Van Morrison Biography
Morrison has an enormous body of highly acclaimed musical compositions. His albums consistently list highly on published lists of critically acclaimed Musical work. He is the composer of albums that are considered the Best of All Time. He is also considered one of the most important living artists of our time. On the 1995 MOJO list of “100 Best Albums,” Morrison’s music tops the list at #2. Rolling Stone Magazine lists Morrison’s compositions at #19 on “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and in 2004 ranked him 42nd on their list of The Immortals: 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Accordingly, VH1 lists Morrison in the top 50 greatest Musicians of all time.
Morrison’s 1968 Astral Weeks recordings are listed in over 200 publications the world over as one of the most important records in the history of music.
Born in Belfast, Van Morrison’s father was an avid collector of American blues and jazz records. Morrison grew up listening to AMERICAN music like Leadbelly, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, John Lee Hooker, Mahalia Jackson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. He grew up surrounded by every kind of American musical influence. From the age of 13, he was adept at playing guitar, sax and harmonica and played with a series of local showbands along with Skiffle and Rock 'n' Roll groups, including Brian Rossi at the Plaza Ballroom. His early love of music, for the music, has certainly paid off.
Morrison’s music continues to have that authentic American Blues, Jazz and melodic Folk sound that he loved and listened to in his childhood, long before those early showbands and well before his initial 1964/5 hit records with his band called THEM. It’s a little recognized yet open secret that VAN MORRISON was, in fact, the band THEM.
In June 1966, at the famed Whisky-A-Go-Go, The Doors were the opening act for Them. According to Ray Manzarek, in his book, “Light My Fire”, ‘Jim (Morrison) was transfixed by Van. He studied his every move. He put the eye on him and he absorbed … The last night … saw us all in a monster jam session … Jim Morrison and Van Morrison onstage at the same time! And singing ‘Gloria.”
Backed by The Jim Daly Trio, Morrison began his solo career in Belfast supporting Alexis Korner. He toured Holland singing with Cuby and The Blizzards before going to New York in 1967, where he recorded an LP titled Blowin Your Mind with the producer Bert Berns, who had previously produced Them. Following Berns' death in 1968 Morrison recruited a group of jazz musicians to record the profound Astral Weeks, a timeless classic which brought together elements of true soul, improvised jazz and rhthym & blues - true Van Morrison signature sounds which run thoughout all of his music to date - both in subtle and not so subtle forms.
Initially living on a couch in Boston then moving on to California, Morrison produced a string of albums including Moondance, Tupelo Honey and St Dominic’s Preview while touring extensively with his band the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. His 1974 live set It’s Too Late To Stop Now marked the end of this prolific early phase as Van returned to explore his Ulster Scots roots. The ensuing album; the brillant Veedon Fleece (1974) featured a quieter, more pastoral sound and was to be his last release for three years to come.
He returned to the public eye in 1977 with the aptly titled A Period Of Transition, an album co-produced by Mac 'Dr John' Rebennack. Following his re-location to London he released Wavelength (1978) and Into The Music (1979) by which time Morrison’s interest in spiritual matters was finding regular expression in his recordings.
The theme of spiritual quest came to prominence in the albums he made in the 1980's: Common One, Beautiful Vision, Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart, A Sense Of Wonder, No Guru No Method No Teacher and Poetic Champions Compose established Morrison’s status as an artist of unrivalled integrity and vision.
The refrain of ULSTER-SCOTS Celt is Van Morrison’s true signature sound, and the 1988 album Irish Heartbeat with The Cheiftains is a traditional example of this. In 1989 came the release of Avalon Sunset, which, at the time was his most commercially successful for those earlier years and concluded what had been a remarkably productive decade for Van Morrison.
As prolific as ever, Van varied his musical approach in the 1990s. Enlightenment (1990) and Hymns To The Silence (1991) continued down the road of spiritual proclaimation while 1993s Too Long In Exile leaned towards the blues, returning Van to the singles chart again with a re-working of Gloria, performed with his buddy and one of his all-time favourite bluesmen, John Lee Hooker.
After the acclaimed Days Like This (1995) came How Long Has This Been Going On (1995), an album of mostly jazz standards featuring his organist Georgie Fame.
Following the release of 1997s Healing Game came The Philosopher’s Stone (1998), an album containing 30 previously unreleased tracks recorded between 1971 and 1988, a mixture of new songs and interpretations of Morrison classics like Wonderful Remark and Bright Side Of The Road. In the same year (1998) Van won a Grammy for his collaboration with his favourite bluesman John Lee Hooker on Don't Look Back, which Morrison also produced.
