Alternative rock band
Sublime came together when the future band mem bers were children. “Bud” Floyd Gaugh and Eric Wilson grew up across the alley from each other and met when they had a head on collision on their Big Wheels. Wilson’s father was a former big band drummer and taught his son how to play drums. Wilson met Nowell in the sixth grade; Nowell was a gifted student without many friends and was bussed to a magnet school. Quite a few years later, while Nowell was on break from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he was studying finance, Wilson introduced him to Gaugh and a short time later the three began to jam. It was Nowell who first introduced his bandmates to ska and reggae. They formed Sublime in 1988 and went out to the club circuit but were refused bookings due to their strange-sounding hybrid act. Being the innovative personalities they were, Sublime founded their own label, Skunk Records, just so they could tell clubs they were “Skunk Records recording artists.”.
The 1992 debut of 40 oz. to Freedom was almost forgotten until two years later when Los Angeles’s world famous KROQ radio station put the song, “Date Rape,” into heavy rotation. The song was attacked for turning a sensitive subject into a farce. Little did the band know that “Date Rape” would become an independent rock hit and catapult 40 oz. to Freedom on the Soundscan alternative chart for 70 consecutive weeks. This shotthe band from punk-garage-playing wanna-be’sto overnight stardom in the music kingdom of their genre. Their follow-up, Robbin’ the Hood, was recorded in 1994 in an earthquake-damaged house with pirated electricity.
In 1995, Sublime played on the first Warped tour (an annual skateboarding/ska/punk traveling music festival) and was the first to be thrown off the tour for one week because of their unruly behavior. Their daily regimen was waking up, drinking, drinking more as the day went on, playing, and then drinking all night long. Nowell’s dog, a Dalmatian named Lou, traveled with them, and when they brought the dog out on stage one night, Lou bit some skaters. That was basically the last straw for the promoters and people trying to keep the peace during their shows.
The drinking, unpredictability, and the out-of-control Dalmatian were all part of Sublime’s explosive appeal. Gaugh’s stock answer to their appeal is that the band is looking for extremes—the raw experience that could help them write and perform compelling music—but for Nowell, his wild ride to artistic inspiration was fueled by harder drugs than alcohol.
On May 25, 1996, Nowell woke up in a San Francisco hotel room early in the morning. His life had taken quite afewfortunate twists. He was trying to turn his life around and had begun to shake his reputation for wildness and womanizing. He had just gotten married to his girlfriend Troy in a Hawaiian-theme ceremony in Las Vegas, he was doing what he loved; playing his music and touring and the band had just finished recording an album which received rave reviews from anyone who heard it; stating that it was going to be a smash. Life was good. Hedecided to take Lou, the Dalmatian for a walk along the beach and tried to convince Wilson to get out of bed and join him on the beach. Being that it was around 6:30 a.m., Wilson ignored him. It would be the last time that anyone would see Nowell alive.
There were a few different reports and accounts of what happened that morning. One of them was that Gaugh had raided Nowell’s stash in San Francisco and shot up while Nowell was outwalking the dog. When he woke up hours later, he found that he’d been joined by Nowell, who was lying stiffly on the bed. Gaugh told a reporter in July that he felt the Grim Reaper had been actually looking for him but confused the two and took Nowell by mistake. Another report said that Gaugh found him lying on his hotel-room bed, dead of an overdose.
Nowell’s bandmates profess that they tried to help him but, if drug abuse was mentioned in Nowell’s presence, he would get angry and talk about other artists who died as a result of an accidental overdose. He would say how
For the Record…
Members include Bradley James Nowell (born February 22, 1986, died May 25, 1996 of a Heroin overdose), singer, songwriter, guitarist; Eric Wilson, bass, “Bud” Floyd Gaugh IV, drums.
stupid these other artists were and that they shot too much because they didn’t know what they were doing. Two months after Nowell’s death, Sublime instantly had a hit song on their hands. While this should have been their moment in the sun, Sublime had effectively ceased to exist.
