DT: FEBRUARY 22, 2018
THE DIXIE DREGS
OPEN UP IN Q&A ABOUT EARLY MEMORIES AND EXCITEMENT OF HEADING OUT ON REUNION TOUR
Left to right:
Steve Davidowski, Steve Morse, Andy West, Rod Morgenstein, Allen Sloan
Critically acclaimed six-time GRAMMY®-Award nominated musical virtuosos THE DIXIE DREGS (a.k.a The Dregs) have reunited for their national “Dawn Of The Dregs” U.S. Tour, marking the first time in 40 years the original band–Steve Morse (guitar), Andy West (bass), Allen Sloan (violin), Steve Davidowski (keyboards) and Rod Morgenstein (drums)–will share the stage. The band opened up in a Q&A about memories from the early days (including a performance at the legendary NYC punk venue CBGB’s) and their excitement to reunite and perform again.
Q&A WITH THE DIXIE DREGS
Q: Congrats on the reunion of the original line up of the band. What inspired you guys to join forces again for a national concert tour for the first time in 40 years?
Steve Morse: “Frank [Solomon, band manager], Andy and Rod got in touch with Steve Davidowski, the missing link. He was our only living keyboard player from any of the albums. They also got Allen on board, which made us an unstoppable force. It simply had to be done at that point! We all wanted to get together, and it finally was actually possible.”
Andy West: “Early in 2017 we thought it would be fun to get this early version of the band together and play some of the songs we recorded on Free Fall, our first album. We had such a good time playing the music that we all love, and just hanging out, we thought maybe we could present it to the public again someday. And now here we are!”
Allen Sloan: “We are all now engaged in our separate lives, but were excited by the prospect of reliving the past. So this became the right time to make our schedules coincide.”
Steve Davidowski: “I was home when I received a call from Rod informing me that he and Frank had talked about re-forming the original Dregs. He asked if I was interested. Of course, I said yes. So it worked out and before I knew it, we got together at Steve’s to see how we all felt.”
Rod Morgenstein: “Well, waiting 50 years might be pushing it! In all seriousness, it’s kind of amazing that all five guys are still at it. A year ago, January ‘17, we decided to get together and hang and jam for a couple of days to see how things felt. Obviously, it went well, so here we are.”
Q: The Dregs have been known as cult favorites fusing rock with progressive and jazz elements to create a uniquely instrumental-driven style that has stood the test of the time. Back in the day, the band confounded some folks with your sound. Can you talk about what it was like trying to break through to the mainstream?
SM: “To be clear, we never broke through to the mainstream. I remember telling a booking agent who came to see us in Augusta, GA, ‘No!’ when he said he could put money in our pockets right away if we would get a singer and have more cover tunes. It was literally meeting each person in the audience, them bringing a friend next time, and so on that got us to the point where we could play tours. We were ‘too rock for jazz audiences,’ ‘too jazz for rock audiences,’ and too weird for country audiences. But, I watched the people and they were responding so well to our music that I knew we could find a little niche to exist in, even if we had to make it up ourselves.”
AW: “We weren’t trying to break through anything as much as just grow our audience organically by a lot of touring, recording and performances. There was a natural reluctance from the business because there were no models in place at the time for purely instrumental music that was not easily classifiable. At the time it seemed we had to do a lot of work with very little help. But in many ways we became sort of a cult band with true music lovers of all kinds listening to us. And apparently those people still feel that way, which is super cool!”
AS: “When we began to play together, we were very idealistic and highly motivated. It felt like we were more than just musicians, more like artists creating beautiful sound. I heard the sound in my violin (which was somewhat original then) blending with all the others in ways that were like the orchestras I had played with but new and exciting and different. As far as our audience was concerned, very few were actively lost or confused. Those who came to shows felt as though they were also part of the new sound. Certainly they have never forgotten their own excitement of when they first heard the Dregs sound.”
SD: “I don’t know that Steve’s concept was to break through to the mainstream. He was so prolific that all we could think about was learning the tunes and performing them. We were a serious, hardworking band. Not that we didn’t have our share of laughs.”
RM: “Imagine trying to make it during the ‘70s disco era of Donna Summer and The Bee Gees, playing esoteric instrumental music that you can’t dance to! When door after door is slammed shut in your face, you have a choice to make. And that is, take the hint and give up OR carry on with your dream. Call us crazy, but we just kept moving forward, picking up fans one at a time, until things started to look up.”
Q: What do you feel is the magic sauce–that special chemistry–of the Dixie Dregs’ music that has solidified a long-lasting fan base?
SM: “Andy’s quirky, sense of humor, Rod’s broad versatility, Steve Davidowski’s jazz improv over more rock backgrounds, Allen’s violin playing and reinforcing the melodies, and music that we carefully edited to help keep the audience from being bored.”
AW: “Pure and simple, it is the beautiful compositions and the energy we all put into performing them. This is music that can really take you places that are unique yet still familiar in the sense that there are strongly recognizable sonic landscapes that fuse many styles and feelings. It is truly ‘fusion’ in the most positive sense of the word.”
AS: “The magic chemistry of the Dreg sound is based on the power and beauty that Steve’s writing projects with the almost endless stylistic content.”
SD: “With Steve’s compositions and the band’s diverse personalities and musical backgrounds, we knew we had something really groundbreaking.”
RM: “The music has a one-of-a-kind vibe. I felt it the first time I jammed with Steve, Andy and Allen as college students at the University of Miami, FL. Steve’s writing is unlike any other music I have ever heard. And throughout the years, the music has always maintained its integrity.”
