Billy Conway, best known as the longstanding drummer for ‘90s alt-rock heavyweights Morphine, has died at age 65.
Rolling Stone confirmed the news yesterday (December 20), as friend and bandmate Jeffrey Foucault – with whom Conway had toured as a duo since 2013 – told the publication that he passed on Sunday (December 19) due to complications surrounding his lengthy battle with cancer.
“Billy Conway was one of the best drummers America produced in the second half of the 20th century,” Foucault said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “With his uncanny empathy and sensitivity, his dedication to simplicity and restraint, and his impossible spiritual power, he played the song, never the instrument, and when he played he was undeniable. He incarnated a ferocious love.
“But any description of his accomplishment misses the full measure of the man. Billy was a great soul. He was relentlessly kind and open-hearted. He was soft-spoken, slow to anger, quick to laugh, and to praise. He was gentle in all things, strange and beloved, magnetic and restless, and somehow haunted.
“People who met him once would remember and remark him, and it was his odd magic to be the soul in whose presence wisdom might reveal itself.”
The news of Conway’s passing was first made public on the Facebook page for Vapours Of Morphine, a supergroup comprising former Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Tom Arey, as well as blues and roots artist Jeremy Lyons. Conway was an occasional touring member of the band, either filling in on drums or fleshing the group out to a quartet.
“We are devastated to learn that our brother, Morphine drummer Billy Conway, has passed, finally succumbing to cancer after a long fight,” the band wrote in the their statement. “Our deepest condolences go to his family and friends.”
We are devastated to learn that our brother, Morphine drummer Billy Conway has passed, finally succumbing to cancer…
Following a seven-year stint in Treat Her Right (with whom he recorded three studio albums), Conway joined Morphine in 1991. He was initially hired as a temporary replacement for Jerome Dupree, who stepped out for health reasons shortly before the band recorded their first album, 1992’s ‘Good’. Conway performed on two of the songs on that record: ‘You Speak My Language’ and ‘You Look Like Rain’.
He and Dupree would also share drumming duties on 1993’s ‘Cure For Pain’, with Conway playing on three of its 11 tracks. He became Morphine’s full-time drummer shortly after the album was released, and played on every song that appeared on their next two albums – 1995’s ‘Yes’ and 1997’s ‘Like Swimming’.
For Morphine’s final full-length effort, 2000’s ‘The Night’ (released a year after the band broke up), Conway once more shared his workload with Dupree.
Following the dissolution of Morphine, Conway performed in various other bands and projects, such as Orchestra Morphine – formed to raise funds for the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund in the wake of its titular founder’s 1999 heart attack – and Twineman.
Conway was diagnosed with bowel cancer in October of 2018. He underwent emergency surgery upon his diagnosis, followed by six months of chemotherapy and radiation. The forced stint of downtime led Conway to build a home studio, where he laid the groundwork for his debut solo effort, 2020’s ‘Outside Inside’. That same year, Conway learned that his cancer had spread to his liver.
In his own statement to Rolling Stone, Colley said Conway was “the most honorable person [he’d] ever met”, vouching that the late drummer “always made you feel better and complete as a result of having spent time with him”.
“His selflessness and his ability to lead by example was limitless,” Colley continued. “His musicality was profound and always for the good of the song and never about him.”
Foucault echoed the sentiment shared by Colley, as he added: “Billy believed in community above all things, and in the end he died in his own house, utterly surrounded by love, embraced by the family of friends near and far that had gathered to his light. The love he put into the world won’t fade. It will take new forms, find new channels, and we’ll spend the rest of our days trying to live up to his example.