Dixie Dregs

The Dixie Dregs formed while several of its members were attending the University of Miami in the early 1970’s. I’m not sure exactly what the status of that school is musically today, but in the ’70’s it was a hotbed of jazz greatness. Keyboardist Bruce Hornsby, guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report and Dregs co-founder Steve Morse all attended at some point in time.

Morse had known bassist Andy West from school in Georgia and Dixie Dregs rose from the ashes, the dregs, of a band called Dixie Grit. This being the absolute heyday of jazz fusion the players decided to go in that direction.

According to Wikipedia, their first album, The Great Spectacular, was recorded at the school with a pressing of 1,000 copies. It was later released on CD but alas, appears to be long out of print.  Some of the tunes, however, can be heard on compilation albums.

Keyboardist Chuck Leavell, late of the Allman Brothers Band and now in his own fusion band Sea Level, recommended the Dregs to Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden. And in 1977,  they released their second (and first major label) album, Free Fall. (One of their later songs is called “Twiggs Approved.” Twiggs was the Allmans road manager.)

And, apparently realizing that pretty much nobody had heard their debut album, they re-did some of those tunes for Free Fall. Herewith, “Wages of Weirdness.” Personnel: Steve Morse, guitars; Andy West, bass; Allen Sloan, violin; Stephen Davidowski, keyboards; Rod Morgenstein, percussion.

Spotify link

I think, though, that the first album that caught the music world’s attention was 1979’s Night of the Living Dregs. Ironically, fusion was probably on its last gasp by then as a major musical force. Nevertheless, the album received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. The album is comprised of a mix of studio tunes and songs recorded at Montreux.

“Punk Sandwich!” Is it jazz? Fusion? Yo, Steve. Rock ‘n roll to the max, bro!

Spotify link

By 1981, in an attempt to somehow make themselves more saleable, the band changed its name to the Dregs and added vocals. That didn’t work and frankly, it was probably a silly idea to begin with. “Well, we used to have vocalists but they were, you know, weird,” Morse said. “They always wanted to do classic rock.”

Band members went off to do individual projects. Steve Morse eventually joined Kansas and then Deep Purple, replacing Joe Satriani who had replaced Ritchie Blackmore. Allen Sloan is now a doctor.

The Dregs, near as I can tell, appear to be together in some loose configuration, getting together infrequently. (Though I can find no website.) Original guitarist Morse (also still a member of Deep Purple) and percussionist Rod Morgenstein are now joined by Dave LaRue on bass and Jerry Goodman of the Mahavishnu Orchestra on violin.

Here’s some Dregs with Goodman and late keyboardist T Lavitz. That would date it to somewhere in the early ’90’s timeframe. Time to either start practicing your instrument or just give up:

Spotify link

Steve Morse was voted best overall guitarist by Guitar Player magazine five years in a row. I think they eventually just retired him. Odd but true fact – Morse is a licensed pilot and co-piloted commercial airlines for a while in the Eighties. You can’t make this stuff up.

 

20 thoughts on “Dixie Dregs

  1. Great band to feature, Jim. I only discovered them a few years back and then had the good luck to stumble across most of their catalogue second hand. US fusion is an odd beast. As demonstrated by the Dregs, it can embrace country themes and some blues too.
    Now, I’m off to pull out the LPs for a spin tomorrow… Thanks!

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  2. They were off my radar for a while. Then I stumbled on an LP in my stack and said, “Dixie Dregs!” Gave that a spin and enjoyed it. You’re right about how eclectic fusion is and especially, was back then.Especially these guys. None of them are born southerners but they did form in Georgia and study in Florida. Can’t be down there without getting steeped in country and blues. And what lightning-precision players!

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  3. Great, overlooked fusion band. Got to see them live in 1979 when they performed at my college. Steve Morse was/is a phenomenal guitarist, and Andy West on bass… heck, the whole band were virtuosos. I still have the “What If” album, the highlight of which is the dreamy 7-minute closer “Night Meets Light.”

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    1. They’re one of those bands where I shake my head and say, How did I miss them? I was well into concert-going, fusion was still pretty hot, tickets were cheap, etc. Who knows? I’m hoping that they re-form one or two more times and go on tour. I am not quite into fusion as much as I used to be. But I would definitely check this out

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  4. Yeah I’m shaking my head and saying “how did I miss them?” Listening to ‘Punk Sandwich’ and I’m saying “How did I miss them again?” I have a list of music I’ve wrote down over the years with intentions on acquiring. ‘Night of the Living Dregs’ was on it. I wasn’t going to get it on the radio where i was at. Love these kinds of takes.

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    1. Yeah, for me it wasn’t that I didn’t know them. I listened to them quite a bit. I’m just trying to figure out how I managed to miss seeing them. So, is this your first time actually hearing these guys?

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        1. Yes I did. With more listening to come. I’m a “String Bustin Cat” from way back. It’s funny, I’m discovering some of these bands and I feel like I have a new burst of interest in all music. Like a pig at the trough. (spelled troff in Canada). I’m going to pop over to your Django take and drop something that I was holding back on you for a bit.

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  5. I saw them perform once in NYC and truly enjoyed their stuff. I have a couple of their discs on vinyl. Their work was just as good as Weather Report, Eleventh House and Chick Corea but simply not known. I was a friend of Alphonse Mouzon and we often chatted about the jazz fusion scene in the 70’s and early eighties. Alas, Alphonse died last December, he was one cool dude. I have a couple of pics of us together , will dig them up and send them to you

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  6. The name sounded familiar, didn’t recognise the album or tune titles, wish I’d known about them in the seventies and eighties. Got some listening to do now. Thanks a lot, Jim.

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  7. Yes, they are excellent. Another commenter mentioned an album I hadn’t heard. I listened to it and can wholeheartedly recommend that as well. It’s called ‘What If.’ It’s interesting to note that in this period of time – at least here in the States – it was possible to turn the radio on and hear music like this on a fairly regular basis. Alas, now one has to go looking for it. I bet even satellite hardly ever plays these guys.

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  8. Just stumbled on this blog post by bassist Andy West (for anyone who is still reading these comments.) Turns out the band stays in touch and reunited at Steve Morse’s studio in January. No word yet of a reunion tour. But our diligent team over here at ME are tracking this like it’s Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. If we get any word that there is an impending tour, we will do a new blog post.

    http://andywest.com/archives/314

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