Neal Morse Biography
Neal Morse’s career path is full of unexpected twists and turns, sudden changes and pleasant surprises—much like the epic progressive rock compositions for which he has become known.
In the mid ‘90s he formed the quirky Spock’s Beard, whose debut recording, The Light, was an unexpected success. Over the next 7 years, Spock’s Beard released 6 critically acclaimed studio recordings and multiple live recordings while establishing a passionate fan base in the “prog rock” community.
In 2000, he formed the prog supergroup Transatlantic with drumming legend Mike Portnoy (formerly with Dream Theater), Marillion’s Pete Trewavas and The Flower Kings’ Roine Stolt. In a remarkably brief but productive few days together, they knocked out SMPTe, a richly received, massive work of vintage, long form prog. Two years later, the sophomore release, Bridge Across Forever, solidified Transatlantic’s global appeal.
Following the release of Spock’s Beard’s 2CD concept work, Snow (an instant fan favorite), Morse shocked his followers with word that he was stepping away from music…with no indication of where he was heading. In his steady journey toward commercial and critical acclaim, Morse was still searching for inner peace. After months of resistance, Morse could no longer ignore the calling he felt to lay down his music, at least temporarily, to pursue whatever God had for him. Standing by his convictions, Neal Morse urged Spock’s Beard to move forward without him.
After a short time away from Spock's Beard he sensed God moving him to write music again. Only this time the music was to be an inspired soundtrack of his faith journey—a double disc musical retelling of his Testimony. The unique and ambitious record spans numerous styles of music—from contemplative and brooding to adventurous and celebratory—featuring orchestral movements, gospel strains and signature progressive rock contributions from Portnoy on drums and Kerry Livgren (ex-Kansas) on guitar.
Morse was now walking an unknown road. After reaching success with Spock’s Beard, he was starting all over again, this time boldly declaring his faith and risking fan rejection and financial failure. He needn’t have worried. As the Testimony Live DVD triumphantly documented, his solo tour was full of magical moments and was a deeply affirming experience. Britain’s Classic Rock Magazine included Morse in their “100 Greatest Frontmen of Rock” listing, while the Dutch Progressive website DPRP awarded it the “best rock tour” over such legendary artists as Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Rush and others.
Morse returned to the studio with Mike Portnoy and touring bass player Randy George to record 2004’s One, a conceptual album that explored the biblical themes of separation and reunion with God. Featuring fiery fretwork by Phil Keaggy, One was a vast and rewarding work that harkened to the heights of Transatlantic.
In 2005, the trio returned to record another artistic concept, this one exploring themes of alters, temples and the dwelling of the spirit of God. Fans wary of Morse’s new spiritual direction had difficulty resisting the addictive hooks and melodies of ?, and they reveled in the guest contributions by Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings, Transatlantic) and Steve Hackett (Genesis). Morse assembled a completely new band of Europeans players who brought youthful exuberance to his live show and the energy and excitement was captured on 2007’s Question Live CD.
Never one to play it safe, Morse took a controversial step out with his 2007 studio release. Sola Scriptura turned the spotlight on some of the church’s historical shortcomings when man placed himself before God, striking out into more aggressive musical territory. While exposing certain abuses, the ultimate point of the record was to call the church back to a purer state. The ensuing tour was captured on the majestic 2 DVD Sola Scriptura & Beyond (2008) which featured stunning guitar work from Paul Bielatowicz. The performance-packed live production featured a wealth of varied material from his career to date and a generous bonus disc.
Morse, Portnoy and George returned to the studio for a change in direction, recording the non-conceptual, song-oriented Lifeline in 2008, and once again he embarked on a tour featuring his European band stretching out and covering more material from Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic and as well as his latest solo material. 2009’s triple CD, So Many Roads chronicles the live performances and the whopping 29 tracks serve as a definitive overview of Morse’s vast and varied work.
Although prog fans were warmly embracing Neal’s solo output, many held out hope for years that the Transtlantic blimp would fly again. In 2009, their dream became reality as the four regrouped to morph Neal’s demo, "The Whirlwind" into a new team composition. It went on to be the group's highest charting album to date, and in 2010, Transatlantic embarked on their biggest tour yet, with dates in 11 nations across Europe and North America. The impressive and successful tour was immortalized in both the double-live DVD, Whirld Tour 2010 and massive 3CD/2DVD box set More Never Is Enough.
Following the Transatlantic run, Morse, Portnoy and George returned to record the sequel to Neal’s first progressive, faith-based epic. In 2011, the double disc Testimony 2 was released to critical acclaim, this time including guest appearances by old Spock’s Beard band mates and some clever musical reprises that respectfully give a nod to the original Testimony material.
Trying something new, Morse put his hand to a different kind of writing, authoring his self-published autobiography appropriately titled, Testimony. The fascinating account revealed the albums’ back story and fleshed out more personal details of his spiritual journey from frustration and despair to hope and joy. A German translation and e-edition of the book were soon developed.
Morse took the show on the road again, playing in the US and overseas to wildly enthusiastic crowds who were thrilled to see most of the original Testimony tour band playing together again. Released in 2011, the Testimony 2: Live in Los Angeles 3CD/2DVD box set reveals the joy and spirit of that tour. Morse also released Sing It High, a songbook featuring 15 songs written out with melody lines, lyrics and chords.
News soon leaked out about Morse’s involvement in another supergroup, but one decidedly more pop than prog. This one also featured Portnoy, along with the legendary axe man Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple), Dave Larue and a relatively unknown singer/songwriter named Casey McPherson. Initial recordings took place in January 2011, and a year later, Flying Colors’ self-title debut surfaced, garnering sweeping praise and supported by a brief tour in September 2012. A live DVD is currently in production to be released some time in 2013.
Praying for guidance for his next solo effort, Morse sensed God leading him to keep moving forward in the direction he was heading, so he reconvened with Portnoy, George and friends to record 2012’s Momentum, featuring blistering guitar work by Paul Gilbert and contributions from his new touring band assembled through a fascinating YouTube audition process. The hand-picked new ensemble delivered jaw-dropping performances with an invigorating spirit, making the Momentum tour an undisputed success that was skillfully caught on video with the 2DVD/3CD box set, Live Momentum. Due to demand, a Blu-Ray edition was also released.
As of spring 2013, work is underway for new Transatlantic and Flying Colors recordings. To the delight of his passionate and growing fan base, there seems to be no end in sight for the magical music and masterful musicianship that flows from the mind and hands of Neal Morse.