Van The Man
Over 400 songs in his BMI catalog; knighted for service to music
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 in the music of Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker, As a teenager he played guitar, sax and harmonica with a series of local Irish showbands, skiffle and rock'n'roll groups before forming an r&b band called Them in 1964.
In 1967 he began his solo career in 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, 1989's 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 1990's. Enlightenment (1990) and Hymns To The Silence (1991) continued down the road of spiritual self-discovery, while 1993's 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 1997's The 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 his 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 2003, Van Morrison returned with Down The Road, an album featuring 13 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.