Jeff Pearlman

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Glen Graham

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The Blind Melon drummer was in one of America's hottest bands, until tragedy struck. Where does a musician go when all roads lead nowhere? POSTED September 1, 2011

Much like Kevin Arnold’s girlfriends on the Wonder Years, I’m somewhat obsessed with Blind Melon—the greatest rock band to ever be remembered for a chick in a bee costume. Melon’s lead singer, Shannon Hoon, died of a cocaine overdose in 1996, leaving four bandmates wondering what, exactly, they were supposed to do now. Fifteen years later, drummer Glen Graham is still—in some ways—trying to figure that out.

He loves playing music; loves teaming up with the current Melon lineup (featuring the excellent Travis Warren on lead vocals); loves scouting out new opportunities and genres and such. But just because one was once a part of a Top 40 regular doesn’t mean it’s all roses and easy street. Here, Glen talks Hoon, drumming, Brittney Spears and why Duke vs. North Carolina rivets him—not one iota. Glen Graham, welcome to Quazville …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Glen, you told me that you are often looking for drumming work. Maybe I’m naive, but this surprises me. Hell, you were the drummer for one of my all-time favorite bands, Blind Melon.

GLEN GRAHAM: I appreciate that. But, to be honest, the profile of the band is very smell. We’re a footnote. Maybe not even a footnote. If you liked us and still like us, we might loom large. But most people don’t know us for anything but No Rain and the bee girl video.  And while I think No Rain is a pretty good song, as far as drumming goes there’s not much to it. I’m actually getting ready to put an ad in Jam Band. I’m available.

J.P.: Your lead singer, Shannon Hoon, died in 1996 in New Orleans. How did you learn of his passing?

G.G.: Our manager told me. I had ridden a street car back to my home in New Orleans. It was a four-block trip. I went inside, got in bed my my wife and two hours later the phone rang—Shannon’s dead. ‘You’re kidding, right?’ No, he wasn’t kidding. It was very sad, very harsh. You know someone, and he doesn’t exist. Strange. He had his funeral in Lafayette, Indiana. It was at a funeral home … very bleak. And a grave-side service. Oh, my God. I remember being at the wake after the service, at his mother’s house. One of our A&R guys was there, and he pulled me aside and said, ‘Do you think you guys are gonna get back together?’

J.P.: Shannon was a good guy …

G.G.: He was … he was. But he was sorta complicated. He could be difficult. And annoying. Shannon alienated everyone who interviewed him. He was a very antagonistic person to interview. You can see it more in the TV stuff than in print. He was a bridge burner. I think he wanted being in a rock band in the 1990s to be the same as being in a rock band when he was 10 and reading Cream. People were short and sarcastic back then. There wasn’t as much of that in the 1990s. People were earnest. He didn’t feel that.

J.P.: I read somewhere that after Blind Melon broke up you stopped playing for 10 years.

G.G.: That’s not entirely true. It’s an exaggeration. I did projects throughout that time, but I didn’t practice for 10 years. I lost interest, to a degree. But I knew people doing some projects and I worked on a few. I wasn’t in any way pursuing a music career. I moved to North Carolina after living in New Orleans. I build a house, and I really didn’t think of ever doing this again.

J.P.: Is it true you sold your drums on eBay?

G.G.: I tried to. My wife bet me $500 that I could get at least $5,000 for the drum kit I used on the last tour. I won—nobody bid on them. But I wound up selling them to a Melon freak for $10,000. Which is pretty ridiculous—they’re worth $500, tops.

J.P.: When I saw you guys in concert a few months ago, I was dazzled. The music was excellent, but what really got me was the emotion from spectators. So many knew the words to every song. Not just No Rain and Change—everything. It meant something to them. Do you get that?

G.G.: I do. For example, in the summer of 2008, toward the end of Travis Warren’s first period with us, we played a show in Spain. We went on last, after the Sex Pistols were booed off the stage for playing too long. There were 10,000 people there, and everyone sang every word to every song. We’d never even been to Spain. At that moment I thought, “Wow, people have our records in their collection.” It’s a totally emotional connection. I don’t even know why, necessarily, but it’s wonderful. This is stepping way out there, but maybe for a certain age person, younger than myself, Shannon is their Jim Morrison. But, in this case, The Doors are still touring with a guy who does a pretty good version of what Shannon did. We have a lot of songs that are intently personal and very dark. And a lot of people identify with that. J.P.: In music, generally speaking, bands can survive losing drummers, bass players, guitarists. But with rare exception—AC/DC stands out—a lost lead singer is the kiss od death. You’re still here …

G.G.: You’re right, and it makes sense. I can’t imagine watching the Police without Sting—even though I actually loathe the music Sting has done on his own. Let me say it this way—Travis is not a clone of Shannon. He’s pretty close, but he’s not the same. It’s sort of the way Richard Little does impressions. I’d say Travis is more of an impressionist than an impersonator. And somehow that works. And the way he is on stage … the thing he has going with the audience—that he’s honored to be up there … it’s meaningful. For him. for us.

