Bradley James Nowell was born on February 22nd, 1968. Today, he would have been 47 years old and we at The Pier had the opportunity to speak with some of his old pals, including a letter a 20 year-old Brad wrote to his sister while at UC Santa Cruz in April of 1988. Join us in celebrating Brad’s birthday by enjoying some great stories by those that knew him…
Whats there to say about Brad, or Sublime, that hasn’t already been well documented? Aside from the brilliance of his music that we continue to celebrate everyday, all that’s left are the stories from those that knew Brad and if you’re a fan like myself, we hang on to every word hoping to know & understand a bit more about who the man behind the music was.
In celebrating Brad’s birthday we wanted to continue sharing great stories about Brad. By preparing for this article, I was able to find out how much of an avid reader that Brad was who had an appetite for knowledge. I also learned that he’d give his own shirt off his back if it meant negotiating a gift for a friend. Bert Susanka of The Ziggens recalled a time Brad got him a new t-shirt from San Francisco… Well it was new to Bert anyway: “Brad stopped a guy on the street in San Francisco who was wearing a Bert from ‘Bert and Ernie’ t-shirt to ask him if he could have his shirt,” Bert reflects. “The guy agreed and Brad gave the guy his own shirt, literally off his back as a trade. Then a few days later back in Long Beach, Brad proudly presented the Bert shirt to me as a gift.”
Todd Forman, who played horns with Sublime and can be found in early videos performing alongside Brad at house parties spoke to the kind of person Brad was. He gives a detailed description from his perspective at the life of the man he played music with:
“Nothing about Brad was contrived. He never apologized for his fashion choices, although at times (before Sublime grew) he seemed to emulate a Turkish American yuppie surfer. Nonetheless, his choices were always carried out with 100% of his soul. You can see it in how he approached the mic, how he used his arms and hands to emphasize what he was singing, how he rocked and swayed while playing guitar, how he stretched out his neck to sing out those ‘Whoa’s’ and glissando phrasings. Never compromising. Obviously, we all can appreciate that in his songs and performances. One thing that always struck me about Brad was how freed up he was musically… Whenever we would jam, it was like an open mic jazz combo… Let’s start a groove and just go. We would jam out for hours busking in Belmont Shore, sitting around a piano, whatever. He was the consummate listener. He really did distil and integrate everything he heard and never tried to control too much… He wanted to hear your soul in the music too, not just his own. Happy Birthday to one of the great collaborators and communicators. Brad and Sublime’s legacy is one of a shared communal experience, Jah know. And it flows on…”
I had a chance to speak with Jon Phillips, co-owner of Silverback Music Management, who first came to know Sublime in late ’93 while working as an A&R rep for Gasoline Alley. Jon became the groups manager, eventually signing them to Gasoline Alley, becoming a key role in Sublime’s music reaching the masses. Over a 45minute phone-call, Jon remembered and shared old stories of Brad. These stories include evading Dog-Catchers through the neighborhoods of Belmont Shore, CA in his pick-up truck while Brad guided him through the streets as Lou-Dog stood in the bed of the truck without a leash. Or the time when Jon had Sublime play at his 1930 Sycamore address in Hollywood Hills to impress some industry people with the hopes of getting Sublime signed. Sublime played, but without a mic-stand as they improvised by stealing a stop-sign to hold up the vocal mic, while a ’70’s Tracy Lord porno played on the TV in the background.
