Mark Sandman (September 24, 1952 – July 3, 1999) was a Jewish American singer, songwriter, musical instrument inventor and multi-instrumentalist.

An indie rock icon and longtime fixture on the Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts music scene, Sandman was best known as the lead singer and slide bass]] player of the band Morphine. Sandman was also known as a prominent member of the Boston blues band Treat Her Right and the founder of Hi-n-Dry, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based recording studio and independent record label.

Early life

Sandman was born into a Jewish American family in Newton, Massachusetts. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts, then worked a variety of blue-collar jobs, including construction, taxi driving, and commercial fishing. Sandman once noted he would often earn considerable overtime pay, which allowed him to take leave of work and travel outside of New England to places such as rural Colorado -- the setting for a number of Treat Her Right and Morphine songs penned by Sandman, including "Thursday", "The Jury", and "I Think She Likes Me".

Two tragic events impacted Sandman's life and would later influence his music - he was robbed and stabbed in the chest during a robbery in his cab,[1] and his two brothers died.[2] These events would later be recounted in the Treat Her Right song "No Reason". His mother, Guitelle Sandman, has self-published a book about the loss of her three sons entitled, "Four Minus Three A Mother's Story."

Few other details are publicly known about Sandman's personal life. Fans have often speculated that many of Sandman's songs were autobiographical, which to this day remains unconfirmed. Although Sandman served as an unofficial spokesman for Morphine, he avoided answering questions about his personal life or his professional experiences outside of the music business.[3] Sandman was reported to have been particularly secretive about his age, becoming angry with any reporter who expressed an interest in revealing it publicly.[3] Some speculated that Sandman was sensitive to the fact that he was generally 10 to 20 years older than most of the indie rock figures popular during the 1990s. This was most notable in a famously contentious interview conducted by journalist Seth Mnookin for the now-defunct online music magazine Addicted to Noise.[4][5]

Music career

Along with Morphine, which he formed in 1989, Sandman was also a member of the bands Treat Her Right, Sandman, Candy Bar, the Hypnosonics, Treat Her Orange, Supergroup (with Chris Ballew), and the Pale Brothers. He also performed as a guest with the Boston jazz band Either/Orchestra.

His instruments were extensively altered and sometimes built by hand to create unique sounds. In Morphine, he played primarily a two-string slide bass guitar usually tuned to a fifth, but he also was known to play a unitar (named after the one-stringed instrument in American blues tradition), and three-string slide bass with one bass string and two unison strings tuned an octave higher (usually A). He sometimes paired bass strings with one or two guitar strings, creating the "basitar" "tri-tar" and "guitbass". The guitbass and basitar were later used by The Presidents of The United States of America (with whom Sandman was close friends).

For Sandman, the result was a murky, slurring sound that, particularly when paired with the baritone saxophone of Morphine's Dana Colley, created what Sandman termed "low rock". His baritone singing completed the sound. "We're just baritone people," he once told an interviewer. "And the cumulative effect of all these instruments is that it sounds really low, but you can still hear what's going on between the different instruments. It hits the body in a peculiar way that some people like a lot."

As a lyricist, Sandman's songwriting was influenced by the gritty styles of pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson and crime writer James Ellroy.

During Morphine's active years, the band released five albums and one B-sides compilation. They toured extensively, both domestically and internationally, and became the second act signed to Dreamworks Records.

During the 1990s, Sandman continued to expand his Cambridge-based home recording studio with second-hand instruments and equipment, calling the studio Hi-n-Dry. Hi-n-Dry became Morphine's unofficial home and they recorded many of their signature tracks using Sandman's unique homegrown production methods.

The Twinemen

In addition to his work as a musician, Sandman was also an amateur photographer and artist. He created a comic entitled The Twinemen, starring three anthropomorphic balls of twine who form a band, become successful, break up, and later reunite.

The Twinemen comic also showcased Sandman's signature technique of combining a simple pen or pencil drawing with watercolor paints. Sandman's art and photographs were showcased on the official Morphine website and later featured in a DVD released with the Sandbox box set.

