Jazz-Rock? Rock-Jazz? Stylistic Crossover in Late-1970s American Progressive Rock


John Covach


A version of this article originally appeared in Expressions in Pop-Rock Music, ed. Walter Everett (New York: Garland, 2000), 113-34.


Introduction: Crossing Over

The term "crossover" arises frequently in writing about post-World-War-II popular music; it is perhaps most familiar from discussions of the early years of Rock and Roll, in which crossover is an important phenomenon that helps account for the rise Rock and Roll in the 1950s out of a combination of Rhythm and Blues, Country and Western, and mainstream Pop elements.  In this common usage, crossover refers to the marketing of recordings as reflected by charts published in music-industry magazines, and especially Billboard.[1]  These charts rank hit records (Billboard's Top 40, for instance) and were originally designed to help business people at record labels, radio stations, record stores, and distribution centers assess current trends with an eye toward anticipating future opportunity and demand.  The charts thus attempted to represent which songs are popular while providing a rough sense of the kind of listener to which a record appealed.  For this second purpose, listeners were--and to some extent continue to be--divided along economic, geographic, and racial lines.  Pop charts tracked records directed at a middle-class white audience, while the Rhythm and Blues charts followed records intended for urban black audiences and Country and Western charts followed those made for rural white listeners.  Whenever a record appears on more than one of these charts--on both the Pop and R&B charts, for instance--one says that it "crosses over."  This is, strictly speaking, only a fact in regard to the consumption aspect of the music in question (as much as charts ever reflect facts, that is); a crossover hit may be assumed to appeal to two distinguishable listening audiences.  Chart crossover is not necessarily a reliable indicator in matters of musical style, however; a record can certainly cross over on the charts while remaining absolutely true to a single style, and the earliest R&B crossovers in the mid 1950s a good example of this.  Little Richard, for instance, was not straddling a stylistic border between R&B and Pop with tunes like "Tutti Frutti" and "Lucille"; he was, however, crossing audience borders when his songs appealed to both black (R&B) and middle-class white (Pop) audiences.

            Thus, it makes sense to distinguish between crossover in the domain of marketing ("chart crossover"), and crossover in the domain of musical style ("stylistic crossover").  Crossover hits can work to change the style into which they cross over--as did Richard's hits--but they need not always cross over in a stylistic sense.  In fact, here lies an important distinction between a cover version and a crossover: the cover version (a song that is re-recorded by another artist) does tend to be more likely to feature stylistic crossover, since the idea of a cover is often to assimilate a song from one style into another.  As much sport as there may be in picking on Pat Boone's covers of Little Richard and Fats Domino songs, his versions do blend Rhythm and Blues into the mainstream Pop style of the 1950s.  Boone's covers clearly straddle the two styles far more than Richard's  or Fats' originals do, effecting stylistic crossover where no real chart crossover was present (since Boone's records were always targeted at a Pop audience).

            This study focuses on the second kind of crossover discussed above, stylistic crossover, and explores how pieces can refer simultaneously to at least two styles that are usually thought to be distinct from one another--a situation that often makes stylistic identification a slippery but at the same time fascinating task.  The two styles with which I will be especially concerned in what follows are 1970s progressive rock ("prog") and 1970s jazz-rock (or "fusion").  After providing a brief summary of these two styles, I will focus on the music of two late-1970s American groups, Happy the Man and the Dixie Dregs.  I will argue that the music of each group is a stylistic hybrid: Happy the Man is easier to situate stylistically (their music is progressive rock with pronounced fusion characteristics), while the Dregs' music is such an eclectic blend as to defy easy categorization ("progressive-fusion-country-chamber rock"?).  Both groups emerge out of a distinctively American scene in the mid 1970s that celebrates instrumental prowess and virtuosity, and it is this characteristic that allows for a blending of jazz rock with progressive rock.  In this sense, then, I will argue that the music of both groups can be seen as crossing over stylistically.[2]


Progressive Rock and Jazz Rock

Before taking up the music of these two American bands, let us first briefly consider the history of progressive rock and jazz fusion.  Progressive rock, sometimes called "art rock" or "classical rock," was developed mostly by British groups in the late 1960s and early-to-mid 1970s--groups like Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, and Gentle Giant.[3]  This music is characterized by a pronounced attempt to blend European classical music with rock.  Emerging out of the music of the late Beatles, and their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) especially, progressive rock celebrated virtuosity, musical complexity, and an engagement with big philosophical and religious ideas as topics for ambitious concept albums like Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973), Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick (1972), Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery (1973), and Genesis' A Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974).  In fact, it is this very kind of musical and poetic ambition that both attracted young musicians to the style and caused certain critics to hate the style with a passion; rock-critic Lester Bangs, for instance, once called for Emerson, Lake & Palmer to be tried as war criminals (Macan 1997, 167).  Prog musicians Steve Howe and Robert Fripp on guitar, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Patrick Moraz on keyboards, Chris Squire on bass, and Phil Collins and Bill Bruford on drums enjoyed tremendous respect among a slightly younger generation of budding rock instrumentalists, especially in the United States; and this is borne out by readers' polls in various magazines such as Guitar Player, for instance, in which Yes' Steve Howe quickly won in the Best Overall Guitarist category five years in a row (1977-81), being retired to the magazine's Gallery of Greats in 1981 where his name currently resides along with those of Andrés Segovia, Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, and others of such legendary stature.[4]

