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Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple

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In The Sunshine And Shadow Of Success

Watching Hootie & the Blowfish's music videos, you might get the impression they're golf nuts who formed a band just so they could have a ready-made foursome on the road.

Not so.

"When we started, we didn't take golf seriously," says Darius Rucker, 32, the band's lead singer, who really doesn't like being called Hootie. "Golf was just a reason to drink beer."

"When you're a bad golfer," adds bass player Dean Felber, 31, "having a couple of beers doesn't make you worse."

Fact is, most of the band's golf is confined to their annual Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am Tournament in South Carolina. This year, Hootie & the Blowfish raised $250,000 for the South Carolina Junior Golf Association and the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association.

Aside from charitable work, the demands of touring when you're part of a multimillion-selling band can really cut into your tee times, and Rucker and Felber lament time spent away from the links.

"Wish we could do interviews at Pinehurst," Felber says, referring to the famous country club.

Watching Hootie & the Blowfish on TV, you might get the impression they're awfully nice guys.

Meeting them backstage recently after a grueling sound check in the summer sun, Rucker and Felber do nothing to belie that impression. They come across as just plain folks, with a lot of talent, yes, but a bit of luck, too.

"The extent of our success was a total shock," says Felber.

And what a success it's been. Hootie & the Blowfish's mix of country folk and Rucker's soulful singing struck a chord with audiences. The band's 1994 debut album, "Cracked Rear View," is among the biggest in history, with some 10 million copies sold, according to SoundScan. That makes it the No. 2 album of the decade, after "The Bodyguard" soundtrack, and the No. 2 debut of all-time, behind "Boston."

"What shocked everybody was they expected the next big thing to be a totally new, undiluted kind of music," Felber says. "But it wasn't. It was just good old rock-and-roll."

After the quick rise of the band, which formed at the University of South Carolina in the Eighties and gigged interminably in the Southeast for years before becoming an "overnight sensation," came the inevitable backlash, fed by the group's seeming radio omnipresence.

"Fairweather Johnson," the band's second album, sold "just" 2.3 million units, according to SoundScan.

"If that's a flop," says Rucker, "I'll take it."

"For us," Felber explains, "the pressure is always inside, from the four of us, to keep it happening. If we're improving, we don't care what other people think."

According to Rucker and Felber, Hootie & the Blowfish are, indeed, improving. The band -- which also consists of Mark Bryan on guitar and Jim Sonefeld on drums -- has expanded its songwriting horizons on its newest album, "Musical Chairs," due in stores Sept. 15. The first single from that album, "I Will Wait," will hit radio stations this week.

"We've grown up a lot," Felber says. "We had to play better because our songwriting has gotten better. Fortunately, all four us have made it to the next level."

"Musical Chairs" features the famous Hootie sound, only more so, running the gamut from straight-ahead rock-and-roll to bluegrass and folk with country-tinged harmonies.

"We're more confident," Felber says about the change in the band. "If we go off on a tangent, we can go off and not necessarily come back to a rock-and-roll song."

"We've always done things the way we wanted," adds Rucker. "For instance, the record company wanted us to keep working 'Cracked Rear View,' but we said it was time for a new album, so we did 'Fairweather Johnson.'"

As for the band's continued success, Felber says that if the new album does well, they'll tour extensively to support it. And Rucker says that the four buddies show no signs of the internal conflict that wrecks most bands.

"We've got such a good thing going, no egos will get in the way," Rucker says.

Watching Hootie & the Blowfish, you'd get that impression.

Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple
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