Q: The first night of the tour is February 28 in Clearwater, Florida. Can you talk about a particular song in the set list you’re especially looking forward to performing?
SM: “’Day 444,’ for me. I don’t think we ever did that one live, and it’s a big undertaking that I’m looking forward to. It’s got unusual guitar parts, powerful melodic parts, melodies on bass and violin, and soaring solos. ‘Freefall,’ I’m really happy to be playing again, after so many years of not doing it!”
AW: “As I have relearned these songs, I have rekindled the love for all of them! But one of my favorites is ‘Divided We Stand.’ It has this kind of militaristic marching opening theme and then it goes into very cool melodic and chordal sections. These are just a blast to play on the bass because I get to play both counterpoint melodies and chords. I love the sound of it. That and ‘Twiggs Approved’ which has a classic deep shuffle groove, but with typical Dixie Dregs quirkiness overlaid in spots!”
AS: “I can’t say I prefer one song more than any other. I love them all for their unique feel and for me, the almost magical way the violin has been woven into them.”
SD: “I enjoy all of them for different reasons but ‘Day 444’ is a particular challenge for me. I enjoy the energy of ‘Assembly Line’ and the jazzy feeling of ‘What If,’ if we play it.”
RM: “I can tell you a few songs I’m not looking forward to performing! Just kidding. Some of these songs are really challenging, especially not having played a few of them since the early days of the band. ‘Leprechaun Promenade’ comes to mind, as it has a different feel than most of the other songs, including a spacey middle section and a combination jazzy/rocky feel throughout the song.”
Q: Looking at the band’s tour itinerary, the band is making stops in 32 cities, Are there any particular cities you’re looking forward to stopping in most, and why?
SM: “I think our gig in Augusta, GA., our first ‘home town’ for the band, will be special. But in reality, all of the gigs will be high charged, thanks to the fans that have supported us. We have great memories in every single city on this tour!”
AW: “Well, naturally having lived in Atlanta and Augusta, those have a sense of returning to a distant home. But really there are people and stories in every city we are visiting and they all will have their own feeling I imagine. Personally I will love to play in Phoenix which is where I have mostly lived since 1994.”
AS: “I’m excited to see my best friends in NYC and hopeful about finding a lost part of my life early on during the seventies.”
SD: “Augusta will be fun since that is where we all got together. Of course, New York will be exciting at the Town Hall venue.”
RM: “Several cities come to mind including, of course, my home town of Long Island and NYC. But Augusta, GA and Atlanta, GA are really special, as Augusta is the birthplace of the Dixie Dregs, and Atlanta was home to the Dregs from ’77 – ’83.”
Q: What was the craziest thing that happened to the Dregs on the road when you look back?
SM: “Plenty of them. I’m not qualified to assign rank to them, but one of the most fun (to us) was a small mountain town gig in Boone, NC. There was no place to eat after the show, and we had to drive for hours after packing up. This nice guy in the audience volunteered to have us follow him and he would open up his donut shop for us. We did, and what followed was the entire band making, and gorging on, donuts slathered with every kind of topping. Twiggs and I were the only ones who stayed awake for the drive after that.”
AW: “We weren’t a ‘crazy’ band, but we had lots of things happen to us and around us. To me most of the really funny things are represented by inside jokes that don’t translate well into ‘outside’ stories without a lot of explanation, which of course makes them less funny. There are some very eclectic, diverse, and interesting guys in the band and we all love to experience the camaraderie of such different individuals coming together to play, so I do always remember a feeling that there is a general sense of humor in the band, and anything can happen that will be the start of a tale. Over the course of time we did manage to crash a truck, blow up a stage, lose a briefcase full of gig money, witness two girls get into a fist fight in front of the stage, get robbed by a manager, have a booking agent steal all the deposits for a tour, and experience our record company going bankrupt while we were also on tour. All that and one time, our drummer Rod fell asleep with a half eaten Oreo in his mouth. I won’t describe the exact circumstance, but when he woke up, well that was pretty crazy.”
AS: “Although there were certainly many amazing and crazy episodes that I remember, I will never forget the night my leg was broken when a piece of concrete hit me from a poorly constructed pyrotechnic flash box that exploded right in front of me instead of shooting flames straight up. The broken leg was a painful and clumsy thing to endure, but the truly amazing and crazy part was that before the show that fire marshal would not permit anyone near the stage. If anyone had been standing in front of the ‘bomb’ when it exploded they would certainly have lost their lives. But one of my happiest moments of recent years was when the band called to see if I could get away from my medical practice long enough to go out and play with them again.”
SD: “So many things. In Birmingham, a football player came in and took over the
stage and scared us all. When the cops were on the way, his buddies took him outside where he proceeded to eat glass. That was a first for me. The other crazy things would take too long to tell.”
RM: “Every band experiences crazy things throughout its career, and the Dixie Dregs is no exception. One that comes to mind is when the band played NYC for the first or second time back in ‘76. We drove 900 miles (each way) to play CBGB’s with a bunch of New York New Wave bands that were playing at a record release party. We played for ‘the door’. When all was said and done, we received a total of $13 for two nights! Andy put the money in his wallet, and then his wallet was stolen!! To add insult to injury, the club owner’s dog lifted its leg and peed right into Andy’s Cerwin Vega 18” bass cabinet!”
Left to right:
Steve Davidowski, Steve Morse, Andy West, Rod Morgenstein, Allen Sloan
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