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Hootie & the Blowfish

Hootie & the Blowfish

Hootie & the Blowfish flipped the script on the conventional notion of college rock. During the 1980s, when the group cut their teeth along the Eastern Seaboard, college rock belonged to the arty rockers who resided at the left of the dial. Hootie's four members were raised on these sounds, showing a particular affection for R.E.M. and their jangle-pop heirs, but the band streamlined and straightened that chime, making straight-ahead music ideal for house parties, tailgates, and sports bars. Surprisingly, this formula turned Hootie & the Blowfish into superstars. Part of the reason for their breakthrough was Darius Rucker, who sang with a soulful gusto unfamiliar to other college rockers; he gave the band a focal point, so much so that some casual fans assumed his nickname was Hootie. Cracked Rear View, the band's 1994 debut, racked up hit after hit, and while they didn't manage to replicate that blockbuster status, their star never diminished. Hootie paid their good fortune forward, cutting songs by their college rock peers and thereby giving them a path toward royalties. While this music defined the mid-'90s mainstream in the wake of alt-rock, it proved enduring: When the group reunited to celebrate their 25th anniversary, they found an audience waiting to party like it was 1994.

Formed at the University of South Carolina, the group featured lead vocalist/guitarist Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber, and Jim "Soni" Sonefeld, and the band's name referred to two mutual friends (not Rucker and the group itself). Cracked Rear View, the quartet's first album, was released in the fall of 1994 and became enormously successful, due in part to the album's first single, "Hold My Hand." The song had worked its way into the Top Ten by the beginning of 1995, propelling the album to number one and paving the way for three additional Top 20 singles: "Let Her Cry," "Only Wanna Be with You," and "Time."

Cracked Rear View became the most popular album of 1995. By the time Hootie & the Blowfish returned to the scene with a second album, Fairweather Johnson, in early 1996, the debut had sold 13 million copies in America alone. Fairweather Johnson didn't replicate that success. It entered the charts at number one and sold two million copies within its first four months of release, but it didn't produce any singles on the level of "Hold My Hand" or "Let Her Cry." Musical Chairs followed in 1998 and experienced even less success, and the bandmates decided to take a short break after its release.

Scattered, Smothered, and Covered was issued two years later, featuring previously unreleased material and several cover songs. The band returned with new studio material on a 2003 self-titled effort for Atlantic, and followed in 2004 with an engaging Best of set. It included all their big singles, as well as cover songs like 54-40's "I Go Blind" (which had previously appeared on the Friends Original TV Soundtrack). Hootie & the Blowfish toured for most of the year in support of the hits collection, then returned to the studio to record Looking for Lucky, which was released in August 2005 through their own Sneaky Long imprint. As the decade drew to a close, Rucker took some time to launch a solo career in country music. He became one of the genre's breakout stars in 2008, selling over a million copies of Learn to Live and sending three songs to the top of the country charts.

Hootie & the Blowfish reunited in 2015 to play one of the final shows of the Late Show with David Letterman, and that reunion stuck. The group began working on new songs, but before those surfaced, they celebrated the 25th anniversary of Cracked Rear View in 2019 via an expanded reissue and a summer tour. Later that fall, Hootie & the Blowfish released Imperfect Circle, their first album in 14 years. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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