions with matching soundscapes, leading the listener to experience the triumphs and tragedies of man’s history. Billy plays almost all instruments on the album including bass and drums on every track but the opener “The Citizen,” which contains the last recording from Yes bass player and long time Sherwood collaborator Chris Squire. Billy also adds guitars and keyboards on many tracks, joined by an A-list of collaborators like Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett, Patrick Moraz, Geoff Downes, Steve Morse, Jon Davison, Alan Parsons and more. I talked to Billy this week about the new album, and his role with Yes going forward.

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Citizen has so many guest musicians – how much of that was done in person – what was your process for getting it all on record?

Well, file-share is a big part of the world we live in. If we tried to pull together a record like this back in the day it would be a very, very expensive process, traveling around, shuffling tapes. The way we do it now is doable. I recorded Jon Davison in my house, and I went to Alan Parsons’ studio to record his vocal for “Empire.” For the track “The Citizen,” which features Chris Squire on bass, we recorded at a Holiday Inn near his home. Since I carry my mobile recording studio with me on the road, I just set up in the hotel and turned it into my studio for the day, and he did a great job.

The thing about working with artists on this level, is they know exactly what to do – I don’t need to be sitting over their shoulder saying “it’s a B-flat!” they can figure that out on their own. I really just lay out the format of the songs and tell each musician to feel free, to add anything else they want to interpret to the song, to add their stamp on the piece in any way they think improves the song. I’m always thrilled when I get these files back because they are consistently great. I sit there smiling to myself when I listen to it all; it’s a blessing to have these kinds of players on my record.

When you listen to the song “The Great Depression,” it wouldn’t be that song without Rick Wakeman adding that great piano work. He enhanced that melancholy feeling to the whole thing. I said to Rick when I sent the file, “this is about a guy who’s at the end of his rope, this citizen is reincarnated as an investment banker from the Great Depression and he’s lost it all and is about to take his own life.” It made me sad to sing that song; even though it’s a fictional character, I was feeling for that guy. That’s something about music that’s important, to evoke those emotions from the listener. The track is very melancholy and instead of a synth solo, Rick’s piano piece was exactly what I was looking for.

Everyone on the record delivered that same quality and expertise, their performances accentuated the lyrical content. These guys have been doing it for so long, they’re not playing it for their ego; they’re playing for the song. And that’s what music is all about – to make the song shine and there are many components that do that. A guitar player coming in and shredding over the top of something to show his chops is not what it’s always about – it’s about lending the right notes and vibes to the track. They know exactly what to do.

“Trail of Tears” is another standout track, and features Patrick Moraz on keyboards

Watch the video for Trail of Tears on Youtube

He played some amazing melodies that lent themselves to the emotion of the song. When I saw him in Florida recently he was raving about what the lyrics meant to him and how he loved being involved. The lyrics are kind of heavy, talking about the trials and tribulations of the American Indians and what they went through at that time, and it moved him – he was expressing that to me and so translated those emotions into his work.

I wanted the listener to be able to put on headphones with eyes closed, to have a sense of becoming the citizen, in that moment, and to be transported into that time period and feel that emotion and trepidation, or joy or whatever the case may be. I’m happy with the way it came out in that regard. It’s a concept that could be taken further with more records. There are so many amazing moments in world history. With an album you only have so much time to speak and there is a lot more that could be said with this character. I tried to key into these monumental moments in history that were not only profound for the Citizen character, but for all of us. For this record I chose what I thought would be interesting subjects and historical facts. In one way it is complete fiction, in the other it is hardcore reality. For instance when you get to “Age of the Atom” it is kind of frightening and scary because we’re talking about nuclear technology and weapons and who’s got them, particularly in light of current events.

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Do you foresee touring for this album, and if so who would be in the band?

We are going to tour it, and I’ve got management looking at gigs now. Yes has become a priority in my life, which it always has been. Whenever they call I answer. I’ve always been there for the guys – it has come in and out of my life so many times. Chris wanted me to take his position in the band and so did the other members. But there is time still to do other things, and my other priority is to get Citizen on the road. I’ve built a core band already. I will be playing bass and lead vocals. I will be joined by Scott Conner from my band Circa on drums, John Thomas from the band XNA, a band I produced, on guitars, Scott Walton who appeared as an auxiliary keyboard player on the Circa Live and Conspiracy releases. The core of the band will be the four of us, and we plan to have guests playing with us as well – there’s nothing confirmed yet but I’ve spoken to several musicians from the album, and they’ve all mentioned their desire to participate, schedules permitting. That’s the plan.

I want to say “thank you” to the fans, thanks for supporting the project. I can’t wait to get out there on stage – please come see it live!

Here’s one patron who will make it a point to get to one of these shows. Last week I returned from Cruise to the Edge (CTTE), the rock festival, where Billy performed on bass and vocals, stepping in for Chris Squire who passed on earlier this year. It was a remarkable show, and Billy did Chris proud, replicating his trademark sound while still interpreting the songs anew. We talked about the Yes tours for a few minutes.

Billy, the CTTE Set list included “Soon,” a surprise track that sounded amazing. What have you experienced or learned playing and singing with Yes on this tour?

In all my other bands I’m the lead singer, so approaching the background vocals for me is actually easier to do. That said it’s also tricky, there is a lot of dexterity required for playing while singing. Delivering those crazy bass lines and singing simultaneously is a challenge. One example would be “Tempus Fugit.” You sort of have to detach the two sides of your mind and let one go one way and one go the other. If I really stop and look down at what I’m playing it confuses me so I try not to look at the fret board! That’s something I always admired about Chris – how fluid and easy he made that look, but it is tricky. And then there are the bass pedals to put into the equation!

“Soon” is a beautiful piece of music from Relayer. It is so cool the way Chris composed that bass part. As there are no drums, the tempo is derived from the bass part. When I was starting to play bass around age 16 I always tried to play to the hardest stuff I could find. “Gates of Delirium” from Relayer is an example, a bear of a track to learn. The bass line is intense and relentless. I love that record, used to play to that record every day to get my chops up.

Will the Drama/Fragile tour make it to the US?

I hope so because it’s a lot to learn! I’m confident that we will be bringing it to the states next year. There are plans to do a lot more touring around the world. Yes is my passion and priority and I look forward to the future of Yes.

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Photo Credits:

Michi Sherwood
Doug Harr, Diego Spade Productions, Inc.

Citizen Credits

1: The Citizen
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Drums
Chris Squire Bass
Tony Kaye Keyboards & Hammond Organ

2: Man & The Machine
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
Steve Hackett Guitar

3: Just Galileo And Me
Colin Moulding Lead Vocals
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Harmonica / Bass / Drums

4: No Mans Land
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
Steve Morse Guitar

5: The Great Depression
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Rick Wakeman Keyboards & Grand Piano

6: Empire
Alan Parsons Lead & Backing Vocals
Jerry Goodman Violins
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Bass / Drums

7: Age Of The Atom
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Geoff Downes Keyboards

8: Trail Of Tears
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Patrick Moraz Keyboards

9: Escape Velocity
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Jordan Rudess Keyboards

10: A Theory All it’s Own
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
John Wesley Guitar

11: Written In The Centuries
Jon Davison Lead Vocals
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Bass / Drums