25 Years Ago: Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon Dies of an Overdose
On Oct. 21, 1995, Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon was found dead on his tour bus, his life coming to an end after only briefly scraping its potential.
Richard Shannon Hoon was born and raised in rural Indiana. He chose to go by his middle name to avoid confusion with his father, also named Richard. After graduating high school in 1985, he joined his first band, a local glam-metal group called Styff Kytten.
The band gave Hoon his first taste of the stage, and he soon began writing his own songs, including “Change,” which would later feature on Blind Melon's debut album.
Hoon quickly became tired of small-town life. He referred to his hometown of Lafayette, Ind., as “a small, repressed community. You're able to live your whole life there and really be quite comfortable, but I wanted to see more.” At 18 years old, the aspiring rocker packed his car and drove to Los Angeles.
Watch Blind Melon's 'Change' Video
While attending a party in L.A., Hoon met guitarist Brad Smith and bassist Rogers Stevens. Both musicians had fled small-town Mississippi life for the bright lights of Hollywood. “He was just completely unpretentious, unaffected by L.A. thus far, and he felt like one of us immediately,” Smith said of Hoon decades later in an interview with Classic Rock.
“He talked a lot, he would not shut up. I remember that first night that we decided we were going to be in a band - we’d gotten really drunk,” added Stevens. "We were crashing at my apartment, and he tried to pick a fight with me! He got mad because I was laughing at him – he said something really stupid. That was the thing about Shannon: He’d say everything that came into his mind. A lot of the times it would be like, ‘Why did you say that?’ Miraculously, he didn’t throw a punch – it could’ve ended right there.”
The three began jamming regularly, with guitarist Christopher Thorn and drummer Glen Graham later brought into the fold. By 1990, Blind Melon were born.
The group recorded a four-song demo, which quickly earned it a record deal with Capitol Records. Things took off further when Hoon befriended his half-sister Anna's old high-school buddy, who also happened to be making music in Los Angeles: Axl Rose.
Rose invited Hoon to join Guns N' Roses in studio while the band worked on the Use Your Illusion I and II albums. The Blind Melon frontman sang backing vocals on several GNR tracks, including "The Garden," “Live and Let Die” and “November Rain.” Still, the singer’s best-known GNR contribution was "Don't Cry," on which Hoon shared lead vocals with Rose.
Hoon also appeared in the “Don’t Cry” music video, which received heavy airplay on MTV. The singer even made guest appearances at several GNR concerts, performing “Don’t Cry” with the group.
Watch Guns N' Roses' 'Don't Cry' Video Featuring Shannon Hoon
While the GNR connection created buzz for Blind Melon, the band continued toiling away at its own LP. In late 1991, all of the members would retreat to Durham, N.C., to write material for their debut album. They hunkered down in a rented house, where they would “smoke pot and play music all day.”
"We rehearsed in the house and recorded in the house. We became a much better band in the house, and that's where we really developed our sound," Thorn admitted years later to Indy Week. "We learned how we played together. It was band training camp."
Blind Melon’s eponymous debut album would find the band dabbling in a style reminiscent of classic '70s rock. Chief to that sound: Hoon’s distinctive, emotive vocals. Released Sept. 22, 1992, the album initially earned middling sales, much to the band’s surprise.
“I think we were all under the false assumption that our record was going to come out and be a giant hit,” Thorn admitted. “And then reality sorta struck us – we realized, Wow, this is really hard work. We were having a lot of fun because we were playing and seeing the country, but I think we were a bit stressed out. We didn’t realize that you actually had to work a record.”
The band toured relentlessly to support the release. Though the performances helped to steadily grow their fan base, tour life had another, undesirable effect.
“The pitfalls of keeping the band on the road – idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and Shannon took that proverb to heart,” Smith explained. “He’d made a mess of himself on the road after a certain point, and we should have gotten off the road sooner. Hindsight is 20-20.”
