Okay, since I spent yesterday listing all the bands whose legacies matter more to the local Columbia, SC music scene than Hootie & the Blowfish, today I’ll fall headfirst into nostalgia and tell some personal stories about Hootie, from my own perspective as someone who was there from the start and enjoyed every minute of it.
Upon arrival at the University of South Carolina in 1985, one of the first people I ran into was my former high school classmate Darius Rucker, who lived one dorm away from me in the infamous Towers/Honeycombs. We had only one class together at USC, for the show choir Carolina Alive, and it was there that he invited me (and the rest of the choir) to hear him sing on Friday nights at Pappy’s, a local burger joint across South Main Street from the Towers. Darius had joined up with a guy in his dorm, Mark Bryan, to form an acoustic duo playing cover songs, and they drew a crowd from the start, it seemed. I remember them playing songs such as “Homeward Bound” from Simon & Garfunkel, “Family Tradition” from Hank Williams, Jr., and more recent stuff like Violent Femmes and R.E.M. Mark threw in at least one original tune even then, “Summer Girl,” which may have been a holdover from his own high school band back home in Maryland.
By 1986, Mark and Darius had recruited a drummer from their dorm and a bassist and the original version of Hootie was born. I remember vividly being at a Carolina Alive party at the director, Richard Conant’s house where a bunch of us were sitting around the living room listening to Darius trying to come up with a name for the band. Two of the choir’s members, Donald and Ervin, came in the front door together about that time–each of them had nicknames based on their appearance; Donald was the puffy-cheeked “Blowfish”, Earvin’s large glasses had earned him the tag “Hootie”. Upon seeing them, Darius himself called out, “Hey, it’s Hootie and the Blowfish!” Hitting his own forehead, he said, “That would make a great band name!” The rest, as they say, is history.
During those first couple of years, the band’s gigs in Pappy’s were run by the same Carolina Alive member who ran sound at the choir’s shows, and he used the same USC-owned sound board and PA equipment the choir did–looking back, it’s amusing to think of the four-piece band using a 30-something channel board, only taking up about six channels of it. Since I wasn’t old enough to drink yet, I got appointed the sound guy’s assistant. My sole job, as I recall, was to guard the board during the shows and make sure nobody spilled their beer on it or threw up on it, or otherwise damaged the ‘borrowed’ board.
One particular show stands out, at least in reference to the sound board. Dr. Conant had been given an invitation to come out and hear the band but had not taken them up on it right away…well, one Friday he simply walks in the room while the band’s playing and hangs around for a while taking in the music and the crazy crowd–He looked over at the sound board, and at the guy running it who he also knew from Carolina Alive, and smiled, but nothing was ever said about it being the choir’s equipment.
Here’s a more recent clip of a song that Hootie has covered since those gigs at Pappy’s, “I Go Blind” from the Canadian band 54-40:
My favorite Carolina Alive story also involves Darius Rucker…we were down in Amelia Island, Florida to sing at a convention or some kind of meeting (we opened for B.J. Thomas) and they had put us up overnight in some condos on the beach. After we sang, the rest of the trip was devoted to partying, and by late in the evening a group of us had ended up poolside in the common area of the condo development, even though it was technically closed for the night. Darius was leading an impromptu game of Simon Says (I know, either we were all really drunk or really bored by that point…) and calling out stuff like, “Simon says stand on one foot,” etc. when he looks to the fence surrounding the pool area and says, “Simon says that’s a cop,” spotting what turned out to be a private security officer for the condo complex. After quickly putting down any incriminating cans, bottles, etc., we were then asked to leave the public area–which we did.
Mark Bryan, Hootie’s guitarist, was a DJ at the USC radio station, WUSC-FM, and he convinced me to sign up at the station my sophomore year. I’d already made the decision that Carolina Alive was taking way too much time outside of classes and quit the choir, so doing the radio station instead sounded like a good idea. I’ve said it before, but working at WUSC was my musical education and I hold Mark personally responsible for opening up that flood of musical information and pretty much setting the course of the rest of my life, at least as it pertains to music. It was at WUSC that I wrote my first piece of music journalism, an interview with Screaming Trees guitarist Gary Lee Conner published in the Fall Program Guide for 1987 or 88, I forget which. I do not have a copy of it myself at this point, but I remember it being a terrible interview punctuated by me asking him weird questions about color associations with the band’s songs and odd word associations that were probably my attempt at being ‘different’ than the average boring music journalist at the time.
I’ve seen Hootie & the Blowfish play more times and in more places than any other band over the years, mostly due to those pre-graduation shows near the USC campus but also later on in Charleston at the Music Farm, in Charlotte at Amos’, and a bunch of other venues in Columbia and elsewhere. It was at one of the Music Farm gigs, around 1990 or so, that I remember Darius Rucker offering me $30 for the red Reivers T-shirt I was wearing from their Farm gig a few weeks prior…I turned him down, and still have (and can still wear) that shirt today. At another Music Farm show, they were actually the opening act for a band they were huge fans of, The Silos.
The band’s Monday After the Masters concerts have always been a favorite for me, partly because they bring back some of the camaraderie and fun of the early cover band years. One in particular stands out, in 1998. I’d been writing reviews for the alt-country focused magazine No Depression for a year or so, and editor Peter Blackstock had accepted an invitation from Mark Bryan to attend that year’s golf tournament and concert. I offered him a couch to sleep on that night and served as his host and guide for the afternoon and evening, driving him past “Tunnelvision” and a few other local landmarks prior to the concert. After the Township we went down to the Elbow Room in 5 points, where Cravin’ Melon was playing an ‘afterparty’ that rumor had it Hootie was going to crash. Sure enough, about halfway through Cravin’s set the Hootie guys showed up, strapped on Cravin’s instruments, and proceeded to play a six-song set of cover songs to the delight of the packed house.
Here’s a great clip of the band from around that time, a 1996 performance of “Be The One” off Fairweather Johnson:
The last dozen years or so I’ve seen less and less of the band’s shows, mostly because they just haven’t played many times in the Columbia area. Today’s unveiling of the Hootie Monument in 5 Points may not ‘officially’ be a Hootie show, but with all the bands scheduled to play their own covers of Hootie’s songs, can a surprise set from the guys themselves be too far behind?