Blind Melon returns 12 years after singer’s death |

Blind Melon returns 12 years after singer’s death

David Segal
The Washington Post
Aspen, CO Colorado
Tragedy knocked Blind Melon off the rock radar 12 years ago. But with a new lead singer, the time may be ripe for a comeback. Glen Graham, from left, Christopher Thorn, Travis Warren, Rogers Stevens and Brad Smith of the reconstituted Blind Melon. Illustrates MUSIC-BLINDMELON (category e), by David Segal (c) 2008, The Washington Post. Moved Monday, March 3, 2008. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Jim Graham.)

The idea seemed so crazy and potentially embarrassing that initially nobody would say it out loud. Guitarist Christopher Thorn thought of it first but kept it to himself for weeks, tossing it around in his head. Revive the band.

It seemed insane and at the same time, kind of thrilling. But insane. But kind of thrilling.

It had been 12 years since the band’s lead singer ” the charismatic, hard-partying and doomed Shannon Hoon ” overdosed on Oct. 21, 1995. The group was supposed to perform in New Orleans that night, but moments after Hoon’s body was discovered on the tour bus, it was over.

Picture it: One day, you’re big enough to move nearly 4 million units of a self-titled debut album, big enough to open for the Rolling Stones, big enough to merit the ultimate compliment that rock has to offer, a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine. (The photographer persuades you to pose in the buff, which you’re still pretty peeved about.) Still. Your band’s twangy, forlorn, hippie-rock single, “No Rain,” is huge. Even the pudgy little girl who appears in the video, dressed in this too-cute bee costume, becomes famous.

That’s life before the morning of Oct. 21, 1995. By that afternoon, done.

“I moved to New York City like five days after Shannon’s funeral,” says the group’s other guitarist, Rogers Stevens. “It was psychologically damaging. I didn’t have the skills to know what to do with myself after something like that. I had put all my chips on the table and lost them all. I felt lost for years.”

There was some talk about forming a new band, with a new lead singer, but within a few months that fizzled. Thorn set up a recording studio in Los Angeles with the bass player, Brad Smith. Drummer Glen Graham went into seclusion in North Carolina. Stevens tried his hand at painting and started a few bands.

That might have been the last anyone heard from Blind Melon, except that a guy at Atlantic Records sent a scruffy and promising young singer and songwriter to Thorn and Smith’s studio. Originally, the goal was to record the kid and get him signed. But there was something very Hoonlike about Travis Warren, who turned out to be a compulsively dedicated Blind Melon fan. And Warren didn’t just admire Shannon Hoon: He had a 10-inch tattoo of the guy on his back. He showed it off during a smoke break soon after walking into the studio, a six-pack and a bag of weed in hand.

“Check this out,” he said, pulling up his T-shirt.

– – – –

It’s the last Sunday in February and the second incarnation of Blind Melon is in a room in York, Pa., where Thorn grew up, fine-tuning for a six-month tour.

This is actually the group’s second tour; the first, booked in small venues, was a successful experiment to determine if anyone cared. But performing again as Blind Melon ” the veterans here are still getting their noggins around it.

“It’s like the dog you loved when you were a kid came back from the dead and just showed up back at your door, wagging his tail like nothing had ever happened,” Smith says. “That’s what this feels like to me.”

“Twelve years of feeling like you weren’t where you were supposed to be,” says Stevens, “and all of a sudden, you’re there.”

Now in their late 30s, they look like only marginally weathered versions of the longhairs who pretended to play in that green field for the “No Rain” video, except for Stevens, who now shaves his head. Warren, 28, who speaks with a drawl from his native Texas, lets the others do most of the talking, in part because a lot of what they want to talk about is him ” his talent, his pipes, how they couldn’t have found a dude better suited for this gig if they’d been looking.

If it’s possible for a guy to be too much like Shannon Hoon, Warren is that guy. He had enough difficulty with drugs and drink that he swore off both a year ago. He fell off the wagon a few months back, and after this tour will do time for a DUI charge. He retains, though, the slightly reckless, up-for-anything air that rock seemed to invent.

All five musicians know they are attempting what is arguably the most ill-advised stunt in rock: resuscitating a band with a deceased lead singer. And the goal here isn’t a nostalgia act, but new songs, starting with an album called “For My Friends” to be released in April.

AC/DC achieved heavy metal world domination with a new singer after its first one expired, but that was after a relatively brief hiatus. After 12 years? If there is a precedent, no one here can think of it.

When they decided to reunite, Stevens was on the verge of returning to college to finish his undergraduate degree, so he could eventually apply to law school. Graham was just hanging out in North Carolina. Thorn and Smith were running their studio. All four had tried their hands with other groups, but they never jelled. Not like Blind Melon. In hindsight, that seemed effortless.

– – – –

In 1990, Stevens and Smith, childhood pals from the same small Mississippi town, met Hoon while practicing in a garage in Los Angeles. He strolled in with a mutual friend, after an AA meeting.

“He was basically just off the bus from Indiana,” Stevens recalls, “but I’d already heard about him. He was that kind of guy. He just filled a room.”

He arrived with a passel of songs and an exceptional personal connection: Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose had gone to high school with his sister. In the early ’90s, this was like knowing the emperor during the Ming Dynasty, and when Hoon showed up on the GN’R video “Don’t Cry,” the labels were panting.

Thorn was recruited by Smith, whom he’d met at an audition. Graham was another hometown friend. Blind Melon was signed on the strength a five-song demo.

At a time of metal and bombast, Blind Melon was vaguely retro, finding the basics of its sound in classic Southern rock bands. Sales of the album were disappointingly weak for about a year after its 1992 release, until the video for “No Rain” hit MTV. The change was instantaneous.

Hoon had stunning mood swings and punched people who hassled him, which led to lockups and lawsuits. His appetite for drugs seemed bottomless and two trips to rehab didn’t help. Many times, all four watched him overindulge and thought, “He’s going to die tonight.” But he survived, which made him seem indestructible.

“You started to think, well, he didn’t die those other nights we thought he was going to die,” says Thorn, “so he’ll be OK tonight.”

“It’s crazy we didn’t address it more,” says Smith, “but it just became part of our everyday life.”

Blind Melon played Manhattan last month. Their listeners were mostly in the 26-to-38-year-old range who had fallen for Hoon and the Bee Girl as teenagers and either liked or didn’t mind newcomer Warren, who moves and sings a lot like Shannon Hoon.

One paradox of Blind Melon, Take Two, is the sense you get that the original members are enjoying themselves more than ever, even though a return to the Big Time is hard to fathom. There’s nothing like relative obscurity to make you appreciate moderate success, and once again these guys have something to dream about.