            For many young musicians in the early 1970s, prog rock was viewed as a style that encouraged a player to become the most accomplished instrumentalist he or she could.  An important characteristic of most prog was at least some focus on singing, and vocal arrangements at times could be very elaborate; this music was, after all, often built up around post-Beatles-type rock songs.  For musicians who were not particularly concerned with the vocal aspect of music, jazz rock offered a style that was exclusively dedicated to instrumental playing itself--no back-up vocal harmonies to worry about and no temperamental lead singers writing lyrics about starship hobbits from the south side of the sky.  It is, in fact, hardly coincidental that as prog was emerging out of the psychedelic haze of the late 1960s, Miles Davis was developing a fusion of rock and jazz.  Miles's In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970) LPs launched the jazz-rock fusion style, as Miles band members like John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, and Tony Williams went on to form the most influential fusion ensembles of the decade: the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Weather Report, and Lifetime.[5]  And in a parallel manner to the progressive-rock musicians, fusion guitarists John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, and Al DiMiola, keyboardists Chick Corea and Jan Hammer, bassists Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius, and drummer Billy Cobham were celebrated in the jazz categories of the same magazines that featured the progressive-rock musicians.  Like Steve Howe, for instance, Al DiMeola was voted in Guitar Player's Gallery of Greats 1981 after winning first place in the best jazz guitarist category five years in a row.[6]  And like the progressive rockers, the fusion musicians endured attacks from hostile critics who thought that these musicians had sold out a basic tenet of their style; if the progressive rockers were accused of selling out the visceral thrill of good ol' rock and roll, the fusion players were accused of not swinging--after all, what were all these odd meters and straight eighths doing in jazz anyway?[7]

            Thus, while progressive rock and fusion are often discussed in isolation from one another, the two styles shared many of the same kinds of aspirations as well as endured similar types of criticism.[8]  These parallels generally had a greater effect on the younger generation of musicians who modeled themselves on the principal figures of the two styles than it did on the founders themselves, however: while it is unlikely that John McLaughlin would have cared to replace Steve Howe in Yes and even more unlikely that Howe would have played in the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return to Forever, it was fairly common for young guitarists to emulate both Howe and McLaughlin, or say, emulate both Chick Corea and Keith Emerson.[9]  There were, of course, many players who did not cross party lines from jazz to rock, but still, there was plenty of common ground among the listenership of the two styles.[10]  It is also important to acknowledge that there were in fact significant differences between the two styles, lest anyone get the idea that 1970s prog and jazz rock were pretty much the same music--one with vocals and one without.  In terms of the issue of stylistic crossover, it is indeed essential that there be clear distinguishing characteristics between the two styles; for if the styles cannot be distinguished from one another, it is impossible for any single passage or piece to cross between them.  Perhaps we might imagine fusion and prog stylistically as two circles that intersect (in the manner of a Venn diagram): it is in the area of intersection that crossover occurs, and in any consideration of stylistic crossover it is important to determine both the characteristics of each circle as well as those at the point of intersection, and it is to those moments of stylistic intersection that we will now turn.


Return to Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Yes

The kinds of general stylistic similarities that can be found between jazz rock and progressive rock are reinforced when certain specific passages, pieces, or entire albums from the leading groups in both prog rock and fusion seem to cross over.  A good example of this is "Medieval Overture," the opening track on the 1976 Return to Forever LP, Romantic Warrior, which finds jazz-rockers Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola, and Lenny White crossing over into progressive rock in a marked manner.[11]  The piece is composed by Chick Corea and built up from a number strongly contrasting sections that create an episodic formal structure.  The first of these sections (0:00-0:49, see figure 1) features a brisk ostinato pattern established by Corea on the synthesizer that might be notated rhythmically as two measures of 10/8 (2 + 2 + 3 + 3) followed by a measure of 16/8 (2 + 2+ 3 + 3 + 3 + 3).  After twice through this pattern the electric guitar, bass, and drums enter, with the guitar and bass playing a series of riffs that are rhythmically aligned yet melodically contrasting to Corea's ostinato and establish the key of a minor.  Corea then initiates a brief transition on synthesizer--four measures in 4/4 time based in part on a stepwise whole-tone descent (in thirds) from Bb to D followed by an ascending return to Bb and played twice (0:50-1:01).  This passage contrasts strongly with the material that has preceded it, as well as with the next important section that begins at 1:12 (White provides eight measures of 4/4 on the drums to drive toward this arrival point [1:01-1:12]).  The new section (1:12-1:36) features a return to A minor with melodic riffs played by the keyboards, guitar, and bass that are answered by drum fills in a call-and-response manner.


0:00-0:49            A section      ostinato in kybd.; riffs in gtr/bs                A minor

0:50-1:12            transition       whole tone kybd then drums                   whole tone on Bb

1:12-1:36            B section       kybd, gtr, bs riffs vs drums                     A minor

1:36-2:01            transition       "church organ" and synth                        A minor to E minor

2:02-2:30            C section       chromatic gtr and bs in counterpoint      chromatic around E

2:30-4:16            D section       theme and bs solo                                 A mixolydian

4:17-4:49            A' section      ostinato in kybd; riffs in gtr/bs                A minor

4:49-5:10            Codetta         features reprise of first transition             A minor 

Figure 1: Formal design of Return to Forever's "Medieval Overture"


