Watching the Steve Morse band is like watching the same three guys morph into a different band for each tune they play. From fusion to bluegrass, shred rock, and classical chamber music, the trio’s diversity would sound unnatural if it weren’t executed so fluently. Bassist Dave LaRue plays the same 4-string Bongo bass all evening, but can sound as if he’s jumped to a 5-string, to a fretless, to an upright. Through working with Morse for over twenty years, LaRue has essentially become the virtuosic guitarist’s sonic foundation. He’s also the keeper of the SMB set list.
Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir says that he considers factors such as tempo and key signature when crafting a set list. What are your primary considerations?
I don’t factor tempo and key signature as much as energy, and dynamics. I like to start fairly big, and do three or four songs before pausing to take a breath. We’ll play a few mellow songs in any given set, and I try to space them accordingly. I try to spread out tunes with similar grooves, or that feature the bass. They are less effective close together. I keep track of what we played on the last tour, rotate favorites in and out, and make sure to include some new material in order to keep the set as interesting as possible.
As we’ve come to expect, Out Standing In Their Field is all over the map stylistically. Do you want to shout out a favorite tune?
“John Deere Letter” is cool because it allows me to step out of the traditional role. It starts off with Steve and I both playing harmonics. I recorded the bass at my home studio using distortion, chorus, and a Keeley compressor. I play the main line twohand tap style by hammering on the root-5 notes with my fretting hand, and tapping basic chord intervals high up on the fingerboard with the first two fingers of my plucking hand. I wanted to trade licks with Steve on that song, and he obliged. I have a blast every time we play that tune because I’m bouncing back and forth between tapping out the main line, and blazing through bluegrass runs.
“Baroque N’ Dreams” is a lovely classical piece. Are you playing fretless at any point?
No, but I love fretless bass, and I try to emulate it a lot on fretted instruments. The musicality comes from the envelope of the notes. I’m constantly changing my attack by moving my plucking hand forward towards the neck or back towards the bridge in order to achieve more roundness, or more definition, respectively. I make sure that there’s space between the palm of my fretting hand and the fingerboard. That facilitates the greatest reach, and allows me roll back and forth on my fingertips for smooth vibrato. It helps to use a modulation effect—such as a chorus—to oscillate the pitch. I was primarily a fretless jazz bass player for a long time, and I’m hugely influenced by Jaco Pastorius. I’m always trying to make the bass sing the way he did. His bass is always singing— even if he’s chunking along on a groove. It doesn’t have to be the most emoting and beautiful line ever in order to be fun to play.
HEAR HIM ON
Steve Morse Band, Out Standing In Their Field [Eagle, 2009]; Dave LaRue, Hub City Kid (Re-mastered) [Holographic, 2010]
Bass Ernie Ball/Music Man Bongo (with Hipshot Xtender)
Rig Ampeg SVT-4PRO head, Ampeg SVT- 810E 8x10 cabinet
Effects TC Electronic G-System, Boss OC-2 Octave, Boss BD- 2 Blues Driver, Ernie Ball Volume Pedal
Strings Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Bass Nickel Wound (.040–.095). “When you’re playing tons of bends along with Steve Morse— the lighter the strings, the better.”
Picks “I use a heavy Ernie Ball pick occasionally. My plectrum playing isn’t very developed, so I have to play fingerstyle if the music is intricate.”