Born: August 31, 1945 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Van Morrison was born in Belfast in 1945, the son of a shipyard worker who collected American blues and jazz records. Van grew up listening to the music of Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker. Surrounded by every kind of musical influence - country, blues, jazz, and folk - from 13 he was playing guitar, sax and harmonica with a series of local Irish showbands, skiffle and rock'n'roll groups. By the time he rose to the fore of Britain’s nascent blues-rock scene as leader of Them, Morrison had already pulled years in the trenches, singing and playing with some of Belfast’s cagiest combos. His music has always incorporated the widely-varied influences he heard and absorbed since his childhood days on the streets of Belfast - long before the bands of his youth and his initial 1964 breakthrough with the band he formed, Them.
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, in 1967, going to New York 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 Astral Weeks, a timeless classic which brought together elements of Celtic music, improvised jazz and r&b.
Based initially in Boston and then 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 Ireland to explore further his Celtic roots. The ensuing album Veedon Fleece (1974) featured a quieter, more pastoral sound and was to be his last release for three years.
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.
In 1988 he revisited his Irish roots with The Chieftains on Irish Heartbeat. The following album, 1989s Avalon Sunset, was his most commercially successful for many 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 self-discovery, 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 blues buddy 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 old sparring partner 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 John Lee Hooker on Don't Look Back, which he also produced.
Back On Top was released in March 1999 and was widely heralded as one of Morrison's most accomplished and successful albums in years, spawning his first solo Top 40 hit with the single Precious Time.
After a career spanning some four decades, it seemed appropriate that the year 2000 saw Van returning to his roots, a musical full-circle, with The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast. Re-uniting with the musical heroes of his youth, Van joined skiffle maestro Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber on stage at Belfast's Whitla Hall for a magical performance, and the energy and enthusiasm of both the performers and the crowd was captured in full on this album, which met with huge critical acclaim.
In 2002, Van Morrison returned to Polydor Records and released 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 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, a natural home for one of music's most creative figures. Morrison's debut release at the prestigious 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 the only Morrison footage available commercially at the time of its 2006 release, but was soon followed by , a two-disc showcase of his performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974 and 1980. This was acclaimed by one reviewer as 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.'
Van Morrison was honoured at the US-Ireland Alliance Awards in early 2007 for his contribution to the film world. Presented by Al Pacino, the award highlighted the depth and breadth of Van's compositions as used by directors Scorsese, Hackford, Landis, Stone and more.
The likes of Brown Eyed Girl through Days Like This and Have I Told You Lately were gathered for release as At The Movies - Soundtrack Hits, one of three separate collections of Van’s hits to be released in 2007, a schedule possibly unprecedented for any living artist. June saw the release of The Best Of Van Morrison Volume 3, a collection of Van’s later material featuring his duets with Tom Jones, John Lee Hooker, BB King and Ray Charles among others. It became yet another UK chart album, while at the end of the year Still On Top the definitive collection of Van’s original recordings - entered the UK charts at number two and sold platinum, proving the ongoing appetite for his unrivalled work..
2008 sees the release of Keep It Simple, the 35th album which Van Morrison has produced himself. Morrison’s first new album of new material since 2005, and the first in several years in which he penned all 11 songs specifically for one album. On this new record, Morrison honours all his varied influences jazz, folk, blues, Ulster Scots, country, soul and gospel (even making uniquely innovative use of the mighty ukulele) at times melding them all together at once in his own signature sound.
Keep It Simple does not boast the big horns or string arrangements of some of Morrison’s previous work. What it does feature are gorgeous songs rich with emotion, depth and beauty, and Van wonderful trademark saxophone playing. Van has journeyed far and wide since his early days in Belfast but inevitably, the man Bob Geldof called “the one true genius in Irish music” has invariably come back to the philosophy summed up in the title of his new record.
As Keep It Simple is released, its creator continues a busy schedule of concerts across the globe, averaging over 100 gigs a year.