Singer/Guitar Icon from Ripley Surrey England
Part Celtic bard, part soulster, and part ecstatically scatting mystical visionary, Van Morrison is a painfully introverted figure who rarely gives interviews and is often at a loss to explain his own lyrics. In the studio, Van Morrison can sing like a soul man getting the spirit; onstage, however, his brilliance can be undercut by whim or temper, and he has upon occasion alienated audiences by rushing through songs and remaining aloof between them. Nonetheless, his influence among rock singer/songwriters is unrivaled by any living artist outside of that other prickly legend, Bob Dylan. Echoes of Morrison's rugged literateness and his gruff, feverishly emotive vocal style can be heard in latter-day icons ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Costello, while the Irish artist's own restless muse has kept him prolific and engaging through the '90s.
Morrison's mother sang at social gatherings, and his father collected classic blues and jazz records. He learned guitar, saxophone, and harmonica while in school, and was playing with Belfast blues, jazz, and rock bands by his mid-teens. At 15, he quit school, joined an R&B band called the Monarchs, and toured Europe with them as saxophonist. While in Germany, a film director offered Morrison a role in a movie as a jazz saxophonist. The project was dropped, and Morrison returned to Belfast and opened an R&B club in the Maritime Hotel. He recruited some friends to form Them, which became an immediate local sensation as the club's house band.
Them recorded two singles in late 1964: "Don't Start Crying Now" (a local hit) and Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go" (which made the British Top 10 in early 1965). After the latter's success, the band moved to London and hooked up with producer Bert Berns. They recorded Berns' "Here Comes the Night," which went to Number Two in the U.K. and made the Top 30 in the U.S. Them's next two singles, "Gloria" (by Morrison) and "Mystic Eyes," were minor U.S. hits; "Gloria" was later covered by the Shadows of Knight (who took the song to Number 10 in 1966) and Patti Smith. Them's lineup underwent constant changes, and Berns brought in sessionmen, including Jimmy Page, for their albums. After a mostly unsuccessful U.S. tour in 1966, the group returned to England. Morrison disbanded Them, which soon re-formed with Ken McDowell as vocalist.
Morrison, meanwhile, grew frustrated by music-business manipulations (Them had wrongly been given a rough-kids image by their company), stopped performing, and moved back to Belfast. Meanwhile, Bert Berns (a.k.a. B. Russell) formed Bang Records in New York, and sent Morrison a plane ticket and an invitation to record four singles for his new label. One of them, "Brown Eyed Girl," reached Number 10 in the U.S. in 1967. Morrison toured America but was again disgruntled when Berns released the other singles &Number 8212; which Morrison considered demos &Number 8212; as Blowin' Your Mind. After Berns died of a sudden heart attack in December 1967, Morrison undertook an East Coast tour and wrote material for his next album. Warner Bros. president Joe Smith signed him in early 1968, and Morrison went into a New York studio that summer with numerous jazz musicians. In 48 hours he cut one of rock's least classifiable, most enduring albums, Astral Weeks, the first manifestation of Morrison's Irish-romantic mysticism. Though most of its cuts were meandering and impressionistic, with folky guitars over jazzy rhythms topped by Morrison's soul-styled vocals, critics raved; the album is still considered one of Morrison's richest, most powerful efforts.
His next album, Moondance (Number 29, 1970), traded the jazz-and-strings sound of Astral Weeks for a horn-section R&B bounce. The title tune and "Come Running" were chart singles, the latter in 1970 (Number 39), the former not until late 1977. The fittingly titled "Into the Mystic" became a minor hit for Johnny Rivers, while "Caravan" became an FM radio favorite. It was the first Morrison album to chart in the Top 100, and it eventually went platinum. His Band and the Street Choir (Number 32, 1970) yielded two uptempo R&B-flavored Top 40 hits in "Domino" (Number 9, 1970) and "Blue Money" (Number 23, 1971). By this time, Morrison had moved to Marin County, California, and married a woman who called herself Janet Planet.
Tupelo Honey (Number 27, 1971) reflected his new domestic contentment. It yielded a hit in "Wild Night" (Number 28) and went gold, thanks to progressive FM radio, which latched on to the lyrical title tune (featuring Modern Jazz Quartet drummer Connie Kay). St. Dominic's Preview (Number 15, 1972) included the minor hit single "Jackie Wilson Said" (Number 61) and contained two extended journeys into the mystic: "Listen to the Lion" and "Almost Independence Day." In 1972 Morrison guested on the John Lee Hooker–Charlie Musselwhite album Never Get Out of These Blues Alive.
