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Hootie & the Blowfish follow-ups

A look at the Southern bands eager to cash in on the ”Fairweather Johnson” band’s success

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Send in the clones. As if golf-loving, roots-rocking Hootie & the Blowfish weren’t ubiquitous enough, now a whole school of wannabes are signing record deals. ”It’s the same reason everyone went to Seattle,” says Billboard chart manager Anthony Colombo. ”Hootie sells millions of albums, so everyone wants their own Hootie.” Herewith, the heirs apparent:

— The Southern-fried band Edwin McCain has inked a deal with Hootie’s home base, Atlantic Records, at the urging of Hootie’s Darius Rucker. Rucker guested on the Charleston, S.C., quartet’s first album, Honor Among Thieves, released last August.

— The heavily acoustic Cravin’ Melon turned heads with their indie album, Where I Wanna Be, which shared a producer with guess who. The Greenville, S.C., foursome’s Mercury debut is expected in August.

— EMI’s Blessid Union of Souls, which had a top 10 hit with ”I Believe,” get compared to Hootie constantly. ”I hope it’s the similarities in our music,” says singer Eliot Sloan, ”and not because both lead singers are black.”

— New York State jam combo God Street Wine felt drowned out by Nirvana and Beck at Geffen Records, so they cut a new deal, and their Mercury debut, Red, was released on April 2. Notes lead singer Aaron Maxwell, ”Bands like Hootie paved the way.”

But the very best doppelgangers may spring from Breaking Records, Hootie’s own Atlantic-distributed label. Formed just last month and based in Hootie’s hometown of Columbia, S.C., Breaking Records will specialize in Southern acts. It already has four albums slated for this year, not including the group’s follow-up, Fairweather Johnson, out April 23 from Atlantic. ”I thought, Why not let Hootie sign whoever they want?” says Atlantic Group cochairman and co-CEO Val Azzoli, who insists ”the bands will have the same work ethic.” If not necessarily the same golf swings.