My Memories of Hootie & The Blowfish

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.

Hootie gig in Pappy's, 1986

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?

Ten Columbia, South Carolina Bands That Matter More Than Hootie & the Blowfish

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:

Free Times Cover Story
State Newspaper Coverage

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.

“Hold My Hand” Gets New Life as Gospel Song, Benefit Project

Twenty years ago Jim Sonefeld wrote a simple song that catapulted his band, Hootie & the Blowfish, into the international musical consciousness, and even he’s probably sick of that original version by now. This month, however, the Benedict College Gospel Choir has recorded and released on iTunes a rendition of the song that takes the harmonies of the song’s indelible chorus and transforms them into a soulful gospel anthem under the leadership of longtime BCC director Darryl Izzard.

The recording was done with a purpose; all money from the iTunes downloads will go to the Columbia, South Carolina charity organization The Cooperative Ministry, which helps local families in need of food, clothing, and other assistance.

For the song on iTunes, click here.

For a preview of it and a short documentary clip of the recording process, check out this video:

For more information on this collaboration and where the money is going, check out