By the time of Hard Nose the Highway (Number 27, 1973), Morrison had formed the 11-piece Caledonia Soul Orchestra, which was featured on the live LP It's Too Late to Stop Now. In 1973, though, Morrison suddenly divorced Janet Planet, disbanded the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, and returned to Belfast for the first time since 1966. There he began writing material for Veedon Fleece (Number 53, 1974).
Morrison took three years to produce a followup. He reportedly began sessions for an album four different times (one with jazz-funk band the Crusaders), but completed none. By 1976, he was living in California again. Late that year he appeared at the Band's farewell concert and in Martin Scorsese's film of the event, The Last Waltz. Finally, in 1977 came A Period of Transition (Number 43, 1977), which featured short jazz and R&B-oriented tunes and backup by pianist Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack. For Wavelength (Number 28, 1978), Morrison took on concert promoter Bill Graham as manager (they split in 1981); the album sold fairly well. Still, Morrison's chronic stage fright continued to plague him. At a 1979 show at New York's Palladium, he stormed off the stage midset without a word and didn't return.
The more serene Into the Music (Number 43, 1979) implied that Morrison had become a born-again Christian, and Common One (Number 73, 1980) delved more into extended mysticism. Beautiful Vision (Number 44, 1982) was more varied and concise, and it generated, as usual, sizable critical acclaim and respectable sales. It also included "Cleaning Windows," which contained references to such Morrison inspirations as Lead Belly, bluesmen Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Muddy Waters, as well as Beat author Jack Kerouac and country singer Jimmie Rodgers. Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (Number 116, 1983) offered "special thanks" to L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.
With A Sense of Wonder (Number 61, 1985), Morrison continued on his spiritual journey and drew further on literary influences, incorporating the work of a favorite poet, William Blake, on the track "Let the Slave." Meanwhile, Morrison rediscovered his ethnic roots and wanderlust, leaving his California home to travel nomadlike through Dublin, Belfast, and London. On No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (Number 70, 1986), the singer shared this sense of rebirth, while the album's title sneered at critics who had tried to pigeonhole his religious beliefs.
Morrison delved deeper into Celtic imagery with Poetic Champions Compose (Number 90, 1987) and collaborated with Ireland's best-loved traditional band, the Chieftains, on Irish Heartbeat (Number 102, 1988). Avalon Sunset (Number 91, 1989) contained "Whenever God Shines His Light on Me," a duet with Cliff Richard that became Morrison's first British Top 20 single since his days with Them, and "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You," which in 1993 became a Number Five U.S. hit for Rod Stewart.
Morrison entered the '90s with the nostalgia-drenched Enlightenment (Number 62, 1990), on which he recalled first becoming acquainted with rock & roll and continued to explore the links between spiritual and romantic love. These themes carried over onto the similarly acclaimed double album Hymns to the Silence (Number 99, 1991), while on Too Long in Exile (Number 29, 1993), the singer brought things full circle, covering songs by some of his heroes &Number 8212; including Ray Charles and Sonny Boy Williamson &Number 8212; and duetting with John Lee Hooker on Them's "Gloria," with enough ardor to dispel any suspicions that age had mellowed him. Hooker, in fact, turned up as a surprise guest at some of Morrison's concerts in the early '90s, and Morrison would produce two of Hooker's albums in the late '90s. Morrison's spirited 1993 performances in San Francisco, documented on A Night in San Francisco (recorded December 18), were indicative of his renewed vigor onstage. That same year, Morrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A couple of years later, How Long Has This Been Going On (1996), a live jazz show recorded with Georgie Fame and Friends at Ronnie Scott's Club in London in 1995 also attested to his renewed energy. Nevertheless, Days Like This (Number 33, 1995) and The Healing Game (Number 32, 1997) were railed by critics as predictable, lackluster performances, especially Morrison's vocals; the former, however, included two duets with his daughter, Shana. Morrison took on an elder-statesman role when the song "Days Like This" was adopted as a peace anthem in Northern Ireland, and he received an Order of the British Empire title in 1996. A prolific artist, he continued his extraordinary output of an album nearly every year, and released The Philosopher's Stone, a two-disc set of previously unreleased material, in 1998. Back on Top, an album of new material, followed the next year. In 2000 Morrison was inspired by working with other musicians, and he released a concert recording of skiffle tunes performed with Lonnie Donegan, The Skiffle Sessions: Live in Belfast, 1998, and You Win Again, an album of country, rockabilly, and blues covers performed with singer/pianist Linda Gail Lewis, the sister of Jerry Lee Lewis.
from The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001)
Singer/Guitar Icon from Ripley Surrey England
An English singer-songwriter.
bass player and singer for the Beatles and later Wings