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Listen to the Untold Story of Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’

“Van was in a vocal booth with his guitar,” says ‘Astral Weeks’ flute player John Payne. “I’m not sure he ever talked to the musicians.”

NEW YORK - JANUARY 27:   Singer/songwriter Van Morrison performs at a Warner Brothers party at Steve Paul's The Scene nightclub on January 27, 1969 in New York, New York. (Photo by PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Singer/songwriter Van Morrison performs at a Warner Brothers party at Steve Paul's The Scene nightclub on January 27, 1969 in New York, New York.

PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

If the mystic wanderings of Van Morrison’s 1968 masterpiece Astral Weeks have any geographic setting at all, it’s their creator’s native Belfast, and, of course, the viaducts of his dreams. But as Ryan H. Walsh’s excellent recent book Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 reveals, Morrison actually conceived the album in — of all places — Boston, Massachusetts, where he was essentially hiding out after leaving behind the record deal that yielded “Brown Eyed Girl” the previous year. On our Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, Walsh broke down the unlikely backstory of one of the greatest albums ever made – with influences ranging from the J. Geils Band’s Peter Wolf to Morrison’s childhood out-of-body experiences to the editing of his then-girlfriend Janet Planet to the general madness of Boston in 1968.  Musician John Payne, who played flute and some saxophone on the album, also calls in to the show explain what making it was actually like. (The album’s percussionist, Warren Smith, recently talked to Rolling Stone as well.)

To hear the entire discussion, press play below or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

“It was the first recording session I’d ever done,” says Payne, who used a borrowed flute on the title track. “We were in a live room, and Van was in a vocal booth with his guitar. I’m not sure he ever talked to the musicians.” The musicians were given chord sheets, but Morrison didn’t always follow them. “I think on ‘Ballerina,'” adds Payne, “[bassist] Richard Davis very confidently plays the wrong root on a chord has because he’s reading the sheet but Van just decided not to do it that way.”

Download and subscribe to Rolling Stone Music Now, hosted by Brian Hiatt, on iTunes or Spotify, and check out two years worth of episodes. Tune in Fridays at 1 p.m. ET to hear the show broadcast live on Sirius XM’s Volume, channel 106.

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