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GiveBack Live Music Series
See the Food Bank NYC benefit highlights here

James Buhrendorf at GiveBack Live Music Series
James Buhrendorf

Dana Colley
Dana Colley

Dennis Brennan Rocks
Dennis Brennan Rocks

BUENA BUENA BUENA, GOOD GOOD GOOD!!! artists kick at T.T. the Bear's to honor the late great Mark Sandman of Morphine & bring music to school kids

By James Buhrendorf
Photos of the show by Tom Uellner
more photos here

Tracy the Bartender was working her way thru a crossword puzzle. Kevin the Club Manager had cut his bleach bottle tussle, going for the Irish mobster look. It worked: they can't find Whitey Bulger, and I didn't recognize Kevin. Ilio the Soundman asked me for the night's lineup, and we talked about his keyboards with the band Faces On Film. Lisa Deupree revealed the disturbing news that both Andrew Mazzone and Mike Piehl (Dennis Brennan's bass and drum section) are drawn to singing girl-group songs like I Touch Myself...

It was Wednesday night at T.T. the Bear's Place, legendary rock-in-a-box club in Central Square Cambridge - and we were just off Willie Loco Alexander's Mass Ave at Mark Sandman Square. The ghosts were walking, in a very good way.

When we first created the GIMMESOUND.COM GiveBack Live Music Series (gimmesound artists performing to benefit grateful causes) - we wanted a Cambridge club venue, and a local charity. We picked The Mark Sandman Music Project (online auction here) and T.T.s. And we tapped into a river of musical goodness. What we learned along the way was how a musical tribe works...and how one pure and talented musician can gather family, friendship and community for a shared love of true dream music and powerful magic.

Mark Sandman (September 24, 1952 - July 3, 1999) was an American singer, songwriter, musical instrument inventor and multi-instrumentalist. An indie rock icon and longtime fixture on the Boston/Cambridge music scene, Sandman was best known as lead singer and slide bass player of the band Morphine. Sandman was also a prominent member of the Boston blues band Treat Her Right.

Morphine was an alt-rock group formed by Sandman and saxophonist Dana Colley in 1989. The band combined blues and jazz elements with traditional rock elements, giving the band an unusual sound. Sandman's singing was described as a "deep, laid-back croon", and his songwriting had a prominent beat influence.

The result was a murky slurring sound that, 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..."

Sandman and his mates created a sound with the distinctive blend of deep grooves that, along with Mark's lyric poetry, propelled Morphine to fame. Although Morphine and the seminal swamp-blues quartet Treat Her Right became well-known and successful, much of his work was never commercially released -- and remains unheard. On July 3, 1999, Mark Sandman died of a massive heart attack on stage during the second set of Morphine's Del Nome Rock festival performance in Italy. He was 46.

I felt an affinity in some ways for Mark - my wife died when I was 46, we were both late into performing music, and we're both 57 this year. I loved his tunes "I Think She Likes Me", "Honey White", "Good Good Good" and "You Look Like Rain". When I contacted Andrew Mazzone at The Sandman Music Project, I discovered he was a friend of Mark Sandman...partner and lawyer for HI-N-DRY Records, the indie label in what was once Sandman's recording studio for Morphine...and Dennis Brennan's regular bass player. We threw a small stone with this event, and the ripples spread.

Andrew brought us into a Sept. 27 Sandman Memorial Concert honoring the 10th anniversary of Mark's passing. Andrew also suggested calling Dana Colley, Morphine's sax player - and Dana agreed to bring Vapors of Morhpine (bassist Jeremy Lyons and ex-Morphine/Treat Her Right drummer Jerome Deupree) to do a Sandman tribute set. Dennis Brennan leapt at the chance to honor an old friend. And Mike Piehl, on a phone call with screaming kids in the background, agreed to share his drum kit with all the performers that night.

When Dennis Brennan says "Let's just rock", there's a command and a propulsive force that infects the stage and the crowds. The veteran roots-rocker delivered his call to testify just after a heartfelt salute to his friend Mark Sandman...and he set the tone for the night.

Elle Gallo
Elle Gallo
Sarah RabDAU
Sarah RabDAU

Dennis Brennan
Dennis Brennan

Jeremy Lyons
Jeremy Lyons

Elle Gallo and her seasoned band generated a soulful churn. Elle's a Merrimack Valley bluesrocker whose walk thru this land has given her a sweet strong gospel-tinged and whiskey-soaked voice with more than a hint of Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt.

Her veteran band (John Leone/percussion, Sean Davies/drums, David Gagnon/bass, Ben Zecker/keys) laid it down, especially guitarist Ross Hahn - his Stratocaster soared and teased, in a call and response to Elle's vocal invitations to rise. It's easy to see why Elle and her band were the Fans Choice to take the opening slot at this benefit.

Sarah RabDAU & Self-Employed Assassins are Sarah RabDAU (singer, songwriter, keyboard) and Matt Graber (drummer). As I told the crowd: That's it, but that ain't all.

Sarah and Matt create a stunning space of desire, drive, drama and mystery. From the start of the set, Sarah swooped between pounding chordal passages, quiet arpeggios, whispers to screams - while Matt expertly played to support and drive each song, from mallets to sticks to cascading cymbals, kick, toms and snares.

Looks, nods, smiles and jokes exchanged - the musical spark and chemistry between the two is heartfelt and stirring. My personal favorite came late in their set - "Autumn Spills", a call for return to a lover.

Dennis Brennan was the cool driving force of the night. Fedora, coat, black jeans and boots, slinging an upside down lefty acoustic sluiced through a Fender amp...after 40 years on the Boston/Cambridge music scene, Young Mr. Brennan still tears it up. We're talking genuine gritty alt-roots rockers, and tear out your heart sweetness and sorrows.

You could hear girls hearts melting as Dennis grabbed a blues harp to smoke out the old classic "Fever", just because his friend Mark loved the song. The rhythm section of Mike Piehl on his woody Eames kit and Richard Gates on bass and high harmonies drove the car straight down those rough gravel roads.

The superb biting Telecaster and fiddlework by Ian Kennedy were eerie, sweet and ripping. And when the crew yelled for a finale of "Sugar Falls"...there was dancing on the floor, at the feet of the master.

Fresh off the emotionally-charged transcedent Sept. 27 Sandman Memorial Concert at The Middle East Downstairs, Vapors of Morhpine / Members of Morphine drove home just what a compelling, vital force the low-rock sound created by Sandman, Dana Colley, Billy Conway, and Jerome Deupree represents. Translation: it just soaks you, and shakes your feet and your ass.

Dana Colley's processed baritone wails... Jerome's deep drums... and Jeremy Lyons slide bass and guitar swamp took us rumbling thru songs like "Better", "Honey White" and "Good Good Good". Dana and the boys certainly paid tribute to Mark Sandman, but not just in the words they spoke. It was in the music they wrote and delivered.

They are now my friends, and I'm glad to have lived to be theirs...

Andrew Mazzone, Jerome and Lisa Deupree, Linda and Wayne Viens, Dana Colley, Jeremy Lyons, Billy Conway, Laurie Sargent, Jim Fitting, Monique Ortiz, Ian Kennedy, Richard Gates, Mike Piehl, Dennis Brennan, Sarah RabDAU. Matt Graber, Elle Gallo, Ross Hahn, Davod Gagnon, Sean Davies, Ben, John Leone, Kevin Patey, Chris O'Neil, Tom the Mariachi Brother, and anybody I've are the tribe that gimmesound seeks to gather and sustain.

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