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Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple

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Hootie's Members Don't Plan To Be Spoiled By Success

"We burnt everybody out," said Mark Bryan, guitarist with Hootie & the Blowfish. "We burnt ourselves out. And that's not necessarily a bad thing."

The quartet with the quirky name and the cozy rock songs, who will perform tonight at the University of Toledo's Savage Hall, seemed to be everywhere, all the time in 1995.

It's major-label debut album, "Cracked Rear View," dominated the airwaves, video channels, awards programs, and charts. It has sold 14 million copies, making it the second-best selling debut album in history, and remains on the Billboard 200 chart as it gains on the all-time leader, Boston's 1976 release.

America couldn't get enough of such bright, stirring melodies as "Hold My Hand," "Only Wanna Be With You," "Let Her Cry," "Hannah Jane," and "Time."

It was a torrid romance between America and Hootie & the Blowfish. Now it's cooling off a bit.

"It seems that radio stations are going out of their way not to play our stuff," Bryan said, not bitterly but matter-of-factly.

Bryan, singer-guitarist Darius Rucker, bassist Dean Felber, and drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld, who hit the road in 1989 after graduating from the University of South Carolina, worked hard to write good songs and polish their sound, but even they were surprised by the scope of their success.

When the four musical pals released their second album, "Fairweather Johnson," in April, they knew they had a tough act to follow.

The disc has sold 2 million copies thus far, a number that most musicians only dream about. But it looks weak in comparison to the mega-platinum success of "Cracked Rear View."

"Before we do a third album, we need to re-create a demand for Hootie & the Blowfish," Bryan said. "People need to want to hear a new record, to hear Hootie. It needs to be a different situation."

The group has eight songs that it recorded but left off "Fairweather Johnson," and they continue to compose new ones. But it's "way too soon" to start thinking about the next album, Bryan said.

The band, whose diligent touring early on built a strong grass-roots following throughout the Carolinas, remains a strong box-office draw.

They filled amphitheaters such as Pine Knob and Blossom Music Center this summer, and are ranked seventh on Pollstar magazine's Concert Pulse chart, behind artists such as Garth Brooks and KISS, with an average box office gross of $400,000 per night.

The group maintains a hectic tour schedule, although it did take a three-week break recently when Sonefeld married his Michigan girlfriend.

Bryan, who said he did "a whole lot of nothing" during his rare free time, married his longtime girlfriend last June and said the weddings have "absolutely no effect" on the band itself.

"All along, we've had people with serious girlfriends. Every relationship we get involved in, our mate knows that our priorities are business and the band," he said. "It's never been a problem. And besides, all our girlfriends and wives are good friends. We're a tight-knit family."

The group, which formed a corporation when it was starting out to provide health and liability insurance, shares the songwriting credits and royalties equally among all four members.

Bryan has said the band always puts the music first, and business second, no matter how big the numbers may be.

"We have meetings. When it's time to discuss business, we discuss business. Then after that, we have fun."

One of the band's more enjoyable events was its participation in last weekend's Farm Aid '96, held for the first time in Hootie's hometown of Columbia, S.C.

"That was a blast, man," Bryan said. "Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, the Beach Boys, Steve Earl, Son Volt, and Tim McGraw and all kinds of country artists."

Singer David Crosby, who contributed background vocals to Hootie's first his single, "Hold My Hand," was in town for Farm Aid and was filming a documentary on benefit concerts.

"We talked with Dave for an hour about all that," Bryan said. "I'm not sure why it feels so good to give, but it does. When you're in the position where you can make a difference for somebody, it feels right. You feel like you've been blessed when you're successful, so giving back is almost a no-brainer."

Another way that Hootie has shown it collective heart is by turning over its prized concert-opening slots to talented but lesser-know artists such as They Might Be Giants, John Hiatt, 54-40, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bela Fleck, and Dillon Fence.

But Bryan said their motive is not purely altruistic. "That usually comes from the fact that a lot of the music we like just doesn't happen to be as popular as we are," he explained. "Three years ago, we would have had a band open for us that we liked. Why do we have to get bigger bands just because we're bigger now? We just get bands that we like, and if in the process it helps them out, then good."

Despite Hootie & the Blowfish's mass popularity, the band frequently is criticized in the media. One of the more common complaints is that the musicians are "too nice"--a criticism that Bryan dismisses as irrelevant.

"It's hard for us to judge ourselves. Well, this is the way we are, is it good or bad? It's a lot more fun to be easygoing, to just enjoy life.

"We may be too nice. Maybe not. We are what we are. But it's hard to believe that has anything to do with playing music. And that's why it doesn't matter. What matters to me is the music."

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