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Folk Flashback – Bill Morrissey – “Birches”

Bill Morrissey

From NPR

So the other day I wrote, that folk music describes the human experience, and very few people did that as well as Bill Morrissey did! Bill was a great songwriter, who viewed each song as a mini-movie. He created scenes and people of all walks of life in his songs

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 stories of writers like Raymond Carver and Richard Ford Wikipedia biography. I found an article by Carol (Badrick) Seymour at Bill’s website, published in early 1997 in the Portland [Oregon] Songwriters Association’s newsletter. The author describes a workshop she attended, led by Bill:

During his recent and very informative songwriting workshop at the Old Town School of Folk Music here in Chicago, Bill offered many insightful tips for songwriters.   He told songwriters who attended the workshop that his “day job” is performing. He said he writes his songs using a microcassette recorder while traveling to gigs. According to Bill, if you manage only “four lines a day and twelve keepers a year, you’re doing really well” as a songwriter.   Among his many suggestions, Bill said it’s often useful to employ an image for the foundation of a song. Like an archeologist finding a dinosaur bone, use the “gift” you have discovered and try to imagine the whole from the part.   Use lyrics economically, he suggested, and make the melody a frame for the lyrics. Think rhythmically. If saying more would be overstating, you’ve said enough and your song is finished. Get distance from your work, and then come back to it. Bill said he spends much more time editing than writing.   Bill writes at home on his computer. He says, “I type some words, play the guitar, get a cup of coffee…change the screen saver. He recently published a novel, Edson, about an ex-musician, using ideas he thought would develop into songs, but they became prose instead. Bill encourages borrowing from others in order to develop your skills; he says it’s good practice to write your own version of someone else’s song. He thought maybe he should write his own version of “Fishin’ with Bill.” (After the workshop, Bill encouraged me to send my version to him when it’s complete.)   He ended the workshop by suggesting that we listen to the work of several writers whom he admires, among them Randy Newman, Tom Waits, the Gershwins, Merle Haggard, the McGarrigle Sisters, Greg Brown, the Beatles, Brecht and Weill. Read More

All of the folk music world was saddened in 2011 when Bill died of heart disease at the age of 59. Many said at the time, he was just starting to get his life back together, after a life-long battle with depression and booze. In 2009 he posted this at his website: Reflecting on his personal struggles with depression and alcohol, Morrissey posted the following on his website in 2009:

“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. See the full post at

The reason that I am reflecting on Bill Morrissey today, is that Peter Cooper closes his new album Opening Day with Bill Morrissey’s “Birches” and he does a fine job! Here’s the original from Bill…..