Hootie & the Blowfish hit it big -- The band talks about their unexpected success

By Dana Kennedy
Updated July 28, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Muggsy Bogues of the Charlotte Hornets steals the ball with a left-handed finger roll, dribbles it by teammate Alonzo Mourning, past Charles Smith of the New York Knicks, around Walt Williams of the Sacramento Kings, and through the legs of an incredulous Darius Rucker. ”Playground trash move!” howls Rucker as Bogues sinks a basket.

If the name Rucker is unfamiliar to sports fans, it’s because he’s no NBA star. The charismatic 29-year-old’s fame lies in the equally competitive world of music, where his band’s debut album has confounded critics by selling an astonishing 5 million copies since its release in July of 1994. For those of you who have napped through the last 13 months, that band is Hootie &amp the Blowfish; the album is Cracked Rear View, No. 1 for five weeks this summer on Billboard‘s album chart.

The b-ball exchange, taped last month at a gym in College Park, Md., is in honor of the video for the group’s third hit single, ”Only Wanna Be With You,” a ballad that has nothing to do with sports. But so what? It has afforded these four obsessive jock rockers the chance not only to slam-dunk with the pros, but also to toss the pigskin with Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and hit the links with golf pro Fred Couples. ”The video was my idea,” says lead singer Rucker, who cries every time Marino and the Dolphins lose a game. ”It was just a way to meet all our idols.”

And these days, what Hootie wants, Hootie gets. Especially from its label, Atlantic Records, which signed the onetime bar band from Columbia, S.C., in 1993 with modest expectations for the group. While their detractors consider Hootie’s jangly, laid-back rock distressingly bland, the four preternaturally wholesome guys have nonetheless become the favorite band of well-groomed, grunge-hating frat boys and, in some cases, their parents. Even David Letterman professed his love for Hootie after the group appeared on his show last fall.

Off the record, Atlantic execs say they really have no idea why the star-free band, made up of four pretty average-looking males who play pretty average music, has struck gold. ”All I can tell you is that we’re making s—loads of money off them,” says one. On the record, of course, they are predictably effusive. ”If anyone tells you we expected this, they’re liars,” says Atlantic president Val Azzoli, 40. ”But these guys have hit a nerve. You know what? They’re normal. That’s why these guys are going to stand the test of time. This country is looking for normality now — they’re looking for heroes.”

Heroes? Well, if that’s what you call a bunch of guys who, in their own words, live to expel gas. ”It’s like we never left school and we never had to grow up,” says Rucker (the moody one), who met the rest of the group — lead guitarist Mark Bryan, 28 (the temperamental one), bass player Dean Felber, 28 (the easygoing one), and drummer Jim ”Soni” Sonefeld, 30 (the studly one) — when they were students at the University of South Carolina. ”We talk a lot of trash, we fart, we burp — you know, all the things guys do. It’s like living in a dorm all the time.”

Currently in the middle of a sold-out, 63-city tour they’ve dubbed Summer Camp With Trucks, the quartet has ample opportunity to indulge in all that and more: watching videos like Stir Crazy (Rucker has seen it more than 100 times), Stripes, and Caddyshack, playing computer golf, making frequent stops to shoot hoops, and eating at McDonald’s. ”What else do we do?” says Rucker rhetorically. ”Well, I don’t believe in reading. If John Grisham didn’t write it, I haven’t read it.”