When national success finally came to the Long Beach, California, ska-rock band Sublime, it was painfully bittersweet. Frontman Brad Nowell spent eight years of his life in pursuit of rock stardom with the group, relentlessly working the Southern California party and bar scene with bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh. He saw the band release two moderately successful albums on its own Skunk label before finally securing a long-sought-after major label deal with MCA, but he would never fully realize his dream. On May 25, 1996, three months before Sublime's self-titled MCA debut shipped to stores, Nowell —who had battled a heroin addiction for years —died of an overdose in a San Francisco hotel room. He was 28.
Released 10 weeks after Nowell's funeral, Sublime (#25, 1996) steadily went on to become one of the best-selling albums of 1997, spinning off four Modern Rock radio hits and eventually going quintuple platinum. The band's 1992 independent debut, 40 Oz. to Freedom, also enjoyed a sales spike (going platinum) after being reissued by MCA, while 1997's odds and sods collection Second-Hand Smoke, went to #28. Other vault releases included Stand by Your Van —Live in Concert (#49, 1998) and Acoustic —Bradley Nowell & Friends (#107, 1998). Greatest Hits, issued in late 1999, peaked at #114.
After Nowell's death, Wilson and Gaugh assembled the Long Beach Dub AllStars to perform at a 1996 benefit for Nowell's son, Jakob. Three years later, the group released its debut, Right Back.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
Band also readies "40oz. to Freedom" Mexican-style lager to celebrate 1992 LP
Bradley Nowell's family, friends and bandmates recall the year tragedy struck just as the group was hitting it big