            Already in the first 96 seconds of this track, then, Return to Forever has presented the listener with three contrasting and carefully arranged sections in rapid-fire succession.  Following on the heels of this comes yet a fourth section (1:36-2:01), this one featuring Corea playing a soaring, angular melody on the synthesizer to the accompaniment of a synthetic organ patch, modulating from A minor to E minor while employing a rubato feel and creating an eerie affect that makes an unmistakable reference to classical organ music (though perhaps the reference is more to a Phantom-of-the-Opera-like caricature of "spooky" organ music).  The section that follows (2:02-2:30) features DiMeola's fuzz-box guitar meandering chromatically in a Bartók-esque manner to the accompaniment of a creeping bass line by Clarke.  The rest of the piece does not continue to present new music as quickly as this first two-and-a-half minutes does; there is a Stanley Clarke bass solo over a theme that is first introduced melodically at 2:30 and this section extends to 4:16.  At 4:17 the group brings back the first section in a revised form, and this and a brief coda bring the track to an end at 5:10.[12]

            While the references to classical music--and especially to a vague sense of orchestral grandeur--might be enough in themselves to make for stylistic crossover, the juxtaposition of complex, "composed" sections are the key ingredient that pushes "Medieval Overture" to the stylistic boundary that might be thought to separate jazz rock and progressive rock.  Except for Clarke's bass solo, the piece is tightly arranged with the musicians playing fixed parts that are not likely to change from performance to performance, and this highly arranged aspect of the music is drawn from prog, where almost any passage from Yes, Gentle Giant, King Crimson and many others could be brought forward as an example.  In fact, Stuart Nicholson (1998, 202) views much of Return to Forever's music from the mid 1970s as influenced by progressive rock, citing features such as "pompous themes, a preoccupation with speed and execution for its own sake, a reliance on the latest electronic equipment, and a shared spiritual and/or cosmic preoccupation."  He even suggests that Romantic Warrior as a whole is "a riposte to Rick Wakeman's Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table of 1975" (202).[13]  The album does employ the concept-album approach by keeping with the medieval theme (in which the album art--a knight in armor on horseback--also participates); subsequent tracks are titled "Sorceress," "The Romantic Warrior," "Majestic Dance," "The Magician," and "Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant."  Despite such obvious similarities between the two records, Nicholson may overstate his case somewhat.  Stylistically speaking, there are an abundance of passages on Romantic Warrior that would never be mistaken for prog (including most of the two tracks that immediately follow "Medieval Overture"), making the album as a whole a fusion LP that at times crosses over into prog.

            The music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra is also central to the 1970s fusion scene.  As a guitarist, John McLaughlin was known for his great speed and agility in soloing, often employing pentatonic scales that fit comfortably under the hand within single-position fingerings.  As a composer, the McLaughlin of the 1970s worked at integrating materials drawn from Indian music into jazz, as well as building up pieces from synthetic scales.  The result is a kind of Ravi Shankar meets John Coltrane hybrid, and the 1971 track "Dance of Maya" is a representative example of this approach.  The piece is built up from a lengthy arpeggiated chord progression; the sonorities found in this progression are based a simpler two-chord model that features two tritones a half step apart (see figure 2a).  These two tritones can be seen as implying dominant-seventh-type chords ascending by the interval of a perfect fourth, with a G pedal tone that is dissonant within the first sonority but consonant within the second.  This two-chord succession is then sequenced at various pitch levels to create a kind of creeping chromaticism in the bass and upper voice (figure 2b).  This passage is set in a meter of 10/8, and McLaughlin uses distortion and wah-wah pedal on the electric guitar in a way that is more likely to conjure up images of Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton than of Tal Farlow or Barney Kessel.  It is interesting to note that in his published full-score version of this piece, McLaughlin describes the "Dance of Maya" as being based on super-Locrian and octatonic scales based around E; the use of the octatonic scale is especially noteworthy here, since this symmetrical scale crosses many stylistic boundaries in twentieth-century music.

 Figure 2: a) two-chord model; b) the first six chords of the piece's chord progression

             Unlike the music of Return to Forever discussed above, the music of McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra does not really crossover into prog in a marked fashion.  It is, rather, a strong influence on certain prog musicians and helps to account for many moments when prog crosses over into fusion.  An example of this can be found in a number of passages from the 1975 Yes album, Relayer, especially the track entitled "Sound Chaser."  At 3:01, for instance, guitarist Steve Howe tears into an aggressive and angular electric-guitar cadenza, employing  the symmetrical character of the octatonic scale to create a non-tonal musical environment that is not very far removed from the one created by John McLaughlin on "The Dance of Maya" or on similar tracks such as "Meeting of the Spirits."  While Howe's solo is ultimately a kind of psychedelic, post-tonal, Flamenco hybrid stylistically, the general harmonic and melodic language he employs creates a similar musical affect to the one created frequently by McLaughlin through his use of synthetic and exotic scales.[14]

            A Patrick Moraz Moog synthesizer solo at 7:46 seems to draw heavily on Jan Hammer's MiniMoog style, and perhaps to a certain extent that of Chick Corea.  Moraz plays a quick succession of fast runs, "bending" and modulating the pitch of certain held notes to create an emulation of a string bend and vibrato on the electric guitar.  It is noteworthy how different this Moraz solo is stylistically from anything Rick Wakeman ever played with Yes, or even anything that came from Genesis' Tony Banks, and this marked departure from the progressive-rock norm further underscores the stylistic crossover present here.  In fact, the opening moments of this track prominently feature Moraz playing a series of fast runs and dramatic chords on the Fender Rhodes piano--the electric piano of choice for almost all fusion keyboardists at the time but an instrument almost completely absent from most progressive rock.

            In the discussion above there is perhaps a danger in exaggerating the similarities between fusion and prog; it would certainly be possible, for example, to present another collection of excerpts from Romantic Warrior, The Inner Mounting Flame, and Relayer that would emphasize the clear differences between the two styles (and that such examples could be readily produced explains to some degree why many writers have not thought to link the two styles more than they have to date).  The main purpose in highlighting these particular examples, however, is to suggest how young musicians listening to both kinds of records could have imagined a style that crosses over more thoroughly than these models do--a style which is more securely poised between prog and fusion.  In fact, the members of Happy the Man and the Dixie Dregs were just such musicians; these were a younger group of players who did not see any need to choose between the two styles and their music reflects this.  Let us first turn our attention to Happy the Man. 


