Song of the Week – Buena, Morphine

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I’ve long been a fan of Mark Sandman’s music. In fact, several years ago I chose his band Treat Her Right’s “I Think She Likes Me” as a SotW. So when I heard that Sandman was the subject of a documentary movie I couldn’t wait to see it. Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story finally debuted in 2011 to a very limited theatrical release. I tried hard to keep tabs on when and where it might be showing in the Bay area, but missed it (if it even hit the screens here).

It’s still not available to stream on Netflix (I don’t use their DVD service), but I recently learned it’s available on iTunes. I finally got to see it and it’s pretty good – at least if you’re a Sandman/Morphine fan.

The Sandman story sits among the most tragic in rock history. Here’s the thumbnail.

Sandman grew up in Newton, MA (a Boston suburb), the oldest of 4 children. He was never the conventional child his parents hoped he would be. After HS, they gave him 3 choices – get a job, got to college, or just go. He left home the next day amidst a snowstorm and went on to do extensive world travel. He took interesting jobs (a fisherman off the Alaska coast), worked on his music and learned several languages.

Boston always remained home and he eventually worked his way back and began to focus on playing in bands. But two tragic events were still ahead of him. He lost his two brothers to untimely deaths — Roger from an unusual illness, and Jon from an unexplained fall from a window. All of his life experiences influenced his music, so let’s discuss that.

Morphine was Sandman’s main focus from 1989 to 1999. The band is commonly acknowledged for having one of the most unusual and interesting instrument line ups in the history of rock music. Sandman played a two string, slide bass. Dana Colley was on baritone sax and Jerome Deupree and Billy Conway played drums at various stages of the group’s career. That’s right – the band devised their now famous sound with just bass, bari sax and drums!

My pick for the SotW is “Buena” from Morphine’s second album, Cure For Pain. Although it is one of the more well known songs to serious Morphine fans, it’s probably still unfamiliar to many of you. More importantly, it is the perfect specimen of the trademark Morphine “low rock” sound (that’s how Sandman described it).

In another tragic turn, Sandman died of a massive heart attack, while performing on stage in Palestrina, Italy. Now that’s a rock ‘n roll death! And I mean that most respectfully. Morphine ceased to exist that day.

Enjoy… until next week.

8 thoughts on “Song of the Week – Buena, Morphine

  1. I knew Mark. His pre-Morphine band was Treat Her Right, and the other guitar player was David (Champagne) Alcott, who is a good friend from my hometown, who taught me much and who helped me get gigs in Boston. THR made two good albums and also had no bass. A taste:

  2. I liked the above video. Looks like rock ‘n’ roll to me. Didn’t see the one from the original post because it said I had to sign in to some website. Someone should go look for this guy and then make a movie about it called, “Searching For Sandman.” What’s the point of no bass? I can’t see how bass wouldn’t make the overall sound even better.

  3. Nice choice Tom.

    Really solid and interesting band Morphine was. Unmistakable sound.

    And, though I mostly agree with you about the bass, Steve, sometimes it works just fine.

    As in Sleater-Kinney, for example.

  4. THR used Sandman’s guitar as a kind of bass, and their drummer (also Billy Conway) did not have a kit, just what they called a “cocktail drum” and assorted percussion. I think that the no bass was as simple as they couldn’t find one that they liked and worked around it and found that it worked. They sound a lot like Paul Butterfield to me. The harp player (Jim Fitting) has great tone and chops and taste.

    My first band The Slumlords had no bass player because we couldn’t find one, just two guitars, an electric keyboard and drums. Once we were playing at Max’s and Johnny Thunders came up and played a couple of songs (“Let’s do something traditional.”) After the songs he said, “You guys are hot, you need a bass player.”

    • Loved Morphine back in the day. Thanks for the reminder. IT seems to me the lack of bass issue is a non-starter. Morphine’s music and apparently the Treat Her Rights do not lack for bottom. Whether or not the band has an official bass player surely doesn’t matter (but maybe the Rezillos could spare a few bass notes along the way).

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