25 Years Ago: Blind Melon Gets Stung by the ‘Bee Girl’ on Debut Album
Blind Melon took the scenic route to multi-platinum success. And when they arrived, they discovered they’d been upstaged by a little girl in a bee costume.
Although the band formed in Los Angeles, all of the members were transplants. Singer Shannon Hoon had moved from Lafayette, Ind., to the West Coast, where he met guitarist Rogers Stevens and bassist Brad Smith, who had come from West Point, Miss.. The trio soon added another guitarist, Christopher Thorn from Dover, Pa. When they couldn’t find a drummer in L.A. that would suit their rootsy vibe, Stevens and Smith convinced fellow Mississippian Glenn Graham to relocate. They called themselves Blind Melon, which was a nickname for the hippies that lived next door to Smith’s childhood home.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Blind Melon did all the usual things that unsigned bands do: Play shows as often as possible, write material, make a demo and do your best to get noticed. In their case, it worked. A combination of the band’s retro vibe and Hoon’s charisma as a frontman scored Blind Melon a $500,000 contract with Capitol Records in 1991. But with some of the members succumbing to the seedier elements of the L.A. scene, the decision was made to leave California for North Carolina.
Everyone hoped that the act of relocating, yet again, would allow Blind Melon to focus on their music in a manner that wasn’t happening out west. (They had already worked on a botched debut EP that turned out too slick and over-produced.) The quintet rented a home in Durham, N.C., that they dubbed Sleepyhouse because of the newly relaxed atmosphere – and the band’s penchant for waking up mid-afternoon. They began hanging out with local, more roots-oriented musicians.
“They were all super musicians – playing banjos, guitars, stand-up basses. And they were great people,” guitarist Thorn recalled to Indy Week about folks like the Chicken Wire Gang. “When you got out of Los Angeles, you found musicians that didn’t care about getting record deals. It was a breath of fresh air.”
In a matter of a few months in late ’91 and early ’92, Blind Melon used Sleepyhouse to hone their musical direction. As big fans of the Band, they envisioned the place as their “Big Pink” – a creative sanctuary where the members of Blind Melon became tight, both as a musical unit and as friends.
Listen to "Sleepyhouse"
“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 said. “We learned how we played together. It was band training camp.”
When it came time to actually make their debut LP, Blind Melon traveled yet again, this time to Seattle to work with Rick Parashar, who had produced Pearl Jam’s Ten. Although Parashar’s London Bridge Studio was ground zero for grunge, with acts like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone recording there, Blind Melon was seeking a more ’60s and ’70s-oriented sound with vintage equipment, analog methods and an avoidance of overdubs.
“We all kind of liked the production that was on… a lot of early [Rolling[ Stones records, [where] whatever it is you’re playing is what it’s going to sound like,” Hoon told the Associated Press in 1993. “You kind of create an invisible sound from doing it that way.”
By June of 1992, the band emerged with a 13-track album, consisting of tunes that dated from years ago (Hoon had written “Change” in 1985) or had just been worked out (“Sleepyhouse”). Although all members shared songwriting credit, bassist Smith was the one primarily responsible for what would become the band’s breakout hit, “No Rain.”
To enhance the decades-old feel of the album, to be titled Blind Melon, the band made a specific choice for the CD cover. They selected a photo of drummer Graham’s sister, Georgia, wearing a bee costume when she was a little girl in 1975.
Upon the album’s release on Sept. 22, 1992, the “Bee Girl” album cover just seemed odd – although not incredibly unusual given what other alternative bands were doing at the time. In fact, Blind Melon had a difficult time standing out. Lead single “Tones of Home” didn’t find much success on radio or MT. Hoon’s friendship with Axl Rose (he had sung backup on the Use Your Illusion discs) built a little bit of buzz, but only enough to open for Guns N’ Roses, Ozzy Osbourne and Soundgarden.
Blind Melon didn’t become a headline act until music video director Samuel Bayer decided to flesh out the cover image of the “Bee Girl.” When planning the clip to accompany the band’s second single, “No Rain,” Bayer hired an actress to dress up like the old picture of Graham’s sister and become the video’s main character. Ten-year-old actress Heather DeLoach won the part, playing a tap-dancing outcast who eventually finds her people while Blind Melon sings about boredom and insanity in a glowing green field.
The “Bee Girl” became a pop culture touchstone, the video went into heavy rotation and “No Rain” became a huge hit single in the summer of 1993, rising to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and doing similarly well (or better) in Canada, Australia and throughout Europe. Blind Melon soon went multi-platinum.
“It’s really weird how the momentum picked up because of one video,” Smith told Rolling Stone in 1993. “The music hasn’t changed – it’s been on the CD forever. What we do has not changed. The video and the politics behind everything are what’s changed. Success has a lot less to do with music than I thought it did.”
Listen to "Tones of Home"
Meanwhile, DeLoach, as the “Bee Girl,” had her 15 minutes of fame, appearing with the band at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards and showing up in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s video for “Bedrock Anthem” (although she was humorously replaced by Chris Farley when Blind Melon played Saturday Night Live in early 1994). For a while, the “Bee Girl” became Blind Melon’s mascot. Even the band’s follow-up to “No Rain,” a re-release of “Tones of Home” with a new video, featured a reference to this quirky character.
But DeLoach grew up (appearing in television and movies) and Blind Melon moved on, releasing the less-glowingly received Soup in 1995 before being sidelined by Hoon’s death from a cocaine overdose that summer. Although the band later reformed, their debut album remains their best-known work, forever tied to the image of a girl in a bee costume.
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