Happy the Man and The Dixie Dregs

The Washington, D.C.-based Happy the Man released two albums during their time together (see fig. 3 below).[15]  The first, Happy the Man, appeared in 1977 and the second, Crafty Hands, was released in 1978.  After being dropped by their label, Arista, the group recorded a final demo LP in late 1979, which was released as Happy the Man Third, "Better Late . . ." in 1983 on a label (Azimuth) run by the group's keyboardist Kit Watkins.  The beginnings of the Happy the Man story go back to the early 1970s.[16]  Guitarist Stanley Whitaker and bassist Rick Kennell met on a US Army base in West Germany in 1972.  Whitaker, then a high-school student and member of the group Shady Grove, had developed an interest in the European prog groups.  From his location in Europe, Whitaker was exposed not only to the music of Genesis, Yes, and ELP, but also to groups that were not very well known in the States at the time, among them Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, and Gong.  Whitaker graduated high school and began as a student at James Madison University in Virginia in the fall of 1972.  Soon Kennell relocated to Harrisonburg, and Whitaker, keyboardist David Bach, and Kennell joined forces with drummer Mike Beck and singer Cliff Fortney.  By January of 1973 Bach had decided to leave the newly formed group to focus on his music studies, and keyboardists Kit Watkins and Frank Wyatt joined the group; with this latest personnel adjustment, the first Happy the Man line-up was in place.  Fortney would leave the group before the first Arista LP, to be replaced by Dan Owen, who would likewise depart before the group's first commercial release.



                        Happy the Man. Arista AL 4120, 1977. (Michael Beck, drums)

                        Crafty Hands. Arista AB 4191, 1978. (Ron Riddle, drums)

                        Happy the Man 3rd: "Better Late . . ."  Azimuth AZ 1003, 1983. (Coco Roussel, drums)


                        Beginnings. Cuneiform Records 55003, 1990. (Demo tapes from 1974-75.)

                        Live. Linden Music LM 2021, 1994. (Live tape from 1978 using third line-up.)

                        Death's Crown (1974). Cuneiform Records 55015, 1999. (live tape of a multi-media piece featuring Happy the Man line-up with Dan Owen but without Stanley Whitaker.)

Group formed in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 1972, and disbanded in 1979.  Rick Kennel (bass), Kit Watkins (keyboards), Stanley Whitaker (guitar), Frank Wyatt (keyboards/sax); drummers indicated above in parentheses. 

Figure 3: Happy the Man albums, tapes, and personnel


            Tapes of the early versions of Happy the Man reveal that the group was very much influenced by the British progressive-rock groups; there are many moments that could even pass for Genesis out-takes.  It is interesting in this regard that Happy the Man auditioned as Peter Gabriel's back-up band in the period after Gabriel left Genesis, but, according to guitarist Whitaker, the overall sound was a little to close to that of Genesis for everybody's comfort.[17]  By the time the group recorded their first LP, they had decided against having a singer front the group, concentrating instead on instrumental music.  Whitaker was subsequently drafted as the group's singer during the recording of the first album, but only on a couple of tracks (the hope was that vocals might get the band a little more radio play).   The group's music is thus mostly instrumental, and in this regard more like fusion than prog.

            Three members of Happy the Man wrote material for the group: guitarist Whitaker, keyboardist Watkins, and keyboardist and sax player Frank Wyatt.  "Steaming Pipes," from the group's second LP, provides a representative example of Stanley Whitaker's compositional style.  The  piece is in 11/8, the beats falling in a 4 + 3 + 4 pattern.  The rhythmic feel of the 11/8 this section is contrasted by a second section in 6/8.  Particularly notable on this track is the way Kit Watkins' characteristic Mini-Moog lines play off Whitaker's angular and Mahavishnu-styled arpeggios on the guitar, doubled by electric harpsichord.  Figure 4 shows the chords that form the basis for the 11/8 section.  Note that the tritone, noted earlier in the "Dance of Maya," is present in the upper two voices of Whitaker's chord progression; while in McLaughlin's two-chord model the tritone moves downward by half step, here the tritone descends by whole step.  The bass alternates between the tritone A - D# in the first chord, the perfect fourth in the second, and the perfect fifth in the third, creating a much less chromatic bass that can be found in "The Dance of Maya."  The band's arrangement of "Steaming Pipes," like much progressive rock, is highly structured: while both Whitaker and Watkins solo over both the 11/8 and 6/8 sections, the accompanying parts are set and unlikely to change from performance to performance.  I will return below to a consideration of how live versions of this and other Happy the Man works help mark an important distinction between the band and thie fusion mentors, the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  For present purposes it will be enough to note a blending of stylistic characteristics often associated with both fusion and prog. 


