Morissey's acoustic folk music is finally paying off

January 14, 1994|By Bob Allen | Bob Allen,Contributing Writer

For years, Bill Morrissey, who appears tonight at the Coffee House Uptown, was just another gravelly voiced New England folk singer struggling to make a go of it during an era when his brand of introspective acoustic music was largely passe.

Playing clubs and beer bars across the country, Morrissey could usually draw just enough people to get hired back and make just enough money to get on to the next gig. For years, if he made $2,000 off his music, it was a good year.

"Yeah, it was pretty tough back in the '70s," laughs the 42-year-old Grammy-nominated singer, who dropped out of Plymouth State College in New Hampshire at age 17. "I mean, what was the least hip thing but folk music?

"For years and years and years I always had some 15-year-old car that I didn't know if it was gonna work or not," Morrissey says in a phone interview from his home near Brookline, Mass. "I remember once I was driving back home through a snowstorm in the Vermont mountains. There were no guardrails. I'm on bald retreads, just tryin' to get home from a show that maybe paid $25."

In the last few years, though, the proverbial worm has turned for Morrissey. The bleakness and occasional desperation of the peripatetic, minimum-wage folk troubadour's life -- a desperation that echoes through many of the songs on Morrissey's half-dozen or so albums -- has finally paid the dividends of a larger audience, a somewhat more secure lifestyle and a growing critical reputation as the national folk/literary scene's "Next Big Thing."

To wit: Morrissey's most recent LPs -- "Night Train" and "Inside" -- have garnered "four-star" and "A" ratings from Rolling Stone, Interview and Entertainment Weekly. "Friend of Mine," his duet LP with fellow folky Greg Brown, is up for a Grammy. Meanwhile, critical accolades from such publications as the New York Times and The Village Voice keep rolling in.

"It feels great," Morrissey concedes. "It's been two years today that 'Inside' came out, and since then it's really kicked things up into another notch. Back when I started out, I knew I was going to have to find my own voice, and that it would probably take a long time. But I never knew it was gonna get this good."

To his surprise, Morrissey, college dropout and former millworker who found inspiration for his early songs while shooting pool with fellow factory workers, has even become the darling of Manhattan's literary in-crowd.

"I've probably been influenced more by fiction writers than by singer/songwriters," says Morrissey, whose narratives have drawn comparisons to the short stories of Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski. "But on my more recent albums, I've really tried to explore the musical side of things. I've become more melody-conscious."

Life is better for Morrissey in other ways, as well. He often drives himself to shows, but now he has a year-and-a-half-old Honda with good radials. A little snow on the mountains won't stop him.

Bill Morrissey

When: Tonight at 8

Where: Coffee House Uptown, Wilson Memorial United Methodist Church, 3509 N. Charles St.

Tickets: $8

Call: (410) 235-4251

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