Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple

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Cracked Rear View

Hootie & the Blowfish's previous record sold 60,000 copies, so imagine the surprise when their Atlantic debut, "Cracked Rear View," started inching toward the million mark... 2 million... 3 million... 4 million... closing in on 5 million. And having never charted before, imagine more surprise as "Cracked Rear View" determinedly climbed the charts and reached No. 1 in late May. This week it's back at No. 1 for a fifth week after being interrupted only by Pink Floyd's debut last week.

"We're shocked," says the South Carolina-based group's lead singer, Darius Rucker. "We never expected it to do what it's done. Basically, we just wanted to sell enough records to pay back Atlantic so we could make another one."

Hootie & the Blowfish's last record, a 1993 self-produced EP titled "Kootchypop," hasn't been available since the group signed with Atlantic, Rucker says, "but people are really trying to find them." In fact, copies are now going for as much as $400, according to Rucker. "That's a lot more than we used to make in a whole night -- that's pretty funny."

These days, of course, as the hottest rock band in the country, Hootie and the Blowfish can laugh all the way to the bank. Besides the triple platinum (and still sizzling) album, they've just embarked on a summer-long headlining tour that brings two of the band members close to home Friday for a performance at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Rucker was raised in Charleston, S.C., but bassist Dean Felber and guitarist Mark Bryan both grew up in Gaithersburg. Drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld is from Chicago. Two years ago, Hootie (we'll get to that name in a minute) was playing places like the Bayou. Having come together as students at the University of South Carolina in the mid-'80s and apprenticing at local clubs and frat-parties, they gradually grew into regional stardom so low-key that the band sold copies of their two homemade tapes at gigs to make a little extra money. Back then, it wasn't just the majors that were passing them over, it was the minors too.

"No indie labels were trying to sign us," Rucker admits. "We weren't even really looking for a record deal when Atlantic came around. I mean, we were sending tapes out but nobody was actively calling to try and get a record deal or anything. We were content and happy playing the clubs. But when the Atlantic deal came about, we asked ourselves what we wanted to do. It was, 'Let's go ahead and take the next step and see what happens.'"

What happened is that radio responded to the band's no-nonsense rock-craft and particularly to Rucker's earthy, gravelly singing (compared at various times to Eddie Vedder, Otis Redding and Rod Stewart). Rock radio embraced the band's first single, the sing-along anthem "Hold My Hand," and, after a rush video, so did the revamped "alternative adult" VH1 and MTV. That video was the first for the band, though Rucker vaguely recalls one made in 1988 at the University of South Carolina, "a joke for a class project. Actually, I don't think I've ever even seen that one."

To cap things off, David Letterman dubbed Hootie his favorite new band and seems to have adopted them (they've been on the show three times in six months). "That's unquestionably where the ball got rolling," says Rucker, adding that when band members were still college students, "we used to go out until 12:30 [a.m.], come back and watch Letterman and then go back out--he was that important for us." Even then.

Knowing Letterman's proclivities, he may have fallen for the band through singles like "Hold My Hand" and "Let Her Cry," but that name certainly didn't hurt. As Rucker tells it, it came about because of his habit of giving pals nicknames. "One guy had big eyes and wore glasses and looked kind of owlish so I started calling him Hootie and it caught on. His friend has these huge cheeks, so I started calling him the Blowfish. They walked into a party together one night and I was hammered and said, 'Hey look, there's Hootie and the Blowfish!'"

"And we named the band that 'cause we're not very bright."

That was in 1986 and Rucker hasn't seen his pals in years, though one of them recently called. At least it wasn't Hootie or Blowfish's attorney. "Hey, I gave them the nickname, so legally they probably belong to me," says Rucker, who was not a law student but a broadcast journalism major. "Actually, I wanted to work for ESPN," he says. For now though, he'll have to confine his appearances to those other cable networks, MTV and VH1.

Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple
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