Norman Warwick remembers
the one about HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH
Whenever an acquaintance who listens to ´all sorts really´ offers me a musical recommendation of the ´ýou must hear this band´ type, it invariably turns out that the album should have been called Must To Avoid, as Herman´s Hermits might have said. However, when a group of six Friends that I trusted completely merely mentioned in passing the name of a group they were into I sought out the band´s available music and was immediately impressed. Whether it was Joey , Ross or Chandler, or Pheebs or Rachel or Monica, who mentioned the band in a throwaway line amidst the rapid fire comedy, I can´t remember, but it stuck. Now, after that long ago final episode of those Friends, I was reminded of the group by the reunion chat bash created for tv a year or so ago. I have researched the group on line to refresh my memory so come follow your art down sidetracks and detours as Jim Sonefeld taksees us on one hell of a ride.
Hootie & The Blowfish’s debut album, Cracked Rear View, introduced some of the most recognizable songs of the ’90s, thanks in part to the song-writing skills of their drummer, Jim Sonefeld.
When the band went on hiatus in 2008, the guys scattered to their individual solo projects, with Sonefeld venturing into faith-based music with a series of EPs, the latest being 2022’s Remember Tomorrow. But Sonfeld is never too far from his Blowfish bandmates: They reunited to release a new album, Imperfect Circle, in 2019, and he recently released a book detailing his life’s work called Swimming With The Blowfish: Hootie, Healing, And One Hell Of A Ride.
in a recent podcast interview he not only shared the stories behind some of his biggest co-writes, including Time and Hold My Hand, but but was also honest about his long battle with addiction and its influence on his music.
I was really lucky to have time on my side. I wanted to just start it slow, and my first idea wasn’t to be extremely detailed. It was to tell interesting stories that people could attach themselves to, and find to be either filled with a lesson of sorts or some news that they didn’t know before, and maybe have a few laughs and some emotion. But the more I dug, I realized I actually do want this thing to be as honest as possible. It led me to really digging deep – using the internet, using really only a couple of people close to me that had to have been privy to the ’90s and even part of the ’80s, but not using them fully and their experience, because writing a memoir is really about how I saw things through my eyes. I came to a point where I realized, oh wait, there is a difference, I’m not just gathering data from a bunch of people or gathering what so and so thought of Hootie & The Blowfish in 1991 or what my mom thought of my birthday in 1987. It was, “What was my feeling?” That’s two different things.
I mean, the few times I started asking about an event that happened or a time period, I was so amazed at the variety of answers I got that I was like, oh I’m not opening this Pandora’s Box. This is a whole other book that needs to be written. But I need to stick to what I felt at the time. It was great because it got me in touch with a lot of people – my siblings especially had a little group thread going about, “Hey, what happened in 1968 or ’78?” And though we often had completely different memories of an event that we all were there for, it’s still a great way to bond with them and to laugh and have some good memories. Memory is a funny thing, man, so we gotta be careful how many people we ask about a certain event.
Certainly while you’re writing and writing as a novice, there is a limitation with your hands. But also at the same time, there’s a purity that can sneak through when you are limited. If you have something profound that you wanna say – and all of our hearts say and feel profound things – but you’re limited in the musical side, you get a really pretty but naive picture. You know, I wanna say something amazing, but gosh, I only have a few chords I know. There’s a great moment to catch there where there’s a combination of being unsure and sort of devout in your thought as well – like I gotta get this thing
I had written some songs before Hold My Hand, and I’d tried to put together chords and nothing was jumping out. It was all, I don’t know, novice music. But when I started writing that song, it quickly was feeling like a new thing. Like, wait, this is flowing. I think I mentioned in the book – it sort of propelled itself. I didn’t stop and go, “Dang, I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do here.” It propelled itself as I was sitting there. And those are the special moments that songwriters go after where you’re trying to say something, you’re trying to have a certain melody and they’re flowing at the same time and coming together. So that’s what “Hold My Hand” was for me.
photo 2 It also happened to come at a time where I was in a transition from band to band, and my reason for even joining Hootie & The Blowfish was not because they had a great name or because they were selling out theatres. It wass because they wanted to write their own material, and I thought that was beautiful to say, hey, we haven’t written a lot of our own stuff, we’re mainly a cover band, but we want to drop everything else in our lives to try and go for this thing. I thought, this is the time for me to get on that boat. And I did – I jumped on and we all sort of high-fived and said, let’s try and do this thing. And that was the beginning of that version of Hootie & The Blowfish.
