The Hooters' Philly Fans Wonder When the Rest of the World Will Face the Music and Give a Hoot

updated 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Two summers ago the Hooters made their international debut on the Live Aid concert telecast from Philadelphia, a global gig witnessed by more than one billion viewers. Their first album, Nervous Night, produced the Top 40 singles And We Danced and Day by Day and sold more than a million copies. Their next effort, One Way Home, released last July, has sold 500,000 copies in seven weeks and is expected to top one million sales soon. So band members were taken aback to read recently in the New York Times that some record industry honchos consider them only a marginal success. "Here we are coming off a platinum first album and people in the industry are saying we gotta sell double platinum on our next one," says group co-leader Rob Hyman. "They figure if we sounded more like Journey, we'd sell five million."

For the Hooters, not sounding like Journey, the definitive middle-of-the-road supergroup, has been a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the five have won a fanatical local following in their hometown, Philadelphia. When a local radio station ran a contest among high schools to win a Hooters concert two years ago, the station received more than 20 million—yes, million—responses. On the other hand, though successful on the national level, the Hooters can't afford to journey around the country in a private jet yet. "We've always been a little left of center," says Hyman, 35, a keyboardist who, with co-founder Eric Bazilian, 35, writes most of the Hooters' folk-and reggae-flavored rock. "To sell five million records, you get pushed into the mainstream," says Hyman. "We've sold a million records doing our music the way we want to do it. We haven't had a Top 10 hit yet. But we have had a loyal audience and good live shows and, we hope, a lot of good songs."

Hyman and Bazilian first hit it off in the mid-'70s when both were music-minded science majors at the University of Pennsylvania. Hyman, the only non-Philadelphia area native in the band—he's from Meriden, Conn.—got hooked on music after learning to play the Davy Crockett theme on the piano at age 3. By the time he reached college his hobby had become a passion. "I did terribly at biology," he says. "I came to school really to do one thing—find musicians. I just wanted to jam."

Bazilian also had a musical background—his mother had played piano with Fred Waring's band before leaving to give birth to the future Hooter—but at Penn he was equally drawn to science. "I loved physics," he says. "Figuring out the higher concepts, like quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, was the same as creating a piece of music: the initial burst when you get started; the middle where you don't know where you're going; then the burst of inspiration when suddenly the whole thing makes sense. The apple falls from the tree. The song is finished. The problem is solved. For me, science isn't scientific. It's a creative thing, like music."

Similar cerebral tendencies emerged in Baby Grand, an experimental group the two formed after graduation. Signed by Arista Records in 1978, Baby Grand eventually went belly-up due to a marked lack of audience interest. Hyman, Bazilian and drummer David Uosikkinen then formed an early incarnation of the Hooters, which dissolved. Then in 1983 a former biology lab partner of Hyman's who had become a record producer hired Hyman and Bazilian to back up an unknown singer named Cyndi Lauper. The result was Lauper's four million-selling debut LP, She's So Unusual, which included the hit Time After Time. The song was co-written by Hyman and Lauper, and she asked the boys to form the nucleus of her band. "Working with her was great," Hyman says. "We're really proud of it. But we said, 'Hey, we gotta make our own record.' " Adds Bazilian: "In the Hooters' biography, the Lauper thing will be a footnote, not the whole story." He thinks for a moment. "Well, a couple of pages, maybe even a small chapter."

Certainly a segue. In late 1983, fresh from the Lauper sessions, Hyman and Bazilian re-formed the Hooters by adding guitarist John Lilley and bassist Andy King, 29. Uosikkinen remembers that he "almost lost lunch" the first time Bazilian told him the group's name, taken from musicians' slang for the Hohner Melodica. "It seemed a shame," he says, "to ruin such a nice band with a name like that."

During a recent series of sold-out homecoming concerts—their first Philly shows in two years—the Hooters learned how good a name they have. "We're doing songs we don't do anywhere else," Hyman says. "We probably have 30 to 40 songs that we used to play in the clubs all the time, but we dropped once we had two albums' worth of material." Not all the oldies felt like goodies. "You go back and sometimes it's not the same. Kind of like seeing an old girlfriend."

A simile to which all Hooters, save Bazilian, the only married band member, can relate. Hyman is single but involved and lives on Philly's Main Line. Uosikkinen says his gal, Renee, works in a clothing store. Lilley offers only that he is "involved," and King lives, sans sweetheart, on his parents' 50-acre farm north of Philadelphia.

The Hooters are secure in their relations with fans, if not lovers. "We are a Philly band," Hyman says. "We're proud to be. It was our fans that got us on Live Aid, got us a record deal and got us touring." The band would not mind at all, of course, if the rest of America became a nation of Hooter boosters. Bazilian thinks it's possible. "All we gotta do," he says, with no apology to the Beastie Boys, "is fight for the right to Hoot."

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