'Legalize It': When Sublime Covered Peter Tosh's Marijuana Anthem

Rolling Stoned: Sublime photographed for High Times by Steve Eichner in Asbury Park, NJ in 1995. From left: Eric Wilson, Brad Nowell and Bud Gaugh, holding buds.

Peter Tosh's "Legalize It" - the greatest marijuana song of all time, according to CelebStoner - was recorded by Sublime for Hempilation: Freedom Is NORML, a benefit album for NORML released by Capricorn Records 25 year ago this month.

"We didn't want to do that, no disrespect to the Godfather Peter Tosh," says Michael "Miguel" Happoldt, the band's original producer. "It's a great song. We wanted to do something more obsure like Sugar Minott's 'Sensimilla' or Horace Ferguson's 'Great Stone.' It was like a square peg in a round hole."

At the time, Sublime had just been signed to Gasoline Alley/MCA Records after releasing two independent albums on Skunk Records, which Happoldt owned. A ska-punk trio from Long Beach, California, Sublime featured Bradley Nowell on vocals and guitar, Eric Wilson on bass and Bud Gaugh on drums. Their major-label debut was scheduled to come out in 1996.

"A day in the studio for us was like a day at the beach," Happoldt recalls about the "Legalize It" session at North Vine Studios in Hollywood. "We didn't have money to play with like that at all. It was a huge opportunity just for us to make a track. The team rose to the occasion. It wasn't exactly what we wanted to do, but when it was done everybody was happy with it."

He said on 420 Live with Jeff Kravitz that Sublime manager Jon Phillips suggested the band "throw a pitch they could hit before you get all fancy. He was like, 'People don't even know you yet.'" In other words, cut a familiar track for the more mainstram Hempilation audience.

Sublime Buds: Producer Miguel and manager Jon Phillips

"Sublime had covered Tosh's 'Steppin Razor,' so it was kind of appropriate that they ended up doing 'Legalize It,'" Phillips explained. "It was like three takes - Brad doing a few little extra things and Miguel doing the dubs. Matt Hyde, who became a pretty popular producer, worked on this recording as well."

About the overall album concept, Phillips commented:

"It was the first to bring together the Sublimes and the 311s with the jam bands, it converged those two cultures. It was a message 20 years before we started seeing legalization. Keep fighting the fight."

Sadly, Nowell died of an overdose just a month before the band's major-label debut in 1996. The self-titled album peaked at No. 13 and yielded  several hit singles, including "What I Got."

"Sublime are the biggest band that ever happened that people saw the least amount of, unfortunately," Phillips lamented.

Sublime evolved into Long Beach Dub All Stars with Wilson and Gaugh holding down the rhythm section. They contributed a version of Barrington Levy's "Under Mi Sensi" with Levy singing for Hempilation 2: Free the Weed in 1998.

Sublime eventually was renamed Sublime with Rome in 2009 when Rome Ramirez replaced Nowell as the frontman. Wilson and Gaugh were initially in the band, but Gaugh left in 2011.

The two Hempilation albums from 1995 and 1998

About Hempilation

Hempilation: Freedom Is NORML was produced by Steve Bloom for High Times, Eric Steenstra for NORML and Philip Walden for Capricorn Records in 1995. The album was a fundraiser for NORML. It contains tracks by Cypress Hill, the Black Crowes, Sublime, 311, Blues Traveler, Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers and 10 more.

Hempilation 2: Free the Weed (A Benefit for NORML) was produced by Steve Bloom for High Times, Eric Steenstra for NORML and Philip Walden for Capricorn Records in 1998. It contains tracks by Willie Nelson, George Clinton and 18 more.

#Hempilation25 produced by Steve Bloom for CelebStoner and Michael O'Malley for Curved Papers.

RELATED: Celebrating the NORML Benefit Albums


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.