Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Blind Melon

Sound Familiar?
“No Rain”

Who Are They?
The neo-psychedelic wet dream of every hippie in the ‘90s.

Three Mississippi transplants, a Pennsylvania misfit and some guy from Lafayette, Ind. got together in 1990 to start a band. And just where did a bunch of hippies get a name like Blind Melon? From a Cheech and Chong character, of course! (The character was Blind Melon Chitlin.)

After the band released a four-song demo called The Goodfoot Workshop in 1991, Capitol Records came running with a contract. Blind Melon gained even more industry attention from Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose, who just happened to be a good friend of frontman Shannon Hoon. (Fun fact: Shannon provided backing vocals on the GNR track “Don’t Cry,” along with other songs from Use Your Illusion I and II.)

The band hooked up with producer Rick Parashar (who produced Pearl Jam’s Ten) and released its self-titled debut in 1992. Blind Melon initially sold poorly, but once MTV got a hold of the video for “No Rain,” the album shot to #11 on the Billboard Top 40 chart the following year.

(Fun fact: The “Bee Girl” in the “No Rain” video is Heather DeLoach. She did a bit more acting after her debut, but eventually became a small business owner in California. She currently runs a company that makes specialized candy bars for special events: Sweet Bee Candy Stations.)

Blind Melon toured extensively in support of the album, landing opening slots with Neil Young, Lenny Kravitz and The Rolling Stones. Shannon and company even made an appearance at Woodstock ’94. (Watch this incredible performance of “Soup.”)

Unfortunately, Shannon had a major drug problem during this time, so he was in and out of rehab during the tour and the recording of the band’s second album, Soup.

Soup was released in 1995, but failed to achieve the same success as the band’s debut. Blind Melon went back on tour, which went against the advice of Shannon’s drug counselor. After just a few weeks on the road, Shannon was found dead on the tour bus of a heart attack caused by a cocaine overdose.

The surviving members of Blind Melon decided to continue without Shannon, but it would take them over ten years to find another vocalist. They released an album of outtakes and demos called Nico in 1996 (named after Shannon’s 13-week-old daughter).

The band officially disbanded in 1999 after failing to find a replacement vocalist.

Where Are They Now?
Back together (with a new vocalist) for the occasional one-off show.

Blind Melon reformed in 2006 with new singer Travis Warren. The new lineup released an album in 2008 called For My Friends, but chances are you’ve never heard of it. I’m sure most Blind Melon fans refuse to listen to releases that don’t include Shannon Hoon. But who can blame them?

The original members of the band dropped Travis shortly before the end of the new tour, then called it quits for a second time.

(Fun fact: During this second hiatus, rhythm guitarist Christopher Thorn briefly played with Awolnation.)

The band reunited yet again in 2010 with Travis as lead vocalist, but didn’t release any more new material. Instead, the grown-up hippies decided to play a handful of shows for fun. According to drummer Glen Graham, Blind Melon currently has no plans to record anything new.

But Why Blind Melon?
I guess because it just came to my attention that “No Rain” is 20 YEARS OLD. I am only two years older than that song. This is ridiculous.

What Does Sam Think?
Now, I’ll admit that I only knew Blind Melon for “No Rain” (and be honest, you probably did, too). But I started listening to the band’s discography recently and holy shit, it’s fantastic.

“No Rain” is much poppier than most of their other songs, but don’t let that deter you. If you’re a fan of jam bands, you’ll like this. Blind Melon isn’t necessarily a jam band, but it’s also not a pop rock band that plays songs exclusively about “tea for two.”

This is an alternative band that successfully incorporated neo-psychedelia, folk and blues into its music without sounding dated. Take the track “Sleepyhouse” from the self-titled album, for example. It features a sitar (which is honestly one of my favorite instruments), but it’s not trying to be Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles. There’s just enough sitar to make it interesting (and really soothing).

I don’t think Soup is as good as the first album, but it’s still great. It has more of a low-key sound. What’s missing is the experimentation of tracks like “Sleepyhouse,” along with a couple more lighthearted tunes. Granted, Shannon Hoon was dealing with a massive drug problem at the time Soup was recorded, so I guess asking for some happier songs is a little out of the question.

Speaking of Shannon, let’s discuss the politics behind replacing a deceased band member. Plenty of ‘90s bands have done this already (Alice In Chains and Sublime are prime examples). But can you really replace someone like Layne Staley or Bradley Nowell or Shannon Hoon?

I think the only way to look at this kind of decision is to think of the deceased member’s replacement as a completely different musician. Why? Because they are. Travis Warren isn’t trying to be Shannon Hoon, just like Rome Ramirez isn’t trying to be Bradley Nowell. You can’t blame the surviving members for wanting to continue making music.

Of course you’re allowed to believe that Blind Melon is not the same band without Shannon. That’s understandable. He was a great frontman and he wrote some amazing songs. But he succumbed to a problem that plagued many musicians in the ‘90s, and that is the greatest tragedy.

But remember Blind Melon for the good times, not the bad. And make it your goal in life to be as happy as the “Bee Girl.”

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

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