[GTR] Old time Dixie Dregs fans like myself were pretty elated to hear that you guys were “getting the band back together.” The Dregs were a huge influence on virtually all the musicians I knew in my formative years who went on to have careers in music. You guys had the perfect blend of musical prowess and great songs – all of which I’m looking forward to experience again when I see you on this tour! What are your expectations going into this?
[Andy West] Well thank you for that intro, Doug, I appreciate it. It’s similar for us in a lot of ways. The whole thing as an artist or musician is really about two levels of communication. Communication between the band, and communication between the band and the audience. It’s about exploring the feeling we all get listening to Steve’s music as executed by the same guys who did it the first time around. As you know, some of the guys are gone now, but this particular group is intact. For us it’s really a celebration, and our expectation is that the audience will want to celebrate with us!
[GTR] What songs are you looking forward to playing the most?
[Andy] We’ve now rehearsed through all the tunes and they all have their interesting aspects to them. I really like playing “Divided We Stand”, it’s got a lot of “Morse-isms”. Steve’s best songs are always kind of a story without words. You’ve probably heard that we’re doing “Day 444” which is an easy title to write but a very hard title to say (laughs). That one is very challenging and really fun to play when we nail it. It’s also the one of the ones that has the most potential to go sideways because the time signatures are all over the place. When we relearned the song we all kind of interpreted the time differently – a “where’s one?” type of thing; but that’s going to be really fun to play. It’s that back and forth I was talking about, depending on how the audience responds to these things, that’s going to affect our enjoyment as well.
[GTR] Back in the day, how much counting of bars and meters did you do versus learning to play things by feel, and what was it like revisiting these parts after all these years?
[Andy] I would say in my own case, when we learned this stuff it was definitely more feel than count. Having said that, my sound bite on some of the early days with the band is that we were probably the first Mahavishnu cover band. They did very repetitive odd time things, so we learned how to feel a lot about odd times in a very high-powered way early on. So, learning some of this stuff, it did turn into a feel kind of thing. On “Day 444”, I started to count it but then I thought “What the heck, let me just feel it and re-explore that feeling thing!” At the end of the day it’s all about feel, but you learn how to feel things naturally.
[GTR] We found some really cool photos of you playing both the Alembic and the Steinberger bass back in the day. Do you regret letting those instruments go?
[Andy] When Steve started doing The Steve Morse Band I moved to California. I found myself in a world where I wasn’t really prepared to be a journeyman musician. I met Steve in high school and we kind of grew up together and I really learned to play The Dregs. Where was I going to find another version of that band to play in? I essentially got down to my instruments and my car, not being able to make a living, and saying, “I’ve got to do something!” I made a transition into software and I sold those instruments for money at that time. I don’t really regret that, it was a time. It is an interesting story because the guy who bought both the Alembic and the Steinberger was a student of mine at the time named Tim Fowler. Tim still has the Steinberger, but decided to sell the Alembic, so I threw up a page and described the history of the bass and Rob Vincent ended up buying it. When we announced this Dregs tour, Rob emailed me and asked, “Hey do you want to play this bass on the tour?” I thought, “That’s a really nice offer, but I’d be scared to have it”. But he said, “No, I really want you to play it!” So I’m going to play it on a couple of tunes. I was playing it yesterday and it was very different because I’ve really transitioned to 5 and 6-string, mainly 6-string. I’ve had a 6-string for thirty plus years. It’s very different getting on that bass because the set-up is different, so I’m picking the songs that are relatively easy and will have that classy old Alembic tone on it. It’s going to be fun.
[GTR] How will you be applying the extended range to the material?
[Andy] Obviously everything can be played on a 4-string, but there are some songs where now I can play a low D, B, or C and it’s great having that extended range. On the upper end, I was able to change my fingering on a couple of pieces to where I didn’t have to do so many massive shifts.
[GTR] So you’re going to be using a G Gould 6-string bass on this tour. Tell us about that instrument.
