Not much, really, would be the short answer, though at the time it was a pretty big deal around these parts. Columbia, South Carolina was not exactly a hotbed of popular music, or even a ‘hip scene’ like Athens, Georgia or the Triangle area in North Carolina. The anomaly that was Hootie & the Blowfish wasn’t even really much a part of the original music scene in Columbia, anyway, as their fan base came from years of playing the cover band bar circuit. One of the most fun cover bands of their time at USC, the guys covered everything from the Police, U2 and R.E.M. (lots and lots of R.E.M.), to Hank Williams, Jr. and obscure tunes from the likes of 54-40, The Rave-Ups, and The Replacements.
My own personal experience with the guys in Hootie comes mostly from that time, when as a USC freshman I spent many Friday nights at their gigs in Pappy’s, the local college burger joint and bar across the street from our collective dorms. Serving as a DJ at WUSC alongside Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan meant I heard the original versions of most of those ‘obscure’ tunes the band was covering. Mark, Darius, Soni, and Dean were as much music fans as they were musicians, and these early years hashing out others’ songs were invaluable experiences.
What folks who weren’t there for the pre-Cracked Rear View years don’t know or don’t realize is that the band worked hard for years in the same kinds of crappy college bars, even after they started playing more and more of their own original music. They were successful not just because they got lucky but because when it was their turn to be lucky they were ready to capitalize on that luck and translate it into a career.
Cracked Rear View, in hindsight, came along at just the right time and place in music business history. Grunge music, the raging genre of the time, imploded with the death of Kurt Cobain and I think the public was just ready for some sunnier-sounding material. “Hold My Hand” isn’t Dylan or the Beatles, but it certainly is easy to sing along with, as are “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be With You”, the other big hits from the album. The irony is that for the most part the album is full of fairly serious topics, from the flag protest “Drowning” to songs about deaths in the family, “Going Home” and “Not Even The Trees.” Don Gehman’s production kept everything sounding upbeat and positive, however, so the overall effect was still fairly uplifting especially compared to what was on the charts at the time. My personal favorites are two of the less-played tracks, “Time” and “Hannah Jane,” both feature good harmony singing on the choruses and catchy wordplay that’s not quite as trite as the big hits.
From a local standpoint the most important outcome was the proof that lightning could strike in Columbia; whether it would again didn’t matter as much as the fact that it had, once. A blessing and a curse at the same time, now every band wanted to be as successful as Hootie, and many of them thought they deserved to be even if they were wrong. Not for lack of trying, several acts attempted to follow in the band’s footsteps with varying degrees of success. Cravin Melon, Edwin McCain, Treadmill Trackstar, Jump Little Children, all of them had major deals for a while; none of them kept them for long (though McCain had some hits including a #1 single, “I’ll Be”).
There will never be another Hootie & the Blowfish, from Columbia or anywhere else, given the current upheavals in the music business; the band itself has said they are still interested in pursuing one last album together at some point. Given Rucker’s current hit country music career, that might not happen for a while, however. Until then, throw Cracked Rear View on for another spin, it’s held up well for its age.