I mean, when you’re a bar band, you’re not signed to a major label – you’re writing songs. When you’re not traveling on the weekends to do bar gigs, going out and playing those for people live is your test. It’s like the greatest research program you could ever do as a musician, and somewhat, I think it’s what we’re lacking today in the age where you can self-produce on your laptop at home and upload it to Spotify, and people can listen and say, “Ooh, I love that.”
But really the more old-fashioned way to do it is to write songs as a band, and without the internet, the only way to go out is to play them in front of people. And what better test market do you have but to get up with no pretension or anything in front of a group of people who have paid $3 to get in a bar and play that song and watch how they react. From 1990 to the end of ’93, when we got signed, that’s how we knew certain songs were worthy of radio, or at least if we ever had a chance to get on the radio, these are the ones we would pitch, and it was “Hold My Hand,” which we had been playing since 1990, “Let Her Cry,” “Only Wanna Be With You,” “Time” – these are songs we wrote in ’90 and ’91 – also “Running From An Angel.” All these songs that ended up on Cracked Rear View in ’94 had been played hundreds of times in front of people.
And we had dozens of other songs that were of a similar style that didn’t make it because when we played them and we looked at the audience and people were staring at us with a weird, deer in headlights look, or saying, oh, I think it’s time to go to the bathroom or get a beer – those songs didn’t make it. So we just did literally like a four-year test run on live material, and you become very informed over the years about what works and what doesn’t. Those ones that stayed at the top became the songs on Cracked Rear View.
It seemed natural. I think we all just were able to read the room at the time, which said we’re in a band called Hootie and The Blowfish, it’s 1989 and we’re trying to write songs and there are bigger bands on the radio, and we don’t have a big fan-base, but we really wanna get one step further. So you check yourself – you read the room and say, I guess it’s not the time to have an ego or to worry if somebody doesn’t like your chorus, or if somebody wants to rewrite your verse or whatever. We all knew, let’s try and write the best songs we can. We collaborated and let the fans sort of decide if they were viable songs.
We were also naive to some degree. We hadn’t had time – there was nothing to give us an ego. Certainly, there are people in bands that play in front of 50 people in a club that have huge egos, and I don’t think they last very long in the world and in the business – or some maybe do, but, we felt like, yeah, let’s not do that. And we stumbled upon some bands too that took themselves very seriously and were really precise and perfect and had to dress a certain way and act like they were something that they were not yet. And we looked at those bands like, wow, that looks really draining. We chose a simpler route. We didn’t even care what we wore. We were probably one of the few bands that really didn’t care what we looked like or what you thought of us. We just laid it out there for people and let them decide, and eventually the songs spoke for themselves.
It was another one that we had a nice little period of writing – we had sort of charged into 1990. We saved our money and got to make a five-song demo up in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a guy who was a legit producer, and it was somebody we could afford. And gosh, we had a product, we had some artwork, and we kind of thought, this is feeling good. It really inspired us musically and emotionally to really keep writing, and we felt like we were going in the right direction.
photo 3 So all of us just worked a little harder, and this song and a couple of other big songs for the band came at that time. I think I was subletting a place with Mark [Bryan, lead guitarist right], and we had a little time on our hands and that lick, which is sort of rooted on a D-chord, is just something through my novice guitar style that I came up with at the time to say, ooh, I can do a little hammer on that.
