Asking someone how they first discovered Sublime, depending on who you ask, can be synonymous with asking how they may have discovered themselves. For some, it was a fond memory etched in time during a different era that’s reflected upon like old photographs. For others, it was a turning point in their journey of self discovery that changed the course of their identity.
I love discussions like this because the stories can be endless, making me want to turn on the music and listen through new ears of perspective. It’s been 20 years since we lost Sublime’s front man, Brad Nowell and it was when he passed away on May 25th, 1996 that Sublime was no longer, yet their music was just getting started.
Everything that Sublime has released and achieved over the last 20 plus years is well documented, but what peaks my interest, these days, is how others came to discover the band. When I heard one story, I was compelled to ask someone else. The trend continued until it manifested into what you’re reading now.
In continuing our celebration of Sublime’s legacy, here are some great stories that include favorite songs, first impressions, lasting impacts and shared memories of the band. If you’re reading, we’d love to read your story in the comments below.
How I Discovered Sublime…
By Fat Mike of NOFX:
I first saw Sublime at Club Commotion in San Francisco, CA in the early ’90’s. After I got 40oz to Freedom I loved it! Never heard anything like it before. I like their song “Seed” because it is a utter and complete rip-off of the NOFX song “Lori Meyers.” Michael (Happoldt) even told me they ripped it off. I met Bradley a few times. He was always kind of unfriendly, unlike Bud and Eric who were always super cool.
In short, I was a big fan mostly because they were the band that would get more wasted than everybody else, and could sometimes make magic on stage, and sometimes were a total disaster; Perfect!
By Aaron Barrett of Reel Big Fish:
In 1992, a friend at High School gave me a tape of 40 Oz to Freedom, and I listened to it non-stop. It just blew my mind the way they mixed reggae and punk and ska and rapping and samples and ripping guitar-solos. I had never heard anything quite like it, but it was all the things I love all mixed together. Some songs had horns, some songs had drum machines, it was such an eclectic mix of musical styles, but it wasn’t a mess and it wasn’t trying too hard to be everything to everyone or anything to anyone. They just had their own sound and were totally cool and confident about it. And Brad’s voice was incredible — that’s what got me the most about it, besides the crazy music and production, was this beautiful, soulful voice over it all. A voice you wouldn’t expect to be hearing on a cassette tape of a local band.
I know it’s their biggest hit and may be cliche, but my favorite Sublime song is still “What I Got.” It’s just such a perfect pop song, but it doesn’t exactly follow the usual verse/chorus/verse/chorus formula. It’s so catchy and it has this reggae grove without the usual reggae guitar up-strokes, and it’s the classic stream of consciousness lyrics that Brad always used, but then this catchy, perfect chorus comes in that just seems to sum it all up and it all makes sense. I think that song would be the perfect introduction to Sublime for anybody. It’s just the perfect Sublime song and one of the best songs ever written in my opinion.
My other favorite song, and one that we’ve been covering for many years is “Boss DJ,” a little acoustic number from Robbin’ the Hood. It’s just such a beautiful song, and has such great lyrics and such a beautiful, sing-a-long chorus, and all the fast singing/toasting in the verses is really fun too.
I did get to meet Brad a few times, but the first time was at some house party in Huntington Beach that Reel Big Fish played in maybe 1994. He was there and watched our set and told me that we were really good and that we should do some shows with Sublime because the bands they usually played with sucked. I was pretty excited about the compliment because by that time, I was already a huge fan. We didn’t end up playing many shows together, but I did see him backstage at a few more shows, but he seemed to keep to himself — he would find a quiet little corner backstage and play guitar and hang with his dog. He seemed like a really nice guy and I wish I could have talked to him and hung with him more, but never got the chance.
Watch: Sublime – “What I Got”
By Vinnie Fiorello of Less Than Jake:
It was 1995 and we were on a compilation together called the Misfits of Ska. It was at the release shows in Chicago. At the same time our agent, Rick Bonde, told me I should check out the band and passed me 40oz to Freedom. The song was called “Romeo” and I thought it was a wildly out of the box song compared to the rest of the ska, with punk, inspired bands on that compilation.
