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Hootie & The Blowfish

Corporate and melodic AOR, fit for the MTV generation; with similar sunny day vox references from talisman African-American Darius Rucker to CRASH TEST DUMMIES’ Brad Roberts, PEARL JAM’s Eddie Vedder, or DAVE MATTHEWS, Marmite combo HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH were the epitome of the formulaic post-R.E.M./post-grunge jangle pop-rock that had emerged en masse in the 90s. However, who could argue with the fact the slick quartet secured several Top 40 hits and a pair of back-to-back double-platinum albums.
Formed 1986 in Columbia, South Carolina, singer/acoustic guitarist Darius Rucker and lead guitarist Mark Bryan found they’d similar interests while freshmen at the state university. Abandoning the rather unappealing Wolf Brothers nom de plume after roping in bassist Dean Felber and drummer Brantley Smith, they adopted the nicknames of two college buddies: HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH. Smith was to bail in pursuit of a music ministry appointment; though he was superseded by Jim “Soni” Sonefeld, there was still room for him to play the odd gig after the band made it big.
On the strength of three widely-circulated early 90s demo EPs (“Hootie & The Blowfish”, “Time” and “Kootchypop”), it would be on the optimism of A&R rep Tim Sommer; formerly of indie stars HUGO LARGO, that “Hootie” inked a lucrative deal with Atlantic Records.
Holding back any single platter until their debut album, CRACKED REAR VIEW (1994) {*7}, started its long road up to No.1, HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH finally succumbed to singles success when `Hold My Hand’ (with backing vox from DAVID CROSBY); then `Let Her Cry’, climbed into the Top 10. In Britain, the album was lauded upon its release the following March by the likes of TV/radio presenter Danny Baker, which probably helped glean growing support from the Virgin FM safe-rock music station. And while the debut almost hit Top 10 in the UK, the band’s third signature-tune smash hit, `Only Wanna Be With You’, didn’t come anywhere near its sales across the big pond; ditto 4th single, `Time’.
The strident HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH struck double-platinum once again with their sophomore set, FAIRWEATHER JOHNSON (1996) {*6}. Previewed by Top 20 hit, `Old Man & Me (When I Get To Heaven)’, the band’s appeal wasn’t quite universal; one metal-grinding Max Cavalera made his thoughts pretty clear and explicit on his new band’s SOULFLY track `No!’ (as in “No more f***in Hootie & The Blowfish”). Away from un-friendly cracked views of opposition parties, fans of the H&TB would settle for the unpretentious avenues of `Tucker’s Town’ (a moderate hit) and opener `Be The One’ – if nothing else.
1998’s MUSICAL CHAIRS {*6} didn’t hit the heights of its predecessors (as with Top 5 status), but it certainly upped the rootsier production values; though neither `I Will Wait’ nor `Only Lonely’ hit the right notes chart-wise. A handful of songs; in particular the countrified `Home Again’ and `Desert Mountain Showdown’, might well’ve been a pointer to where lead singer Darius was headed.
As it turned out, the band were in need of a break, and to compensate any loss to their raft of fans, a stop-gap odds and ends album, “Scattered, Smothered And Covered”, displayed a penchant for their eclectic idols. Having unfettered a version of The BEATLES’ `The Ballad Of John & Yoko’ as an exclusive B-side on the UK version of erstwhile minor hit, `Let Her Cry’, H&TB ran up their musical bill to include:- `Driver 8’ (R.E.M.), `I Go Blind’ (54:40), `Gravity Of The Situation’ (VIC CHESNUTT), `Hey Hey What Can I Do’ (LED ZEPPELIN), `I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You’ (TOM WAITS), `Dream Baby’ (a ROY ORBISON hit), `Use Me’ (BILL WITHERS), `Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ (The SMITHS), `Renaissance Eyes’ (DON DIXON), `I’m Over You’ (The SILOS), `Before The Heartaches Roll In’ (Foster & Lloyd), `Let Me Be Your Man’ (Gregory Ritchey), plus `Almost Home’ and `Araby’ (The Reivers).
Leaving his “Hootie” venture behind him for a while, DARIUS RUCKER found his neo soul/R&B roots via debut album, “Back To Then” (2002). When the set stalled at No.127, his solo ambitions were slightly curtailed for the time being.
Regardless of whether the band’s DON WAS-produced return set, HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH (2003){*5}, was so named due to a statement of intent or just plain ambivalence, the results were entirely in keeping with their reputation for earnest pop/rock workmanship. With not a hit on the horizon and, in fact, nowhere on the release schedule, the Top 50 record did have its moments, though they were sparingly via promos, `Innocence’ and `Space’.
Atlantic Records dropped the band after a “Best Of” collection only reached No.62. However, they played on regardless when the joint efforts of Vanguard and their own Sneaky Long Records unveiled yet another average set of songs in 2005’s LOOKING FOR LUCKY {*5}. Despite its Top 50 status, its hybrid of country blues and gospel – the Nashville injection presented by producer Don Gelman and engineer Nick Brophy – did little to stir up any blades of bluegrass. Even the added attraction of outsider writers Matraca Berg and The SILOS’ Walter Salas-Humara; or indeed the guest spots for NEW GRASS REVIVAL’s `Sam Bush and John Cowan (on `Leaving), edged it from an early exit from the charts.
It was then inevitable that Hootie’s surge was coming to an abrupt end; at least in terms of studio output. Saying sayonara by way of a concert at Daniel Island, SC (in August 12, 2005), LIVE IN CHARLESTON: THE HOMEGROWN TOUR (2006) {*6} was a decent document of what we’d be missing as the Nashville-bound DARIUS RUCKER explored fresh crossover chart ground with several Top 10 sets for Capitol Nashville: namely “Learn To Live” (2008), “Charleston, SC 1966” (2010), “True Believers” (2013), “Southern Style” (2015) and “When Was The Last Time” (2017).
For many in the business of rock/alt-pop, it was almost a relief when Darius and Co rediscovered their mojo for the release of “comeback” Top 30 set, IMPERFECT CIRCLE (2019) {*6}. A quarter of a century on from HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH’s semi-celebrated debut, the band had lost none of their pop-song panache, and performed with their usual humdrum roots-y fervour (produced by Jeff Trott and Frank Rogers), Sunday afternoon songs such as `Miss California’, `New Year’s Day’, `Lonely On A Saturday Night’ and `Hold On’ (co-authored by CHRIS STAPLETON), were simply tickety-boo.
© MC Strong/MCS 1996-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2019

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