The untimely death of Nowell pushed Sublime into the limelight. Their record sales increased substantially and, while MCA wanted to sell records, they were wary of appearing like opportunists. With that in mind, MCA included a press release stating their wish that Sublime’s recordings stand as Nowell’s last gift to his family and fans.
40 oz. to Freedom, UNI/MCA, 1996.
Robbin’ the Hood, UNI/MCA, 1996.
Sublime, UNI/MCA, 1996.
Living in a Boring Nation, Liberation/Mushroom, 1997.
Misfits of Ska, Dill Records, 1994.
Hempilation, Capricorn Records, 1995.
Mallrats (soundtrack), MCA, 1995.
Punk Rock Jukebox, Revelation, 1995.
Punk Sucks, Liberation, 1995.
Saturday Morning: Cartoon’s Greatest Hits, MCA, 1995.
Fox Hunt, Rhino Records, 1996.
MOM: Music for Our Mother Earth, Surf Dog/Interscope Records, 1996.
Billboard, May 6, 1995; August 10, 1996.
People, September 30, 1996.
Members: Floyd "Bud" Gaugh IV, drums (born 2 October 1967); Bradley James Nowell, vocals, guitar (born 22 February 1986; died San Francisco, California, 25 May 1996); Eric Wilson, bass (born 21 February 1970).
Genre: Rap, Rock
Best-selling album since 1990: Sublime (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "What I Got," "Santeria," "Wrong Way"
Few bands of the 1990s had a career arc that was as full of promise, excitement, and tragedy as that of Sublime. A fun-loving trio of friends who created a wholly original style of music that incorporated reggae, pop, classic rock, ska, hip-hop, and spoken word, Sublime had perfected their sound on hits such as "What It's Like" and "Wrong Way" on their self-titled third album (1996). Their celebration was short-lived, however, as lead singer and musical life force Brad Nowell died of a drug overdose two months before the album's release, silencing the band forever.
Sublime sprang to life in the surfing community of Long Beach in 1988, but their roots stretched back to the early 1980s. Drummer Bud Gaugh and bassist Eric Wilson grew up across an alley from each other and became fast friends. Wilson met singer Nowell in sixth grade, but the two did not begin making music together until 1988, when Nowell came home for a break two years into pursuing his finance degree at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Wilson, Gaugh, and Nowell began jamming and formed Sublime, but had difficulty getting gigs in local clubs due to their hard-to-pigeonhole musical style.
The trio gradually gained a following among the surfing/skateboarding crowd in the Long Beach area and caught the ear of Miguel Happoldt, who ran the label Skunk Records and agreed to release the band's debut, 40 Oz. to Freedom (1992), recorded for $1,000. Sublime's debut is the musical equivalent of attention deficit disorder, randomly zigzagging from mellow reggae ("Smoke Two Joints") and echo-laden dub to drum machine-assisted psychedelic rock covers of the Grateful Dead ("Scarlet Begonias"), lightning fast punk ("New Thrash"), jazzy hip-hop rapping ("Waiting for my Ruca"), and plaintive Caribbean acoustic pop ("Badfish").
An Unexpected Break
The group got an unexpected break early in 1994, when the powerhouse Los Angeles alternative rock station KROQ began playing "Date Rape," a song about a sexual assault and revenge told over a bouncy reggae-influenced ska beat. Though the song drew fire for treating a sensitive subject lightheartedly, the album began selling briskly and the group's following grew.
They followed up with an album that took their sound experimentation even further, adding more elements of surf rock, rapping, bizarre spoken word passages, hardcore punk, and salsa. Robbin' the Hood (1994) also features "Saw Red," a ska pop duet with Gwen Stefani, singer of the then little-known southern California band No Doubt. With fellow punk bands the Offspring and Green Day having paved the way for the success of new California punk, Sublime were primed for a breakthrough, but even they could not have predicted what came next.
In 1995 they played the first annual traveling Warped skateboarding/punk festival, from which they were ejected for a week due to their drunken behavior and because their dog/mascot, a Dalmatian named Lou, bit one of the skaters. Though they often sang about drugs and smoking marijuana, Nowell was being drawn further into an addiction to heroin.