Figure 4: Basic chords from the 11/8 section of "Steaming Pipes" 

            "Morning Sun" (also from the group's second album) is a beautiful and haunting Kit Watkins number that provides a representative example of his compositional tendencies.  Since I have discussed the technical aspects of this piece elsewhere (Covach 1999, 29-31), I will only briefly touch on the aspects of crossover in regard to this track.   The most obvious reference to fusion in this case is the prominence of the arpeggios in the Fender Rhodes piano (doubled by the guitar).  The sustained synthetic orchestral-string backdrop creates a delicate atmosphere that highlights the music's reference to Debussy's music, especially in the use of augmented triads throughout the song and in the free use of diatonic combinations.  The arrangement of "Morning Sun" consists mostly of layered keyboards, with Watkins soloing over a repeated iterations of the basic song structure, though there is also a section of the song (2:31-3:00) in which Whitaker plays an acoustic steel-string guitar solo against the orchestral keyboard textures.  As the guitar solo comes to a close, the drums make a dramatic entrance and the song moves towards its close in a very measured, almost stately manner.  Here again, fusion elements are drawn into a prog context to create a marked instance of stylistic crossover.

            In regard to the form of the Whitaker and Watkins tracks, these pieces follow a common fusion practice: after the principal sections of the pieces are performed once or twice through, the remainder of the track consists of soloing over these sections, sometimes with a return to the "head" to conclude.  In Happy the Man's music, there may be composed transitions as well as endings that take the place of the standard return to the head at the end of the tune, but it is still often the case that the tunes are vehicles for soloing.  The music of the third composer in the group, Frank Wyatt, is less often structured this way; Wyatt tended to write longer and more complicated multi-sectional works.  While there is some soloing in these pieces, the parts are almost entirely worked out to be performed the same way in each performance.  Wyatt's harmonic and melodic practice owes much to fusion, but he is perhaps the group composer most indebted to progressive rock in his "composerly" attitude towards his arrangements.

            Let us now turn from the music of Happy the Man to that of the Dixie Dregs; the Dregs offer a nice comparison to Happy the Man in a number of ways.  While Happy the Man was initially modeled on the British progressive rock groups, the Dregs were from the start modeled on the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  The instrumentation betrays this: like McLaughlin's band, the Dregs employ guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and electric violin.  The group actually began as a rock combo in the University of Miami's jazz program in 1973.  According to drummer Rod Morgenstein, "I was just living and breathing the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and here I found Steve Morse, who was actually writing in that style."[18]  Steve Morse wrote most of the group's material through the 1970s and into the 1980s, and his debt to John McLaughlin can be heard clearly in a number of Dregs tracks.  But Morse also admits to a deep admiration for the playing of Yes guitarist Steve Howe (who actually plays on a Dregs track, "Up in the Air" from Industry Standard), making Morse the very kind of crossover listener that was posited above.[19]



                       Freefall. Capricorn Records CPN 0189, 1977. (Steve Davidowski, kybds)

                       What If. Capricorn Records CPN 0203, 1978. (Mark Parrish, keyboards)

                       Night of the Living Dregs. Capricorn Records CPN 0216, 1979. (MP, kybds)

                       Dregs of the Earth. Arista AL 9528, 1980. (T. Lavitz, keyboards)

                       Unsung Heroes. Arista AL 9548, 1981. (TL, kybds)

                       Industry Standard. Arista AL 9588, 1982. (TL, kybds; Mark O'Connor, vln)

                       Bring 'Em Back Alive. Capricorn Records 9 42005-2, 1992. (Dave LaRue, bass; T. Lavitz, kybds; Allen Sloan, vln)

                       Full Circle. Capricorn Records 2-42021, 1994. (Jerry Goodman, vln; Dave LaRue, bass; T. Lavitz, kybds)



                        Dixie Dregs. King Biscuit Flower Hour Records 70710-88031-2, 1997.  (Live broadcast recorded 17 June 1979; T. Lavitz, kybds., Allen Sloan, vln.)

Group formed in Miami, Florida in 1973, disbanded in 1982, and reformed in 1992.  Rod Morgenstein (drums), Steve Morse (guitar), Allen Sloan (electric violin), Andy West (bass); all deviations from this line-up are indicated above in parentheses. 

Figure 5: Dixie Dregs' albums, tapes, and personnel


            In the context of the present discussion, an important feature of Dixie Dregs music is that it blends together aspects of prog and fusion.  It is important to note as well that there are more styles than these two present in the band's music, and the wide range of styles to be found on the group's 1978 release, What If, provides a representative example.  The influence of both fusion and progressive rock can be heard in the album's second track, Morse's "Odyssey."  The piece begins with a Mahavishnu-esque weaving chromatic melody that employs dramatic chromatic-third-related chord pairs--A major to F major and G major to Eb major (0:00-0:34).  This lyrical section gives way to a faster section in 13/8 (counted 7 + 6), driven by a perpetual-motion bass and guitar line that modulates constantly as a more sustained melodic line is layered above (0:35-1:28).  At 1:29-3:54, a section based on acoustic-guitar arpeggios that play on a harmonic shift from C# minor seventh to A minor ninth (in the context of E major) provide a repeated pattern over which an extended violin  solo occurs.  This solo is interrupted (2:56-3:11), however, with a strongly contrasting passage employing "composed" parts for the band, before giving way to a return to the more relaxed and improvisitory continuation of the violin solo.  While the piece lasts almost eight minutes, these opening four minutes already evince a close blending of prog and fusion elements: the "composed" sections contrast with the looser solo (in a way reminiscent of "Medieval Overture"), and the McLaughlin-esque angularity of the opening contrasts with the harder driving power chords found in the section that follows.

