- Click here to read the first part of this feature—father Jim Nowell and widow Troy remember Bradley Nowell, son, husband, band mate, mentor, friend.
BUD GAUGH: 'I Think About Brad Every Day, Regardless of Where I Am At'
Sublime's origins were as effortless and as intrinsic to Long Beach as their music was. Floyd "Bud" Gaugh, the drummer for Sublime (and now Sublime With Rome) and bassist Eric Wilson were childhood friends who grew up across the alley from each other; Wilson knew Nowell from sixth grade as a neighborhood kid. He introduced Gaugh to Nowell while they were in college, and the trio started jamming.
What Gaugh likes to remember now about Nowell is "how much fun he was to be with, on- or off-stage. Brad was the type who liked to enjoy life all the time."
In talking about the late, great Nowell, one thing that always came up was how crazy Sublime was as a trio, the chaos that surrounded them and how you never knew what you were going to get when they were around. "I think about Brad every day, regardless of where I am at," Gaugh says. "He was a great friend and is truly missed in my life. I know he is proud of Eric and me in our professional and personal lives."
Gaugh, who had the shock of discovering Nowell's body in their shared hotel room the day the singer OD'ed on heroin ("He and I were sharing a room that night; I found him the next morning on the bed next to mine"), says that if Nowell were still alive, "I know we would be still playing great music with him today."
When asked about Nowell's musical legacy, Gaugh says, "Brad was a superstar of a front man and musician. But it took input from all three of us to create the music that is Sublime, so our musical legacy is the great music that will withstand the test of time. It transcends generational and social barriers, and it is music that just about everyone can relate to. I have often heard of it being referred to as the 'soundtrack to our lives,' as the 'anthem that got me through school' and has 'helped me get through the toughest of times' from others. Our songs are classic in the sense that they have no real genre and will last forever."(Lilledeshan Bose)
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MICHAEL "MIGUEL" HAPPOLDT: 'I Learned a Lot From That Guy, and I Sneak Some of That Stuff Into What I Do'
"I think the success would've really helped Brad get on the right path," says Michael "Miguel" Happoldt, Sublime's producer, manager and friend, whose voice was immortalized in the band's "Scarlet Begonias" track from Sublime's 1992 debut, 40 oz. to Freedom. Released on Skunk Records (which Happoldt ran with Nowell), the album contained "Date Rape," a song played obsessively on KROQ two years later, which helped put Sublime on the Soundscan alternative chart for 70 straight weeks.
"When you're dealing with addiction, you just never know, but I think a lot of Brad's struggle was he never really tasted big success," Happoldt says. "We were selling thousand-seaters, and we're grateful for that, but to know they were playing our stuff on the radio would've just been a sense of accomplishment for him."
Like others who knew Nowell personally, Happoldt says the album Sublime would've made after their self-titled, major-label release would've been unbelievable had Nowell lived. "He would've taken it more seriously, and he would've felt an obligation to rise to the occasion. It would've been one of the greatest records of all time."
Happoldt remembers Sublime as an unparalleled improvisational live band, a completely free-spirited act. "It was anything goes," he says. "We were lucky to be at a sustainable level—paying our bills, having fun, progressing. That was enough for us, and that was the amount of success Brad was able to taste."
Happoldt vividly describes the day Nowell died. The band were doing a mini-tour of the California coast before a European tour. They traveled in a motor home, and to save money, the band would get a motel room and switch off staying in the motor home with the dogs. "Me and Eric Wilson were in the motor home that night. Brad and Bud Gaugh were in the room, and Bud had the shock and horror of finding him," he recalls. "[Gaugh] ran and got us, and we tried to our best to revive him. We took turns with mouth-to-mouth, trying to revive him until the cops came, but it was too late."
At the time, no one knew Sublime's sound was going to give birth to a classic, iconic Southern California sound, reinventing the reggae/punk rock/ska fusion. "To say then that we'd get this big was a long shot," he says. "The public was really slow to warm up to Brad's vision of the sound."
Nowell had an uncanny sense for making music, Happoldt says. "Really, what I miss the most about him was that he was really sure of what he wanted to do, musically. He was very adamant about how his music was recorded, produced, presented. Brad had no ProTools, no Auto-Tune, no time-stretching. If we wanted to do any of that shit back in the day, it was called 'Do it again.' He was a maverick. We had to do it all by hand. We had to let a couple of little flaws in there rather than redo the whole thing. It was funner, it was realer, and that's why the music hasn't aged."
