One of the greatest singers of all time, Van Morrison has been following his muse in an uncompromising way since the early Sixties. His career has been a model of artistic consistency and workmanlike devotion. He has explored soul, jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, rock and roll, Celtic folk, pop balladry and more, forging a distinctive amalgam that has Morrison's unvarnished passion at its core. He has referred to his music as "Caledonia soul," reflecting his deep immersion in American roots music and Irish mysticism.
An obvious influence on fellow musicians ranging from Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger to Sinead O'Connor and U2, Morrison has been a singular beacon of artistic integrity, soulful conviction and musical excellence. With a minimum of hype or fanfare, working with the discipline of a craftsman and the creativity of a driven artist, he has amassed one of the worthiest and most massive bodies of recorded work in modern times.
Heedless of trends and immune to fashion, Morrison has always created music with a defiant purity of intent. At one extreme, he has made raw, driving blues-rock with the British Invasion-era group Them. At the other, he has produced some of the most transcendent, inspirational music of the modern era as a solo artist. Like Bob Dylan, he was one of the first contemporary lyricists who aspired to emplace a serious, poetical sensibility in popular music.
Morrison's discography numbers more than 40 albums. The most notable among them include the jazzy, mystical song cycle Astral Weeks; the swinging, soulful classics Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir, and Tupelo Honey; the deeply personal and revelatory Saint Dominic's Preview and Veedon Fleece; and the visionary and spiritual-minded Common One, A Sense of Wonder, Avalon Sunset, Enlightenment and Hymns to the Silence. Over the decades he has also released some exceptional live albums, including 1974’s It’s Too Late to Stop Now, while various later projects have found him delving into skiffle, country and jazz.
Elements of mysticism, earthiness, religiosity and Celtic roots can be found throughout Morrison work. His artistic outlook is broad and borderless, encompassing influences that include not only musicians but also poets and painters. On the musical side, many of his primary touchstones have been American blues, soul and jazz icons. Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Mose Allison and Lead Belly rank prominently among them. On the literary side, Morrison has hailed such mystics and visionaries as William Blake, John Donne and William Butler Yeats. All of those figures and many more have been mentioned by Morrison in various songs.
George Ivan ("Van") Morrison was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as World War II drew to a close. He grew up in a household filled with music. His shipyard-worker father collected records, and his mother sang. The Morrisons consorted with the local folk-music community, including the renowned McPeake Family of spirited Irish folksingers. Morrison claims to have listened to blues records "since I was two or three." As a pre-teen, he got caught up in the skiffle craze, which swept the U.K. in 1956. Strongly drawn to music, Morrison dropped out of school when he was 15 to become a full-time musician. He joined the Monarchs, a hard-working local R&B band who played military bases around Europe. He already knew how to play guitar, and he taught himself to play saxophone and harmonica, too.
It’s worth noting that on a personal level, Morrison has maintained a wary distance from the music industry and trappings of celebrity. He is a public artist and a complex, insistently private individual. His relationship with the press has been chilly and combative. In 1994, Van Morrison became the first living inductee not to attend his own induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Morrison has steadfastly rejected the mantle of rock star. As he succinctly stated in a letter to an Irish newspaper, "What I am is a singer and songwriter who does blues, soul, jazz, etc."
His antipathy toward the music business and the media has been the subject of numerous songs. In one of them, the title track from Keep It Simple, he wrote: "They mocked me 'cause I told it like it was / Wrote about disappointment and greed / Wrote about what we really didn't need in our lives." What it all comes down to is his longstanding contention that it’s ultimately only the music that matters. “If you want, it’s my religion,” Morrison said in 2005. “I feel I’m part of a lineage that goes back to John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly, and it’s my duty in a way to carry the lineage on.”