Hootie Hoo!: Rethinking The Blowfish

Inside Tim Sommer’s excellent new book on the 90s hitmakers

Tim Sommer Only Wanna Be With You: The Inside Story of Hootie and the Blowfish, University of South Carolina Press 2022

“Hootie & The Blowfish.” That little phrase can conjure numerous reactions.

For some of you, it gave you a smirk; they were the lamest of the lame and brought the demise of good music in the mid-1990s. Others of you have a fonder take; the name reminds you of high school or college or your formative years, where hanging with friends and watching Friends was the pinnacle of your social life. Still others might remember them as the little band that could; one that rose through the ranks of the bar band circuit, only to release one of the best-selling debut albums of all time. 

For better or worse, all the above reactions are fair and valid ones. These reactions all developed naturally for a little band from South Carolina who briefly became household names with a near-perfect album, yet whose history has yet to be fully explored.

Author (and longtime Rock & Roll Globe contributor) Tim Sommer is just the man to tell the story.  While he’s erroneously been named the man who discovered Hootie (they weren’t lost) and the man who brought them to Atlantic Records (he wasn’t), he was the man who took the risk on the group, stood up for them in the face of professional indifference, and was their champion when no one else bothered. 

 

 

At the time cracked rear view appeared in July 1994, the music world was in turmoil. Kurt Cobain’s death proved the death-knell for grunge; labels were distancing themselves from the bands signed to be the next Nirvana. Alternative Rock was also changing; the success of Green Day and Weezer felt destined to be a cure-all for the dark and heroin-laden scene that came before them. 

And then there was Hootie & The Blowfish, touted at the time as the “anti-Nirvana.” Happy-go-lucky rockers that had a definite singalong feel, sung by Darius Rucker, who possessed a style not unlike Eddie Vedder. Superficially, the songs were light-hearted rockers that seemed designed to be cranked up when they came on over the FM radio. Considering the darkness surrounding Cobain and the negativity of the genre, it’s not surprising the record industry went in a totally new direction. That Darius Rucker wasn’t Kurt Cobain was exactly the point. 

Yet Hootie & The Blowfish did something Kurt Cobain only dreamed about. They have maintained their anonymity in the face of their international success (they sold more than Nevermind, remember). Pop quiz:  Who is Darius Rucker married to? Does he have kids?  Who is the smiling, long-haired guy in the band? What’s his name and what does he play? In fact, who are the other members of the band not named Darius?

Get the picture?

This low-key, anonymous personality didn’t just start with their success; Hootie’s always been low-key. If anything, the first half of Only Wanna Be With You isn’t particularly revelatory, simply because these guys are normal to a fault. There aren’t any great tragedies or any sudden recognition of genius—just a hard-working band that found its road-legs early on and knew how to organically build an audience. Heck, they were already clearing half a million annually as a bar band with only a cheaply recorded EP to their name. Thus, when they hit the radio waves with “Hold My Hand,” they were already one of the music world’s best-kept secrets.

 

VIDEO: Hootie and the Blowfish “Hold My Hand”

Surprisingly, what happened after cracked rear view is a story that one couldn’t have predicted. For instance, would you consider an album that sold four million copies a failure? Would you look upon the success of their first album as the only thing worthy of investing in? The post-debut story is much more interesting than the story of their success, and even though they’ve sold 20 million copies of their first album, by the end of Only Wanna Be With You, they’ve become the scrappy underdogs of their own story.  

Tim Sommer’s writing style is breezy and enjoyable. Considering his role in the band’s story, it would be easy for him to be an overbearing narrator; instead, he keeps his distance, letting the story tell itself. Thanks to his casual style, Only Wanna Be With You reads like you’re sitting at a really nice Oyster bar somewhere in Virginia, listening to a well-traveled and enthusiastic journeyman tell the story of one of the best-selling bands of all time.

 

VIDEO: Hootie and the Blowfish “Only Wanna Be With You”

 

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Joseph Kyle

Joseph Kyle is a contributing writer for RockandRollGlobe.com. Follow him @TheRecoup.

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