This article reads like a review rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (March 2009)
Morrissey was born in Hartford, Connecticut. He seems to have found his craft and his own voice in the American country blues of Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson, the pure country of Hank Williams, the Kansas City jazz of Count Basie and Lester Young, and the New York folk songwriters of the 1960s. His eponymous first album released in 1984 on the Reckless label, and then re-recorded for the Philo label, includes the song "Small Town on the River", a song about a small town in New Hampshire after the mill closes.
Over the course of his long career, two of Morrissey's twelve albums received Grammy nominations and several earned 4-star reviews in Rolling Stone. 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." He is also the author of the novel Edson (Random House/Alfred A. Knopf 1996), as well as Imaginary Runner, which was posthumously published in November 2011.
Although Morrissey expressed admiration for Carver's stories, he credited a fellow New Hampshire writer as a more important mentor and influence:
I used to hang out with this guy who taught at the University of New Hampshire who was a mentor of sorts. His name was Thomas Williams [...] He died in 1990. We often went fishing and hunting together. A good many of his friends were also writers and so when they'd get together the talk would go from rainbow trout to Eudora Welty to Upland hunting ruffed grouse. So I just kept my mouth shut. There was a lot more I was going to learn than teach in that group. Tom always said, "just say what you mean as economically as possible and get out," and that's really what I try to do with my lyrics.
Morrissey's last album, Come Running, was co-produced with Billy Conway of Morphine, and released in 2007 on Morrissey's label, Turn and Spin Media. Come Running features guitar work by Dave Alvin and the remaining members of Morphine, Billy Conway and Dana Colley.
While Morrissey was best known for his often dark but always interesting and literate lyrics, he also occasionally wrote humorous songs, such as "Party at the U.N." ("It's such a happy community / Everyone's got diplomatic immunity") and "Grizzly Bear", about a frustrated working-class gentleman dating a wealthy young woman who wants to "dance till we dehydrate," while he just wants to "take her home and dance the grizzly bear."
Morrissey struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse throughout his career. In later years, he was diagnosed as bipolar. His drinking resulted in enough missed gigs that he finally made a public statement, to explain his absences and unreliability. This resulted in an outpouring of support from friends and fans.