Morphine was an alternative rock group formed by Mark Sandman and Dana Colley in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, in 1989. The band ceased to be in 1999 after frontman Mark Sandman died of a heart attack.
Morphine combined blues and jazz elements with more traditional rock arrangements, giving the band a very unusual sound. Sandman's distinctive singing was described as a "deep, laid-back croon," and his songwriting featured a prominent beat influence. When asked by reporters to describe their music, the band created the label "low rock". One critical appraisal suggests that "Morphine immediately established 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."
Although Morphine was critically lauded throughout their career, it is difficult to measure their success 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 success in their home country, while internationally they enjoyed mainstream success and support, especially in Belgium, France and Australia.
Morphine was formed in 1989 by bassist/vocalist Mark Sandman, who had previously played with the bluesy alternative rock band Treat Her Right, and saxophonist Dana Colley, a former member of the local Boston group Three Colors. Drummer Jerome Deupree joined the group and completed the initial lineup. Morphine recorded their debut album, Good, for the Boston-based Accurate/Distortion label in 1991. The album received positive reviews and established a small but devoted audience. The band subsequently signed to Rykodisc, which re-released Good under its own imprint.
Cure for Pain, released in 1993, 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, who was suffering from health problems, was replaced by Billy Conway, who had previously played with Sandman in Treat Her Right. However, Deupree still played most of the percussion work heard on the album. Conway would stay on as a permanent member of Morphine while Deupree would later return to perform with the band. After they completed Cure for Pain, the band toured the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia.
In 1994, "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.
In 1996, Morphine signed with DreamWorks Records. DreamWorks released their major label debut, Like Swimming, the following year. 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 Also in 1997 B-Sides and Otherwise a collection of B-sides and live recordings was released.
Deupree once again begun performing live and in the studio with the band again, 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 (near Rome). He was soon pronounced dead of a heart attack and Morphine immediately disbanded. The Night was released in 2000.
Since then, Bootleg Detroit, an "official live bootleg" and The Best of Morphine: 1992?1995 have also been released under the Morphine name.
Posthumous projects (1999-present)
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. It contains two CDs and a DVD of previously unreleased material spanning Sandman's musical career. The DVD features 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 does not contain any previously released material found in the Morphine catalogue, 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 (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 Dupree began regularly performing Morphine songs and new material with a singer, bassist and guitarist formerly based in New Orleans named Jeremy Lyons as Members of Morphine. 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.
Mark Sandman - 2-string slide bass, vocals, organ, tritar (3-string slide guitar), guitar, piano (1989-1999)
Dana Colley - baritone sax, tenor sax, double sax, triangle (1989-1999)
Billy Conway - various percussion (1993-1999)
Jerome Deupree - various percussion (1989-1993, 1998-1999)
Morphine's instrumentation was quite unusual: Sandman's primary instrument was a two-string bass guitar (with both 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 tritar (three stringed guitar). 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.