Van Morrison (born Aug. 31, 1945) is an Irish singer–songwriter from Belfast who emerged as the frontman of R&B/beat combo Them during the mid-1960s. In 1967, he scored an international hit with “Brown Eyed Girl.” Between 1968 and 1979, he released 10 studio albums on Warner Bros., followed by nine albums apiece on Mercury and Polydor during the subsequent two decades.
He was born George Ivan Morrison on August 31, 1945, in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland, the only child of one-time tap dancer Violet (née Stitt) and shipyard electrician George Morrison. He acquired the name Van as a youth at Elmgrove Primary School during the early 1950s.
His father acquired one of the nation’s largest record collections, exposing young Van to the icons of soul (Ray Charles, Solomon Burke), blues (Lead Belly, Muddy Waters), jazz (Charlie Parker), folk (Woody Guthrie), country (Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers), and gospel (Mahalia Jackson).
Inspired by Lonnie Donegan, Morrison got his first guitar at age 11 and joined a skiffle group, The Sputniks (named after the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1), in 1957. He filtered through other skiffle groups in his early teens, including Midnight Special. After hearing saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre, Morrison learned the instrument and joined another local band, Deanie Sands and the Javelins. Later, the Javelins broke off from Sands and became The Monarchs.
At age 17, Morrison toured the UK and Europe with The Monarchs, playing saxophone, guitar, harmonica, and occasional bass and drums. In November 1963, they entered Ariola Studios in Cologne and cut the single “Boozoo Hully Gully” (b/w “Twingy Baby”), which hit the German charts. It was Morrison’s first recorded appearance (on saxophone). Upon their return to Belfast, The Monarchs split.
Morrison did brief stints in the Manhattan Showband and local beatsters The Wheels. He eventually joined the R&B/beat combo The Gamblers on sax, harmonica, and co-vocals. They soon adopted the name Them after the 1954 sci-fi monster movie Them!
Between 1964 and 1966, Them released eight singles and two albums, scoring hits with “Here Comes the Night,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Mystic Eyes,” and “Gloria.” After a triumphant tour of the US West Coast, the band returned to Ireland and discovered managerial money mishandlings that prompted their disbandment.
Eyeing a solo career, Morrison wrote songs for his first album while remnants of Them reformed as the Belfast Gypsies. Both parties returned for different pursuits in the US, where Morrison arrived in New York and signed a deal with Bang Records.
Blowin’ Your Mind
Van Morrison released his second solo album, Astral Weeks, on November 28, 1968, on Warner Bros.
His Band and the Street Choir
Saint Dominic’s Preview
Hard Nose the Highway
It’s Too Late to Stop Now
A Period of Transition
Into the Music
- Blowin’ Your Mind (1967)
- Astral Weeks (1968)
- Moondance (1970)
- His Band and the Street Choir (1970)
- Tupelo Honey (1971)
- Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972)
- Hard Nose the Highway (1973)
- Veedon Fleece (1974)
- It’s Too Late to Stop Now (live, 1974)
- A Period of Transition (1977)
- Wavelength (1978)
- Into the Music (1979)
- Common One (1980)
- Beautiful Vision (1982)
- Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)
- A Sense of Wonder (1984)
- No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)
- Poetic Champions Compose (1987)
- Irish Heartbeat (1988 • Van Morrison & The Chieftains)
- Avalon Sunset (1989)
- Enlightenment (1990)
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