The more touching story that Jon reflects on, is when he first met up with Brad after he became a father. Jon describes the beginning of a legacy that lives on today: “I remember when Brad came to my office, about a week or so after Jakob, his son, was born. He came up with (his wife) Troy and the newborn baby cradled in his arms. I recall him seeming like such a natural dad, the way he was holding little Jake. I got the chance to see Jakob, recently, because he’s got a great little band called LAW. So I was kind of telling him some of his Dad’s stories and how Brad brought him to the office when he still had a little infection in his belly-button where it looked like some of his umbilical cord was still attached. So I was telling Jakob, who’s 19 now and has so much of Bradley’s characteristics & energy, and I was looking at him in the face, telling him: ‘Hey man, I met you when you still had your umbilical chord partially attached, and now you’re 19!’ It’s such a trip that almost 20 years has gone by. I’m talking about birthdays & time that – to me is the most surreal part of everything – it’s been 20 years! Celebrating Bradley’s birthday 20 years after he’s passed, it’s interesting to see how life progresses and now his son is practically 20 and is looking, in a very natural & organic way, to carry on the legacy of that music. It just made me think about how much time has passed. It was just really satisfying to see Jakob smile at the wonderment of these stories – he’s just so happy to be filled in on certain things that he’s only going to find out from other people because he didn’t get the chance to know his dad. But in the sense of thinking about someones birthday and remembering them and not being here is just that Bradley left a really special legacy and he also has a kid who seems to have the same special qualities in nature. How that seed that Bradley planted is still growing. I feel that that’s something, for me, that puts it all into context and gives you a greater perspective of how fragile, and also how beautiful life is. As time goes on, this music really does live on and continues to influence so many people. But Brad has a son that can help carry on the tradition of his music. Hopefully in the future, we’ll hear a lot more from Jakob, and that continues the Sublime story more than anything – celebrating the birth & life of his father. I look up into the heavens everyday and I thank God for Bradley Nowell. There’s no single bigger influence for me, or something that was as impactful or changed my life more so than Bradley & Sublime. There’s no denying that.”
Bradley Nowell formed Sublime in 1989, but in April of 1988, he was going to UC Santa Cruz. When I reached out to Brad’s sister, Kellie, she didn’t have any stories to re-tell, but was kind enough to share an amazing letter that a 20 year-old Brad wrote her before moving back to Long Beach from Santa Cruz, CA. Much of how Jon Phillips described Brad’s son, Jakob today, Brad was actually about the same age as Jakob is now when he wrote this letter to his sister. Sublime had not yet been founded and you get to experience a peak of who Brad was, in his own words, at the age of 20; even asking his sister for suggestions on a new band name! Enjoy:
Howz it goin’ down there? Life up here is just swell! The waves haven’t been so good so I’ve been doing a lot of mountain bike riding & weight lifting – that is, when I’m not in the library studying…RIGHT!!? Well anyway, I wanted to thank you for the beautiful card you sent; it really meant a lot to me. I want you to know that I feel the same way about you. It’s important to have people believe in you – but, of course, you must first believe in yourself. ‘Tis the same way w/ love! Anywho, I’m looking forward to coming home very much. I’m more than ready to get the _ _ _ _ out of hippy town! (Even though it is a beautiful place.) I find myself wishing more & more that I was back in L.B. I can’t wait to jam again w/ da boyz. It gives me great joy, even if they are a couple a freaks! I’m trying to come up w/ a name for our band – something nice – so I’m quite open for suggestions. (Sloppy 2nd’s simply will not do this time around!) Oh – I’m not sure if I told you or not but Spike is VERY pregnant right now. I’d give her another 2 weeks max! I think the gestation period of cats is around 60 days. I’m not sure. Needless to say (or maybe not so needless), we have stopped indulging in “kitty flips,” much to her amazement & delight! Well actually I think she kind of like them, even though she did always run & hide. Nevertheless, the cat who knocked her up really sliced her up bad with his claws. (She was no easy catch… that’s my girl!) I’m almost positive it was that fat piece of shit Earl from down the street… I’ve seen the way he leers at her!
I hope all is well down there w/ you & your homegirls. Please give my love to our darling mother & Kirk – & our loving father & Janie. About moving back down – I’m pretty sure I can fit all my stuff in my truck. (If not I’ll call.) I’m hoping to sell my mountain bike right before I leave so I can start to raise enough cash to purchase a PA. There’s really no place to ride it down there anyway. Well, I love & miss you very much. Can’t wait to see you again! As they say up here:
May your beer waves & women never be flat! (Or something like that!)
These stories don’t have to be limited to just those that knew him. Brad touched all of us with his creativity and his punk-rock soulful approach to the music. Share with us in the comments below how Brad and Sublime impacted your life. We find that the best way to honor the man and his music, is to continue to celebrate it at the highest possible volume to reach the heavens where he rests. Today, we celebrate his birthday as much as we celebrate his music – Thank you and Happy Birthday Bradley!
Special thanks to Kellie Nowell O’Reilly, Bert Susanka, Todd Forman and Jon Phillips for taking the time to contribute to this feature spotlighting Brad’s birthday!
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