To this day, Happoldt still thinks about Nowell, especially when he performs with his band, Perro Bravo. "Brad used to tell me, 'You know, Mike, it's harder than it looks.' When I'm up onstage and I think about how you have to play guitar, sing, hit the pedals, entertain the crowd, I realize it is harder than it looks!" Happoldt says, laughing. "With all the lessons Brad taught me—I learned a lot from that guy, and I sneak some of that stuff into what I do. And hopefully it resonates with some people." (Lilledeshan Bose)
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MILES DOUGHTY: 'The Reggae/Rock/Surf Scene of Southern California Expanded Into the World'
Slightly Stoopid's Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald were big fans of Sublime. "We'd go surf and listen to them before we paddled out, and it was part of our culture growing up," Doughty remembers. "As kids, we idolized [Bradley Nowell]; Sublime were one of our favorite bands."
Nowell discovered the Ocean Beach band as teenagers and signed them onto Skunk Records, his label with friend and Sublime producer Michael "Miguel" Happoldt, in 1995.
"He and Miguel really took us under their wing when we were 15, 16 years old," Doughty says. "We owe them so much. It really opened the doors for Slightly Stoopid in the music world, even a couple of years after he passed. They brought us to their studio in Long Beach and let us record our first record. They were really supportive and positive toward us."
Doughty credits Nowell with not only teaching him how to play a reggae chord ("before then, we were more of a punk rock band"), but also opening their eyes to being a successful touring band. "They taught us to always go back to these towns multiple times a year," he says. "You gain your fans that way. They said, 'Boys, get on the road,' and we haven't stopped since."
The day Nowell died, it was Slightly Stoopid bassist Kyle McDonald's birthday, and the band were playing a house party in Ocean Beach. "Everyone just gathered around, and we played for hours—it was a good day, even though it was a bad day," he recalls. "It brought a lot of people together."
After Nowell was cremated, Doughty was part of the group that scattered some of the ashes at Nowell's favorite surf spot in Surfside: "We all took a bit of his ashes in our hands, paddled out in the ocean, sprinkled them out and surfed."
Doughty says it doesn't feel like Nowell has been gone for 15 years. "It's tragic that his life was cut short; I can only imagine the kind of music they would've made if he were still alive," he says. "He was a great songwriter, great vocalist, and they were the biggest band at the time when he passed. A lot of people—kids—hear their music for the first time and don't even realize he's gone."
Sublime's sound marked a paradigm shift in the popular music of the day, Doughty says. "Kind of the way Nirvana changed the style of music from hair metal—Sublime came and changed it from grunge. The reggae/rock/surf scene of Southern California expanded into the world."
"I don't think anyone realized the impact his music was going to have," Doughty continues. "No one could see at the time how much the music touched people's lives, how much people loved Sublime. The world was crushed by his death. But in the end, he gave a lot."
There's one final lesson Doughty takes from Nowell: "We'll always be grateful for what he did for us. He's irreplaceable. But you have to learn from people's mistakes. I smoke herb, and I drink alcohol. That's about it. Don't do hard drugs—that is what you take from it. We've learned from losing brothers what not to do." (Lilledeshan Bose)
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TONY KANAL: 'It Was Either the Greatest, Most Incredible, Unbelievable Show or a Train Wreck'
In the early '90s, the two most prominent OC/LB bands were No Doubt and Sublime, and they were entwined in more ways than geography. The two were fans of each other's music and performed together; Gwen Stefani even guested on the track "Saw Red" from Sublime's second full-length, Robbin' the Hood.
No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal remembers the first time he heard Sublime in 1990. "One of their friends came to a No Doubt show and gave me a demo tape—the one with a green cover. Gwen and I listened to that tape like crazy, over and over again, until it almost started to fade in some parts," he recalls. "I think we listened to it so much we broke it. Our favorite song on it was 'DJs,' and that was the beginning of us becoming huge fans of Sublime."
Sometime later, Kanal was introduced to Sublime's producer/manager, Miguel Happoldt. "We always tried to figure out when we could play together," Kanal says. When they finally set up a gig together (Hawaiian Gardens, 1991), Sublime were supposed to open for No Doubt. But in true Sublime form, the band didn't show up in time to do sound check—or even set up their instruments. "There was a curfew for playing, so we had to play first, and Sublime played after us. The club kind of cleared out, and we all stayed around to watch them, and we got our own private Sublime show that night.
