Wesley Smith Bradley Nowell Bradley James Nowell was a musician who served as lead singer and guitarist of the reggae/punk band Sublime. He died at the age of 28 from a heroin overdose. 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 his 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.
Bradley Nowell was born and raised in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach, California to Jim and Nancy Nowell, with his sister, Kellie. As a child, he enjoyed surfing and sailing and often participated in boat races. As Nowell grew, he became a difficult child and was often hyperactive and disruptive with his buddy Clayton Arbuckle. 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”. Nowell’s rebellious behavior increased when he was ten years old caused by his parents’ divorce.
His mother was awarded custody of Nowell, but found him too difficult to control on her own and he subsequently moved in with his father full-time at age twelve. At the age of thirteen, he began playing guitar and started his first band Hogan’s Heroes with Eric Wilson, who would later become the bassist of Sublime. Nowell and Wilson met in sixth grade and lived across the street from each other; during this time, Nowell was described as a “gifted kid with many friends”. At first, Wilson did not share Nowell’s interest in reggae music.
Nowell attended the University of California, Santa Cruz before transferring to Cal State Long Beach to study finance. 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”. According to “Westwood One Interview” on disc three of the Sublime box set, Nowell got together with bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, and began performing in small shows at house parties and barbecues in 1988. The band was often forced to leave the parties they performed at due to excessive noise, which would result in neighbors calling the police.
Sublime gained a reputation for their rowdy behavior and eventually became one of the most popular bands in Southern California. Despite their 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, and told venues that they were “Skunk Records recording artists”, which helped the band seem more accomplished and subsequently book more shows. The band produced and distributed Sublime’s early recordings on the label. The band’s demo tapes were later sold at shows and local record stores.
While on tour in the mid-1990s, Nowell met Troy Dendekker, and they started dating. In September 1994, Troy became pregnant. In June 1995, Dendekker gave birth to a son, Jakob James Nowell. A week before Nowell died, the couple married in a Hawaiian-themed ceremony in Las Vegas. Seven days after Nowell’s marriage to Troy Dendekker on May 18, 1996 Sublime embarked on a five-day tour through Northern California, with a European and an East Coast tour to follow. On the morning of May 25, at the Ocean View Motel in San Francisco, drummer Bud Gaugh woke up to find Nowell lying half-way across a bed, with his knees and feet on the floor.
At first, Gaugh assumed he had been too intoxicated to get into bed; however, further inspection allowed him to notice a green film around his mouth, and it became apparent that he had overdosed on heroin. 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.