Bradley Nowell is a perfect example of what could have been. An influential figure of the 1990s alternative era, Bradley is a well known American musician who was the lead singer and guitarist of the ska-punk band Sublime. Having developed an interest in music from a young age, Bradley took to reggae and dancehall music during his early years. But with a guitar in hand, Bradley spoke the sound of rock and roll. While Bradley’s career in music climbed steadily during his early years, so did his heroin addiction. Ultimately, Bradley died of a heroin overdose in 1996 in a San Francisco hotel. In this article, we will take a closer look at the short-lived legacy of Bradley Nowell.
Bradley Nowell was born on the 22nd of February 1968 to Jim and Nancy Nowell. Born and raised in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach, Californian, Bradley spent most of his early life with his sister, Kellie. As a young kid, Bradley loved the ocean and spent most of his time enjoying surfing and sailing, while also participating in boat races. A hyperactive and disruptive child, Bradley would often test the boundaries to see what he could get away with. The behavior worsened when his parents divorced at the age of 10. Even though the custody was handed to his mother, Bradley later moved in full-time with his father.
Interest in music:
Both of Bradley’s parents loved music and while both his parents taught him the guitar, his mother also taught him how to play the piano and the flute. Bradley was first introduced to reggae music in the summer of 1979 when he accompanied his father on a month-long sailing trip in the Virgin Islands. By the age of 16, Bradley had founded his first band Hogan’s Heroes, with Michael Yates and Eric Wilson.
Sublime and other things:
In around 1988, Bradley got together with bassist Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh and started playing barbecue nights and houses. Always a rowdy bunch, the trio would often be asked to leave the party due to excess noise. But despite their rowdy behavior, Sublime eventually became one of the most popular bands in Southern California.
But their bad rep meant that nobody was willing to sign Sublime. In response, Bradley and Wilson created their music label, Skunk Records.
After Michael “Miguel” Happoldt offered to let the band record in the studio at the school where he was studying, Sublime released their first cassette tape, Jah Won’t Pay the Bills. The tape helped Sublime to establish themselves which also marked the beginning of Nowell’s heroin problem. From 1991, Sublime grew to massive fame and signed with MCA Records. Talking about the band’s success, Nowell said in an interview,
“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”.
Marriage and Death:
Bradley tied the knot with Troy Dendekker on May 18, 1996. The pair had begun dating in the early 1990s after the band’s European tour. Bradley announced that Troy was pregnant in October of 1994. The pair had a baby son Jakob James Nowell, who was born on June 25, 1995.
While Bradley decided to come clean of heroine after his son’s birth, he could not succeed. On the 25th of May, 1996 the band was scheduled to begin a five-day tour through Northern California, followed by a European and East Coast tour. But drummer Bud Gaugh awoke to find Nowell lying on the floor next to his bed. Bradley had overdosed on heroin and was pronounced dead on the spot.
Following Bradley’s death, the other members made it clear that they wouldn’t be using the record label of Sublime. The band played its final gig in 1996.
February 22, 1968
May 25, 1996
Belmont Shore, Long Beach, California, United States