Van Morrison was born George Ivan Morrison in Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 31, 1945. His mother was a jazz singer, and his father worked in a shipyard as an electrician. Morrison’s father was an avid record collector and his taste in blues and jazz had a great impact on Morrison’s taste in music.
Morrison is a talented musician and a prolific songwriter. Over the course of his career, he has released more than 40 albums, many of which have been certified gold or better, with a few even being classified as triple platinum. Such success is impressive considering Morrison was never a showman and refused to follow the current music trends.
At 15, Morrison left school and began touring with The Monarchs, a local band that played at military bases around Europe. When he joined The Monarchs he knew how to play guitar, and during his time touring with them, he taught himself saxophone and harmonica. A few years later, when he was 19, Morrison returned to Belfast and took up with another band called Them. Them had some success in the mid-1960s with songs Morrison wrote. His song “Gloria,” according to allmusic.com, “endures among the true classics of the rock pantheon, covered by everyone from the Doors to Patti Smith.”
The members of Them kept changing, the group was unstable, and eventually the band’s producer, Bert Berns, insisted that studio musicians take over most of the recording. After a Them’s tour of the US in 1966, Morrison left the band and returned to Belfast once again. Meanwhile Berns moved to New York to start a new label called Bang Records. Berns persuaded Morrison to come back to the States to record as a solo artist. In 1967, Morrison finally got his big break with the release of “Brown Eyed Girl.” Morrison’s other recordings during that time were meant to be released as singles, but Berns instead released them as the album Blowin’ Your Mind, against Morrison’s wishes. The album performed poorly, and Morrison again left the US for Belfast. At the end of 1967, Berns suffered a fatal heart attack, which freed Morrison from his contract.
He then signed with Warner Brothers and in 1968 released Astral Weeks. Later considered a creative masterpiece, and even the defining album of his career, Astral Weeks was a poor seller. It was “too unconventional” for the mainstream markets and was only certified gold in 2001, more than 30 years after its release.
He took three years off from the music business following his first divorce, but returned with a new album in 1977. He continued to produce new albums each year and is still touring today.
Many artists have found greater success with Morrison’s songs than he did. His “Have I Told You Lately” peaked at #12, while Rod Stewart took the same song to #5 in 1993. Morrison’s “Wild Nights” made it only to #28, while John Mellencamp’s cover climbed to #3 in 1994.
Over the course of his career, Morrison has been awarded several Grammys, and even been knighted. Morrison, however, is a private individual, eschewing celebrity. In 1994, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was the first living inductee not to attend the induction ceremony.
Morrison has been married and divorced twice. He has one daughter with his first wife, Janet Planet, whom he married in 1968 to avoid deportation from the US. He and Janet divorced in 1973. Morrison married his second wife, Michelle Rocca, in 1992, and they divorced in 2018. He and Rocca have two children together.
We here at Life 103.1 are pleased to include in our “Timeless Favorites” playlist a number of his most popular hits, songs that are indeed timeless in their appeal.
(allmusic.com, britannica.com, vanmorrison.com, rockhall.com, biography.com)