Who was Bradley Nowell?
Bradley Nowell was an American musician, and the lead vocalist of the band Sublime; he gained fame for his unique fusion of reggae, punk rock, and ska, and left a huge mark on the music genre and the entire industry before his untimely death in 1996.
Bradley Nowell Wiki: Age, Childhood, and Education
Bradley Nowell was born on 22 February 1968, in Belmont Shore, Long Beach, California, USA. He grew up in a musically inclined family, with his father, Jim Nowell being a musician and his mother, Nancy Nowell, an artist. Nowell’s love for music started at a young age – his guitarist father introduced him to artists such as Jim Croce, while his mother, a piano teacher and flautist, further nurtured his musical education, and even taught him to play the guitar. At the age of 11, during a sailing trip in the Virgin Islands with his father, Nowell was exposed to reggae music, which would later have a profound influence on his musical style.
During his teenage years, Nowell formed his first band called Hogan’s Heroes, alongside Michael Yates and Eric Wilson. Nowell’s passion for reggae initially met resistance from Wilson, but they attempted to cover UB40’s “Cherry Oh Baby”, albeit with little success. Nowell attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, and later matriculated from Woodrow Wilson Classical High School. He began his college studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, before transferring to California State University, Long Beach, where he pursued finance. However, he dropped out just one semester away from obtaining his degree, expressing doubts about his return to academia.
Career Beginnings and Sublime Formation
Sublime’s formation can be traced back to 1988, when Bradley, Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh came together. Initially, they performed at small gatherings such as house parties and barbecues, often being asked to leave due to their loud music. Despite their rowdy reputation, they gained popularity and became one of Southern California’s most beloved bands.
Facing skepticism from music venues about their unique fusion of musical styles, Nowell and Wilson took matters into their own hands, and established their own music label, Skunk Records, presenting themselves as “Skunk Records recording artists” to book more shows and appear more accomplished. Sublime released their early recordings through Skunk Records, and sold demo tapes at shows and local record stores.
Happy Birthday to Bradley Nowell, the man who continues to inspire so many! pic.twitter.com/RSyxmO9oXi
— Sublime (@sublime) February 22, 2021
In 1990, a music student named Michael “Miguel” Happoldt offered the band access to a recording studio at his school, without the school’s knowledge. The band took up the offer and recorded during the night-time, resulting in the release of their cassette tape, “Jah Won’t Pay the Bills”, which helped Sublime gain a grassroots following in Southern California.
It was during this period that Nowell’s involvement with drugs began. Initially hesitant, he eventually tried heroin, believing it would enhance his creativity and maintain a larger-than-life persona. The band continued recording their debut album, “40oz. to Freedom”, secretly at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Despite working under the cover of night and evading security, they managed to produce the album with $30,000 worth of free studio time. It was released in 1992 and sold 60,000 copies.
Rise to Stardom
Despite their local success, Sublime had yet to sign with a major label. However, Nowell collaborated with Gwen Stefani of No Doubt for the song “Saw Red”, which appeared on their self-recorded album “Robbin’ the Hood”, which released in 1994, reflected Nowell’s worsening drug addiction through its songs.
Sublime’s breakthrough came when a copy of “40oz. to Freedom” reached KROQ-FM, a Los Angeles radio station. The song “Date Rape” gained attention, leading MCA Records to sign the band for national distribution. As Sublime prepared for a European tour, Nowell immersed himself in studying European history. Despite the attention from a major label, Nowell’s drug use continued, resulting in the pawning of instruments and involvement in drug selling.
Initially hesitant to experiment with heroin, Nowell’s curiosity grew as he entered his twenties and witnessed the band’s rising fame. He believed that using heroin would help him maintain an image of being larger-than-life and more creative. In his father’s words, Nowell felt the pressure to embody the persona of a band leader, and engage with his fans on a grand scale. Many musicians he admired had claimed that heroin enhanced their creativity, leading Nowell to rationalize his decision to try the drug.
Self-Titled Album, Death and Posthumous Stardom
In February 1996, Sublime entered Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio in Austin, Texas, with producer Paul Leary to record their self-titled album, which would become their debut with MCA. During the period leading up to the release of Sublime’s self-titled album, Bradley Nowell’s struggle with heroin addiction intensified. Despite the band’s growing success and attention from a major label, Nowell’s personal demons were taking a toll on his life and well-being.
As Nowell delved deeper into heroin use, his addiction took hold, gradually consuming his life. He struggled with the destructive cycle of addiction, which included selling drugs and pawning his instruments to support his habit. This turbulent period is reflected in the lyrics of Sublime’s songs, notably “Pawn Shop”, which showcases the consequences of his drug dependency.
Tragically, Nowell’s battle with heroin addiction reached its devastating conclusion. On 25 May 1996, just two months before the release of Sublime’s self-titled album, he succumbed to a heroin overdose in a hotel room in San Francisco. Nowell’s untimely death marked the abrupt end of a promising career, and left a void in the music world.
The self-titled album was released posthumously in July 1996. It showcased the band’s musical versatility and captured the essence of Nowell’s lyrical brilliance. The album included hits such as “What I Got” and “Santeria”, which further propelled Sublime’s popularity and cemented their place in music history.
Lou Dog was the beloved Dalmatian dog and mascot of the band Sublime. Lou Dog, whose full name was “Louie”, was adopted by Bradley Nowell and became an integral part of the band’s image and lifestyle. Often seen accompanying the band during performances and appearing in their music videos, Lou Dog became an iconic symbol associated with Sublime.
According to reports, Bradley Nowell’s net worth was estimated at $5 million at the time of his death.
Personal Life, Marriage, Wife, Children
During Sublime’s touring years in the early 1990s, Bradley Nowell entered into a relationship with Troy Dendekker. Their connection deepened over time, and in October 1994, Troy discovered that she was pregnant, and on 25 June 1995, they welcomed their son Jakob James Nowell into the world.
Despite the challenges they faced, Nowell and Troy remained committed to their relationship. In a Hawaiian-themed ceremony held in Las Vegas, they exchanged vows on 18 May 1996, just a week before the tragic event that would forever change their lives.
She has continued to honor his legacy and memory of him.