“Santeria” is my favorite song. It puts me right to the point where I heard it on record when it first came out. We played with Long Beach Dub All Stars a few times, but never met Brad.
By Roger Lewis of Inner Circle:
The first time I heard Sublime I was at a club in New York called Reggae Lounge. I can’t remember which song I heard, that was a long time ago. It was primarily a reggae club, but they would play anything that they figured was good. I think Brad really had vibe and love for the Reggae. He would put his heart in it, that’s why it sounds unique. You have a lot of people that sing reggae, but don’t feel it. I think he genuinely felt it.
By Yesod Williams of Pepper:
I first heard Sublime on a surf video called “Momentum 2” from a filmmaker named Taylor Steele who was really leading the charge in, not only the surf-video game, but the music game in a sense too (at least from my perspective as a 14 or 15-year-old growing up on a rock in the middle of the pacific ocean).
It was because of the soundtracks that he had on his videos; it was all NOFX, Pennywise, Bad Religion, No Fun At All, Good Riddance, and a ton of the stuff that was coming from the California independent record labels called Epitaph and Fat Wreck-Chords.
“Hope”, the Decendents cover from Sublime’s 40oz to Freedom was the song that was featured on Momentum 2, hence me first thinking that Sublime was this epic new punk band, a la the bands of Epitaph and Pennywise. But even the guitar tone, when thinking back on it, had a softer, more inviting distortion, instead of your typical rip your face off, 2nd wave of punk rock distortion; and it was amazing! As these soundtracks hit us in Kona like a ton of bricks, “Hope” from Sublime quickly rose to a favorite around our little town.
I’ll tell you about the first time I actually heard a Sublime album after hearing them on Momentum 2… A friend from California, who was a bit older than me, had a car. He had a CD copy of 40 oz to Freedom, quite possibly the only copy on the island because anything outside of local music and real mainstream music, was real hard to get. You could possibly fly to Honolulu and go to a spot called “Jelly’s” and get a copy, which I actually had my mom take me there on an inter-island trip, but they only had a CD with a weird looking guy with missing teeth and an air conditioner called ‘Robbin the Hood,’ and without hesitation, I bought. I took it home and remember being so bummed because, as we know, Robbin The Hood is nothing like 40oz to Freedom besides a couple songs and my early teen music tastes just weren’t ready for it. That being said, it could be my favorite all time Sublime album, but then again that’s nearly impossible to say.
Back to the first time I heard 40oz to Freedom. I heard the song “Don’t Push, and remember being so pleasantly confused. It was nothing like what I heard on Momentum 2 — it was even better I thought. I just wanted to listen to it over and over, talking about Bob Marley and shit, but I didn’t put together that it was reggae at first. I pretty much fell in love with that song and all I wanted to do was hear it again, which was hard until my uncle from Santa Cruz, CA went to Streetlight Records and sent me what I think was one of the first pressings of 40oz to Freedom — It was a see-through purple tape. I believe they made all different colors on those early printings. Needless to say, it was a hot commodity among our friends. And to make a long story long, once I made the reggae connection it just blew open a whole new world for me, musically, and I started a journey that lasted years of discovering where Brad and the boys had “adapted” all this amazing music, making it their own.
As for my favorite song, let me preface this by saying this is a nearly impossible question for me to answer as it’s just all so good and the music will go in waves for me. BUT today, and maybe just today, because it could change tomorrow, I’m gonna say “Mary.” And I’m gonna throw it back to a song we used to cover in like 1998 before we moved to the mainland: “Romeo.”
By Dave Hillyard of The Slackers/Hepcat:
I first saw Sublime around 1991 in Long Beach, CA. I was playing in a band called Hepcat at the time. We were playing at Fenders Ballroom in Long Beach and there was this band on before us.
I remember them playing to a really small crowd. Mostly friends it seemed. I remember someone yelling “play ‘Freebird.'” It was one of those nights. They sort of stumbled through the set. Lots of long breaks and goofing. Just seemed like a party band, but I noted they sounded real good when they covered ‘Danger’ by the Selecter.