[Andy] Geoff Gould founder of Modulus Graphite. I met Geoff at a NAMM show and we became friends when I moved to California. He had a 6-string graphite neck bass and he said, “Why don’t you try this bass out?” It had the narrow spacing and I really fell in love with it. When I started to relearn these songs the 35-inch scale was a little bit more than I want to use on some of these things for the fast lines. I had this 6-string that we made thirty years ago and I started playing that again and I thought, “This is so much more comfortable!” Plus, I could get the extra range we just talked about. But, that bass is a 30 year-old prototype and wasn’t put into production. I said to Geoff, “Why don’t we take one of your 5-string necks and turn it into a 6-string and make it 34” scale and that’ll be perfect.” He did, and it’s great!
[GTR] Sometimes it’s easy to forget that people at gear companies do more than just make gear – they do a lot to support the artists who make music that inspires us. Who are some of your other supporters?
[Andy] I have an incredible relationship with Electro Voice. Midas supplied us with digital main and monitor consoles, and that has helped us a lot. Marcus Ryle from Line 6 and I go back to the Oberheim days in the early eighties and we have stayed in touch, which is super cool. Besides just being a nice guy, I have tons of respect for him and what he has done in his career.
[GTR] Twiggs Approved is the first place I heard double-tracked bass – it really provides a great effect that you don’t normally hear on bass. Speaking of effects, what will you be using on the tour?
[Andy] I am using the Line 6 Helix as my main bass preamp and for effects, and that goes direct out to the Midas consoles. One of the main things I like about it is the incredibly flexible, and programmable, internal and external routing and switching. Because of this capability, I have also integrated an Eventide H9 for some upper octave doubling and other specific things it does that are wonderfully unique. Live, everything is mono, so one of the direct outputs goes from the Helix to the consoles for mixing. The other goes to the Electro Voice stack, and inline I use a Q/Strip analog EQ from Tech 21 for fine tuning the stage sound.
[GTR] People sometimes forget that the first thing in your signal chain is your strings, which is vital, especially capturing the sound of an extended range instrument. What strings are you using?
[Andy] I have used LaBella Super Steps since 1992 – they came stock on an F Bass I once owned as well as some of their nylon tape wound strings for fretless. I am not into the super bright piano tone of some round wounds, although others can pull that off great and I do appreciate it for certain kinds of things. But for this tour I wanted to get that semi-flat wound sound I had on the old Dregs albums that works well for fast articulation with the pick. I am using some kind of prototype super polished nickel wound strings they are working on, which I am loving. They are really smooth feeling, so very fast to finger and pick, and still have a full range sound without being too bright.
[GTR] Years ago you told me a “Spinal Tap” story of getting locked in a venue during one of Steve’s solos. Would you care to recount that story?
[Andy] One of the really interesting things of getting back together with guys that were together 40 years ago, is that we all remember events that occurred. But, when you hear the version of the events from each person, they’re all different. So, you have to take this with that in mind. On “Cruise Control” Steve and Rod would do a 20-minute solo, so T and I would go hang out in the dressing room and wait for this musical cue and go running back out on stage. One night we were in the dressing room, heard the cue, and couldn’t get out. Somehow, the door was locked from the outside – it was the weirdest thing. We’re banging on the door and Steve and Rod were loudly giving us the cue and we didn’t show up. Steve’s looking around, smoke’s starting to come off the top of his head, and finally one of the roadies came looking for us and they opened the door and we came running out (laughing).
[GTR] So you met Steve in high school. How long was it before you started making music together?
[Andy] We met at school and he said, “I’ve got this band” and I went and heard him play and said, “Well that’s great, is there any way we can play together?” We just started jamming at that point and he was in that band for a while. I don’t recall his leaving or the band breaking up, but during that time we started playing together and it just kind of evolved.
[GTR] What elements of Steve’s playing had already gelled at that point?
[Andy] He really started to get a handle on his vibrato and picking technique. A more aggressive, but at the same time, sweet sound style. I don’t think he had the harmonic knowledge that he developed, but he had a great ear and sensibility about stuff. His playing has always sounded very melodic to me. He’s always been about melody and that story telling melodic thing. And even back then he was doing that thing.
[GTR] What’s it like playing with Rod again?
[Andy] It’s fantastic. I’ve played with him so long and he’s always been my benchmark of drummers to play with. There’s been a handful of drummers that when I play with them I just feel naturally comfortable. He’s always surprising, but I feel very comfortable playing with him. It’s like an old couch, you just sit in and it’s great.