It was 1994, my junior year. My brother Ashley and I were walking through the parking lot of East Clarendon High School in Turbeville, SC. It was a pleasant Fall morning and as we passed the familiar Ford F-150 of our friend Jonathan, we stopped to speak. But Jonathan, one of the friendliest, most conversational guys you’ll ever meet, gave us a hand signal to wait a second so he could finish singing along with a song on the radio. He rolled down the window so we could hear as well and was so into it he was air drumming on his steering wheel. That song was titled “Hold My Hand” and was by a band from up the road in Columbia that had just made it big. That was my introduction to Hootie and the Blowfish.
Later that day at school I asked a girl named Corrie if she had heard of them. And without missing a beat she broke out into “Let Her Cry.” Over the next few days, I learned how their passionate fandom had grown seemingly overnight. So I had to know what all the fuss was about. These were the days just before the internet was ubiquitous. There was no YouTube or Spotify. I had to wait until I could get to a store to buy their CD. And I had Cracked Rear View in my hands as soon as I could. Since that day no band other than Sawyer Brown has impacted me as Hootie has.
Back when REO paid tribute to Tom Petty, Dave Lytle stated that Petty was his go-to artist “If I wanted something that made me feel good.” That is exactly how I feel about Hootie, especially from their debut album. They have songs that give me energy no matter how tired I am. When I am driving on the interstate on a long road trip, my number one playlist is “Hold My Hand,” “I Only Wanna Be With You,” “I Go Blind” (from The Friends Original TV Soundtrack, released in 1995) and “I Will Wait” (From Musical Chairs, released in 1998). When I hear Hootie I do not care much about their lyrics. I just want to go along for the glorious emotional ride.
That is not to imply that if their lyrics were morally repugnant that I would still love the music. Truly one of the best things about them is that their music is as innocuous as you will find. Even today, when offense is so common. So it gives me great joy to just sit back and let their biggest hits flood my soul with joy and forget about my problems for a few minutes.
This also is not meant to imply that they do not have slower and more somber, contemplative entries in their rich and elite discography. They absolutely do. “Let Her Cry” is the most obvious example. But the unreleased single “Goodbye” from their first album is one I have put on repeat in the last few months. I am always a melancholy when it comes to music, but I also had to leave a 17-year ministry recently. And this farewell song, as well as a song by the same title by Plankeye, have ministered to my soul. In particular, I feel a deep kinship with this lyric:
When I first met you I couldn't love anyone
But you stole my dreams and you made me see
That I can walk into the sun and I could still be me
They also have several hits, like “Time” and “Tucker’s Town,” that do not fit either of the aforementioned styles. But they still speak the language of my soul.
Like all great bands, Hootie definitely has shown range these last 25 years.
Hootie not only was on top of the musical world in the ’90s, but they were also so big their influence touched a lot of pop culture. They were referenced in Friends and in the Tom Cruise movie Jerry Maguire. Chris Berman and Dan Patrick appeared in their “I Only Wanna Be With You” video. Complete with their classic SportsCenter catchphrases. And even though it was a regular part of their touring and promotional schedule, I used to love it when they appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and Dave would say, “Hey, kids, like the rock and roll? Hootie is here.”
Few things were cooler in the ’90s than was Hootie. When the titans of entertainment from that era like Friends, Cruise and Letterman were cashing in on your white-hot popularity, those were mammoth endorsements.
It is hard to talk about Hootie for me without mentioning the connection to the USC. Of course, I mean The University of South Carolina and not that other school out west. And part of the reason is that Darius Rucker is so vocal about his fandom. In 1996 the football team went 6-5. And Rucker declared at Farm Aide that year before they sang, “But when you beat Georgia and Clemson it’s still a pretty good year.” He also did a free concert for the University in 2017 after the football team made a bowl, the men’s basketball team made the Final 4 and the women’s team won the championship. No doubt as a sports fan I would rather have Clemson’s football titles. But having the literal voice of Hootie and the Blowfish defend your teams on Twitter is still cool.
Hootie disbanded (for the most part) in 2008 so Rucker could focus on a solo country career. They thankfully continued to perform, but new music would cease. Yet for fans, this has not killed the passion. They produced such an avalanche of fantastic music prior, we have plenty to occupy our hearts. The returns have not diminished. As such, I have gargantuan expectations for their tour coming up. I will not get to see them, as I did in the ’90s, but I am still happy for those who will. Especially those who live in Columbia.
I did not know Hootie and the Blowfish on July 5, 1994, when Cracked Rear View was released. But I was not far behind. And today as we celebrate a monumental anniversary of theirs, I will listen to all of their hits on my phone. I’ll feel ecstatic for a while and then wistful for a while. But I will love every second of it. That is the 25-year legacy of Hootie to me.