Van Morrison – the secret stories behind 10 of his best albums

Morrison and his collaborators lift the lid on his extraordinary art

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Having relocated to the San Francisco area, Morrison began recording regularly with a rotating cast of musicians. Alongside the classic “Jackie Wilson Said”, his sixth album features three of his most intense recordings: “Listen To The Lion”, “Almost Independence Day”, and the title track.

GARY MALLABER (DRUMS): We had cut “Listen To The Lion” and “Almost Independence Day” during the sessions for his last album, Tupelo Honey. Sometimes certain tunes don’t fit the sequence for an album, so you hold them over. “Listen To The Lion” was cut like a jazz tune, in two takes. He was taking off, and we took off with him. To me, it was Van’s return to the mysticism of Astral Weeks. There’s a reason every artist writes what they do, and with Van there were points of disturbance; great hurt and disappointment. I lived in his studio for a while, and I questioned him about it. He said, “Oh, I use my childhood quite a bit.” He was like this little lion caged up, and when things haunted him he just roared it out. In the end I played on about half the tracks on Saint Dominic’s Preview. He was starting to go through musicians like McDonald’s go through hamburgers! Everything was pretty vague, there was no touring schedule other than some local gigs while he was making the album.


DOUG MESSENGER (GUITAR): By January 1972 Van and I were living together at a hotel because he and Janet were fighting and she’d thrown him out. We started talking about a record, and he said, “Well, I already have two songs. ‘Listen To The Lion’ and ‘Almost Independence Day’ are going to be on it, we have to do some more.” He hired Pacific Heights in San Francisco for the first session. We did “Gypsy”, which went okay, but “Jackie Wilson Said” was totally disorganised. He didn’t know where anything went, and no-one really seemed to know what to do with it. Van went away, and the band worked out the basic structure. When he came back we went through it a couple of times and he was real happy because all of a sudden it seemed to be making sense. He said, “I think it’s coming together,” which is what he always said when he felt it was working. I remember he said to the drummer, Ricky Schlosser, “When I sing ‘boom, boom, boom’, hit the tom and the kick drum at the same time.” We ran through it once or twice, and the first recorded take is what’s on the album. It was all over the place, but somehow it worked. Even when he adlibbed at the end – “One more time” – somehow we all kept it together. At the end, Van was smiling like a Cheshire cat: “I think we got it!” We tried a second take and – of course – it fell apart.

By contrast, we beat “Saint Dominic’s Preview” to death. It’s an odd structure, and it was not coming together. Everyone was being a fucking studio musician on it, treading water. Van had five guitar players come up from LA and he hated all of them! Eventually I did the guitar overdub and Van ran out of the studio and said, “Now it’s starting to sound like a song, but my vocal isn’t good enough.” He brought a mic out to the studio floor and sang it through once and nailed it. He changed stuff around to make it fresh. ‘Wine’ became ‘wi-yee-ine’, and ‘no regret’ became ‘ne regrette rien’. I said, “What the fuck is that?” He said, “I don’t know, but it’s something.” He was so happy, he hugged me. Once Van got the vocal he wanted on a song, that was it. He didn’t care if the band screwed up.


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