subject: Hootie and the Blowfish
overview: It's a fact of rock music that it just hasn't been the same since '60s, and really I blame Led Zeppelin. Rock was the hot new thing that angered '50s parents and gave us outsize personalities like Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. Then stuff like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Doors happened. The '70s were a long decade of experimentation that gave us singer-songwriters, disco, and yes, Led Zeppelin. Then in the '80s everything exploded, broke all the rules. The '90s were one long effort to recover from the '80s. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were a brief effort to do something new, bring it to the next level, but then Cobain died. The rest of the decade struggled to reconstitute rock identity.
And it all started with Hootie and the Blowfish. Hootie broke all the rules. The band was at the vanguard of reviving the '60s rock vibe, scaling back the excesses (which of course the '60s had begun, but surprisingly innocently) that had crept up and splintered interest into a thousand subgenres. Hootie was Southern rock and soul and pop all rolled into one. It sounded laid back. Within a year, though, Hootie was the most popular band of the new generation and then the squarest one around. This was around the time where everyone started to glom onto the hip hop and dance scenes, leaving rock entirely behind.
These days rock is making a comeback, which began with the garage bands of the early '00s like the White Stripes and continued to the folk acts like Mumford & Sons. Everyone is still rebelling against the mainstream sounds of U2 and Coldplay, because as mainstream as rock got with Elvis and the Beatles, observers are still convinced that rock is best represented as rebellion like the mumbling Bob Dylan and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe.
Hootie stood apart because of its lead singer Darius Rucker, a black man surrounded by three white guys: lead guitarist Mark Bryan, bassist Dean Felber, and drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld (who's the one responsible for breakout signature song "Hold My Hand"). Rucker was indisputably the face of the band, who was assumed to be the Hootie in name while everyone else represented the Blowfish (these were actually Rucker and Bryan's nicknames for some old college friends). As much as this common misconception plagued the band, the name itself was so goofy that once people stopped paying attention to the music, they couldn't take the band seriously anymore.
And the glorious reception of the first album was met with dread silence when the second album (led by songs Hootie had dreamed up before its great success) came with much heavier material. Its name was Fairweather Johnson, giving entirely new meaning to the first one's Cracked Rear View. The band knew before anyone else that the ride wouldn't last. In fact, every member of Hootie quickly embraced the dreaded rockstar fate of growing up and starting families, bucking the lifestyle expected of them. It was the first time the slog of the new road scene had been rejected. Rock wasn't guarenteed for instant stardom unless you could accompany your songs with snazzy music videos. Have you ever seen a Hootie music video?
Today the music video aesthetic is built into the whole act since as we all know the music video is already dead.
Yet Hootie endures. Musical Chairs was all about having fun with the music again, while Scattered Smothered & Covered represented the band's covers era bar scene, and an eponymous album tried to replicate the early success. Hootie's most recent album together, 2005's Looking For Lucky, is some of its best work, in which the songs reached true Americana like the work of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. Yet the stigma remained. With the radio no longer interested in new Hootie, the band took an extended break. Rucker announced his intentions to become a country star. Everyone scoffed. Then of course it happened.
I've loved every minute of it. Mark Bryan has created two albums of his own material, while Rucker is releasing his third country album today (his first solo effort was an R&B set). They've remained a favorite no matter the incarnation since I first heard them. They're inexplicable to the Led Zeppelin set. Led Zeppelin happened as a direct answer to the original rock vibe, taking all the music and throwing Doors lyrics in front of them. Without Jim Morrison, Doors lyrics are beside the point. It was the jam session, rock as jazz, which the Grateful Dead and the Dave Matthews Band mined to great success, but rock is about the lyrics not just presentation or having a good time, rediscovering the communal messages that go beyond the traditional love message.
That's what Hootie is all about.
(Yes, twenty selections. I really, really love Hootie.)