Back On Top was released in March 1999 and was widely heralded as one of Morrison’s most accomplished and successful albums featured the Top 40 hit single Precious Time.
After a career spanning some four decades, it seemed appropriate that the year 2000 saw Van returning to his earliest musical influence, the one which drove the child from Belfast to get into the music, a musical full-circle, with The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast. Re-uniting with the musical heroes of his youth, Van joined SKIFFLE KING Lonnie Donegan and Jazz trombone virtuoso and Skiffle string bass player, Chris Barber together on stage at Belfast’s Whitla Hall for a GRAND performance, and the energy and enthusiasm of both the performers and crowd was captured in full on this LIVE album, which met with huge critical acclaim.
In 2002, Van Morrison returned with his new album Down The Road. The album featured 13 brand new songs alongside a unique version of Georgia On My Mind and Evening Shadows, an Acker Bilk instrumental to which Van added his own lyrical magic.
In recognition of his unique position as one of the most important songwriters of the past century, Van Morrison was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame by the late great RAY CHARLES at an awards ceremony in New York City in June 2003.
Later in the same year (2003) he signed a worldwide deal with the legendary Blue Note Records. Morrison’s debut release at the jazz label was What’s Wrong With This Picture? This album draws upon the jazz & blues influences that he has explored consistently throughout his career. What’s Wrong with this Picture? received a Grammy Awards nomination for Van Morrison in the 'Best Contemporary Blues Album' category.
Magic Time, released on Van’s own Exile Music Recordings label in 2005, showcased some of his most powerful songs to date like Stranded, Magic Time, Celtic New Year and Gypsy In My Soul. It was followed by Pay The Devil, a seamless combination of three originals (including the title track) and 12 covers of classic country songs written by such masters as Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Merle Kilgore, Rodney Crowell, Curly Williams and Leon Payne.
Two originals, Playhouse and This Has Got To Stop, were among five songs reprised on a limited edition DVD filmed at the legendary Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, and packaged with Pay The Devil. This was followed by a two-disc DVD showcase of his performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974 and 1980. This was acclaimed by one reviewer as 'The chance to see a legend in his prime' and another as 'a truly rewarding experience from one of music’s most distinguished figures.'
Additionally, he was honored, in 2007, for his musical contribution to films. Presented by Al Pacino, this award highlights the depth and breadth of his compositions, as used by some of the most notable directors in the Motion Picture Industry today.
Throughout 2007 the legendary artist had a year that may be unprecedented for any living artist, having released three separate collections of his hits, with the latest, Still On Top entering the UK charts at #2 and selling platinum, proving the ongoing appetite for his unrivalled work.
2008 sees the release of Keep It Simple, Van Morrison’s 35th album. On KEEP IT SIMPLE, MORRISON wears all the “hats” as COMPOSER, ARRANGER, LYRICIST and proves himself once again an astute and accomplished PRODUCER, artfully choosing in this recording to keep all the vocals and instruments on this album in their organic form/ first takes. On Keep It Simple, Morrison honors all those varied influences - Ulster-Scots Celtic, Jazz, Folk, Blues, Country, Soul and Gospel - and an added surprise of a mighty Ukulele -most times melding them all together at once creating his unmistakable signature sound.
Amidst the ever-changing music business and complaints by artists and record companies alike that its ”hard to sell CD’s anymore”—if you have great music from the soul—it is not so hard—once again Van Morrison proves them wrong as he continues to sell large numbers of records every year. In a press release dated 2007 universal music president Doug Morris stated 'Van Morrison is a welcomed addition to Universal ...as his catalog is consistently selling around 500,000 hard copies a year” (this year was 1.8 million ). In 2007 VM signed with Universal Records and released the phenomenal hit record Still On Top- Universal press releases note that their corporations entire 3rd quarter sales figures relied on the powerhouse that is Van Morrison.
Despite Universal’s refusals to promote Still On Top or Keep It Simple records past their first week of release- both records sustained prominent places in the Billboard Top 50—on their own merit and power for quite some time. Van Morrsion is the only artist of note in 2008 so far to have 2 records (Still On Top and Keep It Simple) at the same time at the top of the Billboard charts.
As 2008 draws to a close Van Morrison proved once again to be a true iconoclast as he takes Astral Weeks live to the landmark venue Hollywood Bowl for its first ever cover to cover performance of a lifetime. Morrison is recording this show live for Listen To The Lion Records (his new label) and it will be released as "Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl.”
Rave on Van Morrison rave on … and he surely does!