Like any decade, there were incredible musical highs and lows during the '90s -- undoubtedly the lowlights being the senseless deaths of such promising artists as Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon, and Sublime's Brad Nowell before each could fully develop their talents. Nowell was born on February 22, 1968, in Southern California, and picked up his gift for music from his parents; his mother was a singer and his father a guitar player. Influenced by such reggae artists as Bob Marley, Nowell picked up the guitar himself and joined his first band, Hogan's Heroes, at the age of 13. By the late '80s, Nowell had formed Sublime along with bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, a trio that honed their sound (which mixed together such varied styles as ska, dub, punk, funk, rap, and hard rock) by constantly playing parties and clubs. The group issued a pair of independent releases, 1992's 40 Oz. to Freedom and 1994's Robbin' the Hood, which built Sublime a solid following with skate punks from coast-to-coast. In 1995, the early (and controversial) Sublime track "Date Rape" became a surprise hit on the L.A. radio station KROQ, resulting in Sublime inking a deal with MCA and planning their major-label debut.
Although things appeared to be promising for Nowell and his band from the outside (his fiancée just gave birth to a son), Nowell had developed a dangerous drug addiction, which worried those around him. Sublime finished off their MCA debut that same year, but before the recording could be released (and just seven days after getting married), Nowell was found dead on May 25, 1996, in a San Francisco hotel room from a heroin overdose, at the age of 28. The anticipated self-titled album was issued despite the tragedy in July, and became a surprise instant hit, spawning such MTV/radio favs as "What I Got," "Santeria," and "Wrong Way." In the wake of the record's success, several post-mortem Sublime releases cropped up, including 1997's compilation of odds and ends Second Hand Smoke, 1998's live set Stand By Your Van, and 1998's Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & Friends. Nowell's tragic tale was the subject of a VH1 Behind the Music episode in late 2001. ~ Greg Prato, Rovi