Okay, this week’s unveiling of a commemorative monument honoring Hootie & the Blowfish in their hometown of Columbia, SC is big news, at least around here:
I contributed an opinion piece to the Free Times cover story that acknowledged the band has done plenty to deserve the honors they’re getting, even if the monument seems to be about ten years too late to really mean anything, but I didn’t really have the space to expand upon the relative importance of Hootie vs. others who came from their home state. Massive sales figures are great for the bank account but a lasting legacy of musical innovation and influence is not something that even Hootie’s members would lay claim to, surely. With that in mind, here are ten South Carolina acts who ought to have legacies that stand up to and perhaps outstrip their more famous ‘neighbors’ (though even they have some solid connections to Hootie themselves.)
1. Lay Quiet Awhile–the alt-rock of this late 80′s, early 90′s quartet could be artfully spare or a sonic sledgehammer, depending on the song. Their legacy? Singer Danielle Howle went on to a critically-lauded solo career of her own and bassist Dan Cook released two albums with Verna Cannon, served as music editor and now overall editor at the Columbia Free Times alt-weekly. Hootie connection: Cook played violin on the “MTV Unplugged” Hootie special taped on the USC campus.
2. Danielle Howle–Yes, she gets two spots technically since she was a member of #1, above. But her solo output has been even more lauded, appearing on several different indie labels over the past fifteen years. Hootie connection: Howle’s Thank You Mark album was produced by Hootie’s Mark Bryan, and she sang a duet with him on his most recent solo disc.
3. Isabelle’s Gift–one could say that these guys are here due to longevity, as they’re still out there plugging away. I’d argue that their length of service is a deciding factor only because their redneck punk/metal hybrid was ahead of its time when they started and now it would seem almost quaint, if it weren’t for the bulldozing intensity of their best material. Ask anybody in a hard rock band in Columbia what inspired them to play and I guarantee this band’s name will be on the list somewhere, if not at the top.
4. Treadmill Trackstar–Would Angelo Gianni and friends have conquered the world in the 1990′s if they hadn’t signed a dead-end deal with the Hootie-run label Breaking Records back then? We’ll never know, but for a couple of years you could hear “Shouldn’t I Take” on mainstream radio around here in regular rotation, and Gianni’s buzzsaw pop was in line with the then-popular Smashing Pumpkins‘ sound. Their indie release Excessive Use of the Passive Voice remains a favorite locally released album, and while the band’s recent resurrection and new music may not gain them the world, it certainly proves that there’s a lot more artistic output to come from them.
5. In/Humanity, Guyana Punchline, Anakrid--One cannot talk about Columbia’s music scene without mentioning Chris Bickel, and his bands have always had both the attitude and the aptitude to capture whatever punk-inspired zeitgeist was on his mind at the time of their many recordings–tapes, seven-inch records, albums, Bickel has released enough stuff over his career to easily fill up one of those old Peaches record crates.
6. Bedlam Hour–The first Columbia band I can remember signed to a national record label contract (Positive Force Records released the band’s epic Rock The Cradle), the fast and furious yet overwhelmingly positive punk rock that Chuck Walker and company played was a huge influence on a generation of young punks in Columbia and beyond, and “Grey Sweater” is one of the best songs ever to come from Columbia’s music scene. Hootie connection: Hootie’s Mark Bryan and BH’s Walker and bassist John Leroy (as well as second bassist Adam Kolesar) were all student DJ’s together at WUSC in the 1980s.
7. From Safety To Where/Bolt/Death Becomes Even The Maiden–a mutiple band listing that acknowledges the interrelated lineups of these groups, all three of which play some sort of hyphenated post-punk rock amalgam that was (and is, in the case of the ongoing DBETM) light years ahead of their local and national peers. If Columbia were a hipper town in the national music press, Eric Greenwood would be referred to as our Roger Miller (Mission of Burma and No Man founder, not the country songwriter).
8. The Rob Crosby Group–The token 70′s band on this list, to be sure, but Sumter’s Rob Crosby was one of the most popular southern rock acts in the state in his day, and members of his band have gone on to play in other groups and combinations ever since. Crosby ended up a songwriter in Nashville with a string of hit songs, a couple of which he took to the country charts himself.
9. Toro Y Moi–As much as I enjoy Chaz Bundick’s other band I’m not even going to mention them here because this bedroom side project has meant much more to his career (and Columbia’s currency on the international music scene, if it has any). Causers Of This, released back in the beginning of 2010, has immediately secured a spot on my list of the best albums ever by a Columbia act, and one that’s bound to inspire countless kids in bedrooms across not just South Carolina, but the world.
10. Jack Williams–Okay, he doesn’t live in Columbia or even South Carolina any more but there’s no songwriter alive whose music is more intricately entwined in our state’s history, topography, and culture. Since 1997′s Across The Winterline Williams has been releasing album after album of captivating, folksy observations on southern life, and life in general, and touring all over the country.