Bradley Nowell

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Bradley Nowell
Nowell performing in the mid-1990s.
Background information
Birth name Bradley Nowell
Born (1968-02-22)February 22, 1968
Long Beach, California, United States
Died May 25, 1996(1996-05-25) (aged 28)
San Francisco, California, United States
Genres Ska punk, reggae rock, reggae, third wave ska, alternative rock, acoustic rock, hip hop, punk rock
Occupation(s) Guitarist, songwriter, music producer
Instruments Vocals, guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, bass, percussion, congas, sampler, drum programming
Years active 1981–1996
Labels MCA, Skunk
Associated acts Hogan's Heroes, Sublime, Gwen Stefani
Notable instruments

Ibanez S470

Ibanez S540

Gibson Les Paul

Fender Stratocaster


Bradley James Nowell (February 22, 1968 – May 25, 1996) was an American musician who served as the founder, lead singer, and guitarist of the band Sublime. He died at the age of 28 from a heroin overdose in San Francisco, California, shortly before the release of Sublime's self-titled major label debut.

Raised in Long Beach, California, Nowell developed an interest in music at a young age. His father took him on a trip to the Virgin Islands during childhood, which exposed him to reggae and dancehall music. Nowell played in various bands until forming the group Sublime with bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, whom he had met while attending California State University, Long Beach. As Sublime gained success, Nowell struggled with a worsening addiction to heroin. He eventually became sober after his son, Jakob Nowell, was born. Nowell shot up again on the morning of May 25, 1996, and died of a heroin overdose in a San Francisco hotel while Sublime was on tour.


Early life[edit]

Bradley Nowell and his sister, Kellie, were born and raised in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach, California to Jim and Nancy Nowell.[1][2] As a child, he enjoyed surfing and sailing, often participating in boat races. Nowell became a difficult child and was often hyperactive and disruptive; his mother recalled that he was "very emotional, very sensitive, very artistic, but he was needy...He was always testing just to see what he could get away with".[1] After his parents' divorce when he was ten, Nowell's behavior worsened. His mother was awarded custody, but found him too difficult to control, and at the age of ten he had moved in full-time with his father.[1]

Nowell performs with his band.

Music was an integral part of Nowell's upbringing on the part of both of his parents.[3] His father, a construction worker, enjoyed playing guitar and exposed him to the music of Jim Croce; his mother taught piano for a living in addition to playing the flute.[2] Both parents helped teach young Nowell to play the guitar.[2] In the summer of 1979, eleven-year-old Nowell accompanied his father on a month-long sailing trip in the Virgin Islands, where he was first exposed to reggae music.[1]

By the age of sixteen, he started his first band, Hogan's Heroes, with Michael Yates and Eric Wilson. Nowell was described as a "gifted kid with many friends".[4] At first, Wilson did not share Nowell's interest in reggae music. Nowell recalled the experience: "I was trying to get them to do (UB40's version of) 'Cherry Oh Baby', and it didn't work. They tried, but it just sounded like such garbage. We were horrible".[2] Nowell attended the University of California, Santa Cruz before transferring to California State University, Long Beach to study finance.[2] While at Cal State Long Beach, Nowell received good grades, appearing on the Dean's List in 1990.[5] However, he dropped out one semester shy of earning a degree, stating in 1995 "I have all the hard classes left...I doubt I'll ever go back".[2]


According to a Westwood One interview (which can be found on disc three of the Sublime box set), in 1988 Nowell got together with bassist Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, performing in small shows at house parties and barbecues. The band was often asked to leave the parties due to excessive noise.[1] Sublime gained a reputation for their rowdy behavior and eventually became one of the most popular bands in Southern California.[citation needed] Despite their local success, music venues were skeptical of the band's eclectic musical fusion and many refused to book the band. In response, Nowell and Wilson created their own music label, Skunk Records, telling venues they were "Skunk Records recording artists", helping the band seem more accomplished and enabling them to book more shows.[6] The band produced and distributed Sublime's early recordings on the label, later selling demo tapes at shows and local record stores.

