In the beginning, Hootie and the Blowfish was a bar band, playing cover songs in college towns across the South.
Their set list didn't always include the usual classic rock songs, however. Hootie preferred alternative pop and country rock songs by their favorite artists of the time, '80s acts such as The Reivers, The Silos and New Grass Revival.
Tuesday, the South Carolina-based quartet will release a CD filled with those songs. "Scattered, Smothered & Covered" features tunes that have become staples at Hootie concerts over the years, so much so that many fans believe they were written by the Blowfish themselves.
"If you're an old Hootie fan, you might think a song like 'I'm Over You' by The Silos was a Hootie song that just never made it to one of our records," said the band's manager Rusty Harmon. "And, of course, there's 'I Go Blind,' which everybody has thought was a Hootie song forever. (It's by a Canadian group called 54-40.)
"So I think a lot of people are going to be surprised when they get the record and see that these songs were written by somebody else."
"Scattered, Smothered & Covered" comes as Hootie takes an extended holiday -- after six years of almost constant touring and recording.
The reason for the album's release is twofold. First, the band wanted to get some music out there for fans to listen to and tide them over until a new studio album can be recorded.
"We looked at the calendar and realized that 'Musical Chairs' (Hootie's most recent CD) was released in September of '98, and the best-case scenario at this point is for the band to record an album at the end of next year for a spring or summer release in 2002," Harmon said. "We were getting real close to being four years between records, and we just didn't want that to happen."
Secondly, the songs -- mostly recorded during sessions for Hootie's three major CDs and used as the B-sides of international single releases -- were too good to stay in the vault.
"I've never been a huge fan of cover albums, but I've also never seen a cover album that contained mostly obscurities," said Hootie drummer Jim Sonefeld. "We did these songs because we love playing them, but we love to share them as well."
Hootie fans chose five of the songs included on "Scattered, Smothered & Covered" by voting online.
"Let Me Be Your Man" by the New Grass Revival received 15.47 percent of the vote.
"I Go Blind" by 54-40 of Vancouver received 14.64 percent of the vote.
"Almost Home" by the Austin, Texas, band The Reivers received 14.24 percent of the vote.
"Hey Hey What Can I Do" by Led Zeppelin received 13.98 percent.
"Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" by the English band The Smiths received 13.11 percent.
Not all of the 15 selections on "Scattered, Smothered & Covered" are obscure songs. There's an acoustic version of R.E.M.' s "Driver 8" that was recorded during sessions for "Musical Chairs." A new recording of the Bill Withers hit "Use Me" is included, and it features guest performances by singer Edwin McCain and saxophonist Craig Shields. And the version of Tom Waits' "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You" is taken for the "MTV Unplugged" show taped in 1996 on the USC Horseshoe.
"We actually went into the studio to record a new version of that one, too," Harmon said. "When we realized that the MTV version was so good, we decided to go with it. And we hope that it will be special to the people of South Carolina because it was recorded at the Horseshoe."
'Just putting it out there.' Having been one of the 1990s most successful pop acts with worldwide record sales hovering around the 25 million mark, you'd think that any Hootie release would generate lots of excitement at the record company and management office. Not so. Harmon said expectations are "very low" for "Scattered, Smothered & Covered." (If you're wondering about the title, just think hash browns, the Waffle House and late-night stops on a rock 'n' roll tour.)
"Let's face it, it's a B-sides record," Harmon said. "We aren't releasing a single. We didn't make a video. There's not going to be a multimillion-dollar marketing push like we'd normally do for a Hootie record. This is just a record for the fans, and we hope that if we do enough Internet stuff, touring and TV appearances, the core Hootie audience will know there's a new record out and they'll go looking for it."
But there's always that optimism that a rock 'n' roll band manager has to have.
"I think this could be a platinum record," Harmon said. "Four songs came from the 'Cracked Rear View' sessions and we know how magical those sessions were.
"So it could be a great record. But, right now, we're just putting it out there to see what happens."