Sunday, February 17, 2013

Marty Morrissey

I first encountered Marty Morrissey years ago when I went out with friends for a drink at the Sheraton The Highland Weavers.  I love Irish  and Scottish music although my son Anthony who is a traditional Irish musician, accuses me of preferring "Whiskey in the Jar" to earlier, more pristine tunes.  We do argue about the "Danny Boy" effect, but I just like lots of kinds of music, including baroque, Renaissance, bluegrass, country, gospel and, yes, "Whiskey in the Jar".
in Burlington.  He was playing with a great Celtic band

I digress.  The next time I met Marty was at a the Ice House in Burlington where Irish musicians liked to meet in the 1990s to jam.  At that time Anthony (too young to drive) was immersing himself in this music.  He later became an Uilleann piper, but back then he was playing the bodhran (well, it was a big piece of cardboard while he saved up for a bodhran) and we used to drive him down to the Dockside Restaurant and sit around during the session.

Marty was a very welcoming and encouraging figure to all the hopeful young musicians who came to those sessions.  I saw him again many times over the years at First Night, Finnegan's Pub, The Champlain Valley Folk Festival, etc.,  so, after I started this blog he came to mind as an interesting subject.

Marty was born in Essex, Mass. in 1938.  His father was an Irish tenor and his mother a pianist.  He remembers singing on table tops as a young boy, so I guess you'd have to say music was in his blood.  Starting in his teens he would come to Vermont to ski and decided to look for a way to make a living here. After college he started as a printer with George Little Press and stayed until 1992.  Marty enjoyed his career as a printer and had particular respect for George Little himself.  He left in 1992 after the company had been sold a couple of times and older, better paid printers were encouraged to move on.  He freelanced for a while then decided to go into music full time.

As Marty says, "If I have to start over again, I might as well do something completely different".

Marty had kept up his musical interests since childhood and in 1981 began his performing career when he and some friends formed The Highland Weavers playing Celtic music in bars, pubs and folk festivals.  Marty sang and played guitar and concertina and The Highland Weavers became and continue to be a poplar fixture in northwestern Vermont.  He cobbled together other paying jobs including a long term house sitting gig, and explored opportunities to play music.  Where was the country music?  Marty had always liked country music since childhood and finally found a country community when he moved next door to Frank Provost a longtime country band leader.  The country band he joined was Classic Country, covering the music of Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Eddie Arnold and other country legends.  Four of the six band members are over 70.  He also dived into Klezmer music with his friend and Highland Weavers comrade Robert Resnik (also the host of Vermont Public Radio's All The Traditions).  Their recent recording Old and New Songs of Lake Champlain is available on CD or MP3.  Marty's energy and ecumenical approach to musical styles helps keep him performing all over the area.

His love of skiing eventually morphed into a love of hiking and snowshoeing.  In 2012 he completed The Long Trail, Vermont's section of the Appalachian Trail.  Marty says there were some duplications and odd wanderings over the years, along with some delays due to forces of nature, including the devastation inflicted on the trail during Hurricane Irene, but he's happy to have achieved the goal he set to cover every inch in Vermont.

Currently Marty works part time driving for The Good News Garage Ready to Go program which provides transportation for many Vermonters without cars.  He plays music as often as he can including a volunteer jam session every Monday evening at the Milton Senior Center.  Marty stopped playing in bars years ago before the smoking bans were implemented.  His favorite venues are places where people get up and dance which occurs regularly at senior centers.

Marty also has a deep interest in history, musical and otherwise.  He is a voracious reader and has made ten trips to Ireland in his life.  He is a member of the Chittenden County Stamp Club with a particular interest in stamps commemorating printing from a Chinese press 400 years before Guttenberg to modern times.  He is busy preparing his eclectic collection for a national show to be held later this spring.

Marty told me that being successful means something totally different to him than it did when he was younger.  Staying healthy is very important and he keeps fit outdoors as much as possible.  Doing what you love is the key to a satisfying life and he feels fortunate to have been able to follow his interests to such a great degree.  He's reached most of the goals he has set in his life.  Looking to the future, Marty would like to do some more traveling, especially to the U.S. National Parks.

I really enjoyed chatting with Marty.  He is a vibrant and interesting conversationalist with a great outlook.  The photo below is of the Classic Country band playing for the Addison County Eagles Club Valentines Day dinner/dance.