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.
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!
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:
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.