In a music world dominated by snarling pink-haired punks and grunge rockers screaming their grudges, the mercurial rise of Hootie & the Blowfish—four likable college Joes who spent much of the past decade playing frat parties for $30 a gig and all the beer they could swill—was as refreshing as it was spectacular. While some critics dismissed their laid-back brand of Southern rock wit] adjectives like "white-bread," fans snatched up more than 11 million copies of their debut album, Cracked Rear View making it one of the 15 best-sellers of all time. Resonant wit] lead crooner Darius Rucker's emotive baritone and brimming with catchy tunes about lost-and-found loves, the album spent eight weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's pop chart and spun off string of singles and video hits. The formula behind the group's success is as old as pop music itself. "We try to go for emotion," says bassist Dean Felber. "To strike a chord, make people remember something that happened to them.
Indeed, the four Hooties—Rucker, 29, drummer Jim Sonefeld, 31, Felber, 28, and guitarist Mark Bryan, 28—enjoy a lifestyle as gimmick-free as their music. Amateur jocks who spend more time chasing golf balls than groupies, they still dress in the same dorm-geek fashions—baggy shorts and T-shirts—they sported as undergrads at the University of South Carolina, where they began playing together in 1986. Now that the money is rolling in, they've limited their extravagances to buying houses in decidedly nontrendy Columbia, S.C., and attaching a rider to performance contracts demanding new boxer shorts at every venue. "We're dorks, basically," says Rucker. By now, the band has grown weary of explaining how they got their name. (For the record, it was inspired by two of Rucker's acquaintances, one bug-eyed and one Dizzy-cheeked.) They have tired too of questions about their interracial makeup. "We're a kind of demographic of the country," says Rucker, "and it works." As for their detractors, they don't give a hoot. "If they say this is wimpy," says Bryan, "screw 'em."
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