In 1989, after leaving the pop/alternative band Treat Her Right, bassist/singer Mark Sandman decided he wanted to go in a different musical direction. He hooked up with fellow Cambridge native Dana Colley (saxophone) and former Hypnosonics bandmate Jerome Deupree (drums) and in 1991, the trio Morphine assembled their recording debut, Good, which appeared on local label Accurate/Distortion. The group immediately caught the attention of media outlets The Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix for what would be euphemistically called their “low rock” sound: Sandman played a two-string bass instrument, and Dana Colley imbued the group's blues-rock sensibility with a refreshing blast of jazz-inflected modal textures. A year later, Morphine signed onto the Cambridge-based Rykodisc label, who feeling the buzz surrounding the band, remastered and re-released Good.
1993 saw the release of their sophomore effort, Cure For Pain, and expanded their fanbase beyond New England. The singles “Buena” and “Thursday” were picked up by local alternative radio formats, increasing the group's exposure significantly. While touring in support of Cure For Pain however, drummer Deupree was diagnosed with heart problems, forcing him to bow out of the group. Former Treat Her Right drummer Billy Conway stepped in to help out his buddy Sandman, and complete the tour. A year later, Morphine had two tunes from Cure placed on the soundtrack to the indie film Spanking The Monkey (“In Spite of Me” and “Sheila.”) This film-placement exposure added to the critical momentum generated for the band, however, Morphine was still a largely regional phenomenon. The band went back into the studio in 1995, and released the self-produced Yes album. This work would receive considerable airplay and tv exposure by way of its hit single “Honey White” and subsequent video, which would become a favorite on both MTV's 120 Minutes and the animated series Beavis and Butthead.
A sea-change happened in 1996, when Morphine became one of the first alt-rock bands signed to the newly formed DreamWorks record label (briefly home to noteworthy artists eels and Blinker the Star) and released what many view as their benchmark album, Like Swimming. Musically-speaking, the album followed the natural progression of previous Morphine discs, yet Like Swimming had a distinctively darker mood, and found the band more confident in their hybridization of gauzy jazz and lo-fi alternative rock idioms. This darkness was exemplified in the lead single and video, “Early To Bed” - sounding like the bastard son of Miles Davis and The Velvet Underground. The Jamie Caliri-directed music video combined circus imagery with a dark undercurrent of mind control (involving elementary school children, no less) and garnered the group their sole Grammy-award nomination for Best Video.
Drummer Jerome Deupree reunited with the group in 1997, but instead of showing Conway the door, Sandman insisted he stay, making Morphine the most innovative four-piece alternative rock had ever witnessed: two drummers, a two-string bassist and a sax player who frequently performed on two instruments simulatneously. A revitalized Morphine entered the studio and recorded for a period of roughly eighteen months, completing what would be the group's swansong, The Night.
In July 1999, during a Morphine performance at a venue in Palestrina Italy, lead singer Sandman suddenly collapsed, and had to be helped off the stage. Hours later, he was pronounced dead of a heart attack at an area hospital. He was 46 years old. Not soon after, Dana Colley, acting as spokesman for the band, announced the dissolution of Morphine, out of respect for their fallen frontman. In 2000, the group posthumously released The Night, effectively putting a cap on the career of a group that, while not breaking mainstream commercial success, still remains one of the alt-rock's most respected and critically-lauded groups. Conway and Colley formed the Morphine-tribute band Orchestra Morphine a year later, and toured extensively to raise funds for the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund, which provides resources for deserving students. The pair are currently part of the group Twinemen (with singer Laurie Sargent, formerly of new-wave band Face To Face.) Conway and Colley still perform the occasional concert under the Orchestra Morphine umbrella.