Sublime was founded in 1988 in Long Beach, California. However, the California punk explosion fueled by Green Day and The Offspring helped the group rise to fame with their unique blend of ska and punk. Yet, the group only released 2 albums during the seven years the group was together. Their last release was self-titled and featured some of the group’s most well-known hits like What I Got and Santeria.
Sadly before the group could enjoy their newfound fame, the group suffered a devastating tragedy. The talented singer was born on February 22, 1982, into a musical family. His mother was a singer, and his father was a guitar player. When he was thirteen, and by the end of the 80s, he joined his first band, beginning to create Sublime’s unique sound with bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh. Their early releases were popular with skate punks. When Nowell died, everything seemed to be going much better for the singer. His wife had just given birth to his son, and the group just released their first album on the MCA label. Yet, before the album’s release, Nowell was found dead in a San Francisco hotel room on May 25, 1996. His heroin addiction had taken his life. The night before he died, Sublime played their last show at the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma. According to KQED, less than a thousand fans saw Nowell’s final live performance. Only an audio bootleg exists since legal issues are preventing the complete footage from being released. Additionally, those at the show still share stories about the concerts with fans who never witnessed his last live performance.
Even though the group was reeling from Nowell’s death, Sublime’s record label showed no empathy. They knew that the group’s album was gaining success and their tour already had dates set. So, they told the group in no uncertain terms to find a new singer, immediately adding he better have the same caliber of talent as Nowell. During a recent interview, Bud Gaugh recalled the emotional situation twenty-five years ago. According to Ink and Music, when MCA demanded they start auditioning new singers, he said, “go eff yourself,” adding, “Sublime was the three of us together, and this was our family.” The remaining two members knew there was no way they could replace him, not just because of the emotional upheaval they were feeling but also because Nowell’s talent would never be matched. Several years before Nowell’s death, the fan started to get a cult following and began to play to crowds more significant than what would be expected from an unsigned group. Additionally, the only thing that drew fans to the location were other fans talking about the upcoming show. Since none of the members were ready to move on, the record label threatened to pull the album. However, the group already had tour dates in Europe when Nowell’s overdose happened. This created more urgency for the label. However, instead of the album never being released, it was pushed out a month and released on July 30, 1996. It sold six million copies and was a radio success.
The group never moved on after Nowell’s death since they couldn’t face auditions and replacing him. One more Sublime album was released, Second Hand Smoke, a collection of early songs, previously unreleased material, and several remixes. Wilson, Gaugh, and Happoldt formed the Long Beach Dub All-Stars. Then, Gaugh and Wilson worked with Rome Rameriz for Sublime with Rome, releasing three albums. Yet, even though Sublime was only together a short time, they still left an indelible mark on one of the best decades in music history. Sublime made one final appearance. According to MTV, on February 28, 2009, Gaugh, Wilson, and Rome Ramirez standing in for Bradley Nowell played a show at a Mexican restaurant in Sparks, Nevada. They played the songs that made them famous, but the magic wasn’t really there. As Gaugh and Wilson both knew, there was no way to replace Bradley Nowell. Critics agreed, and the show was largely dismissed as a total disaster. After this show, Sublime celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary with several projects away from the stage. They collaborated with a comic book artist who published Sublime: $5 at the Door, a graphic novel about the bands’ early history. Additionally, Wilson and Gaugh worked with Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker on an anthology album. Different artists reimagined and tracks from the group’s only album before Nowells. Additionally, they partnered with a San Diego brewery, AleSmith, and released Sublime Mexican Lager, which sold throughout Southern California.
We all shine on
Even though Bradley Nowell is gone, and Sublime never saw the fame they might have if he’d lived. The group remains legendary and still socially relevant today. Whittier Daily News ran an article about Sublime’s twenty-fifth anniversary and the impact the group still has. Troy Dendekker, Bradley Nowell’s widow, said, “the fans keep Bradley alive, and I feel blessed that way,” a sentiment echoed by many fans. Nowell wrote songs about issues that are still happening today, including police brutality, addiction, and finally legalizing marijuana coast to coast. Additionally, the group’s history lives on for fans who remember Sublime’s early days. The earliest Sublime album, 40 oz. to Freedom, was recorded when the group snuck into studios at California State University. As the group progressed, they began to steer away from their earlier punk anthems of hard partying and the stoner lifestyle favoring ones that have stood the test of time. Even though it would have been amazing to see what happened next for the group, Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson were steadfast in their commitment to not replacing Nowell, creating much of the aura and mystique for the band. Yet, there is still a sad feeling about what happened next. Inevitably, the group would have gone downhill and not had the musical impact they still have today.