            The influence of fusion is especially evident in the LP's title track, "What If."  This piece directly adopts the Mahavishnu Orchestra sound, as it also approaches the lyrical, slow ballad according to a familiar jazz practice.  After a brief introduction, the 16-bar melody is stated by the violin and guitar in unison, with the Rhodes, drums, and fretless electric bass accompanying (0:16-1:15).  A four-bar transition leads to the return of the harmonic framework of the 16-bar tune, over which Morse solos (1:31-2:32).  The third time through (2:48-3:49) features a synthesizer solo over the first eight bars, with the "head" returning for the last eight bars as the synth solo continues.  After the four-bar transition, the head continues as the track fades out.  By contrast, the album's first track, "Take It Off the Top," is an up-tempo rock number that would not likely have appeared on a John McLaughlin or Chick Corea record.  With a complicated arrangement and sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic features, the track has more in common with Kansas--the American progressive-rock group with whom Morse played in the 1980s--than with most fusion of the 1970s.  The band's connection to progressive rock is further reinforced by "Little Kids," which features Morse on two tracks of classical guitar together with Allen Sloan's acoustic violin.  This short piece makes a clear reference to classical music--so much so that it seems more suited to a classical-guitar recital than to the rock stage.  It is clearly indebted to the many classical-guitar passages found on Yes and Genesis albums from earlier in the 1970s (played by Steve Howe and Steve Hackett respectively).

            The music of the Dixie Dregs, like that of Happy the Man, often resides in that area of intersection between progressive rock and jazz rock referred to above.  Rather than being centered in one style and only venturing over to the other occasionally (as in the music of Return to Forever and Yes discussed above), the music of both bands is more centered in this in-between ground.  The situation in regard to the Dixie Dregs is more complicated than for Happy the Man, since the Dregs also cross over into country and funk at times as well (consider "Gina Lola Breakdown" and "Ice Cakes" from What If for examples of each). 

            The question of stylistic crossover is further complicated by the role of improvization in the music of each group.  Live tapes of the Mahavishnu Orchestra from the 1972-4 period, for instance, reveal that album tracks were extended in performance and solos tend not to be duplicated, either from the record or from performance to performance.  This is, of course, entirely consistent with jazz practice generally; no matter how arranged the tune is, the solos are always open to fresh interpretation.  The practice in progressive rock is more constrained.  Live versions of Yes tracks tend to keep close to the recorded versions; solos may change from performance to performance, but they sometimes also follow the album version fairly closely.  For the most part, Genesis performances are even closer to the recorded version than those of Yes or Jethro Tull.  In the case of Happy the Man, tapes from the late 1970s reveal that live versions of the album tracks were almost identical to their studio versions; even solos, however improvised they might sound on the record, are reproduced relatively faithfully.  The Dixie Dregs are somewhat freer in their solos, though these tend not to be extended beyond the length of the studio versions.  Broadly speaking, the contrasting relationship between studio and live versions of pieces in prog and fusion might be cast as follows: fusion musicians attempt to capture a live performance on the record, while prog musicians attempt to reproduce the record live.  If this is the case, then both Happy the Man and the Dixie Dregs fall much more into the prog camp than into the fusion one.[20]


Stylistic Crossover

I have argued that crossover occurs in the music of Happy the Man and the Dixie Dregs because the members of these bands developed in a musical culture that privileged instrumental prowess and virtuosity.  In the mid 1970s, a rock player had two stylistic options if s/he aspired to the highest level of technical proficiency; progressive rock and jazz-rock fusion.  There were, of course, other options as well; one could turn to classical music or to traditional jazz, for instance.  But for those who wanted to continue playing some form of rock music, the two choices were prog and fusion.  In the mid 1970s the British progressive-rock bands were at the peak of their popularity.  Fusion artists were enjoying commercial success as well; the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire, for example, rose as high as number 15 on the Top-40 Album chart in 1973.  Considering the American reception of British progressive rock and American fusion, it is perhaps not so surprising that two American groups each developed a distinctive sound that straddled the stylistic boundary between jazz fusion and progressive rock. 

            But there were problems with the distinctiveness of the stylistic crossover in each case: neither group experienced much commercial success, and this is certainly due in large part to the fact that each group was difficult to market.  As instrumental bands, each was incompatible with late-1970s rock radio formats.  As rock bands, each was also incompatible with most jazz formats, since even the avowedly fusion groups tended to be viewed with a certain disdain by the jazz purists.  But the kind of aspiring musicians who had supported the original prog and fusion musicians in the 1970s came to embrace at least a few of this new generation.  While the musicians in Happy the Man remained generally unknown, Guitar Player readers voted Steve Morse Best Overall five years in a row (1982-82), and voted the Dregs Industry Standard LP the Best Guitar Album of 1982.[21]  Had more readers in these guitar, bass, percussion, and keyboard communities been aware of the Happy the Man LPs, it seems likely that these musicians would have been celebrated as well.

            To conclude this study, let us return to the distinction that was made at the outset between chart crossover and stylistic crossover.  It is clear that, in the case of most of the bands we have examined here, chart crossover has no real application.  One could point to the Mahavishnu Orchestra crossing over into the Top-40 Album chart as indicated above, but that is about all that the charts can tell us.  Stylistic crossover is more helpful but at the same time a far more interpretive operation.  Consider that we begin with two distinct styles that are themselves hybrids: progressive rock blends rock with classical music and fusion blends jazz with rock.  Next we insert into this context music that might also be seen to be a stylistic hybrid, but in this case a hybrid of two hybrids.  How is this second hybrid different from the first two?  Can such distinctions ultimately be helpful?