In 1990, music student Michael "Miguel" Happoldt offered to let the band record in the studio at the school where he was studying, although without the school's knowledge. The band agreed, and snuck into the school at night, where they recorded from midnight to seven in the morning.[1] That recording session resulted in the popular cassette tape, Jah Won't Pay the Bills, released in 1991. The tape helped the band gain a grassroots following throughout Southern California.[citation needed] It was during this time that Nowell became involved with drugs. For years, Nowell had refused to try heroin; however, as he entered his twenties and witnessed his band's success, he decided to try the drug. Nowell's father explained, "His excuse for taking the heroin was that he felt like he had to be larger than life. He was leading the band, leading his fans, and he had to put on this persona. He had heard a lot of musicians say that they were taking heroin to be more creative".[1]

Using the same tactics they had used in recording Jah Won't Pay the Bills, the band recorded its debut album 40oz. to Freedom in secrecy at the studios at California State University, Dominguez Hills.[7] Nowell recalled, "You weren't supposed to be in there after 9 p.m., but we'd go in at 9:30 and stay until 5 in the morning. We'd just hide from the security guards. They never knew we were there. We managed to get $30,000 worth of studio time for free".[7] 40oz. to Freedom was released in 1992; 60,000 copies were sold.[citation needed]

"We just kept being punkers and doing it all by ourselves. Now here we are today. We never thought it would be like this. We just thought we'd always be playing backyard parties. A couple of hundred people in Long Beach can claim we played in their back yards".

—Nowell, on Sublime's success in 1995.[8]

Despite their growing popularity in Southern California, Sublime still was not signed with a major label. Around this same time Nowell teamed up with longtime friend Gwen Stefani of No Doubt, to record the song "Saw Red". The song was eventually released on Sublime's Robbin' the Hood album, which was self-recorded on a four-track cassette, and released in October 1994.[7] Several songs from the album detail Nowell's worsening drug addiction. Nowell is believed to have predicted his own death in the song "Pool Shark", with the line, "One day I'm going to lose the war". However, the lyric in question refers to the song's persona, not specifically to Nowell himself.[9]

About a year later, Tazy Phillipz took a copy of 40oz. to Freedom to Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM, requesting that Sublime's song, "Date Rape", be added to the playlist.[10] Soon after, MCA Records picked up 40oz. to Freedom for national distribution, and Sublime was scheduled to tour throughout Europe. Nowell, an avid reader who enjoyed quoting historians and philosophers, began studying European history to prepare for the trip.[10] Attention from a major label did not curb Nowell's drug use, which sometimes led him to pawn his instruments and sell drugs, as reflected in the song "Pawn Shop".[11] In February 1996, Sublime returned to the studio to record the bulk of their self-titled album, which would be their debut with MCA. Production was done by Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers (and producer of Marcy Playground and Meat Puppets) at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio in Austin, Texas.


Nowell was married to Troy Dendekker on May 18, 1996. Seven days later, on the morning of May 25, Sublime was supposed to begin a five-day tour through Northern California, followed by a European and East Coast tour. However, while the band was staying at the Ocean View Motel in San Francisco,[12] drummer Bud Gaugh woke up to find Nowell lying across his bed flat on his back, with his feet flat on the floor. His dalmatian, Louie Dog, was curled up next to him whimpering. Gaugh tried to wake up his fellow band-mates to come watch the sunrise on the beach with him that morning, but they were too hung-over and tired to get out of bed.[13] Initially, Gaugh assumed he had been too intoxicated to get into bed, however, he noticed a green film around his mouth, and it became apparent that he had overdosed on heroin.[1] Gaugh called for paramedics, but Nowell had died several hours earlier, and was pronounced dead at the scene. Nowell was cremated and his ashes were spread over his favorite surfing spot in Surfside, California. A headstone was placed at Westminster Memorial in Westminster, California in his memory.

