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July 2011 is a landmark date in the musical life of one Steve Morse.
For this month, the American has overtaken Richie Blackmore as the longest-serving guitarist in Deep Purple.
And yet take a straw poll of 1,000 rock fans and it’s a fair bet that if you asked them to name DP’s axeman, the vast majority would go for the man in black himself.
Such is the life of legend’s replacement.
For the record, Blackmore was a founder member of the group in 1968 before quitting midway through 1974 to form Rainbow.
The Mark II line-up of drummer Ian Paice – the only one to have appeared on every Purple album – Jon Lord, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Blackmore reformed in 1984 but the guitarist lasted just over nine years.
When he’d previously quit, disillusioned by what he perceived as the funky influence of Glenn Hughes and Gillan’s replacement David Coverdale, Tommy Bolin succeeded him and the ill-fated American was often booed on stage by die-hard fans, who refused to accept anyone but Blackmore.
It was probably the same for Morse in the mid-90s though he was probably helped by the fact that by then, Deep Purple weren’t quite the titanic rock gods they had been when Mark II morphed into Mark III and then Mark IV.
Morse is widely acknowledged as an outstanding guitarist and having been a constant member of the band since 1994, today he has as integral a role in the band as Gillan or Glover.
Yet despite Purple releasing several fine albums during his tenure, their typical set-list is dominated by tracks written during the Blackmore era. To the masses, Morse is regarded as a very good replacement but nothing more despite his supreme musicianship.
Classic line-ups are the bugbears of those that follow. Take Motorhead for example.
Last weekend, one of their former guitarists tragically died. Wurzel was a member for most of the 80s and early-90s but arrived on the scene too late to feature on Motorhead’s most famous albums.
And ultimately that condemns him to being a footnote in their history, a position also occupied by Phil Campbell despite the latter having been a constant presence alongside Lemmy since 1983.
But ask the casual rock fan to name the Motorhead line-up they recall and they will nominate Eddie Clarke and Phil Taylor as Lemmy’s sidekicks. Yet that line-up was together for just over six years, albeit six hugely successful years.
Some bands successfully overcome the loss of a member, most famously AC/DC, who became even more successful with Brian Johnson on lead vocals than they had been with Bon Scott at the mic.
Most Black Sabbath fans were aghast when Ronnie James Dio Replaced Ozzy but the sheer brilliance of their debut album Heaven And Hell with RJD singing forced them to choke on their own words of condemnation.
UFO continued to release fine albums when Michael Schenker was replaced by Paul Chapman though history will invariably refer to the Schenker era as the band’s glory years, despite record sales disproving the theory.
Some die-hards, however, simply refuse to accept change. There are even Pink Floyd fans who will claim the band effectively vanished the day the remaining members sacked Syd Barrett, citing Pipers At The Gates of Dawn as the one pure PF album.
There is no fixed set of rules, no criteria, no laws for saying a band should or shouldn’t survive or even flourish when one member leaves. In general, the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
Of course, Whitesnake could never survive without Coverdale or the Foo Fighters without Dave Grohl and just as Led Zeppelin disbanded following John Bonham’s tragic death, it is impossible to think of Rush without any of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart who have been together since 1974.
Similarly, I’ve always maintained that Thin Lizzy died the day Phil Lynott passed away despite Scott Gorham’s very worthy efforts to keep the flame alive.
Watching Download highlights on Sky Arts, this week, I was hugely impressed with Ricky Warwick on lead vocals. With his Belfast drawl, he made a far better attempt at singing the Lizzy classics than John Sykes ever did during his spell on vocals.
But never in a million years was that band Thin Lizzy.