            The first step in understanding this situation is in seeing an important difference between prog and fusion on one hand and the music of Happy the Man and the Dregs on the other.  We can think of both fusion and prog as distinguishable styles because there are many works that can be classified--if sometimes only roughly--under each stylistic label.  There is, in short, a prog repertoire and a fusion repertoire.  But aside from the albums under discussion, it would be difficult to produce a similar repertoire for American prog-fusion crossover music.  Thus, if we return to the Venn diagram suggested above, each of the intersecting circles is a collection of features derived from across some repertoire, while in the area of intersection are features shared by some pieces, but these pieces do not in themselves constitute a repertoire of comparable size and variety.  When there are enough pieces that reside in this intersecting space, one can no longer speak as profitably about crossover, but instead may need to consider the possibility of a distinct hybrid style.  Thus crossover always involves holding two repertories simultaneously in view with the idea that the piece (or pieces) under scrutiny would not fit cleanly into a single repertoire.  Such an operation is markedly interpretive in the sense that it is the music scholar who invokes the styles in force in any given case.  And such an interpretive operation is relative in the sense that one could also construct a pair of Venn diagrams in which one circle represents jazz and the other rock, with fusion at the intersection, or a pair in which one circle represents rock and the other classical with prog in the middle.  In this case, "crossover" might be applied in a much more general sense than the one used for the present study.  


Recordings Cited (not including those listed in figs. 3 and 4)

The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Capitol 2653, 1967. 

Miles Davis, In A Silent Way. Columbia, 1969.  

________, Bitches Brew. Columbia PG 26, 1970. 

Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery. Atlantic SD 19124, 1973. 

Genesis, A Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Atlantic SD2-401, 1974. 

Jethro Tull, Thick As A Brick. Reprise MS 2072, 1972. 

The Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Inner Mounting Flame. Columbia 31067, 1971. 

Return to Forever, Romantic Warrior. Columbia PC 34076. CD re-issue: Columbia CK 46109, 1976. 

Yes, The Yes Album. Atlantic SD 19131, 1971. 

________, Close to the Edge. Atlantic SD 19133, 1972. 

________, Tales from Topographic Oceans. Atlantic SD2-908., 1973 

________, Relayer. Atlantic 18122, 1974.

[1]. In his Yesterdays: Popular Song in America (New York: Norton, 1983), pp. 391-424, musicologist Charles Hamm  provides a clear explanation of the role played by crossover hits in the early years of rock and roll, as well as the role played by cover versions during this period.  The classic study of the American popular-music business is Russell Sanjek's three-volume history, the third volume of which deals with the twentieth century and is reprinted and expanded by his son David Sanjek; see Pennies from Heaven: The American Popular Music Business in the Twentieth Century, rev. and updated ed. New York: Da Capo, 1996).  For consideration of some of the political dimensions of crossover, see Steve Perry,"'Ain't No Mountain High Enough': The Politics of Crossover," in Facing the Music, ed. Simon Frith (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 51-87.

[2]. It is probably proper to admit from the start that, strictly speaking, the question of chart crossover never really arises in regard to the groups under consideration, since neither the Dixie Dregs nor Happy the Man ever had a Top-40 album or single on any chart.

[3]. I offer condensed historical overviews of progressive rock in "Progressive Rock, 'Close to the Edge,' and the Boundaries of Style" in Understanding Rock: Essay in Musical Analysis, ed. John Covach and Graeme Boone (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 3-31; and "Echolyn and American Progressive Rock," in American Rock and the Classical Music Tradition, ed. John Covach and Walter Everett (special issue of Contemporary Music Review 18/4 [2000]), 13-61.  More detailed accounts of 1970s progressive rock can be found in Edward Macan, Rockin' the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Paul Stump, The Music's All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock (London: Quartet Books, 1997).  Bill Martin's Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock, 1968-78 (Chicago and La Salle: Open Court, 1997) also offers much detailed information on this music, but, owing to its informal and often idiosyncratic character, must be consulted with caution.

[4] Poll results for the 1977-81 period can be found in the following issues of Guitar Player: 11/12 (December 1977), 30-1; 12/12 (December 1978), 40-1; 13/12 (December 1979), 72-3; 14/12 (December 1980), 24-5; and 15/12 (December 1981), 56-7.  During these years in which Steve Howe won the Best Overall category, his bandmate Chris Squire took first in the Bass category in 1980, and second in the other four years.  Guitar Player introduced a sister publication, Contemporary Keyboard, in September 1975.  In the new magazine's first reader's poll (3/1 [January 1977], 24-5), Keith Emerson took first place in five categories: Best Overall, Rock Piano, Synthesizer, Rock Organ, Multi-Keyboard.  In 1978 he repeated this feat, adding Best Keyboard Album as his sixth honor (3/12 [December 1977], 20-1).  In 1977, then Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz won Best New Talent and Best Keyboard Album as well.  In the first reader's poll conducted by Modern Drummer (3/3 [May/June 1979], 26-8), Carl Palmer and Bill Bruford placed second and third behind Carmen Appice in the Rock category.

[5]. Stuart Nicholson's Jazz Rock: A History (New York: Schirmer, 1998) offers a detailed history of jazz rock, with extended discussion of each of the groups mentioned here.  Mark Gridley (Jazz Styles: History and Analysis, 6th ed. [Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997], pp. 324-54) provides a briefer but more music-technical discussion, while Ted Gioia (The History of Jazz [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], 364-81) places jazz rock within the context of other stylistic fusions in regard to jazz.

[6] Before DiMeola's streak, John McLaughlin had placed first in the Jazz category of the Guitar Player reader's poll in three consecutive years (7/4 [May/June 1973], 8/12 [December 1974], 22-3, and 9/12 [December 1975], 22-3).  In the 1975-79 polls, Stanley Clarke placed first in the bass category, being retired to the Gallery of Greats in 1979.  In the first Contemporary Keyboard poll (for 1976) in which Keith Emerson took first in five categories, Chick Corea placed first in Electric Piano, which he repeated along with Jazz Piano the next year.  In the first Modern Drummer poll, Billy Cobham placed second in the Best Overall category behind Steve Gadd, while Tony Williams won in the Jazz category.

