Morphine in 1997 at Mississippi Nights, St Louis, MO
|Origin||Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States|
|Genres||Alternative rock, experimental rock, jazz rock|
|Treat Her Right, Twinemen, Orchestra Morphine, Bourbon Princess, Vapors of Morphine|
Morphine was an American alternative rock group formed by Mark Sandman, Dana Colley, and Jerome Deupree in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1989. After five successful albums and extensive touring, they disbanded in 1999 after frontman Sandman died of a heart attack. Founding members have reformed into the band Vapors of Morphine, maintaining much of the original style and sound.
Morphine combined blues and jazz elements with more traditional rock arrangements, giving the band an unusual sound. Sandman sang distinctively in a "deep, laid-back croon", and his songwriting featured a prominent beat influence. The band themselves coined the label "low rock" to describe their music, which involved "a minimalist, low-end sound that could have easily become a gimmick: a "power trio" not built around the sound of an electric guitar. Instead, with sly intelligence, Morphine expanded its offbeat vocabulary on each album."
The band enjoyed positive critical appraisal, but met with mixed results commercially. In the United States the band was embraced and promoted by the indie rock community, including public and college radio stations and MTV's 120 Minutes, which the band once guest-hosted, but received little support from commercial rock radio and other music television programs. This limited their mainstream exposure and support in their home country, while internationally they enjoyed high-profile success, especially in Belgium, Portugal, France and Australia.
Morphine was formed in 1989 by bassist and vocalist Mark Sandman, a member of the bluesy alternative rock band Treat Her Right, saxophonist Dana Colley, a former member of the local Boston group Three Colors, and drummer Jerome Deupree, who had played with Sandman in the Hypnosonics. Sandman, a prolific musician who frequently experimented with home-made instruments, played a single-stringed bass guitar of his own devising with a slide, although he later added a second string. Deupree briefly left the group for health reasons in 1991 and was temporarily replaced by Treat Her Right drummer Billy Conway. These years found the group building a strong local audience and touring occasionally.
With Deupree returning, they recorded their debut album, Good, for the Boston-based Accurate/Distortion label in 1991. The album received positive reviews and increased the band's audience. The band subsequently signed to Rykodisc, who re-released Good under its own imprint.
Cure for Pain, 1993's followup, increased the band's audience outside of New England, and singles like "Thursday" and "Buena" picked up some college radio play. During the recording of Cure for Pain, Deupree was again replaced by Conway, although Deupree still played most of the percussion work on the album. After the album was completed, the band toured the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia.
In 1994, the songs "Sheila" and "In Spite of Me" were prominently featured on the soundtrack of the film Spanking the Monkey. The band returned to the studio in 1995 and produced Yes. The album featured the single "Honey White," the music video for which appeared on the MTV animated series Beavis and Butt-head.
After two years of touring, Morphine signed with DreamWorks Records, who released their major label debut, Like Swimming, in 1997. It was a critical success, but did not break the band into the domestic mainstream as had been hoped. DreamWorks released a music video for the single "Early to Bed"; directed by Jamie Caliri and released in March 1997, the nightmarish yet humorous video became an instant favorite among fans and was later nominated for a Grammy award. The band also released B-Sides and Otherwise, a collection of B-sides and live recordings, on Rykodisc this same year.
In the following time, Deupree once again began performing live and in the studio with the band, making the group a four-piece. The band's final studio album, The Night, was completed in early 1999.
On July 3, 1999, Sandman collapsed on the stage of the Nel Nome del Rock festival at the Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, Italy, outside of Rome. He was soon pronounced dead of a heart attack and Morphine immediately disbanded. The Night was released in 2000. Posthumous Morphine releases followed shortly thereafter, including Bootleg Detroit, an "official live bootleg", and The Best of Morphine: 1992-1995, both on Rykodisc.
Within a year of Sandman's death, Colley and Conway created Orchestra Morphine, a group of Sandman's friends and colleagues who toured to celebrate the music of the band and to raise funds for the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund. Orchestra Morphine mostly performed music from The Night, but also included some other Morphine and Hypnosonics material as well. Orchestra Morphine still performs occasionally but no longer tours. Singer and guitarist Laurie Sargent, a member of Orchestra Morphine and former vocalist for the band Face to Face, later joined Colley and Conway in their first post-Morphine musical endeavor, Twinemen.
Conway and Colley also officially formed the Hi-n-Dry independent record label and studio, converting Sandman's workspace into a commercial enterprise. The label's roster includes a number of their friends, colleagues and other Boston-area musicians. In 2004, Hi-n-Dry released the Mark Sandman box set Sandbox, which contained two CDs and a DVD of previously unreleased material spanning Sandman's musical career. The DVD featured clips from early Sandman shows, interviews from the Morphine tours, and various videos from other Sandman solo and group projects, such as Treat Her Right. However, for copyright reasons the box set did not contain any previously released material found in the Morphine catalog, Morphine videos, or promotional material produced by Rykodisc or DreamWorks Records.
Deupree continued to record with various jazz musicians and later became a member of the group Bourbon Princess. Colley formed the band A.K.A.C.O.D. with Monique Ortiz, the former leader of Bourbon Princess, in 2006. Their debut album Happiness was released in early 2008 and supported by a tour, featuring set lists fortified with Morphine material.
In 2009, Colley and Deupree began regularly performing Morphine songs and new material as Members of Morphine (alternately, the Ever-Expanding Elastic Waste Band), with singer, bassist and guitarist Jeremy Lyons of New Orleans. In July 2009, the group played at Nel Nome Del Rock Festival in Palestrina, Italy, marking the ten-year anniversary of Sandman's death at the location in which it occurred. As of 2014, the group was renamed Vapors of Morphine and regularly performs in Boston and New Orleans, and holds a standing weekly gig at Atwood's Tavern in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 2009, Rhino Records released the two-disc set At Your Service, composed of unreleased Morphine material.
Morphine's instrumentation was unusual for a rock band: Sandman's primary instrument was a two-string bass guitar (with the strings usually tuned to a 5th or octave interval) played with a slide; however, on the group's records he added touches of guitar, piano, electronic organ, and other self-invented guitar instruments such as the tritar, featuring two guitar strings and one bass string. Colley played primarily baritone saxophone, along with soprano or tenor saxes, and the rare bass saxophone, and he sometimes played two saxes at once, a la Roland Kirk; he also played occasional percussion, and Dobro on a B-side.