J.P.: Awkward question, but after Shannon Hoon died were you mad at him?

G.G.: Hmm … well, I suppose I was mad at him for a brief period. There has to be frustration for anybody who kills themselves intentionally or unintentionally. You’re left with no answers and no way to continue except without that person—and it’s really, really frustrating. First, he was a friend of mine. But then it also symbolized my life and livelihood. One day we’re riding home from Houston to New Orleans and everything was great. Five hours later the world is over. Try dealing with that in a healthy way. J.P.: What do you think Shannon Hoon would be doing today were he alive?

G.G.: If Shannon were alive, he’d be dead (and by the way, Shannon would think that was hysterical). There’s no way he could have lived beyond 30. He was just one of those guys we’ve all met. He couldn’t survive without drugs. It’s sad. It’s still sad. But it’s true.

J.P.: When No Rain is on the radio, do you listen, or change the station?

G.G.: I change it. I love the song, it’s great, whatever. But it’s one thing to hear a song 5,000 times. It’s another thing to play it that many. I’m a lefty—sometimes I’ll switch around and play it righty, just to make it interesting.

J.P.: So I grew up a KISS fan, and I remember learning that Peter Criss didn’t do all the tracks he was credited with. I was devastated. Well, not devastated. But I felt sorta misled. Can you tell the difference between drummers?

G.G.: Oh, yeah. Of course. Bands go through drummers all the time, and the change is usually pretty clear. Take Traffic, going way back. They used Jim Gorfon, my all-time favorite, and they used Roger Hawkins. The songs were the same, the albums were the same, but each guy approached it differently. That’s cool. I’m sure, in KISS, Peter Criss had a certain feel that the other drummers didn’t. KISS is funny. Early in my career I made the mistake of talking about KISS. Someone asked who I liked, and I was stoned, didn’t wanna do the interview—so I said KISS. Well, I was a big KISS fan when I was 8, not in my 20s. KISS is so bad, it’s embarrassing. If I could have seen KISS when I was 10, I could have walked away with an amazing experience in my brain. But I didn’t see them until the reunion in 1997, and it was very bad. During on the the songs everything just grounded to a halt—it was during “Watching You”—and Paul and Gene turned and stared Peter down and counted him off. That’s a bad day at work. QUAZ EXPRESS WITH GLEN GRAHAM:

• Would you serve as Brittney Spears’ drummer for $500,000: I’d play with anyone. The Little River Band … anyone. I like any music that’s original and done well. I can’t tell you one song Brittney Spears sings—but sign me up.

• You’re from Columbus, Mississippi. Any vacation tips: Do you like Civil War cemeteries? • You live in Chapel Hill, N.C. Talk to me about Tar Heel hoops: It’s sad, but I know nothing. Carolina … Duke—I hear they’re good.

• Your three favorite Blind Melon songs to play: Hmm … that’s hard. I used to like to play Tones of Home. I like Mouth Full of Cavities. Did you say three?

• Is Blind Melon a great band?: Honestly, no. We’re a musical footnote, if that. I think we’re good, we play well. we wrong well. But we’ll be one of those bands … if people are still listening to rock 50 years from now, No Rain will pop up on the One Million Best Songs of All Time list. I’m fine with that.

• Do you think of yourself, first and foremost, as a member of Blind Melon?: Maybe. But first and foremost, I’m a musician. 

  • Kirk

    So you have his drums in your basement, huh?

  • Sportswriting Refugee

    Awesome, Jeff. They were one of my favorite bands of all time. I was pretty devastated – as much as a fan can be – when Shannon Hoon died. “Soup” is one of my top five albums of the ’90s. I listened to it over and over and over again. It was that unreal to me. The song-writing. The musicianship. To me, that era kind of ended the day he died.

    Graham severely undersells their abilities. I remember a college acquaintance came back from their show raving about the band behind Shannon. Said that the only backing band he heard that good was Joan Osborne’s.

    I used to want to write a book about Blind Melon. A labor of love project, because he’s right – in the public’s eye, they’re a footnote.

    But we know better! It’s kind of cool to have a little secret like that, I think.

  • Pingback: BeeMelon.com - Blind Melon fan site

  • Patrick Mahoney

    Shannon died in 1995 not 1996.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

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