The ’90s band Morphine pioneered a new type of music — “Low Rock” — featuring the unusual yet seductive lineup of baritone sax, 2-string slide bass and drums. Morphine burned bright and fast but was snuffed out before it’s time when leader Mark Sandman passed away in 1999. From its ashes have risen Vapors of Morphine.
Vapors of Morphine honors the progressive legacy of it’s predecessor. Original Morphine members Dana Colley (baritone sax) and Jerome Deupree (drums) are joined by transplanted New Orleans’ slide guitarist Jeremy Lyons. They create dreamy soundscapes, applying inventive arrangement to the unique instrumentation of electric baritone saxophone (evocative of Jimi Hendrix’ guitar), the Sandman-style 2string slide bass (sometimes electric bouzouki or guitar) and mad jazz-rock drums. Morphine songs are performed alongside psychedelic renditions of West African tunes, noise rock, originals and obscure covers. And it all fits together. Vapors of Morphine leave audiences from Boston to Brazil, New Orleans to the Netherlands wanting more.
The band was officially formed in 2009 to perform a tribute to Mark Sandman in Palestrina, Italy, where Morphine’s singer, composer and 2string bassist died of a heart attack on the very same stage ten years earlier. Since then the group has released one CD (under their original name “The Ever Expanding Elastic Waste Band”), and played selective shows at home and abroad. Highlights have included Mês Da Cultura Independente (São Paulo, Brazil, 2014), The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (USA, 2012); Virada Cultural Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil (2012), New Orleans’ Voodoo Experience (USA, 2011); and Maquinaria Festival in Santiago, Chile (2011). VoM have appeared at Film Festivals in the US in Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, Salem, Austin,; in Tui, Spain and Amsterdam, Netherlands. All in tandem with screenings of two documentary films, Cure for Pain: the Mark Sandman Story and Morphine “Journey of Dreams” (to which they contributed music).
All three surviving members of Morphine — Dana, Jerome and succeeding drummer Billy Conway — met blues guitarist Jeremy Lyons in September 2005 after he was washed up on Massachusetts’ shore from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A bond was quickly formed between the musicians, born of a mutual love of New Orleans, horror at the disastrous flood, and empathy based on their own, personal disaster of only six years before. A musical simpatico was clear from the start. After informal collaborations prompted Dana to invite Lyons to the gig in Italy, Lyons had a 2-string slide bass like Sandman’s built and began learning much of the Morphine cannon. Deupree is the primary occupant of the drum throne, but the group has played with either or both Morphine drummers, appearing occasionally as a quartet.
Morphine’s Film Noire-tinged sound was inspired by the Beats, by the Boston rock scene, and by the Blues. Jeremy’s background help anchor the new band in the bedrock of the old. The bandmates’ interest in experimental and exotic musics (of West Africa and beyond) reflect a restlessness that insures that this group will ALWAYS be more than a simple tribute band. Their tendency to segue between songs with sound-scapes of ethereal jamming is a tribute to the mythology of Morphine, which was NOT in fact named for the narcotic, but rather for Morpheus a Greek God of Dreams (tapping into the Sandman mystique of European folklore).
VoM has had some hiccups along the way; they were unable to agree on a band name early on, beginning by alternating between “Members of Morphine & Jeremy Lyons” and the “Elastic Waste [sic] Band,” which morphed into “The Ever Expanding Elastic Waste Band”… until early in 2014 when someone asked Jeremy if he didn’t “play with the… um… the ‘vapors’ of Morphine?” And there was the name.
Another hiccup came in 2012: Jerome had been suffering from tendenitis for some time. and ended up taking off more than a year for rest and therapy. Billy Conway filled in on a couple shows in New Orleans, but Billy lives in Montana now, so drum duties for local gigs were taken on by their friend Jeff Allison, who continues to play gigs with the band, even now that Jerome has come back off the bench and onto the stool again.