Colley, Treat Her Right and Morphine drummer Billy Conway, and singer Laurie Sargent would later adopt the Twinemen moniker for their own band as a permanent homage to Sandman.


On July 3, 1999, Sandman collapsed on stage at the Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, Latium, Italy (near Rome) while performing with Morphine. He was soon pronounced dead of a heart attack at the age of 46. Sandman was survived by his girlfriend Sabine Hrechdakian, his parents Robert and Guitelle Sandman, and his sister Martha Holmes. Morphine immediately disbanded following his death, though the surviving members briefly toured with other musicians, creating Orchestra Morphine as a tribute to Sandman and in support of the posthumous release, "The Night."

Following Sandman's death, Hi-n-Dry became a commercial record label and studio, recording and releasing the work of Boston-area artists. The label and studio are managed by Sandman's former Morphine bandmates Conway and Colley. Hi-n-Dry issued a retrospective box set of Sandman's music called Sandbox in 2004. Another four disc Morphine box set has been compiled but has not been released due to the sale of former Morphine label, Rykodisc, to Warner Brothers.

Memorials and tributes

  • The intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Brookline Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts' Central Square is named in Sandman's honor. This square is right outside the Middle East, a music club/restaurant frequented by Sandman.
  • The Mark Sandman Music Education Fund was established by his friends and family in order to give children in the Cambridge and Boston area an opportunity to learn musical instruments. As of 2008, this foundation has been re-named the Mark Sandman Music Project. Housed in the newly renovated Armory Arts Center at 191 Highland Ave. Somerville, the Project hopes to continue Mark's legacy. The Project is a community based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing children and music together to foster educational, recreational and artistic goals and experiences. The Hi-n-Dry community will be the driving force behind this project which believes in that creative collaboration creates community. Donations are needed and welcomed. More information can be found at:
  • Following Sandman's death, Chris Ballew, Dana Colley, and Billy Conway recorded and released a tribute song entitled "Gone Again Gone". It was available online as an MP3 file for a limited time and a version of the song is on Chris Ballew's second solo album, The Days are Filled With Years
  • As a fellow bassist who admired Sandman, Les Claypool had an audience chant some "Yo Ho's" in honor of him at a show with Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, which can be seen on his DVD 5 Gallons Of Diesel. Claypool also has a Sandman sticker on his bullet microphone.
  • La Escala de Sandman, Palestrina, Italy - a staircase named in his honor.
  • Mirror with plaque, Cambridge Music, Cambridge, MA
  • An American band Brazzaville recorded a tribute song entitled "Sandman", which is available on their second album Somnambulista
  • Muerte Chiquita released a tribute song entitled "Hombre De Arena"
  • California band Honey White (their name taken from a Morphine song) recorded a tribute song entitled "The Sandman" for their first E.P. release My Band Rocks! in 2002.
  • The band Collective Soul, in memorial of Mark Sandman covered Morphine's "You Speak My Language" on their Blender CD.
  • In September 2009, a silkscreen print of Mark Sandman was created by artist Joshua Budich [6] with proceeds benefitting The Mark Sandman Music Project. [7]
  • Two Morphine's songs (Honey White and Super Sex) were featured in the Italian movie Viaggi di nozze. The director and actor Carlo Verdone is a fan of the band.


  • "I was kind of a dreamy child—a Curious George baby. As a child, people told me they thought I'd grow up to be a poet. You have to wonder what kind of kid someone would say that to." [8]
  • "I don't know why I picked this bass, maybe 'cause it was so... freaky lookin', I suppose."
  • "The word 'Morphine' comes from the word 'Morpheus,' who is the god of dreams, and that kind appealed to us as a concept...I've heard there's a drug called 'morphine' but that's not where we're coming from...we were dreaming, Morpheus comes into our dreams...and we woke up and started this band...we're all wrapped up in these dream messages, and we were compelled to start this band."



External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Mark Sandman. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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