Hootie & the Blowfish's Mark Bryan

Hootie & the Blowfish know how to make an entrance. The group's 1994 debut album, Cracked Rear View, sold more than 14 million copies, becoming one of the best-selling LPs in history.

The group, including guitarist Mark Bryan, who is celebrating a birthday today, is currently on a U.S. tour that is set to last through at least September.

Bryan was born 32 years ago in Silver Spring, Md. He grew up in Bethesda and Gaithersburg, Md., admiring the music of the Police, R.E.M., the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Who.

Bryan played guitar in a high school band, Missing in Action, with future Hootie bassist Dean Felber before attending the University of South Carolina, where he met singer Darius Rucker. With Rucker, Bryan formed an acoustic duo that covered Simon and Garfunkel and the Commodores, among others, in a local fried-chicken restaurant.

Eventually the duo added Felber and drummer James "Soni" Sonefeld and became Hootie & the Blowfish in 1986. They named the band after two friends and gigged relentlessly in clubs and at colleges before signing with Atlantic Records.

After a number of demos and a 1993 EP, Kootchypop, Cracked Rear View appeared in late 1994. It eventually made #1 and achieved its phenomenal success thanks to the hits "Hold My Hand," "Let Her Cry" and "Only Wanna Be With You." Within the next two years, Hootie & the Blowfish-mania spread and the band became something of a household name.

Bryan said of the band's success: "We're only a rock band, which is why we appeal to many different people. ... We ourselves have had so many influences that we don't fit into any one category. We're not grunge, we're not alternative. We just play rock 'n' roll."

The band surprised many by releasing Fairweather Johnson in 1996 while its debut was still riding high on the charts. Despite going multiplatinum and spawning the hit "Old Man and Me," Hootie's second album was viewed by many as a comparative failure.

Hootie & the Blowfish retreated to the studio to record Musical Chairs, which the band previewed at the opening of Atlantic's first digital studio last year. The album featured bluegrass, country, R&B and folk, in addition to Hootie's usual pop-rock mix. Though the first single, "I Will Wait" (RealAudio excerpt), received some airplay, the album did not sell well; speculation increased that the band's bubble had burst.

"We ignore it," Rucker said of criticism in the media. "It shouldn't make us be a band or not be a band."

In October, Hootie & the Blowfish headlined the first MusicFest '98 performance on the Internet.

Other birthdays: Colin Earl (Mungo Jerry/Foghat), 57; Jimmie Dale Gilmore, 54; Bob Seger, 54; Mary McGregor, 51; John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants), 39; and David Narcizo (Throwing Muses), 33.