Eight months after Nowell's death, No Doubt headlined a "cautionary" benefit concert in honor of his memory. Nowell's widow wanted to make it clear that the goal of the concert was not to glamorize his death, but rather to promote drug awareness and prevention among fans. Proceeds from the concert were given to a nonprofit offering support for musicians struggling with drug addiction, as well as a scholarship fund for Nowell's son, Jakob.[14]

On January 11, 1997, a Los Angeles Times article titled "Cautionary Concert in Rocker's Memory", writer Jerry Crowe quoted No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal as saying, "Obviously, it's going to be very emotional because you're there playing a show to commemorate a good friend who died and died for very wrong reasons. But you're also there to change things for the future and prevent stuff like that from ever happening again. A lot of times we hear about musicians using drugs and it's so blasé and clichéd. You just kind of say, 'Oh, he'll be fine. Somebody will take care of him.' But that's not true. It's important for every single one of us to stand up and say, 'Enough of this shit.' It's time to make a difference".[14]

Jason Westfall, one of Sublime's managers, was quoted as saying that the other members of Sublime had no interest in continuing to perform and record under the "Sublime" name: "Just like Nirvana, Sublime died when Brad died". Sublime played their last show at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, California.[15] In late 2010 and early 2011 the remaining band members, along with Rome Ramirez, began touring under the name Sublime with Rome.


In light of Nowell's death, record executives considered not releasing Sublime's final album. The album was eventually released, though the original title, Killin' It, was replaced by the eponymous title, Sublime, and was released on July 30, 1996.

By 1997, the album entered Billboard's Top 20, with the largely acoustic single, "What I Got", becoming the number one song on the Modern Rock chart.[citation needed] The album produced three more radio hits: "Santeria", "Wrong Way", and "Doin' Time". The accompanying music videos for "Santeria", "What I Got", and "Wrong Way", received heavy rotation on MTV, with previously filmed footage of Nowell performing live intercut into the video. The footage which was used came mostly from shows in 1996.[citation needed]

Sublime became one of the most successful American rock acts of 1997.[16] Rolling Stone reported in March 2010 that the album Sublime had sold over 6 million copies.[17]

In 2009, Gaugh and Wilson teamed up with Rome Ramirez to form Sublime with Rome after an attempt to reform "Sublime" was blocked by Nowell's estate. The new band plays all of Sublime's original songs except for "Caress Me Down", which Rome refuses to play out of respect for Nowell and his fans due to it having his name in the lyrics. The band also records original music. Their 2011 debut album Yours Truly is dedicated to Nowell.

Personal life[edit]

Marriage and fatherhood[edit]

While on tour in the early 1990s, Nowell began dating Troy Dendekker. In October, 1994, Troy became pregnant, giving birth to a son, Jakob James Nowell on June 8, 1995. A week before Nowell died, the couple married in a Hawaiian-themed ceremony in Las Vegas.[6]

Lou Dog[edit]

Lou Dog on the cover of a Sublime box set compilation.

In February 1990, Nowell purchased an abused dalmatian puppy from an old man for $500, and named him "Louie" after his grandfather.[1] Also referred to as "Lou Dog", he became a mascot for the band Sublime. Lou Dog was often allowed to wander the stage during concert performances. Louie was also often featured on the cover of Sublime albums, and was referred to in the lyrics of Sublime songs. In Sublime's most successful radio track, "What I Got", Nowell sings, "Livin' with Louie Dog's the only way to stay sane". Another prominent song of the band, "Garden Grove", mentions Lou Dog as such: "We took this trip to Garden Grove. It smelled like Lou dog inside the van, oh yeah".

