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Articles: Music: Just Like The Movies (November 26, 2006)


Music: Just like the movies

By Patrick S. Pemberton


Imagine this: You grow up admiring a band so much that you memorize every song, note for note, lick for lick. Then, as a performer yourself, you dedicate shows to that band's late lead singer, whose tattooed image covers most of your back.
Then suddenly, at age 26, you become the lead singer of that band. For Travis Warren, becoming a member of Blind Melon is like a dream, except the dream doesn't end with the new day. "Some days I'll wake up and I'm just like, 'Man, is this really happening?' "

It's surprising on a couple of levels. First of all, Blind Melon had been disbanded since lead singer Shannon Hoon died of an overdose in 1995. And for seven years, Warren was just another bar band singer in San Luis Obispo, struggling to get noticed.

Yet those who know Warren say they knew he had the goods.

"It's undeniable that the guy has a gift," said former band mate Sarah Scarlata, who burst into tears of joy when Warren told her he was joining Blind Melon. "I'll never forget the first time I saw him play."

Before Blind Melon returns to the studio, Warren will return to San Luis Obispo, performing a solo acoustic show at Downtown Brew.

Warren grew up in Amarillo, Texas, the son of two musicians. He took up guitar while still in elementary school. And later, when it came time to choose between guitar and homework, he picked the former.

"I'd go to school and draw pictures of guitars," said Warren, who dropped out of high school as a freshman. "I had ADD for sure. I couldn't focus. If the teachers were teaching about Led Zeppelin — about rock and roll — I would have made straight A's."

At 17, he followed a girlfriend to the Central Coast, where he spent the next seven years with bands like 00-Metro, Supercell and Rain Fur Rent. During the day, he would work construction. (Once, while taking a break, Warren was an eyewitness to a fatal shark attack in Avila Beach.) At night, he would play music.

Today Warren has a shrill, intense voice that recalls Live front man Ed Kowalczyk and Audioslave's Chris Cornell. But it took time to hone the vocals, said 00-Metro drummer Brian Lopez.

"He used to even say to me, 'Bro, I know I've got a great voice, I just need to find it.' "

Once he found his voice, Lopez said, Warren was the complete package. "He is without contest the most talented guitar player and writer I've ever known."

At one time, Warren was playing with as many as four bands. But he left town with one — the experimental/alternative Rain Fur Rent.

"When we moved to Los Angeles together, he would always be in his room making music, all day every day," said Scarlata, that band's drummer. "If you wanted to talk to Travis, you'd go over to the house, you'd knock on the door and hope you're not interrupting his recording."

Rain Fur Rent came to the brink of success before falling just short.

"We showcased for, I think, eight different bands," Warren said. "We got flown out to New York for Epic Records. Every label was like, ‘Man, we dig it, but we don't really know where to put it.' "

Warren thinks the band's management might have had the wrong focus — that they were more indie than big label material. Without a deal, some band members split town. Warren remained in L.A., where a mutual friend introduced him to Blind Melon's Brad Smith and Chris Thorn, who own a recording studio in the area.

"Originally, they started working with me — they were just producing my record," Warren said.

Three months later, they invited Warren to a barbecue at Thorn's place. "And right before I left Chris and Brad were like, ‘Hey, man, we need to talk to you for a minute.' And they set me down and they were like, ‘How do you feel about singing for Blind Melon?' "

Blind Melon was an up-and-coming alternative band in the grunge era. Their biggest hit, "No Rain," was an MTV phenomenon (a girl in a bumblebee costume provided a memorable video that's indelibly linked with the band). Grammy nominations and big tour dates would further catapult the group to success ... a success that would end abruptly with Hoon's overdose.

The band auditioned other singers after Hoon's death, but no one clicked — until they met Warren a decade later.

"I was really freaked because Blind Melon has this cultlike following," Warren said. "These people never let go of Blind Melon — they are in love with Shannon Hoon — and I was like, ‘God, they're gonna hate me.' "

Not that he could turn it down.

"Anybody who knows me knows I've always been a huge Blind Melon fan."

So the band reunited to rehearse some of the old songs. When the entire band was satisfied with Warren as their front man, they moved on to new material.

The three new tracks they've recorded still have a Blind Melon feel but with a slightly harder edge consistent with Warren's songwriting.

"We don't just want to be this '90s band that had a hit and came back to sing all these old songs," Warren said. "We really want to gain a bunch of new fans."

Even though they don't have a record deal yet, the band writes Warren a check every month so he can survive in L.A. and focus on music. They plan to resume recording after the holidays, and there are plans to tour next summer.


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