Call it the ultimate fan’s dream. Rome Ramirez, just about to turn 22, grew up worshipping the band Sublime from his Fremont, Calif., home. He decorated his room with their posters, and when he picked up a guitar at age 11, the first song he learned to play was “Wrong Way.” Fate, luck and talent had their way with Ramirez, despite his leaving home at 14. He’s now the new lead singer of Sublime and about to headline KJEE’s Summer Round Up, stepping onstage with bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, who are both twice his age.
The shoes he fills are those of lead singer Bradley Nowell, who died of a heroin overdose just as the band released its third album in 1996. A life was cut short, and the band’s success was, too. Their singles “Santeria,” “Wrong Way” and “What I Got” became hits, and the videos showed Gaugh and Wilson gamely doing their best, trying to incorporate Nowell’s ghost into the proceedings (sometimes, through computer graphics, literally).
No doubt, some of Sublime’s success after 1996 came from this poignant end. The two remaining members had their own demons to fight — namely, alcohol and drugs — and only recently thought about bringing back the band.
The first stirrings came in February of last year, when Gaugh and Wilson reunited for a show under the Sublime name. Earlier, Gaugh and Ramirez had jammed together as musician friends. Wilson was a bit wary, but Gaugh brought Ramirez over for a full jam session.
“Neither one of us were looking for this,” he says. “At first it was, ‘Are we going to do this?’ Then it became ‘How are we going to do this?’ ”
When Ramirez joined them onstage as their guest singer, the crowd didn’t revolt — in fact, they loved it. Fending off a lawsuit from Nowell’s family — hence the name change — the group appeared again at the Cypress Hill Smokeout Festival in November and KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas a month later.
Ramirez comes to Sublime With Rome (called this due to legal reasons) already a musician and songwriter. He appears on The Dirty Heads’ track “Lay Me Down,” based on a song he wrote in 2008. Songs he was working on for his solo record have now been redone for a new Sublime with Rome record.
“I’ll take them a song, Eric and Bud’ll tweak it out and make it sound really Sublime,” he says. “It’s also a very spontaneous band; we’re writing during sound checks and such. We plan on hitting the studio in the next couple of months.”
Live, fans have already heard a new track, called “Panic.”
When asked if elder statesmen Gaugh and Wilson had advice for Ramirez as they were about to set out on a large international tour, he points out Sublime never had that in 1996.
“They had never been a band of this caliber,” he says. “For example, The Dirty Heads are bigger now than Sublime was then. The last tour we did, they told me that this was the smoothest tour they had ever been on. Ever. They’re working with professionals. Before, they had their buddies working for them. Everybody was drinking and doing drugs, but now they’re clean and got wives and kids. It’s new for them.”
So far, response has been positive to Ramirez.
“The coolest thing is when people tell me that I inspire them to start writing songs,” he says. “Because I’ve said those words to people as well. It’s really crazy having those things reciprocated back to me, especially this early in my life.”
KJEE SUMMER ROUND UP, featuring SUBLIME WITH ROME, IRATION, THE DIRTY HEADS, CAGE THE ELEPHANT, DEAD COUNTRY and PSUPERBRAIN
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 N. Milpas St.
Cost: $47.50 to $52.50
Information: www.sbbowl.com, ticketmaster.com