Flash forward to 1996. I saw the video for “Wrong Way” on TV and went ‘Whaaaat? Who are these guys?’ Original melodies. Lots of presence. I was blown away, then to my surprise, they told me it was Sublime, that band from Long Beach from 5 years before.
Then I was told that the singer had just died. A real shame. Just as it seemed like they were finding a real original voice.
“Wrong Way” remains my favorite Sublime song and I like playing the melody on my saxophone. It just flows so nicely. I’ve snuck quotes from it into a couple solos now.
Watch: Sublime – “Wrong Way”
By Eric Rachmany of Rebelution:
I was probably 13 when I first heard Sublime. Back then I would try to record songs I liked on the radio to a cassette tape. One day, I heard “What I Got” and was instantly hooked. Next time it came on the radio I remembered to record it. At some point my family got a CD player and I bought the self-titled album. I never realized back then that Sublime was influenced by Reggae music. There was nothing about Sublime back then that led me to look up more Reggae.
Once I got into Reggae several years later I realized how many classic roots reggae songs Sublime took and flipped to make it their own style. My initial impression was that it was feel good music, although I can’t say I was really listening closely to the lyrics. The groove was fun and it was good music to play along to on the guitar… “Garden Grove” is one of my favorites; I love the west coast vibe of that song.
By J Boog:
I got into Sublime a couple years late. The year was 1999, I was 15-years-old and a sophomore in High School. I jacked a portable CD player in the locker room and it had the Sublime self-titled CD in it already. When I was skippin through the music I was like “What the fuck is this?” Then I heard songs from the album that I recognized from the radio because it was non-stop on KIIS FM and KROQ, so I gave it a chance and that’s when I got hooked. Shit was playing from front to back till the batteries ran low [haha]. The music that I was into at the time was Bone Thugs N Harmony, Snoop Dogg, Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Gregory Isaac, Ice Cube and pretty much reggae and all the west coast rap that was coming out at that time.
I had to get used to the music because I never heard reggae/rock/punk/rap/ska all together — it was new to me, but when I got the feel for the music I was hooked like a fiend on dope.
I loved listening to “Same In The End,” “Seed,” “Garden Grove,” but when I heard “April 29, 1992,” that’s the one I could relate to the most. It’s a song about the LA riots that we were all still getting over and Bradley gives a shout out to the city of Paramount at the end. You might be scratchin your head on why I was hyped on that, even tho I grew up and lived in the hub city, we were using my cousins address across the bridge in Paramount so our family could attended Paramount High School! [haha] “Once a Pirate always a Pirate!”
My all time favorite song would be “Santeria” because it would play every damn day on the radio all over and that was the first song I sang at karaoke with my family at the Sports Lounge! I throw it in our sets from time to time on the road too — it’s crowd-pleaser for sure and a great song to sing!
Watch: Sublime – “Santeria”
By Micah Pueschel of Iration:
We first discovered Sublime back in high school on the Big Island of Hawaii. My friend (and original member of Iration) Catlin Peterson had gone to the mainland and came back with new music. A copy of Adam Sandler’s ‘What the Hell Happened to Me?’ and 2 albums by a band called Sublime.
The first song I remember hearing was “My Ruca.” The first thing that stood out was how stripped down the song was. The second, was the singer’s voice. At that point, I had no idea who Brad Nowell was, but I knew he could sing. His voice had a mix of grit and emotion with an undercurrent of pain. However, at a base level, he just had a really pretty singing voice. He also had an ear for melody. I think what struck us was that here was a band that incorporated all the styles of music we loved: Reggae, Punk, Hip Hop, Rock with the surf culture we were all a part of. Sublime had great original songs like “Date Rape” and “What I Got” and “Badfish” but also were able to take familiar songs and translate them to their style; “Pawn Shop,” “Scarlett Begonias,” “Summertime,” etc.
Sublime became the soundtrack to every school dance, party, dawn patrol and smoke session. It was universal music. My favorite song is “Boss DJ” simply because of the way Brad’s voice sounds when the chorus hits. It’s so melodic and incorporates all the things that I feel made him such a great singer. Sublime was a style and an attitude as much as it was a great band. I think that’s why they will always live on.
