OC REGISTER: How Sublime fans can celebrate what would have been vocalist-guitarist Bradley Nowell’s 50th birthday
How Sublime fans can celebrate what would have been vocalist-guitarist Bradley Nowell’s 50th birthday
Sublime vocalist and guitarist Bradley Nowell, pictured with his loyal Dalmatian, Lou Dog. The Sublime estate and various friends and supporters of the popular ska punk band from Long Beach have put together a slew of events and will release specialty merchandise to commemorate what would have been Nowell’s 50th birthday on Thursday, Feb. 22. Nowell died on May 25, 1996 at the age of 28.
To commemorate what would have been Sublime vocalist and guitarist Bradley Nowell’s 50th birthday on Thursday, Feb. 22, his family, the Sublime estate, friends and other bands have put together a slew of events and specialty merchandise to remember Nowell during this milestone.
Two months before his band’s eponymous major-label album debut was released, Nowell died of a heroin overdose at age 28 while on tour with the trio in Northern California on May 25, 1996. The group, which also consisted of drummer Bud Gaugh and bassist Eric Wilson, had released two previous records via Long Beach’s Skunk Records and had found success with the single “Date Rape,” which was played heavily on KROQ 106.7/FM in Southern California.
Unfortunately, Nowell wasn’t around to enjoy the fruits of their labor as the self-titled album, put out on July 30, 1996, went on to launch the group into super stardom and spawn numerous hits including “What I Got,” “Santeria” and “Wrong Way.” The Long Beach-based band had a unique sound, mixing ska and reggae music with punk rock and hip-hop, creating some incredibly catchy grooves littered with everything from scratching turntables and fast-paced drums to heavy bluesy guitars and big-sounding bass solos. Its songs also incorporated cleverly placed samples from artists such as the Doors, Steely Dan, Barrington Levy, Bob Marley, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and many, many more.
Now, almost 22 years after Nowell’s death, new generations of music fans continue to discover Sublime’s works and artists continue to pay homage to its music via a dozen or so tribute bands as well as the touring version of the band, that still includes Wilson on bass, known as Sublime with Rome. The Sublime estate, which is managed by Dave Kaplan of Surfdog Records, will be posting a countdown to Nowell’s birthday on Sublime’s official website, Sublimelbc.com, as well as a social media wall where fans can share memories or photos of Nowell using the hashtag, #BradleyNowell50th.
“Sublime was a giant influence on people, culture and on music,” Kaplan said during a recent phone interview. “I knew that, but I didn’t really know that until I was working on the management side three years ago. There’s not a month that goes by now that I’m not blown away by something that speaks to the massive impact that they continue to have. And that’s not past tense – I think it’s bigger now than ever.”
On Thursday, Feb. 22, fans, friends and family members will gather at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach for a special show featuring the Ziggens, Philieano, Tiger Sex, Perro Bravo and the Long Beach-based rock band Law, which is fronted by Nowell’s son, Jakob, who was just 11 months old when his father died. The following evening, Friday, Feb. 23, the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Cafe in Fullerton will host a Celebration of the Music of Sublime with Burritos, Law, Perro Bravo, Corn Doggy Dog and Mic Dangerously. Both events will be raising proceeds for the Nowell Family Foundation.
“The thing about parents who have lost a child is that they want them to be remembered,” Jim Nowell, Bradley’s father, said during a phone interview. “You want to do something so that you feel that the loss had some sort of meaning. Everyone handles it in different ways, but we just started a non-profit called the Nowell Family Foundation and we’re trying to raise money to open up our own rehab house for musicians that are indigent and they can’t afford the price of recovery. We’re going to call the rehab house, Bradley’s House, and we’re looking to open it somewhere down in San Juan Capistrano.”
