The name Sugar Ray used to evoke the blood and thunder of the boxing ring. That context was made at least temporarily obsolete in 1995, when singer Mark McGrath and company made the alt-rock scene. Guitarist Rodney Sheppard, bassist Murphy Karges, and drummer Stan Frazier were a long-standing heavy metal cover band billed as Shrinky Dinx, when McGrath jumped up on stage one night and blew the house away. Soon after, they started collaborating on original material, brought scratchmeister Craig Bullock (aka DJ Homicide) into the fold, and in the spring of ’95 the newly renamed Sugar Ray released their debut album, Lemonade and Brownies.
Unfortunately, the recording did not make much of an impact, and it seemed like the band was headed off down Obscurity Lane, when lightning struck. In the studio to record their second album, Floored, and in the course of looking for a finishing touch for a catchy number called Fly, they pressed a reggae toastmaster named Super Cat into service. The end result became The Official Sound of the Summer of 1997, the traditionally ubiquitous summer song that, as if by decree, would pour out of all the clubs, cars and boom boxes, wafting across all the beaches, playgrounds and pool decks in the land, for the entire season. Sweet. Every band should be so lucky, right?
Unfortunately, the next question was How Do They Follow This? The consensus was that they probably wouldn’t be able to, but the band responded with confidence and good humor, calling their third release 14:59, in reference to Andy Warhol’s famous Fifteen Minute dictum. They also succeeded in defying the dictum, successfully replicating the aura that made Fly so popular. The resulting album went triple platinum, boosted by the hit singles Someday, Falls Apart, and the number-one modern rock charter Every Morning.
After a brief foray into acting, McGrath brought his teen idol looks back into the recording studio, where the band hatched their self-titled fourth album in 2001. They were also inspired by a young fan to start an organization called Music For A Cure, dedicated to bringing the curative powers of music to critically ill children. The album opened nicely, debuting at number six, but lacked the legs of the previous album.
Going back to the drawing board in ’03, Sugar Ray came out with their latest, In The Pursuit of Leisure. Time will tell whether lightning strikes again, or whether the band is free to pursue their leisure full time, and the name Sugar Ray is free to remind people of Mr. Leonard again.