By Ted Bowne of Passafire:
I watched MTV as soon as I got home from school every day when I was in 8th grade. (This was back when MTV played music videos). I was also way into skateboarding, turntablism, reggae music, playing drums, and drawing. When I first saw the video for “What I Got” I was immediately a fan because it included all of my favorite things in one video (and it was a great song). Soon after that song became a hit, “Santeria” started getting heavy radio play on rock radio in my hometown. I also started hearing it at school dances and in skate/surf videos. It was something I had to know more about as soon as I got a hold of it so I bought Robbin’ the Hood and 40oz. to Freedom along with the self-titled album. The Internet was not very advanced at that point so it wasn’t until Second Hand Smoke came out that I found out that Bradley had already passed. I remember it being a sad realization that this singer I truly loved and identified with was gone forever.
My favorite Sublime song to cover when I play solo gigs is “Saw Red.” I love that Gwen and Brad were friends before all of the fame. They make a great pair on that track. The coolest thing was getting (producer) Paul Leary to work with us on Start From Scratch. He had a lot of great stories from the recording sessions with Sublime. Another cool Sublime moment was when Brad’s sister, Kellie, came up to me at a show in Santa Ana, CA and said she really likes our band and that she thinks we are carrying the torch for the Sublime reggae-rock movement that her brother created. That was an amazing moment for me that I’ll never forget. All this being said… I will forever be a fan of Sublime.
By Howi Spangler of Ballyhoo!:
I actually didn’t hear of Sublime until Brad’s death, unfortunately. I saw the report on MTV News that day. Looking back, it was a pretty shitty way to discover a band. I realize now what a loss it was. I sometimes wonder what amazing songs he would have written in the last 20 years. He definitely had the ability. As a songwriter myself, sometimes I tend to over think and second guess my lyrics and it becomes this difficult task to complete a song. Brad made it look easy.
Fast forward a few months that fall of ’96, a friend of ours would take us to school each morning and he had the self-titled album in the tape deck. I had seen the “What I Got” video on MTV, but I wasn’t really feeling it for some reason. I remember hearing songs like “Seed,” “Same in the End,” and “Wrong Way” on the way to school and I liked the lyrics. I still didn’t buy the album though. Then I saw the “Santeria” video a few months after that and thought “Wow, this song is great!” The dude could sing and the song was so simple and bouncy. That was the first time I remember thinking they were dope.
Sometime in ’97 I came across the Surfrider compilation. I was skipping around the CD and “Badfish” came on. I loved the lo-fi sound. It sounded like something recorded in the early ’80’s. The verses and choruses were all fire. The melodies kept coming. I immediately grabbed my guitar, went to my garage and started learning it. I was there for hours singing and playing that song in my garage. I just fell in love with all of it at that point.
After that, I got 40oz to Freedom and Robbin the Hood and Sublime quickly became one of my favorite bands. I somehow won a promo copy of Second Hand Smoke and I spun the shit out of “Superstar Punani” and “Slow Ride” on our Winter break. Later that year, I got Stand By Your Van and bumped that one all summer. I was in a record store in Ocean City, MD back in 1998 and I found a VHS copy of what would later become the 3 Ring Circus live album that came out in 2014. A song called “Mad Love” from our first album is greatly inspired by (we maybe even ripped off) that b-side “Foolish Fool.” Sublime was a huge influence on my band and I’m proud to say it. I wanted to sound like Brad when I sang and I wanted our music to connect with others the way I had with Sublime.
A few years ago I received a message from Brad’s sister, Kellie. She wrote me this long letter telling me how much my music has helped her cope with his death. I had to read it several times. It took a few minutes to process because here’s the sister of “the guy…” The guy that influenced my style and helped me get through my own mother’s passing. It was a pretty heavy read. But it was a validating moment for
I think “Seed” and “Same in the End” are great songs. I love the dynamics there. But I would also love to have heard a final version of “89 Vision”. That demo has a lot potential. I love the vibe.
We used to do a pretty rad medley of “Smoke 2 Joints/Garden Grove/Don’t Push” in our bar band days. That was always a crowd-pleaser. Fun to play. I fucking love that band.