Hoon’s issues with substance abuse stretched back to his days in Indiana. “Shannon’s drug use … that was from day one. That wasn’t a new thing," Stevens confessed. “I mean, he went through phases. He was always game for whatever.”
In April 1993, Blind Melon experienced a leap in fame. “No Rain” - a quirky and catchy track, penned by Smith following a breakup - became a massive hit, peaking at No. 1 on both the alternative and rock charts. Its video, featuring the famous "bee girl," was thrust into heavy rotation on MTV.
Watch Blind Melon's 'No Rain' Video
Spurred by the single’s popularity, Blind Melon would go on to sell more than 4 million copies. The band was officially a mainstream success. But fame was a double-edged sword for Hoon, as money and notoriety enabled him to further indulge his demons.
"Coke was the problem, heroin was never the problem or anything like that," Stevens noted. "We tried to deal with it – got him into treatment a few times and things like that. We did an intervention one time, and he didn’t show up for it! Pretty classic.”
In 1994, Blind Melon performed a memorable set at Woodstock. Hoon, allegedly high on LSD, took to the stage wearing his girlfriend’s white dress.
“I remember Shannon showing up in a dress, and just going, ‘You’re fucking nuts. What are you doing?’" Thorn recalled. "But that’s what was great about him. He was never going to give you the same old shit, you didn’t know what you were going to get from him. That’s why he was such a great performer. I remember him just going for it, giving 100 percent.”
Watch Blind Melon Perform at Woodstock '94
After riding the success of their debut album for more than two years, Blind Melon began working on a follow-up LP in late 1994. According to Smith, the sessions, which took place in New Orleans, were “total mayhem.” “There was a lot of cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, marijuana … whatever you wanted. It was at the studio all the time. It was fucking crazy,” the guitarist admitted.
“We didn’t go into the studio until two or four o’clock in the afternoon, and nobody left until the sun was coming up. It was just a total vampire existence, laced with drugs, alcohol and fucking craziness.”
Soup, the band’s sophomore LP, received mixed response upon its August 1995 release. Sales paled in comparison to Blind Melon, though it has since been hailed as a forgotten gem of the era.
Watch Shannon Hoon Interview From September 1995
Around this time, it seemed like Hoon was making a concerted effort to get his life on track. Becoming a father and watching the coverage of grunge icon Kurt Cobain’s suicide proved to be sobering moments for the singer. Hoon checked himself into rehab and, after returning to his band, agreed to allow a label-provided drug counselor join Blind Melon on tour. “I remember going from Seattle, down the coast, and Lisa [Hoon’s girlfriend] and the baby were there on the bus,” Thorn later recalled.
“It was great. It kinda felt like, cool – this is the next ‘phase’ of Blind Melon. I remember playing really well, kinda loving it. Then we got to LA, and some boneheads turned Shannon on to drugs.”
Sadly, Hoon’s demons proved inescapable. While on tour, the singer’s drug use once again picked up, regularly affecting the quality of his performance. On Oct. 20, 1995, Blind Melon played in Houston, a set marred by the singer's sloppy delivery. “It felt that Shannon was high before he went on,” Thorn later admitted. “It just felt like a terrible show.”
The band headed for New Orleans, the location of the next gig. Hoon stayed up all night doing cocaine, and, once the band’s bus arrived in the Big Easy, he hit the streets looking to score more drugs. At some point during the night, the singer returned to the bus and climbed into one of the bunks. He was found there the next morning, dead at 28.
A couple of days later, Hoon was laid to rest in his Indiana hometown. His Blind Melon bandmates all attended, still coping with the loss of their leader.
"It's just surreal," drummer Glen Graham recalled of the moment in the book A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon. "We're at a funeral for our friend. And then everything is over - your life as you know it is over."
Hoon's grave was inscribed with words he had once written, lyrics from the song "Change": "I know we can't all stay here forever. So I want to write my words on the face of today before they paint it."