The end of my junior year saw me in a van for two weeks, driving around the southern part of the US, playing jazz concerts for high schools and churches. It was only my first semester playing jazz in college and I was a baritone sax player sitting in the trombone section since our ensemble was very light on low brass instruments.
There were two vans and a Uhaul in our convoy and we were the middle vehicle, with the Uhaul bringing up the rear. We were also the only vehicle that was entirely populated by college males. The driver of the van and the guy riding shotgun made it a point to be publicly nude in all 9 states, so it was an exciting trip.
But those two guys, despite once spending an entire 6 hour drive completely naked in the front seats of the van, introduced me to a band that has stuck with me ever since… Morphine. The line-up makes no sense when you first hear about it: the drummer, the baritone sax player and the lead singer, who also plays a two-string slide bass guitar. That’s it. They do a lot of overdubbing, so the group sounds larger than it really is, but as simple as the lineup sounds, it really isn’t.
For several years, these were my go-to guys when I needed moody music. They still are, in some ways. I spent hours in the practice rooms trying to recreate the baritone sax player’s sounds, especially the squeal he gets out of his instrument at the end of one of the tracks off this album.
This album has a great song on it called Head with Wings. One time as I was driving past the airport, this song was blasting out of the car, and right in the middle, there is the sound of an airplane flying overhead. I thought, wow, that is some low flying plane coming in for a landing, only to realize, no, that’s just the song.
The death of the founder and lead singer was a tragedy for all of us fans as we’ll never get music like this again, but he went out doing exactly what he loved doing; playing a great gig. Raise one up for Morphine, a truly one-of-a-kind band.
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