[7]. For an account of the attacks to which progressive rock has been subjected along these lines, see Macan, Rockin' the Classics, 167-78.  For an account of the parallel phenomenon in jazz-rock, see Nicholson, Jazz-Rock, xiii-xviii.

[8]. The separation of these styles continues even in some of the best recent scholarship: Nicholson only occasionally mentions progressive rock, and then mostly offers negative assessments; Macan devotes some attention to jazz-rock, but mostly in the context of the British Canterbury scene.

[9]. There was some crossing over of personnel among the big-name players in the two styles in the late 1970s.  Genesis drummer Phil Collins played in the English fusion band Brand X in the late 1970s; when Collins took over as lead vocalist from Peter Gabriel, jazz-rocker American Chester Thompson (drums) joined the band for all live performances, as did Daryl Stuermer (guitar/bass) after guitarist Steve Hackett's departure from the group.  The late-1970s prog supergroup UK featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who subsequently became one of the most admired guitarists in jazz rock.  Some of this crossover is explained by the presence of a jazz rock fusion in England within the Canterbury scene, of which 1970s Soft Machine is perhaps the best example; while most Canterbury music is not very well known in North America, its roots are in the same mid- to late-1960s scene that spawned the British prog bands.  Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, and Tomorrow (featuring Steve Howe), for instance, were the most influential bands in the London psychedelic underground of the 1966-69 period.  Nicholson provides a useful account of the late-60s British scene with an eye toward the development of jazz rock; see Jazz-Rock, 14-28.

[10] While this seems obvious from even a cursory perusal of periodicals from the 1970s directed at musicians (and these periodicals are cited throughout this study), I can attest that this was certainly consistent with my experience during this period as a young developing guitarist playing and teaching in the Detroit area.

[11]. The music-analytical descriptions that follows relies on CD timings to locate points of reference.  The CD re-issue used in each is provided in the Recordings list appended to this chapter.

[12]  While this track's title refers to the overture in a classical-music sense, the themes it presents do not prefigure those that follow on the album in any obvious way.

[13]. For Nicholson the influence of progressive rock on Chick Corea's music during the mid 1970s was unfortunate, and Nicholson's position on this point is indicative of aesthetic attitudes that continue to separate fans (and writers) of the two styles, even if these attitudes are not shared by the musicians themselves.  Progressive rock bands are dismissed for their "empty virtuosity," with Corea as well "guilty of exploiting his technique at the expense of meaning," producing music that is ultimately "cute and pretentious" (Jazz-Rock, 202).

[14] Howe's opening solo to the group's "Close to the Edge" (1972) seems also inspired in part by McLaughlin.  Other Howe solos betray the influence of jazz on his playing as well, especially on The Yes Album (1971).  Howe was something of an exception in the late-1960s and early-1970s in his use of a large-body Gibson ES-175 guitar--an instrument more often used by traditional jazzers.

[15] I discuss Happy the Man in "Echolyn and American Progressive Rock," where my principal concern is situating the band within the context of American progressive rock in the 1970s.  They are considered there along with Kansas, Starcastle, and dozens of other groups.  In that study I focused on demonstrating the ways in which the group's music integrates features drawn from classical music into a rock context (a basic feature of almost all progressive rock).

[16] The following account of the band's history is drawn from the liner notes to the band's compilation CD, Retrospective (East Side Digital ESD 80292, 1989), many of the details of which were confirmed in a telephone conversation with Stanley Whitaker, 8 November 1995.

[17] Telephone conversation, 8 November 1995.

[18] Morgenstern's remarks are drawn from the liner notes to the live CD, Dixie Dregs, which also contains a band history.  For additional accounts of the Dregs' history and influences, see Jas Obrecht, "Steve Morse and Andy West: Forging A New Southern Sound." Guitar Player 12/12 (December 1978), 34+; and "Steve Morse: Electric Guitar Master Class." Guitar Player 16/8 (August 1982), 59+.

[19] In 1982 Steve Morse was featured in Guitar Player's "Essential Listening" column (Guitar Player 16/6 [June], 58+), a regular column in which a well-known guitarist shares the albums he or she thinks were most influential in the development of his or her playing.  Of the nine guitarists he discusses, both McLaughlin and Howe rank very high for Morse.  The feeling seems to be mutual, at least as far as Howe is concerned; in an interview with the author on 25 June 1998, the Yes guitarist mentioned that he and Morse are hoping to tour together in the near future. See

[20] This issue is not made any easier by considering the way the albums considered in this study were recorded.  Tracks on Yes' Relayer, for instance, were composed by splicing together short stretches of recorded material; the group sometimes had to learn the tracks after they were recorded in order to perform them live.  Mahavishnu Orchestra tracks seem to project a sense that they were done in real time as complete takes, though I do not know if this is the case or not.  An important figure in all this might be engineer and producer Ken Scott.  Scott worked on a number of records for a wide variety of artists, including the Beatles.  He worked with the Mahavishnu Orchestra (as did Beatles producer George Martin) and produced albums for Happy the Man and the Dixie Dregs.  The role of the recording process in this music is an area yet to be examined in any scholarly depth.

[21] Poll results can be found in the following issues of Guitar Player: 16/12 (December 1982), 52-54; 18/1 (January 1984), 34-37; 19/1 (January 1985), 42-44; 19/12 (Decemner 1985), 52-57; and 20/12 (December 1986), 64-65.  Dregs bassist Andy West placed second in 1982 and third in 1983 and 1984.