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Steve Morse to step away from Deep Purple permanently: band pay tribute

Steve Morse
(Image credit: Olly Curtis/Total Guitar Magazine)

Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse has announced that he is stepping away from the band on a permanent basis. 

In April, Morse announced that he'd be going on hiatus from Deep Purple to look after his wife Janine, who is battling cancer, but would not be leaving the band. The guitarist also said that he hoped to rejoin Purple's current tour once circumstances and improved health allowed.

Now Morse has admitted that he is unable to commit to Deep Purple's schedule for the rest of the year and beyond, and has left the band.

"Last Autumn, I suddenly left the Purple writing session in Germany because my wife was having a real medical crisis," explains Morse. "Almost a year later, we are learning to accept stage four aggressive cancer and chemo treatment for the rest of her life.  

"We both miss being at shows, but I simply couldn't commit to long or far away tours, since things can change quickly at home. I suggested lining up a substitute guitarist last Autumn, hoping we could see the miraculous cancer cure all of us have heard about. As time went by, I could see the way things were heading though, after 28 years of being in the band.

"I've already played my last show with Purple back in Florida on the Rock Legends Cruise. I wish to thank the listeners who so strongly supported live music and turned every show from a dress rehearsal to a thundering, exciting experience. I'll miss everybody in the band and crew but being Janine's helper and advocate has made a real difference at many key points.  

"As Janine adjusts to her limitations, she is able to do many things on her own, so we will try to play some shorter nearby concert tours with friends to – hopefully – get both of us out of the house!"

Morse goes on to talk about guitarist Simon McBride, who has been filling in for Morse.

"I know Simon has the gig nailed already," he says. "But I'm now handing over the keys to the vault which holds the secret of how Ritchie's Smoke on the Water intro was recorded. I guess you have to jiggle the key just right because I never got it open." 

“Full respect to the guy,” McBride told Classic Rock earlier this year. “I already knew the Purple thing might or might not happen. And then, in March, when they told me it was definitely going ahead, I was like: ‘That’s great! But that means that Steve... 

“Y’know, it was a bitter-sweet emotion. My heart goes out to Steve and his wife."

The other members of Deep Purple have released statements reflecting on Morse's legacy, after 28 years and eight studio albums with the band.

"In circumstances like these it is normally difficult to find the right words," says Ian Gillan. "But not in the case of Steve Morse; I know what I want to say.

"He came from a different background to the rest of us in Deep Purple and yet his musical genius has been somehow compatible and played a big part in the fresh direction adopted by the group when he joined and made his first album with us in 1996, and then onwards, for over a quarter of a century, enjoying the longest incumbency of any Deep Purple guitarist and contributing to the longest unchanging line-up, which started when Don Airey replaced Jon Lord - who retired in 2002 - until the present day. 

"I first became aware of Steve through the Dixie Dregs, particularly the track Take It Off The Top’ which was the theme tune for Tommy Vance’s BBC rock show and impressed me mightily. I didn’t realise at the time that one day I would be lucky enough to stand on stage with Steve and enjoy his consummate skills up close and dangerous. 

"I got to know him as a very kind man, full of ideas and the patience to see them developed. He would say, ‘You never know until you try it’. We sure had some fun debating that approach, but mostly in good humour and he always gave as good as he got. 

"Steve has a legacy with Deep Purple that can never be forgotten, and that smile will be missed. It would be wrong to comment on his personal circumstances, suffice to say he’s in a bad place right now but dealing with it bravely and as best he can; we all admire his devotion; he’s been a strong family man all his life.

"All this has come at a terrible time for everybody, including the other musicians in Deep Purple. After two years off the road because of quarantines everywhere, we had to get back to what we do, and that is perform live around the world and make music in the way we have always done, since 1968. 

"As we get older, we realise that we’re much closer to the end, and that triggers an urgency that won’t be tamed. From Steve’s perspective, I can only imagine that there is no possible ‘nice’ way of continuing with a new man, but it is either that or call it a day, because the lack of momentum was gradually becoming something more significant; it felt terminal. 

"The best way I can describe this is by using Steve’s own words; when I sent him a love letter a few weeks ago, he replied that it was weird being at home whilst we guys were out there, but ‘reality intervenes’… and that’s what has happened.

"I can only put out love and respect, and positive vibes at the memories of good times together."

Ian Paice says: "From the moment Steve joined us in Purple, it was obvious he could open up new musical possibilities for us. Like most great creative musicians, he has the ability to come up with musical ideas that no one else has thought of. I think the easiest way to say it is he’s always 'thinking outside the box'. Not many of us can do that!

"We learnt he is also an incredibly nice man, who put up with our lack of knowledge of US sports teams and stars, and our continual talk of UK football, (soccer to our US friends!), with great patience. But there is one important truth here and that is, 'family comes first'.

"Steve is adhering to that truth with his wife Janine’s health situation. We will miss him."

Roger Glover says: "In the early 80’s, on tour with Rainbow in Germany, I heard Go for Baroque by the Dixie Dregs on a car radio. I was captivated and immediately bought Unsung Heroes. Then I bought Steve’s first solo album. What a guitar player. Never could I have dreamed that twelve years later we would be in a band together.

"Deep Purple was at a pivotal point in the mid-90s and needed to refresh itself. Steve was an inspired choice and brought his talent and limitless imagination to us – evidenced by Purpendicular, a favourite album of mine – enabling the band to start an amazing journey for the next 28 years. No mean feat. He’s a teacher, he inspired us, me in particular, with his energy, encouragement and wisdom, and his contribution and legacy in this band is beyond words. He will be missed but our friendship will remain.

"Sadly, life has intervened, and different challenges are upon us. Janine needs him now, and my best wishes and thoughts go out to them." 

Don Airey says: "Thanks Steve for being such a shining light both musically and personally to me over the last few (20!) years. All I can do is wish you and Janine the best for the future, in the new course that life has taken you. I know it would take a lot more than this to extinguish your talent and your music, so hopefully we'll see you down the road a-piece."

The statement from Deep Purple finishes by saying, "There will be no further comment from the band. We kindly ask that Steve and Janine’s privacy is respected and to keep them in your thoughts at this time."

Fraser Lewry
Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 36 years in music industry, online for 23. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.