Nowell would sometimes begin live songs by referencing Lou Dog, and can be heard on the live version of "Caress Me Down" from Stand By Your Van yelling "Everybody say Louie - 1,2,3 Louie, Louie, Louie, Louie!" Nowell was known to invite his friends and their dogs over to film parodies of popular music videos; the dogs would pose as a band or an artist, dressed in corresponding costumes.[citation needed] In the early 1990s, Lou Dog disappeared for a week. Lou Dog was soon returned to Nowell, who later covered the Camper Van Beethoven song "The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon", and changed it to "Lou Dog Went to the Moon". Following Nowell's death in 1996, Lou Dog was cared for by Miguel. Lou Dog died on September 17, 2001.[18]



  • Dan MacDonald Custom Electric Guitar - Body based on a mix of a 1960s Vox Hurricane and a G&L 100 guitar — Ebony Fretboard — Fitted with a Floyd Rose Vibrato System
  • Ibanez S-540 Electric Guitar - Smoke Black — Flame Top
  • Ibanez S-470 Blue
  • Ibanez S-540
  • Gibson Les Paul

Bradley borrowed guitars many times from other bands.


  • Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
  • Boss OS-2 Overdrive Distortion
  • Whirlwind A/B Selector


Guitar rig and signal flow[edit]

  • A detailed gear diagram of Bradley Nowell's 1992 Sublime guitar rig is well-documented.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Sublime". Behind the Music. 2001-05-30. VH1. Retrieved 2011-02-02. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Boehm, Mike (May 4, 1995). "Sublime Making the Most of '40oz.' of Success". Los Angeles Times. Eddy Hartenstein. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  3. ^ Prato, Greg. "Brad Nowell Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-02-02. 
  4. ^ Smith, RJ (1997-01-06). "Drug Bust: When Brad Nowell Died of a Heroin Overdose". Spin. Retrieved 2011-02-04. 
  5. ^ Patterson, Kevin (2006-12-09). "Brad Nowell's Report Card | Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Retrieved 2015-07-17. 
  6. ^ a b Farley, Christopher John (1996-08-12). "Sublime: When the Music's Over". Time. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  7. ^ a b c Freedom du Lac, J. (November 5, 1995). "Ska's the Limit for Controversial Band Sublime". The Sacramento Bee (Cheryl Dell). 
  8. ^ Brown, Mark (April 30, 1995). "Belmont Shore's Sublime, playing Board in South Bay on Saturday, isn't fazed by the success, or furor, over its recording 'Date Rape.'". The Orange County Register (Freedom Communications, Inc.). 
  9. ^ Sullivan, James (August 11, 2002). "Rocker dies young and becomes a star". San Francisco Chronicle (Hearst Corporation). Retrieved January 29, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Boehm, Mike (June 1, 1996). "The Examined Life Ends for Brad Nowell; In appreciation: Late leader of Long Beach-based Sublime used his talents to explore how heroin addiction affected him. His legacy is greater than one novelty hit.". Los Angeles Times (Eddy Hartenstein). 
  11. ^ "Sublime - Pawn Shop Lyrics". MetroLyrics. Retrieved 2015-07-17. 
  12. ^ "Band's singer found dead in motel". SFGate. Retrieved 2015-12-02. 
  13. ^ "The Band". Retrieved 2015-07-17. 
  14. ^ a b "Cautionary Concert in Rocker's Memory - latimes". 1997-01-11. Retrieved 2015-07-17. 
  15. ^ Vigil, Jennifer (1996-05-27). "Nowell's Memory Survives Mourning: Family and friends say L.B. singer likely succumbed to his drug addiction.". Long Beach PT. Retrieved 2013-02-06. 
  16. ^ "Video Sublime — Behind the Music vh1 (full version) van IM BACK — MySpace Video". Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  17. ^ Serpick, Evan (March 18, 2010). Rolling Stone (1100). 
  18. ^ "Lou Dog stories". 2011-05-25. Retrieved 2012-01-26. 
  19. ^ Cooper, Adam (2000). [1]. UberProAudio.Com.

External links[edit]