On the strength of their wild live shows and albums, MCA Records signed the group in 1995. Nowell's long-time girlfriend, Troy, gave birth to their son, Jakob, in June 1995.
Sessions Yield a Sublime Masterpiece; Tragedy Strikes
After sending Nowell to a rehab center to clean up, in early 1996 the label packed the trio off to Willie Nelson's studio in Pedernales, Texas, to record with Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary, and later to Hollywood to work with producer David Kahne. Nowell was voraciously consuming drugs during the sessions, but his voice is smooth, confident, and clear on the album's songs.
Kahne and Leary were able to focus the band's energy on producing bright pop songs with reggae influences that were not as scattershot and wildly irreverent as their previous work, albeit without sacrificing the band's unique vision. The resulting album, Sublime (1996), is one of the decade's classics, producing one of the enduring alternative radio songs of all time, "What I Got." A reggaerap song floated on an appealing, folky acoustic guitar line, turntable scratching and a steady beat, like many of the songs on Sublime, "What I Got" is a story about the band's everyday lives. "Lovin's what I got / It's within my reach / And the Sublime's style's still straight from Long Beach," Nowell sings in his sweet cigarette rasp on the chorus.
With an album everyone felt was going to be a sure-fire hit, the group hit the road for a tour. On May 25, 1996, one week after marrying Troy in a Hawaiian-themed Las Vegas wedding, Nowell was found dead of a heroin overdose in his San Francisco hotel room by band mate Wilson. Two months later, Sublime was released, and "What I Got" became an instant radio hit. By the time they'd realized their dreams, Sublime had broken up, with Gaugh and Wilson going on to front the nine-piece quasi Sublime tribute band, Long Beach Dub AllStars.
A string of releases followed, including a rarities collection (Second-Hand Smoke, 1997), a live album (Stand By Your Van—Live in Concert, 1998), and an acoustic album (Bradley Nowell and Friends, 1998).
Sublime were unlike any band who came before them, but, like too many of their peers, the band never got to bask in the glow of their stardom due to the drug-related death of their lead singer. Their fans, however, were left with three albums of stylish reggae rock that sounds as fresh today as it did when Nowell was alive.
40 Oz. to Freedom (Skunk, 1992); Robbin' the Hood (Skunk, 1994); Sublime (MCA/Gasoline Alley, 1996); Second-Hand Smoke (MCA/Gasoline Alley, 1997); Stand By Your Van—Live in Concert (MCA/Gasoline Alley, 1998); Acoustic: Bradley Nowell and Friends (MCA/Gasoline Alley, 1998).
sub·lime / səˈblīm/ • adj. (-lim·er , -lim·est ) of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe: Mozart's sublime piano concertos | [as n.] (the sublime) experiences that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. ∎ used to denote the extreme or unparalleled nature of a person's attitude or behavior: he had the sublime confidence of youth. • v. 1. [intr.] Chem. (of a solid substance) change directly into vapor when heated, typically forming a solid deposit again on cooling. ∎ [tr.] cause (a substance) to do this: these crystals could be sublimed under a vacuum. 2. [tr.] archaic elevate to a high degree of moral or spiritual purity or excellence. DERIVATIVES: sub·lime·ly adv. sub·lim·i·ty / -ˈblimitē/ n.
Chilvers, Osborne, & Farr (eds.) (1988);
Jane Turner (1996)
Sublime ★½ 2007 (R)
George Grieves (Cavanagh) goes to the hospital for a routine procedure and doctors mistakenly perform a different surgery that results in George contracting a flesh-eating bacteria. This results in more surgeries and a series of flashbacks concerning George's anxieties, including his health care concerns (guess he was right about that). 113m/C DVD . Tom Cavanagh, Kathleen York, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, Kyle Gallner, Katherine Cunningham-Eves, Paget Brewster, Shanna Collins; D: Tony Krantz; W: Erik Jendresen; C: Dermott Downs; M: Peter Golub. VIDEO