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Dixie Dreggs – Cruise Control

December 27, 2009

Hey hey — Dixie Dreggs!  I haven’t thought about them for years! 

History

Formation and early years

The Dixie Dregs evolved from an Augusta, Georgia band called Dixie Grit, formed by Steve Morse and Andy West in 1970. Featuring Morse’s older brother on drums, Frank Brittingham (guitar and vocals) and Johnny Carr (keyboards). Carr was later replaced by Mark Parrish. Shortly after Steve Morse’s enrollment at University of Miami’s School of Music in 1971, Dixie Grit was disbanded. Morse and West continued performing as a duet, calling themselves Dixie Dregs (the “Dregs” of “Dixie Grit”)

In 1973, Steve Morse (guitar), Andy West (bass), Allen Sloan (violin) and Bart Yarnal (drums) met while students at the University of Miami’s School of Music to play as Rock Ensemble II. West also attended Georgia State University for a year while studying cello and music theory & composition along with Parrish. Parrish remained at GSU during the academic school years only to return to Augusta, Georgia during summer breaks – re-establishing the guitar/bass/keyboards/drums quartet with Morse, West, Parrish, and Gilbert Frayer performing as opening acts for concerts and headlining local gigs as the Dixie Dregs.

During subsequent academic school years, the remaining members of the Dregs — including Andy West — returned to the University of Miami and Mark Parrish returned to Atlanta, Georgia to complete his degree in music performance and composition at Georgia State University under the study of William Masselos, with additional studies of electronic music at Columbia University in New York City under Alice Shields – a protégé of Wendy Carlos.

First recording

At the time, the University of Miami hosted a lively musical community, including future greats Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Danny Gottlieb, T Lavitz and Bruce Hornsby. Rod Morgenstein was asked to fill in as drummer after a surfing accident disabled Yarnal. In 1974, during the school years at UofM, keyboardist Frank Josephs was added to their lineup. In 1975, the group’s first effort, The Great Spectacular (named by ex-“Dixie Grit” second guitarist and singer, Frank Brittingham) was recorded at the University. Approximately 1,000 copies of the original LP were pressed. The album was reissued in 1997 in CD form.

Signed to Capricorn

Based on the strength of a three song demo and a tip from former Allman Brothers Band members Chuck Leavell and Twiggs Lyndon, Capricorn Records signed them in late 1976 to record Free Fall (1977). Former Dixie Grit/Dixie Dregs keyboardist Mark Parrish rejoined the group later that year. The moderate success and critical acclaim of “Free Fall” led to their 1978 effort, What If, supported by their first tour with dates in New York, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and California.

Their third album, Night of the Living Dregs (featuring Morse, West, Sloan, Parrish, and Morgenstein), was released in April 1979, gaining the band their first Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance – won that year by Paul McCartney’s band Wings. Night of the Living Dregs included studio recordings as well as compositions performed live and recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 23, 1978. Ken Scott – The Beatles’ and producer/arranger George Martin’s right-hand man and engineer – produced both Dixie Dregs albums What If and Night of the Living Dregs.

Switch to Arista

In 1979, Capricorn Records declared bankruptcy, and the band was signed by Arista Records in January 1980, to create three albums, and keyboardist Parrish left and was replaced by T Lavitz. Later that year, Dregs of the Earth (featuring Morse, West, Sloan, Lavitz, and Morgenstein) was released.

Parrish went on to play piano and keyboards for vocalists Andy Williams, Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole, Luther Vandross, Peabo Bryson, Celine Dion, Regina Belle, Deborah Gibson, Pat Boone and daughter Debby Boone, Glen Campbell, guitarist Larry Coryell, won an Angel Award as co-producer (where he arranged and played all the instrumental segments) of a Christian album, and has been Musical Director, Conductor, and keyboard instrumentalist with touring stage shows of Cats, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz, Little Shop of Horrors, Nunsense, Brigadoon, The Phantom of the Opera, Anything Goes, and Broadway stage shows.

Name change

For Unsung Heroes, released in 1981, the band changed their name to The Dregs in an effort to gain more commercial appeal. Violinist Sloan was replaced by Mark O’Connor, winner of Nashville’s Grand Masters Fiddle Championship for their 1982 release, Industry Standard. This album introduced vocals for the first time as a further attempt to gain more airtime. Guest vocalists included the Doobie Brother’s Patrick Simmons and Alex Ligertwood (Santana). Industry Standard provided the Dregs with another Grammy nomination for Best Rock/Jazz Instrumental Performance. The recent name change, vocal additions and a grueling touring schedule did nothing to improve sales and the members of The Dregs parted for individual projects.

Reunion

In the late 1980s, the group reunited for a tour featuring former members Morse, Morgenstein (who was also playing with Winger), Lavitz and Sloan. Their return was complemented by a “Best Of” release entitled Divided We Stand (1989). Bassist Dave LaRue completed the line-up for a seven date tour culminating in the 1992 live album Bring ’em Back Alive. Violinist Jerry Goodman, of The Mahavishnu Orchestra fame, filled in for Sloan, who was frequently absent as a result of his busy medical career. They signed a deal with former label Capricorn Records for their first studio album in years entitled Full Circle in 1994.

Today

The Dregs to this day remain a loose collection of its former members, reuniting briefly for short tours and rare studio work. 1997’s releases were The Great Spectacular in April and King Biscuit Flour Hour Presents (originally recorded in 1979 for the King Biscuit radio show) in September. California Screamin’ (2000) is a curious mix of live recordings from the performances at the Roxy Theatre in August 1999. This release features older compositions and covers of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica”, and Frank Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia” (with Dweezil Zappa sharing guitar lead). 20th Century Masters: The Best Of The Dixie Dregs and the DVD Sects, Dregs and Rock ‘n’ Roll were released in 2002.

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