"The thing about Subime was, when you went to see them play, you never knew what you were gonna get," Kanal explains. "It was either the greatest, most incredible, unbelievable show or a train wreck." And even when it was a mess and total chaos, you'd always go back and see them again, Kanal adds. "Because there was something so great and beautiful and real in that chaos. The sincerity in that chaos was addicting, and you wanted to see it again and again. When they were great, they were great."
One reason for that was that Nowell was an incredible front man: "The best way to describe him was real. He would just wear his heart on his sleeve and let things pour out," Kanal said.
Of course, most of Kanal's memories of Nowell are happy: Sublime played at a surprise party No Doubt vocalist (and Kanal's then-girlfriend) Stefani threw for him on his 22nd birthday. "The instruments were set up my in my parents' living room in Yorba Linda, the same house they live in now," he says. "I will never forget my mom was walking around, serving hors d'oeuvres, and Brad was singing about licking pussy. It was so surreal. That was pretty rad."
Also: "In 1994, No Doubt, the Offspring and Sublime played a snowboarding or spring-break tour," he recalls. "When we got to Utah, they were late for sound check, and they arrived all frazzled. We found out they flipped their van with Lou Dog in it. And they came and played the show. It was just par for the course with Sublime. You just never knew. . . ."
Kanal says Sublime were just scratching the surface of their potential when Nowell died. "That's just proven by how iconic and legendary their self-titled album is and how much it has become part of the Southern California lifestyle. It just becomes bigger and bigger as years go by. That album is spectacular, and the writing shows how incredible a songwriter Bradley was." (Lilledeshan Bose)
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DEXTER HOLLAND, THE OFFSPRING: 'Bradley Nowell Was Really a True Voice of Southern California'
"Maybe the best way to describe [Sublime's] influence is that Bradley Nowell was really a true voice of Southern California. His lyrics were raw—nothing was sugar-coated—but it rang true on both the good times and the frustrations of living in SoCal. Cigarettes, tattoos and flip-flops . . . It felt real because it was real, and people could really relate.
"I remember Brad's dog bit the head KROQ guy at the Weenie Roast one year—that's one guy you probably don't want to piss off. Luckily for him, they were already in heavy rotation . . . otherwise his dog might have put Sublime in the 'Where are they now?' file!" (As told to Gustavo Arellano)
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JOE ESCALANTE, THE VANDALS: 'He Did It. That Record Has Nothing But Hits on It'
"It was 1995, I think. Bradley was backstage at a Vandals/Sublime show in San Diego at the club that later became Canes.
"He was telling Dave Quackenbush and me that he was writing their new album and what was different about it was that it was going to have all hits on it. He was like, 'No, seriously, I'm only writing hits. Every song a hit, a classic, a single, front to back.'
"We were amused by the thought of only putting hits on an album and no deep cuts. Genius. 'Good luck with that, Bradley,' we were thinking, but later, when we got to hear the songs on the self-titled album, we were pretty stunned. He did it. That record has nothing but hits on it.
"I've heard other people say they were going to do that. They usually end up with exactly zero good songs on their crappy albums. Bradley was a gift to this world that was gone in a blink of an eye. I always thought there would be time later to get to know him better. What a loss." (As told to Vickie Chang)
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PAUL LEARY, BUTTHOLE SURFERS: 'As a Musician, He Was Incredible'
"I went out to California to do pre-production for the album [Sublime], and we didn't connect until the third day, when we finally had breakfast—the whole band got drunk and went to Mexico except for Brad. So Brad and I got to hang out for quite a bit, and I saw a little bit of what was going on with him.
"I could see him struggling with heroin. It was a drag and a dilemma; I wondered how to address it and what to do. Shoot, and now he's not here anymore.
"As a musician, he was incredible—a lot of what you hear on that album was recorded live with a drummer on the studio. Brad was really able to sing and play guitar during the tracking, and you could use it all on the record. He could really sing. That was before pitch correction and all that; we were just recording on analog tape. It's really rare to come across a musician like that.
"He was always joking around in the studio. Always sticking his thumb up his dog's butt, stuff like that. I remember after the recording of it ground to a halt, I became really concerned for Brad's health, and I sent the whole band home and tried to finish the whole album myself. When I saw him off, I had a sick feeling I was never going to see him again. I was worried that I wouldn't get paid! I was in Belgium when I got the news that he passed away. I was devastated." (As told to Lilledeshan Bose)
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