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By Kate McNally
on Sunday, July 24, 2011
Singer/songwriter and Tamworth resident Bill Morrissey has died at the age of 59. He was born in Hartford Connecticut on November 25, 1951 and died July 23, 2011 in Georgia.
Bill recorded 10 albums, received two Grammy nominations and four star reviews in
Rolling Stone Magazine, and received exceptional reviews in nearly every other major national publication. Stephen Holden, for the New York Times, wrote, “Mr. Morrissey’s songs have the force of poetry…a terseness, precision of detail and a tone of laconic understatement that relate his lyrics to the fiction of writers like Raymond Carver and Richard Ford” He is also the author of the novel “Edson” (Random House/Alfred A. Knopf 1996) which was recently translated in French and the recently completed “Imaginary Runner.”
He was influenced by the American country blues of Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson, the country music of Hank Williams, the Kansas City sounds of Count Basie and Lester Young, and the New York folk songwriters of the 1960s.
He was a resident of Newmarket, New Hampshire during his college age years and was a frequent visitor to the Stone Church, a popular music venue for budding musicians. His first album (Bill Morrissey, 1984) is a glimpse at small town mill life, a theme which prevailed in much of his work.
Bill collaborated with other folk icons like Greg Brown (Friend of Mine, 1993) and the late Scottish fiddler, Johnny Cunningham (Inside, 1992). He was proud to collaborate with Billy Conway (Morphine) and Dave Alvin on his latest recording “Come Running” (2007).
In addition to recording, Bill was a popular guest at folk festivals and coffeehouses and a frequent guest on NHPR’s Folk Show.
In 2009 Bill shared his struggles with depression and alcohol on his website:
“Most everybody knows that I’ve had some rough sledding for the last few years including my well known battle with the booze. A couple of years ago I was diagnosed as bipolar and I am on medication for depression but sometimes the depression is stronger than the medication. When the depression hits that badly I can’t eat and I can barely get out of bed. Everything is moving in the right direction now and throughout all of this I have continued to write and write and write. I now have enough songs for 2 new albums and I am very much looking forward to getting back in the studio. My health is better than it has been in a long time. I look forward to getting back on the road and seeing familiar faces and old friends who have stuck by me.”
Peterborough Folk Music Society President/Program Director Deb McWethy hosted Bill Morrissey at many PFMS shows and reflected, “Bill was a man who had demons to fight every day of his life. While he was with us he handled them with grace and humor even though through his music and stories we often heard his pain, and also his beautiful words about love and loss and about our place on this earth. My last conversations with him made me want to go to him and give him a hug. At the same time I know in his heart he knew we all loved him. It was his battle and we all gave him what we could; our attendance at his concerts, our standing ovations, booking him at our venues and playing his music for ourselves and our friends. Rest in peace , Bill. Your music carries on forever.”
Bill Morrissey’s music will be remembered for its sweet storytelling and sentiment. The song “Birches” is a fan favorite. Bill invites us to peek in while a woman reminisces about her youth while dancing to the shadows of Birch flames in a wood stove as they flicker in the room and her husband sleeps upstairs.
Bill had appearances this summer at Caffe Lena and venues in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. He was excited about his productive songwriting, even while battling his depression. It is unclear at this time what the circumstances were around his death. We do know, from Bill himself, that he wasn’t afraid of dying. His song “Letters from Heaven” (Night Train, 1993) seemed to be written as a reassurance:
‘It’s a great life here in heaven, it’s better than the Bible said, it’s a great life here in heaven, it’s a great life when you’re dead”.
Rest in peace, Bill Morrissey…and thank you.
[Morrissey died of heart disease in Dalton, Georgia on July 23, 2011, during a tour of the Southern US.]