Sunday, April 29, 2012

Unusual Instruments: Honey White

Morphine: Honey White

Morphine is another band that emerged after I graduated from college. Although I listened to music after college (obviously), I can’t say that I was particularly aware of them until the song “Cure for Pain” appeared on a Rykodisc sampler CD that I got with my subscription to the classic music snob magazine Mojo. (Long articles about defunct and/or little known bands? Check. Almost obsessive articles about The Beatles and other classic bands? Check. Reviews filled with jargon and references to obscure mini-genres and bands? Check. Features about bizarre vinyl? Check. From England? Double check. I recently let my subscription lapse, and kind of miss it, but it isn’t cheap to subscribe to foreign magazines.) There was something about their sound that instantly drew me in.

Morphine was (mostly) a trio, with an unusual lineup featuring unusual instruments. The singer and leader of the band, Mark Sandman, generally played a two-string bass, with a slide (that’s unusual!), and sang in a low, baritone. Dana Colley usually played the baritone sax (also unusual, although not in my house, where my son played one in high school. My daughter played the upright bass, and this may explain why I like Morphine). And there was a drummer, first Jerome Duepree, then Billy Conway, although Duepree later rejoined the band. So, we are talking about seriously low sounds to give your subwoofer a workout.

“Honey White” is a relatively uptempo and poppy song for Morphine from their album Yes. It was popular on MTV back when it played music, and the video appeared on Beavis and Butt-head, so you know it must be good. Seriously, Morphine was an interesting and unusual band that probably should have been better known. They were probably hampered in getting wider popularity by the odd instrumentation—what, no guitar? No keyboards? Hey, it’s the mid-90’s—what are you guys thinking? But their recordings hold up, and they are still respected by critics and other musicians, from what I can tell.

Tragically, Mark Sandman collapsed on stage in Italy in 1999, and died of a heart attack. He was only 47 years old. A year later, Colley and Conway formed Orchestra Morphine, along with a group of other musicians, to keep Sandman’s music alive and to raise money for the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund.

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