Look At All The Love We’ve Found: Bradley Nowell Tribute

By Ben Linton

Hey everyone. So today I felt in the mood to write about something different besides sports to give this blog a little change of pace and switch things up a little. I’ve decided to write a tribute to one of my favorite musicians and influences, Bradley Nowell, who died 14 years ago on this exact date.

Music always played a prominent role in Bradley Nowell’s life from the beginning. His mother Nancy was a singer that had perfect pitch and his father Jim played folk songs on the guitar. On holidays, Bradley would play and sing songs with his Dad, grandfather, and uncle for hours and hours at a time. From the beginning, Bradley and those around him new that music was his gift and he would one day share it with the world.

Bradley James Nowell was born February 22, 1968 in Long Beach, California. At age 10, his parents split up and Bradley went to live with his mom for four years. Bradley’s life was forever changed when he went on a trip to the Virgin Islands and discovered reggae music at age 11. When he moved back to Long Beach with his Dad, he was able to blend the music he heard in Jamacia with the surrounding genres that were present at the time and created a beautiful sound.

At age 13, Nowell started his own band, Hogan’s Heroes. This was how he met bassist Eric Wilson. Then when Nowell went to Cal State Long Beach for college he met drummer Bud Gaugh. In 1988, one semester before graduating from school, Nowell dropped out to chance his dream. The trio formed a band and Sublime was born.

Sublime from left to right, Bud Gaugh (Drums), Eric Wilson (Bass), Bradley Nowell (Guitar/Vocals)

At first the band just played at a couple clubs and house parties around Southern California. They had become very popular along the campus of Cal State Long Beach and were well known from San Diego to Santa Barbara. The band created a perfect blend of ska, dub, punk, funk, rap, and reggae that was easy on the ears but at the same time very emotional and powerful.

In 1992, Sublime released their first album, “40 oz. to Freedom” under Nowell’s record label of Skunk Records. Nowell would sell copies of the CD from the trunk of his car after every show. The album sold 60,000 copies and although Sublime was very popular among the inhabitants of Southern California, they had not landed a deal with a major record label.

Sublime-Date Rape

Due to his frustration and rejection from major record companies, Nowell began to experiment with drugs like Heroin and Cocaine. He felt justified in his abuse, arguing that it aided his artistic creativity, which would increase the chances of Sublime attracting major labels. Part of Nowell was never satisfied, because he was never able to achieve the mainstream success that he so greatly desired. In 1994, Sublime’s second album, “Robbin’ the Hood” was written at the peak of Nowell’s heroin abuse, which is prevalent in many of the tracks. In the song “Poolshark,” Nowell foreshadows to his own demise with the lines “Now I got the needle, and I can shake/ But I can’t breathe/ I take it away but I want more and more/ One day I’m gonna lose the war.”

Poolshark (Acoustic-Sublime)

About a year later, a Los Angeles area rock station KROQ began playing the single “Date Rape” from 40 oz. to Freedom. This eventually led to Sublime being signed to the Gasoline Alley label of MCA Records by Jon Phillips, who subsequently became the band’s manager. Due to this success, Nowell decided to clean up and went to rehab. In 1995, Sublime co-headlined the Vans Warped Tour. Also around this time, Nowell began to start dating Troy Denkker.

Brad and Troy met in 1993 at a Sublime show in San Diego. Troy was somebody that Nowell could confide in about his abuse, and she was there to nurture him and take care of him. When Nowell went into rehab to clean up, Troy found out that she was pregnant. They had a beautiful baby boy named Jakob, who was born 11 months prior to release of the self-titled album. The two decided to get married and buy a house and start a family and begin a new chapter in their lives. But Bradley decided to regress into his old habits and began doing drugs again. He figured that he had everything he needed; a Wife, a Son, a House, that he should be able to reward himself for his accomplishments with no harm done.

Bradley signing to his son Jakob, inside cover of the album "Sublime"

In 1996, Sublime began recording their final album “Sublime.” His drug use was so bad that it led him to pawn off his instruments, influencing the song “Pawn Shop.” On May 25th, 1996, seven days after his marriage to Troy, two months before the release of Sublime’s next album, Bradley Nowell overdosed on Heroin at the Oceanview Motel in San Francisco and died at age 28.

When Nowell died, he was tired of letting people down, including himself. He was tired of trying to stay clean. Everything had just taken its toll and eventually this led to his downfall. When Bradley Nowell died, Sublime died.

When “Sublime” was released, the band just began to get famous, which Brad would never live to see. They entered the Billboard Top 20 with the single “What I Got.” The song went to No. 1 on the Modern Rock Charts. In 1997, Sublime continued to churn out hit after hit, followed by “Santeria,” “Wrong Way,” and “Doin’ Time.” The album has sold 2 million copies to date.

In light of this success, Bradley Nowell can finally rest in peace. His lifelong dream had come true, even though his short-lived time on earth was never able to see it happen. Most people don’t realize that he is dead, I constantly find myself reminding people that there will be no more Sublime albums with Bradley on vocals or guitar.

I truly believe that Sublime would have become one of the most popular rock-reggae bands of all time, and enjoy the success of bands like Green Day and The Offspring. They played a critical role in reviving punk music in the 1990s, and even gave birth to ska-punk in Southern California. Their music was such a perfect fusion of dance-hall, fun-loving vibes with rock-steady reggae rhythms and an aggressive punk edge. Their ability to switch between these different grooves, sometimes in the same song like “Seed,” was truly uncanny. They paved the way for so many other bands like No Doubt, Slightly Stoopid, and Pepper. Eric and Bud have tried other projects such as Long Beach Dub All-Stars and have recruited Rome Ramirez to become the new frontman of their band Sublime with Rome, but nothing will ever come close to sounding like Sublime or Bradley ever again.

So I leave you all with quotes from Nowell:

“Livin with Lou Dog’s the only way to stay sane, Let the lovin’, let the lovin’ come back to me” –What I Got

“Just let the lovin take ahold, cuz it will if you let it,” –Boss D.J.

“All that I need, Look at all the love we’ve found” –S.T.P.


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