Multi-instrumentalist/singer Mark Sandman was best known as the frontman for self-described "low-rockers" Morphine. An intensely private person, not much is known about Sandman's early days, just that he was born in 1952 (growing up in Newton, MA), and after graduating from UMass Boston, did some traveling before working on a fishing boat in Washington. By the mid-'80s, Sandman had moved back to the Boston area where he formed and played guitar/sang in the blues roots rock quartet Treat Her Right (along with guitarist/singer David Champagne, drummer Billy Conway, and harmonica player Jim Fitting). The group enjoyed minor success with the college rock crowd, issuing a total of three albums: 1986's self-titled debut, 1989's Tied to the Tracks, and 1991's What's Good for You, before splitting up.
During the latter years of Treat Her Right, Sandman could be seen playing in any of several side projects, including Supergroup (with future Presidents of the United States member Chris Ballew), Treat Her Orange (a collaboration with Blood Oranges frontman/mandolin player Jimmy Ryan), and the horn-driven funk outfit Hypnosonics. But of all the Sandman-related bands at the time, it was Morphine that caused the biggest stir. Comprised of drummer Jerome Dupree, tenor/baritone saxophonist Dana Colley, and Sandman on vocals and a homemade, detuned two-string bass that he built himself, the trio specialized in stripped-down jazz-lounge rock complete with Kerouac-like lyrics, which would have provided the perfect soundtrack to a dimly lit, late night bar.
In the midst of their debut album's recording sessions, Dupree was replaced with former Treat Her Right skinsman Billy Conway, resulting in 1992's Good on the Accurate/Distortion label. The band's regional buzz grew worldwide with incessant touring and such further releases as 1993's Cure for Pain and 1995's Yes, both issued for Rykodisc Records (who in turn reissued their debut). Morphine's buzz had grown too loud for the major labels to ignore any longer, as Dreamworks signed the trio and issued the slightly disappointing Like Swimming in 1997. The album failed to catapult Sandman and the group to the big time, but their large and devoted cult following remained intact. With Morphine working long and hard on what would be their fourth studio album overall (Sandman in particular wanted the album to take the group to the next level musically, he was weary of the group repeating the same formula over and over), the trio toured Europe in the summer of 1999. Sadly, on July 3 at a festival performance in Rome, Sandman collapsed on stage, dying shortly thereafter from an apparent heart attack.
The studio album that Morphine had just completed, The Night, was issued posthumously a year later, as was a live album chronicling a 1994 show, which Sandman was overseeing at the time of his death. After Sandman's death, the remaining members of Morphine toured as the Morphine Orchestra (which was supplemented by added players), while the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund was founded, which benefits music education in the Cambridge public school system. In addition to his recording output with Morphine, Sandman guested on other artist's recordings over the years, including a pair of albums by the Either/Orchestra (Across the Omniverse and Half Life of Desire), Duke Levine's Lava, and Wooden Leg's self-titled debut. ~ Greg Prato
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