When asked about Nowell's death, which occurred a mere seven days after the singer's marriage to Troy Dendekker (and eleven months after the birth of the couple's only child, Jakob), Goodman says, "We didn't expect it. Of course not." But his next words partially contradict this observation: "We knew that he was dancing, I guess you could say, with the devil or whatever by using those drugs."
So, too, did Butthole Surfer Paul Leary, who produced Sublime's self-titled 1996 debut for MCA. At one point, Leary actually sent Nowell home from a recording session because he was so clearly out of his skull on smack. Nowell had tried to kick his habit when Dendekker found out that she was pregnant and on numerous other occasions, but he was unable to stay clean for long. And because his addiction eventually defeated him, he wasn't around to see the group that he had championed for years finally receive its due. After Nowell's passing, Sublime stormed the Billboard charts, with the single "What I Got" eventually topping the modern-rock listing. Other smashes, including "Santeria," followed, lifting the album to triple-platinum sales and effectively showcasing the Long Beach sound that Sublime's music epitomized.
Appropriately, Goodman grew up as part of Long Beach's surf-and-skate youth subculture--a community whose soundtrack was a diverse blend of punk, rap, ska and reggae. "I went to Jefferson Junior High in Long Beach with Eric," Goodman recalls. "When I was in ninth grade, he had met Bradley, and they were playing in a band together with some other people--and they had my sister playing sax. They came over to my house, and I was DJing. And Bradley came into the room, and he was like, 'Wow,' about the stuff that I was doing with the turntables."
Nowell, Wilson and Gaugh subsequently formed a ska band that evolved into Sublime. From the beginning, the combo was capable of exciting crowds; its first gig, in 1988, led directly to an altercation known locally as the "peninsula riots." But the three were more interested in having a good time than in wreaking havoc--and this attitude extended to the stage, where Long Beach players frequently appeared alongside them. Goodman was a regular guest, and when it came time for Sublime to make its first platter, 1992's 40 Oz. to Freedom, he served as a pinch hitter. Because Gaugh "had taken an excursion from music," Goodman drummed on the disc, which was made for Skunk Records (an imprint that Nowell formed with Michael "Miguel" Happoldt) for less than $1,000. The results were refreshing: The band moved effortlessly from ska to punk (Bad Religion's "We're Only Gonna Die for Our Own Arrogance" is included) and introduced "Date Rape," an anti-date-rape song that became one of the most requested songs on KROQ-FM, Los Angeles's influential modern-rock station. Two years later, Sublime, with Gaugh back on board, cut Robbin' the Hood, a collection of tracks sprinkled with Minutemen samples, random conversations recorded in Long Beach crack houses and various punk and dub ditties recorded on a Tascam four-track. One Nowell lyric from "Pool Shark" was eerily prophetic: "Now I've got the needle/I can shake but I can't breathe/Take it away and I want more/One day I'm going to lose the war."
When Nowell's prediction came true, the members of Sublime's extended musical family had no idea what to do next. Goodman remembers running into Happoldt shortly after receiving the news: "I was like, 'What's happening? What are you going to do?' And he was like, 'I'm going to hang it up. There's really nothing else to do.' I said, 'What are you talking about? We can still do this. You've got all this stuff; I want to use it. I've got inspiration.'"
One such inspiration was a benefit show for Nowell's son. Some of the biggest acts in Southern California music, including No Doubt and Pennywise, agreed to play Sublime songs at the event. In addition, Goodman, Wilson, Gaugh and Happoldt gathered together a cast of musicians that Happoldt designated the Long Beach Dub All Stars. "We just wanted to assemble a band to represent Sublime's songs," Goodman points out. "We got Ras I from Jah Children, which is a reggae band from the area; Jack Maness, who had been playing keyboards all the while Sublime was playing; Ikey Owens, who plays keyboards; and Tim Wu, who plays saxophone." Also involved was vocalist Opie Ortiz, a tattoo artist who designed Sublime's trademark sun logo.
The concert was a rousing success, with the All Stars shining on their own and in a supporting role behind H.R. of the Bad Brains, one of the first bands to successfully splice punk and dub. Afterward, Goodman says, "people were asking us, 'When y'all playing again? Come on--you've got to play again.' So the band took a couple of months off and talked about it, and we were like, 'What do you want to do? You've got energy. You're feeling it.' And everybody was like, 'Let's do it.'"
Today the All Stars are mining the styles that inspired Nowell during his life. Originals slated for an album set to be released later this year are part of the mix, as are covers of compositions by the Skatalites, Aswad and (of course) Sublime. Goodman also promises plenty of live dub and DJ scratching. But even though he's pleased with how the outfit has come together, Goodman concedes that "we're very much missing Bradley's presence. You deal with death; these things happen. Everyone is destined for it, and some go earlier than others. But it's still tough, because we're playing these songs that are his songs, and he's not here. All these kids are going nuts, and he should be able to see what we're seeing. This is what I felt when I was on stage listening to Opie singing. But you've got to get over it and move on.
"We're keeping Bradley alive in one way by playing these songs," he continues. "Which is really good, and part of the reason of doing this. But it is also kind of therapy."
Swatch Sno-Cone Tour. With Primus, Blink 182, Long Beach Dub All Stars and the Aquabats. 7 p.m. Saturday, February 21, Mammoth Events Center, 1510 Clarkson Street, $20, 830-2525 or 433-3399.