But interestingly enough, if you have something profound to say over simple music, I don’t think they’re challenging each other for space. The simple guitar chord leaves room for a heartfelt lyric, and we had all things meeting at that time. So I had the idea for the main melody sort of there, and the verse, “time is this.” I was basically speaking to time saying, “Why are you treating me so poorly?” I was a little pathetic, saying I wish I had more time, or I wish I could learn something with my time. I wish I was smarter with my time. That became the theme for the song. I had structured a little arrangement with verses and choruses, and I mainly was asking time to show me something meaningful – “Will you teach me about tomorrow and all the pain and sorrow.”
Just a few phrases came out and the repetition of (singing) time, time, time – I brought to the band. Mark sort of gave me the confidence to say, ooh, that’s a great idea, keep working on it, and bring it in for our next practice. That’s how we did a lot of songs. Mark writes a wealth of material. So he’s coming up with a lot of guitar ideas and structured chords, and we just threw it all out there on the table. And that’s one that stuck and it was meaningful to me lyrically, because it always will tell me about that time in my life.
But the way Hootie wrote at that time, I’d presented some lyrics and a guide, but Darius [Rucker] (left), he had an idea that he wanted in his head as well, and he had to sing the song. So, mainly the second verse and the third verse and all the scatting shout-outs are Darius and his emotions, and strangely, at times, they worked well. Like I was coming from one place, Darius was coming from a different place, yet it seemed to all work. Nobody needed to lay down a boundary or “You can’t change that word” or “Do you mind?” He didn’t even have to ask if he could change words. It was like, dude, you gotta sing it, change whatever you want.
Part of it was understanding how Darius sings and what his strong points are. I’ll write a chorus, and I think Mark to some degree, writes a chorus in a certain way, and we think this melody is the melody. Like we think that’s the big part of the chorus. We thought when we wrote these choruses, that that’s what Darius would sing, right? But what we learned is he had way more soul and flair to his voice, and we used to joke – like he would say, that chorus is so fricking white. Because Mark and I are really white and we have probably less inherent soul in our styles.
So we write these straight melodic and a little square sort of choruses. And Darius would hear it and say, “That’s a great chorus, why don’t the four of you do that, and then I’ll do what I’m gonna do.” At the time, I don’t think we thought it was unique or anything. It was just, oh, yeah, you’re right…you shouldn’t have to sing these really straight choruses, especially when you can wind and weave your way around them and make them so much more emotional and energized. So that was the luck of the way we wrote, Mark and I, and the way that Darius interpreted things, and it worked out wonderfully.
It’s a long journey that began like anybody, maybe. You know, as kids we have this natural tendency to wanna experiment with different ways to feel and see what life gives us. Sometimes that is a high-level curiosity, sometimes it doesn’t come for people until their late teens or 20’s, but mine was set off more by the time I was just hitting high school. I had been in a pretty fairly conformed school setting and had a small group of friends, and I was heading towards the public school and really with a lot of excitement for culture and girls and music and everything, new experiences. Part of that for me, as a 14-year old, was let’s see what alcohol makes me feel like. I don’t think that’s unnatural by any means. It’s the curiosity that young people have. So, fair enough.
But immediately, it was something that I took on more like a sport, which maybe is not normal. I’d get whacked on my first attempt. I’d feel different when I put it in my body and I liked it, but then I can’t stop it and it keeps going until there’s a bad ending. The score is quickly Jim-0, alcohol-1. And I don’t look at it like, “Oh, I don’t wanna do that again.” I look at it like I gotta do that better, I can overcome this, or I can win. It set me on this lifelong game of how to get the “good feeling” and not have a consequence.
Most people don’t look at alcoholic intake as a sport or as a competition. In my mind, it was, and I was in this constant forever balance of how to get something without having to sacrifice anything or have a consequence. I basically rode that through high school and rode it through college. And I was a college athlete and, of course, landing in a bar scene with a band in the first half of the ’90s was very comfortable for me because it allowed me to mask it, and there’s no better place to go to a high level of alcohol intake and probably not get in much trouble. So I just did that. I did it and did it until I was doing it so regularly that I didn’t know how to not do it.
