The Origins of Hootie & the Blowfish Date Back to a College Dorm Room

An integral part of Hootie & the Blowfish is a college dorm shower. The beloved band of Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim Sonefeld is known for signature hits “Only Wanna Be with You,” “Hold My Hand” and others, cutting through the mold of the grunge era in the mid-to-late 1990s with their soft rock sound. Below, we look at the origin story of this legendary group.

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It all started when future frontman Rucker was a student at the University of South Carolina where he met guitar player Bryan when they were both freshmen. One afternoon, Rucker was taking a shower in his dorm at Moore residence hall when he started singing “Honesty” by Billy Joel.

“On his way into the shower, Darius had noticed that the dorm hallways were completely empty,” author Tim Sommer, the label executive who helped get Hootie & the Blowfish a record deal, writes in his 2022 book, Only Wanna Be with You. “This was a rare treat, so Darius figured he could really belt it out and take advantage of all that beautiful, bouncy, bright tile that would make his voice snap and ring.”

Rucker did exactly that, allegedly singing the Joel hit two times over. Though he thought he was singing by himself, it wasn’t until he was approached by another student that he realize he had an audience. He bumped into Bryan in the hallway who asked, “Man, was that you singing?” When Rucker confirmed, Bryan shared that he played guitar, and the two deciding to form a band. Their first performance was a jam session in Bryan’s dorm room where they played cover songs ranging from Simon & Garfunkel to Hank Williams Jr., drawing an audience of fellow students in the process.

They soon became a cover band playing local gigs in the area, with a high school friend and former bandmate of Bryan’s, Felber, joining them on bass guitar. Brantley Smith was the original drummer until he was replaced in the late 1980s by Jim Sonefeld. Rucker, Bryan, Felber and Sonefeld solidified the famous lineup they still operate as today.

After releasing a pair of EPs independently in the early 1990s, they caught the attention of Atlantic A&R executive Sommer, who was influential in getting them signed to the label. The band proved to be an immediate success with their debut album, Cracked Rear View, in 1994. It spawned a handful of hits: “”Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” “Only Wanna Be with You,” “Time” and “Drowning.”

“Only Wanna Be with You” was the most successful song, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart and No. 1 on the Mainstream Top 40 chart. “Hold My Hand” and “Let Her Cry” also made the Top 10 on the Mainstream Rock chart. The album itself has since sold a whopping 21 million copies in the U.S.

In 2008, the band went on an indefinite hiatus so Rucker could pursue a solo career in country music. Hootie & the Blowfish has reunited over the years since, including a reunion tour in 2019 with the Barenaked Ladies known as the Group Therapy Tour. It served as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the release of Cracked Rear View.

They’re going on tour this 2024, learn more about Hootie and the Blowfish Tour today!

Photo by Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

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