:: Blind Melon :: Fox Theatre :: March 28 ::
By Karen Schneider
For many, the name Blind Melon conjures up visions of an awkward tap-dancing bee girl, or a long-haired, shirtless Shannon Hoon singing in the middle of a sunny field. Hard as it may be to believe, over a decade has passed since the smash hit “No Rain” propelled Blind Melon into rock and roll history.
It all started in 1990 in Los Angeles, Calif., when a small group of transplants decided to form a band. Singer Shannon Hoon (from Indiana) and guitarist/harmonica/mandolin player Christopher Thorn (from Pennsylvania) hooked up with guitarist Rogers Stevens, bassist Brad Smith, and drummer Glen Graham (all from Mississippi). Smith’s father used to refer to his not-so-likely-to-succeed neighbors as “Blind Melons,” inspiring the name of the band.
In 1991, Hoon’s guest appearance on Guns N’ Roses’ hit single/video “Don’t Cry” created a buzz about the band, and a recording contract with Capitol Records soon followed. A year later, Blind Melon’s now classic, multi-platinum, self-titled debut album was released. Shortly thereafter, “No Rain” became an overnight sensation.
“That [song]became bigger than we ever expected,” guitarist Christopher Thorn told The Marquee in a recent interview. “It was a great image, and people related to it. That song changed our lives. We can’t complain about that.”
With massive exposure on the radio and MTV, the album scaled the charts and Blind Melon was slated to be rock and roll’s next big success story. Plum opening gigs began rolling in, from The Rolling Stones to Neil Young, Lenny Kravitz, Ozzy Osbourne, and Guns N’ Roses, not to mention an unforgettable performance at Woodstock ’94.
Then came the 1995 release of Soup, their much-anticipated follow-up album. Much to the band’s dismay, the album was slammed by critics. Soup has, however, over the years, proven itself as one of the most overlooked rock and roll albums of the ’90s. Tragically, just over two months after the album was released, Shannon Hoon died of an accidental cocaine overdose in New Orleans while on the Soup Tour.
After the sudden and devastating loss of their lead singer, the band’s direction became unclear. In 1996, a few months after Hoon’s passing, the four remaining Melons released an outtakes collection, a memorial to their fallen comrade, titled Nico, named after Hoon’s then infant daughter, Nico Blue, who was only 13 weeks old at the time of her father’s death. The album was a labor of love (initially sold as an enhanced CD), a healing process for not only the band, but for their ever-growing legion of fans. Additionally, in 1996 they released the Grammy-nominated compilation video Letters from a Porcupine, also dedicated to Nico.
In 1999, after numerous failed attempts, the four remaining band members decided to abandon efforts to find a replacement for Hoon, and went their separate ways. “We lost a great, great singer,” Thorn said. “For us, we never put the band back together because we never found a singer that made us feel like, ‘O.K. this is the right path for us, this is what we should be doing.’ [It] just always felt like, it’s not worth it. Let’s just go do something else. And that’s what we did for years.”
It appeared that the band was finished for good. Smith and Thorn moved to Seattle, formed the short lived group Unified Theory and became much-in-demand music producers, opening up their own recording studio, Wishbone. Stevens worked with a pair of groups in New York, Extra Virgin and Tender Trio, while Graham settled in Charlotte, N.C., and played with The Meek.
During the intervening years, interest in Blind Melon continued to grow, partially credited to the emergence of the jam band scene, which many feel the band helped to create.
The remaining Melons released three more CD compilations: Classic Masters, in 2002; Tone’s of Home: The best of, and Live at the Palace, in 2005. Also released in 2005 was the DVD Live at the Metro, the band’s only complete, officially released live show. After racking up impressive sales, it became obvious that interest in the band had not swayed; in fact, their fan base was continually growing online through blogs and fan sites.
About this time, Thorn and Smith were asked to help produce a few tracks for a Texas-based singer/songwriter named Travis Warren (formally of Rain Fur Rent). Originally introduced through a mutual friend, the pair had just planned to help Warren with four or five songs. But unbeknownst to Smith and Thorn at the time, Warren was a die-hard Blind Melon fan. “It was just a gig for us. It was like, ‘Hey do you want to write songs with this guy,’ and during that process Brad and I would just go, ‘Wow, he’s the real deal,’” Thorn said. “It got us really excited about being a band again.”
A self-fulfilling, mock press release later (Smith had e-mailed Stevens a joke press release stating how the band was back together, and that Warren had brought them together), the four remaining Melons decided to try a few music sessions with Warren. In late 2006, on the anniversary of Hoon’s death, it was announced that Blind Melon had finally, after 11 years, found their new lead singer.
“It was never planned. It kind of happened to us, and I think it was never going to work the way it should work unless we just sort of let it happen, and happen naturally and organically, and that’s how it all got started again,” Thorn said.
In a time of a seemingly infinite number of band reunion tours, everyone was skeptical, to say the least. “We realized that we had to prove it to people, too,” Thorn said. “People saying, ‘Man, I was really a skeptic, and I didn’t think it was going to be a good idea.’ I always say to those people, ‘Yeah, me too!’ I felt the same way! This is the most Spinal Tap idea, ‘We’ll put the band back together.’”
So Blind Melon set out to prove it to people. But after this long, who is really going to care?
“That was the million dollar question for us. Who’s gonna care? Who still cares? And how are people going to react to this new band with Travis?” Thorn said. “Travis has so much respect for Shannon and the band, that we take his lead on a bunch of stuff as well. We’ll be having these discussions and Travis will go, ‘Well, I am a fan, I’ve been a fan. You say, What’s the fan gonna want?’ Travis goes, ‘This is what I’d want to hear.’”
Club shows and grassroots touring gave Blind Melon their original start, so the band thought it only appropriate to begin there again. Before releasing the new album, Blind Melon decided to test the waters and played a completely sold-out club tour in late 2007.
Blind Melon’s new album For My Friends is due out April 22. This will be the band’s first studio album in 13 years. “It feels like a continuation of where we left off with the Soup record,” Thorn said. “And I’d like to think we’re writing better songs, we’re playing better, it’s just been great. The band feels really good about being back together again it feels like home for all of us.”
The band has come full circle. And the eerie connection between Warren and Hoon is undeniable. “The great thing about how this whole thing got back together is the fact that Travis, his biggest influence was Shannon,” Thorn said. “That’s why this whole thing is just so bizarre it sounds like a movie script. I feel like I’m making it up because it just sounds so Hollywood.”
Hollywood dazzle aside, Blind Melon is back. And after such a long hiatus, they are ready to reconnect with their fans. “I think people want to assume the worst, they want to assume like, ‘Oh, wow you guys are doing it for the money.’ I’m taking a pay cut being in a band,” Thorn said. “I make way more money as a record producer. But I missed playing with the guys, and when I met Travis I just felt like wow, he is one of us. We need to make records again,” Thorn said.
“It’s been really cool to get to talk to people and people say, ‘Aw man, I’ve been listening to you for this long, and you helped me get through this time or that time,’” Thorn said. “And that’s the part that I missed.”
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