Then I realized people were on to me and worried about me and anxious that I was causing some concern. For a normal person, they might take that as, huh, well maybe I should change paths or maybe I should ask for help or acknowledge that in some way. And I didn’t.
I was the opposite. I was like, I need to hide this better. I wasn’t so upset that I had made people upset or that they were worried. It was just that, I felt like in a competition – I need to do this better, I need to win. So I started hiding it, and that just put me on a path of secrecy and hiding things, which is bad and isolating.
So I probably spent three to four years in that period until it became so tiresome and with so many consequences, and so many other people confronting me about it, that I kind of threw up the white flag of surrender. That was sort of the end of 2004. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to end up in a grave, I didn’t have to end up in jail, but the people that I found that could help me with it certainly gave me a lot of examples or inspiration to move forward on this new path, even if it was something I’d never attempted or done before. Life without alcohol, songwriting without alcohol, concerts without alcohol – it was this heavy thing of “What? I shouldn’t do it ever again?”
I don’t know. As you grow older, life can become more difficult. Let’s face it, whether you’re trying to find a job and you’re in your 20’s, or you’re in your 30’s and starting a family, or you’ve lost a job, or you have a great career that eclipses – that goes high and then goes down – life is just difficult. I think something eventually would’ve happened that I couldn’t deal with, and I would’ve started using drugs and alcohol medicinally, just like I did when Hootie & The Blowfish started sliding downhill in the early 2000’s in our career. I couldn’t handle it emotionally, and I didn’t know what to do with it. So I did what became natural. A daily fix, you know – this feels better…I’ll do this again and again and again and again. That would’ve gotten me, at some point of my life, whether there was Hootie & The Blowfish or not.
I didn’t know at the time, but sort of the bar or the test for someone, whether they’re in control or not in control of their alcohol or drugs, one of the two things is – if you quit ever, which many of us can, even alcoholics, can you stay quit? I always knew, yeah, I’ll dry out for a couple of days or I’ll dry out for a week. But I always knew, oh yeah, it was always just a build-up to the next big party. So even when we were in the studio there, we had a hard time staying put.
Our Cracked Rear View album was still blowing up and we were making our second record and tried to seclude ourselves out in this studio. But we had so many press opportunities and things we wanted to do. So, yeah, I could get on a treadmill for four days while we worked 10-hour days in the studio, but I knew Friday was coming, and we were heading off to play a charity golf tournament. And I knew I would party. Or we were playing Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday party, and I knew I was gonna party. I mean, I rarely would wait until we got to the airport before I started drinking again, because I was just excited and wanted to celebrate life. So it’s a trick to say I had the ability to quit. I had the ability to quit, but not to stay quit.
Well, it’s real when you sit there and really consider that you may have already reached your high points maybe on your first record – it’s just such a double-edged sword. Gosh, who doesn’t want to sell 2 million or 6 million or 10 million records?
Where we were smart is that we were authentic. We followed our hearts and did what our nature told us to do. And believe me, it was not probably the best business move. Our label allowed us to do what we wanted to do, which is to quickly put out a second record while Cracked Rear View was still in the Top 20 – that wasn’t something that was the smartest business idea, probably. I think you’d normally say, let’s wait, let’s make sure we get it right, let’s create some distance where there’s some want for the band, but that was not at all our nature. We were a band that had worked 360 days a year from 1989/90, if we could. So just to say, let’s take some time off and let’s put out another single and do another music video and just go write songs and live your quiet little lives for a little bit – What? There was no way.
Thankfully, Darius is the one who broke that ice and said, you know, we’re probably at the top right now, so let’s prepare for that. So the answer to that problem was let’s just go start recording a new record. And while that sounds like a good idea, the process of recording that second record was much more difficult than we thought because we had such confusion. We had this group of songs that didn’t make Cracked Rear View – what to do with those because they had fallen to the wayside because we weren’t playing them on our concert tours anymore. So were they dead? Were they just floating on the top? Should we revive them? Should we write all new songs? If we write all new songs, we don’t have time to test them in front of audiences – that’s not a great thing since we’d spent the past four years testing all these songs, and we knew which ones were good. So we had a lot going against us in that way.