By Leilani Wolfgramm:
All the music I was introduced to as a child came from my oldest brother Zech. Lucky for me, he had really good taste in music. I’ll never forget being in third grade having my brother roll up in a low-rider blasting Sublime’s “Wrong Way,” picking me up from school. I thought I was the coolest. I was probably the only 8-year-old who knew every word to that Sublime album.
Robbin The Hood is my favorite because he introduced Peter Tosh to my life with “Stepping Razor” and he introduced vulnerable writing to my life with “Pool Shark.” I probably listen to the acoustic album the most because it’s raw and intimate. They are my biggest inspiration and Brad was a genius that made authentic, inspired infused music and introduced real reggae and punk artists to a bunch of white kids, and the rest of the world — We should all be thankful.
By Jon Phillips of Silverback Music Management:
[Sublime manager 1994-’96 /Gasoline Alley Records A&R responsible for signing Sublime ]
Sublime was introduced to me by “Groovy” Greg Abramson while we both worked at the label Gasoline Alley in Los Angeles, CA. It was late ’93 and Sublime was in the period between 40 oz to Freedom and Robbin’ the Hood (which was not yet released). Groovy Greg became my friend at the label. We both shared an affinity for good music and good herb. He had been down in the LBC at Cal State Long Beach and was chronicling the band’s exploits on video, helping them with their unique DIY grass-roots promotion through Skunk Records, and generally spreading the sound to the music industry at large, while working at both Gasoline Alley and Rick Rubin’s American Records.
As a young A&R rep myself, at a new label venture called Gasoline Alley which ran thru MCA records (now Universal), Greg gave me some original cassettes of “Jah Wont Pay The Bills” and the purple clear cassette which I think was a rare version of 40oz to Freedom. I remember putting the cassettes into my ’93 Ford Ranger pick-up and hearing “Ruca,” “40oz,” “BadFish” and “Scarlet Begonias” for the first time. I basically didn’t remove the tapes from my stereo until I signed the band at Gasoline Alley in June of 1994.
The first thing I did after meeting the band was invite them to play an afternoon party on a Hollywood Hills balcony where Ron Jeremy used to shoot pornos! I gave them a 1/4 oz of high grade chronic and all the beer they could drink and they (and a small crew of their posse from the LBC) showed up and played 2 sets in the living room until the cops knocked on the door and shut them down. Bradley and the boys were in a good mood that day… I remember some of the guys in the band DFL were hanging out at the house, and a few random music biz people I was trying to convince that Sublime were “the next big thing” LOL! Well a few folks, including myself, got treated to an afternoon of a lifetime.
Sublime became my friends first before I was able to get the music industry to catch up to them — let’s just say their reputation scared a lot of “suits” but their music was something no one had ever heard before, nor have heard since. I have to thank “Groovy Greg” for the introduction, as it changed my life more profoundly than anything else in this world, and I just want to say much respect to the one and only Bradley Nowell and Sublime for giving us this music as it will live forever. I am eternally Grateful for the “First Time I Heard Sublime.” Thank you Bradley for “Shootin Heaven on Down to Me!”
By Jack A. Martinez — Owner/Founder of Black Flys Sunglasses:
I was on a surf trip in Mexico camping on the beach at San Miguel, just north of Ensenada, in Baja. The boys rolled up, set their campsite up and went for a surf. We surfed all day together and when the sunset came, the boys found some wood and set Bud’s drums up on the wood. Eric took an extension cord and jacked some power from the toilet and they started to jam. I think they were just starting Sublime that year or the year before — I can’t remember the right year, but I was just starting Black Flys, in 1991. I told the boys that “You’re sponsored now, come by the shop and get some shades!” Been friends forever. Punk rock, always hyped, just short of a riot.
[Remembering the “Badfish” Music Video Shoot]
I loaded up my boat leaving from Newport, to go to the video shoot for “Badfish” on Catalina Island. I have a 30 foot scarab, with 2×200 engine on it. My boat maybe had too many people on it, but we were doing about 45mph on the ocean, got just 2 miles from Avalon and blew up one of my motors. Buzz kill, the video shoot was still on the back side of the island, maybe 15+ miles to go. With only 1 motor still running, we had to turn back to Newport and limp home. I’m bummed I miss it. It would of been great to have the boat in the shoot. I would of parked it on the beach!
