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Classic of the Week

November 10, 1994|JON MATSUMOTO

Dixie Dregs

"Night of the Living Dregs" (1979)

Polygram

During their heyday in the '70s, Dixie Dregs sometimes were lumped together with the era's many progressive rock bands. Even though most of its songs were shorter and less grandiose than those of, say, Yes and ELP, the Southern quintet displayed the sort of dazzling musical virtuosity that was one of the progressives' key trademarks. "Night of the Living Dregs," a collection of studio and live concert tracks, is a sterling example of why the Dregs were considered musicians' musicians by those in the know: On such tracks as "Country House Shuffle," they skillfully navigated intricate arrangements and tricky tempo changes that simply were beyond the reach of most groups.

A purely instrumental unit, the Dregs revolved around the fleet-fingered guitar work of Steve Morse and the violin wizardry of Allen Sloan, a formidable combination that helped shape a unique sound. In the full-tilt boogie "Punk Sandwich," the two hotshots exchange symbiotic runs like two longtime soul-mates headed straight for a musical nirvana.

Because the Dregs never came close to scoring a hit record, Morse never achieved the widespread notoriety afforded such '70s guitar heroes as Steve Howe of Yes, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. But his ability to launch searing electric leads--and to pick cleanly on the acoustic guitar--made him one of the most accomplished instrumentalists in rock. (Morse has released numerous albums on his own and has won best overall guitar honors from Guitar Player magazine an astonishing five times.)

"Night of the Living Dregs" puts the group's versatility on proud display. "The Bash" is a foot-stomping hillbilly track; country elements color "Patchwork"; a funky bass part anchors the rocking title tune, and the old world acoustic song "The Riff Raff" can take you back to the Renaissance.

The Dregs broke up in the early '80s; reunited several years ago, they released a live album, "Bring 'Em Back Alive." But of the group that recorded "Night of the Living Dregs," only Morse and drummer Rod Morgenstein remain. Sloan is a doctor in North Carolina.

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