The original Sublime only lasted about five years before frontman Bradley Nowell succumbed to a drug overdose. The band has since re-formed and experienced a career second wind with the addition of singer Rome Ramirez in the aptly-titled Sublime with Rome. The reconfigured outfit has even put out a couple of studio albums that have sold well enough, while the band’s live show certainly features plenty of callbacks to a time when ska music ruled the rock radio airwaves.
Scott Begin and some of his friends at the University of Rhode Island grew up during that time and were big fans of the original incarnation of Sublime. These college buddies were such big fans, in fact, that they formed a Sublime tribute band and named it Badfish, in honor of one of Sublime’s more popular tunes.
Never did Begin and his bandmates, who play House of Blues on Saturday night, expect their little side project to become a full-fledged career.
“Well, the short answer is no; it’s unreal,” said Begin, the drummer for Badfish since the band’s formation in 2001. “I could never imagined that we would be approaching 17 years doing this thing. It’s crazy, for sure.”
Sublime is an interesting case as far as musical success stories go, in that the band wasn’t all that successful during its official run. The band put out its first official studio album, Jah Won’t Pay the Bills, and followed that up with records in 1992 and 1994. None sold particularly well, and while the band certainly had a cult following, Sublime was far from noteworthy.
Nowell died of a heroin overdose in May 1996, just as Sublime was beginning to experience some commercial success. Two months later, the band’s final studio album (a self-titled effort) featuring the original trio of Nowell, Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson, was released. On the strength of legendary singles like “What I Got” and “Santeria,” Sublime eventually went Platinum five times over.
Five years after Nowell’s death, Begin and his Rhode Island crew still thought enough of the band to put together a tribute act.
“Five years after Sublime had its big run, they were still very much relevant and present in our world as far as that younger college group,” Begin said. “They were the type of band that everyone liked, no matter who you were hanging out or socializing with. They had this presence about them, so we tried to put something together to fill a void there, since they were obviously no longer performing live.”
Therein lies the appeal of Badfish. With all due respect to Sublime with Rome, a fine outfit and a solid tribute to Sublime in its own right, that band didn’t form until 2009. Badfish, meanwhile, formed while Sublime was more present with regard to rock radio play, back when rock radio play meant something.
Plus, as previously mentioned, Sublime didn’t truly go big-time in the mainstream until around the time of Nowell’s death. Devoted or underground fans of the band had certainly seen them play by this point, but more mainstream types likely never did.
Of course, had Badfish simply been some nostalgia act, their appeal likely would have worn off long ago. Instead, quality tunes and a true affinity for Sublime are what keep Badfish going nearly two decades into its run.
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“Early on, for sure, we were a fresh thing and Sublime hadn’t ended all that long ago,” Begin said. “People wanted to see something from the band. But it really speaks more to how solid Sublime’s music was. There were a lot of bands in that reggae/ska craze, but Sublime really set themselves apart. They were true to the roots of the movement.”
Begin and his Badfish bandmates still listen to Sublime on a somewhat regular basis. After all, with nearly 17 years of experience to its credit, one would assume playing the same songs over and over would grow tiresome, but at least that pays the bills. Listening to those same songs, meanwhile, sounds like an exercise that would quickly grow tiresome.
Not so, Begin contends.
“We were actually listening to Sublime the other day, doing our homework, so to speak,” he said. “We never get sick of those songs. When we listen to them, we enjoy the hell out of that. What Sublime put together is so cool, and we honestly really enjoy listening to them to this day. That really speaks to the kind of band they were.”