By Josh Coffman — Original Sublime Photographer:
1991 was the first time I was exposed to Sublime. I was a junior at Wilson High School after a lunch time pep-rally. Someone brought a tape player and blasted “Date Rape” over the PA. I was captivated by the music and amused at the lyrics. I was into heavy metal and the punk sound of “Date Rape” wasn’t too far off what I listened to. Whispers of Sublime ran through the crowd. It wasn’t until late ’93 when I heard Sublime again. I was at Long Beach Community College and joined a frat. We went to cabins in big bear and someone brought the 40oz to Freedom tape. By that time I knew who they were and that they played local parties. It was about that time they started playing “Date Rape” on KROQ.
While at LBCC I started taking photojournalism classes. The newspaper professor was also the advisor for my frat and pretty much gave me access to the darkroom whenever I wanted. Photography quickly became my passion and it wasn’t too long before I started taking pics of local events and of any pretty girl that would let me. I ended up putting an ad in the paper to give my photography some exposure. Some guy who was trying to start a local photo-zine saw my ad. The mag hired me to shoot some BMX and skate stuff and then he setup a shoot with Sublime. They were playing the Troubadour in Hollywood and it was the most promoted show they had so far and it had been advertised all over KROQ.
March 11, 1995 I went to meet the band at the Quincy house before the Troubadour show. The Quincy house was a tall skinny 3 or 4 story place in Belmont Shore. I met Miguel Happoldt and he took me around and introduced me to everyone. The house was packed full of people with Frank Zappa albums on the wall and a coffee table full of beer cans, tequila and weed.
Miguel led me upstairs to where Bradley was noodling on an acoustic and made the intro to Brad. Brad was cordial to me and made some small talk before going back to noodling. I don’t remember Bud being there. We went back downstairs and stood around for a few until it was time to take off for Hollywood. I met Eric and his girlfriend. The band climbed in to the white van and we all went to The Troubadour.
Miguel gets us inside. We go upstairs to the green room and I met Troy and Ron Jeremy. I take some snaps. I’ve never been to a concert at a small venue before so it was an amazing experience. I’m on stage, in front of the stage, upstairs, everywhere. Sublime goes into “Date Rape” and it’s a pretty surreal moment. I’m upstairs and I take a few snaps, but mostly I listen and sing along. Everyone is singing along. That was the moment I was all in.
After the show, Miguel invited me to come shoot stills for the “Date Rape” music video at ferns bar the next day.
I don’t know that I have a favorite song over all. I have a connection with “Saw Red” because I saw No Doubt perform it at Irvine meadows Vans Warped tour and Brad came out and sang. That was epic. “Badfish” is still kind of emotional for me. It has a deeper meaning for me since Brad passed. “Ebin,” “Pool Shark,” “Scarlet Begonias,” and “We’re Only Going to Die” are all key. The RAS MG remix of “Doin’ Time” with Pharcyde is my favorite remix.
Brad was about 6 years older than me, from the same neighborhood and went to the same High School. He was a big brother type figure to me and I respected him like that. He invited me to his house because he wanted to see all the pics I had taken in the last few months. Brad was pretty cool to me. Conversations were about creative stuff or story’s about some funny shit that happened at a show or whatever.
I didn’t know Brad really well, but he left a lasting impression on me. I was devastated when he died, not because we were close, but because I looked up to him and I’d never known someone that was a friend who died before, except my Aunt — she had a terminal illness so we knew she was going to die and we were prepared for it. With Brad, he was here and then he wasn’t.
I found out he passed because I was supposed to shoot a promo for them when they got back from San Francisco that week and I called Miguel to confirm the time and place. He was like “You haven’t heard? Brad died.” I kind of laughed at first because I thought he was fucking with me, but then I realized when I heard the morose tone of his voice. I was working at the One Hour Photo in the Lakewood mall. I was in shock and I couldn’t really speak or breathe. It was truly a heavy day. Not long after, we found out Cheryl was pregnant. In honor of my connection with Brad, we named my son Bradley Troy.
Watch: Sublime – “Date Rape”