In researching my posts, I'm always intrigued to see how much an artist's parents and/or home life influenced his or her life's direction early on. One whose father had everything to do with his ascent to greatness is the former lead singer of Them, the iconic Van Morrison.
In I Wanna Be Me: Rock Music and the Politics of Identity, by Theodore Gracyk, the author writes that kids from maritime locales in the UK, like Liverpool and Belfast, often had broader rock and roll roots than kids from London and other landlocked cities. In the former, the merchant seamen would bring home the latest recordings from across the pond, while Mick Jagger, for example, would have been more apt to send away for imports.
Morrison's father was a Belfast shipyard electrician and he'd had the opportunity to travel to the U.S. He became an avid record collector and exposed his son to rhythm and blues, folk music and jazz very early on. Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie - these were just some of the standard-issue sounds around the Morrison house. Needless to say, his son responded very positively. He received an acoustic guitar as a gift from his father, along with a copy of a manual that instructed him on the revolutionary fingerpicking style of Maybelle Carter, mother of June Carter Cash. Hey thanks, Dad!
Thus inspired, Morrison left school early and went professional at 16, playing saxophone in Irish showbands (like seated big bands, only they stood). Them essentially was formed when a Belfast hotel called the Maritime advertised for a house band, and Morrison was one of those who responded. They were called the Gamblers at first, then decided Them had more cachet. The group became a sensation of sorts; Morrison would improvise and fashion their sets off of the energy of the crowd. It is said his version of Gloria, which became a smash hit, was born on this particular stage.
I don't know how you really characterize what Van Morrison does - his stage presence and that devastating voice, his complete abandon to whatever his muse is ... I have a hard time putting into words how deeply he affects me - and has always affected me, from that first time he growled "Whoa here it comes" and Here Comes The Night just knocked me flat. So beautifully ominous, particularly when you're 12.
As an aside, I didn't realize that their version of the blues standard Baby Please Don't Go (which was Them's first actual hit) became the theme song for the popular British music variety series Ready Steady Go!, where they played as they were getting their commercial start. (Gloria was its B-side.)
Them didn't survive long after their commercial success took them on tour in America and the pressures of the music business broke the group apart. But before that happened, audiences here would have been exposed to some priceless musical interludes.
According to some archival information about the history of the Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood, Them was the main event for three weeks in 1966, where on several occasions the fledgling Doors opened for them. According to this site, on June 18, 1966, the audience was treated to the two groups serving up a 20-minute version of Gloria and a 25-minute version of In the Midnight Hour. I imagine that Morrison-fest would have been unforgettable.