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) and the recently completed Imaginary Runner.
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.
- Bill Morrissey (1984)
- North (1986)
- Standing Eight (1989)
- Bill Morrissey (re-recording of the 1984 album plus 3 previously unrecorded songs) (1991)
- Inside (1992)
- Friend of Mine (with Greg Brown) (1993)
- Night Train (1993)
- You'll Never Get to Heaven (1996)
- Songs of Mississippi John Hurt (1999)
- Something I Saw Or Thought I Saw (2001)
- Bill Morrissey: The Essential Collection (2004)
- Come Running (2007)
- Morrissey, Bill (1996). Edson. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-44629-X
- Morrissey, Bill (2011), Imaginary Runner. Bill Morrissey. ISBN 9781105090554, 1105090558
- Timpane, John (26 July 2011). "Bill Morrissey, 59, folk troubadour". Philly.com. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Letters from Heaven-Bill Morrissey". NHPR.org. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- "RECORDINGS VIEW; From Bill Morrissey, Blue-Collar Angst With a Folk Touch - New York Times". Nytimes.com. 1992-02-23. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- "Bill Morrissey Biography: Contemporary Musicians". Enotes.com. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- "Bill Morrissey, 59; folk artist traversed a range of emotions". Boston.com. 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- Christopher Hislop. "Goodbye Bill Morrissey". SeacoastOnline.com. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- "Yahoo! Groups". Launch.groups.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- Mike Regenstreif (2011-07-24). "Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif: Bill Morrissey 1951-2011". Frfb.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2011-07-30.