You don’t have time to prepare a second record if you release it quickly, compared to the four years you had preparing your first record, so that doesn’t bode well for anybody. In hindsight, we did the best we could. If you read another book by Tim Summer, which came out this year as well about Hootie and the Blowfish, he talks to different band members and different people who were around at that period and there’s some interesting differing views that even I didn’t know about. We weren’t always the best at showing our emotions to each other, as a band. We were a little dysfunctional in some ways. So I wasn’t aware that people had different views about that time. But what do you do? There’s no looking back and saying, oh, we screwed up, we should have done this. Nah, we did what was authentic to our nature and what will be will be.
I started putting out singles again for this project in the spring or summer, and it’s an EP called Remember Tomorrow. My music has arrived here in 2022, but it’s really as a result of probably 10 years of writing towards this style where we decided as a band in 2008 that we would take a period of dormancy and that meant we’d all have time to breathe a little bit, get back to our personal lives and pay them some attention. Darius had a country project that was underway, so it seemed like a good time to take an indefinite sort of break that allowed all of us to spread our musical wings. So really we all started on a new path around that period. Darius in country, and Mark and I and Dean in our own solo ways.
I wanted to write about the joyful celebration of transformation in my own life, so that’s what I started writing about. Some of it’s specifically Christian, some of it is just more positive and hopeful, and the new EP is a lot of that. It’s a lot of saying, you know, I have something to live for. I’m happy about it. I’m grateful and here’s some great things I want to talk about – mainly love and acting out love here on Earth. I guess “Heaven On Earth” is one of those tunes that I just want to, if I have anything to say, it’s that, y’all we gotta love each other. Maybe it’s no different than “Hold My Hand” in 1989. I still feel the same way. If we can’t act out love toward each other in humble ways, in authentic ways, then we got a big problem. The party will be very short. So I’m saying the same thing here. The picture that Christians paint of having this wonderful place of redemption and feeling of togetherness, I think it’s available here on Earth – I see it every day, or I wouldn’t choose to live here. And so I wanted to say, I see Heaven on Earth. I want you to see it too. And the only way to see it is to act it out personally, and then keep your eyes around you for all the good things that are happening. So I’m positive in that way – probably a pessimist in some other ways.
I think I made the turn after I got sober and worked through a couple years and finally realized I have a lot to live for even without being able to celebrate with alcohol. And as we go forward, though, as we become a more divisive nation and world, where people seem to think there are only two ways to think about any one thing – you’re either way over here or you’re way over there, and if you’re not, we probably need to fight about it. And, if you’re not on my side, we need to fight about it. So, that struck me also. It was, wait a sec, this can’t be, there’s gotta be some better way. So I do choose to write about the positive – the thing that I think is the solution for all this divisiveness, which is coming together, putting down your weapons and trying to figure out what you have in common, not what you have that’s different.
There’s still things to be pessimistic about, but I accept that if we don’t lean into the good things, we’re gonna be in big trouble. Like I know there’s some things that I am pessimistic about. I know people are gonna continue to be terrible drivers. And I’m one of them. I know that politicians are horrible and I can’t help that feeling because I see evidence of it every day. Maybe not all politicians, just about 96% of them. A large amount are rather self-serving as opposed to people-serving, and I accept that. I accepted that the media or big media chooses to rely on gross, sensationalized, negative news to catch our attention.
I can’t change that, but what I can change or what I can promote is the other thing, the optimism of, we have love, we are capable of it, there’s evidence of it all around us. I’d rather sing about that. I don’t wanna point the finger either and be that sort of “anti” singer where I just tell everyone in a screaming form what I’m disappointed with or frustrated with. I don’t know. Somebody’s singing about that, it’s just not gonna be me.
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please note logo The primary source for this piece was written for the print and on line media by Jim Sonewfeld and you can follow him on Instagram. All Authors and Titles have been attributed in our text wherever possible
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