For anyone of a certain age (say 35-plus) who grew up in South Carolina (and especially Columbia), the memories of Hootie & the Blowfish making it big a quarter-century ago remain vivid.
It was 1994, the album was Cracked Rear View, and suddenly we had something from right here in town, right here at the University of South Carolina, right here in Five Points, that was taking the nation by storm.
And a storm it was, with the Hootie guys going from frat houses and Five Points bars to Letterman, Leno and the rest in a matter of weeks.
Like me, I bet many of you remember the night Hootie made their first appearance in Columbia after the album took off. You can look at a poster for the event at bit.ly/2lMOxZ5.
It shows the concert was set for Sep. 2, 1994 at the Township Auditorium (Hootie’s first “big venue”), with tickets priced at a whopping $11.50.
But suddenly the homecoming concert looked iffy. Why?
Because it turned out David Letterman wanted them on his show that same night. The answer was a private jet that whisked the guys directly to New York for the show’s taping at 5 p.m., then right back to Columbia where they made it in time to thrill the hometown crowd. It was big stuff. Very big stuff.
I took my daughter Blythe (then 11) to the big event, which made me a cool dad (at least for that night). But no matter your age, the excitement was palpable for everyone there.
Then a weird thing started happening at our office, as we began receiving calls asking if we were Hootie’s management company. People both locally and around the country were calling wanting to book the band, interview the band, etc.
Why in the world were they calling us? It seems Hootie & the Blowfish had set up a management company called FishCo. But that company was not yet listed in the phone book (that giant, old-school printed thing that came out annually).
The closest thing to FishCo that was listed was Fisher Communications, so some folks gave that number a try. We told them all the same thing — no, we didn’t manage Hootie, but we’d be grateful if they could arrange it.
The State even did a little story about it, in which I took the opportunity to pitch a music video concept for one of the songs from the album and offered our services to produce it. Alas, the boys never called.
But after the staggering success of Cracked Rear View (still the 10th-best-selling album of all time), Hootie went on a slow decline that culminated with the band going on hiatus for over a decade.
And what Darius Rucker did next is a mind-boggling second-act success story. The Charleston-born African American singer switched from rock/pop to country. And made it work. Big time.
Very few country stars have been black, and even fewer came to country after being rock stars. But Darius did it. And made it look easy, though I doubt it was.
He found success quickly in his new genre, being named the Country Music Association New Artist of the Year in 2009. No other African American had ever won that honor.
Indeed, only one African American had ever won any CMA award — the trailblazing Charley Pride, who was a career country singer. Darius has gone on to have a long string of country hits and is now a major star in his second musical life.
And as a bonus for Hootie fans both here and around the country, Rucker’s continued success has paved the way for a major Hootie & the Blowfish reunion tour. It comes home to Columbia this week, already selling out two shows at Colonial Life Arena, with limited seats remaining for a third (as Free Times went to press) that was added to accommodate people’s nostalgia for the band, the songs and the times.
And those who remember the spotlight that shone on Columbia as a result of the USC boys who made it big. Here’s to them.
Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.