Nowell said it always brings a smile to his face as he walks around Long Beach, Los Angeles and Orange County and he sees everyday people sporting Sublime T-shirts or tattoos of the band’s sun logo. He’s also glad that the fans have been so supportive in keeping his son’s memory and music alive and that they celebrate and really come together on various milestone anniversaries such as last year’s 25th anniversary of the “40 oz. to Freedom” album or to commemorate Bradley’s 50th birthday. It is hard, however, he said to not dwell on “what could have been.”
“Everyone feels guilty to some point,” he said of Bradley’s passing. “I felt guilty. I tried to talk him out of the band for years. Every time he’d detox and rehab a little bit, I’d plead with him not to go back to the band because it was just so deadly. He wouldn’t give it up. We lived together for 10 years after his mom and I divorced, and one time he said, ‘These people don’t want to come pay to hear me sing. I’d be happy to pay them to come watch me sing.’ He felt that way. He was such a lovable guy. He never left you without saying he loved you and giving you a hug.”
To further celebrate Nowell’s 50th, the official Sublime website will put up a special looped animation video created by renowned animator Andrew William Ralph that will be set to an acoustic version of Sublime’s “Boss DJ.” There will also be eight new pieces of limited-edition merchandise for sale, including commemorative T-shirts, posters and more of the 40-ounce bottles of the Sublime Mexican Lager which was a collaboration done exclusively with AleSmith Brewing in San Diego. Fans can visit the brewery’s tasting room on Thursday, Feb. 22 and place trinkets, notes and pictures on a special Bradley altar as Sublime music and videos play all day long.
As Sublime’s drummer and one of Nowell’s best friends, Gaugh said he appreciates the fan support more than he thinks he could ever fully express.
“I love our fans because they are the greatest people in the world,” he said during a phone interview. “We went through such a tragedy and these fans, they carried us through the hardest times of our lives. Brad, Eric and I knew this was the best music on the planet, it was just a matter of trying to convince everyone else of that and we were doing that when it all came crashing down. That magic carpet was ripped from underneath us and we lost our best friend, our brother, our band mate, all in one foul swoop and yet we fell on this soft pillow with the fans just grieving with us and carrying us through and loving us and supporting us and just like Brad said, ‘Look at all the love we found.’ It feels like family and I mean that, it really does.”
Nowell’s widow, Troy, whom he was only married to for a week before his passing, said she’s always happy to chat with fans. They’ve made an annual tradition of meeting and greeting with Sublime loyalists as they visit Nowell’s headstone at Westminster Memorial Park in Orange County.
“I never get tired of talking to them,” she said during a phone interview. “Every year new people come and they’re a little nervous to talk to us, but once they start talking I let them know that we’re just people, too. We’re glad to share this day with them because Brad didn’t just belong to us, he belonged to everyone and fans especially.”
She’s also extremely proud of she and Nowell’s son, Jakob. He’s recently sober, having gone through rehab to battle his own addictions. He was the subject of the documentary, “The Long Way Back,” which was released last year. He’s now doing well, his mother said, in his band Law, however, she never really encouraged him to pick up a guitar or play music.
“Jakob doesn’t have any memories of his dad so he knows nothing about being Jakob, the son of the lead singer of Sublime,” she said. “When he started playing, that happened on its own. He had a gift for story writing and when he was a teenager and he got all those different feelings and emotions, he’d express them through writing songs. One day, he had his bedroom door closed and I heard him down the hallway and he was in there playing his dad’s guitar. I was just like, OK, that’s how it’s supposed to be, this is how it’s supposed to happen.”
Bradley’s 50th Birthday Celebration
With: Philieano, Law, Tiger Sex, Perro Bravo and The Ziggens
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22
Where: Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim Street, Long Beach
Tickets: $10; 21-and-over only
AleSmith Brewing Company will also be putting on an event with commemorative 40oz bottles for purchase and pickup at their tasting room in San Diego from 6-9pm.
Bradley Alter will be setup for fans to leave behind in honor of his life and legacy. Sublime music and videos will be played along with the Sublime Mexican Lager pouring!