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Rob Hyman, co-founder of The Hooters, reflects on the band’s place in rock ’n’ roll history.

by Walter Ault

After meeting as students at the University of Pennsylvania, Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian decided to form a new band. The two young songwriters and multi-instrumentalists had been playing in various bands at local night clubs and social functions in the Philadelphia area, but they were not satisfied with their progress. If they truly were to have a breakthrough, they knew they would have to make a dramatic change.

“We didn’t want to play other people’s music anymore,” Hyman recalls. “We wanted a vehicle for our own music. So we started our own band.”

That band, of course: The Hooters, darlings of Philadelphia’s music scene since the early 1980s, known for their infectious style blending rock, ska and reggae. Shortly after the band’s founding in 1980, The Hooters began recording songs and putting on some highly touted concerts. Strong support from Philadelphia rock station WMMR fueled the band’s popularity up and down the East Coast, but it was just the beginning.

Now, more than 40 years later, The Hooters continue to tour far and wide, record new music and headline local concert venues for their loyal Philadelphia-area fans, including two nights at Cape May Convention Hall at the end of August. 

The band—Hyman (keyboards, mandolin, accordion, guitar and vocals), Bazilian (guitar, mandolin, saxophone and vocals), John Lilly (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Fran Smith Jr. (bass, vocals), and David Uosikkinen (drums, vocals)—released its first album, Amore, in 1983. The album sold 100,000 copies and contained the hit song  “All You Zombies.”  That same year, Hyman and Bazilian wrote, did arrangements for and performed on Cyndi Lauper’s debut album, She’s So Unusual. In fact, Hyman co-wrote one of the album’s biggest hits, “Time After Time,” which ended up taking the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts.

The Hooters climbed to a new level of success in 1985. That was the year the band released Nervous Night, their critically acclaimed debut album for Columbia Records. The album sold 2 million copies, with three of the songs reaching the Billboard Top 40: “Day by Day” (No. 18), “And We Danced” (No. 21) and “Where Do the Children Go” (No. 38). In July of ’85, The Hooters participated in the seminal music event of the ’80s—Live Aid—in which they shared the stage at Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium with some of the industry’s biggest names: The Beach Boys, Black Sabbath, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Patti LaBelle, Madonna and Neil Young, among many others.

The Hooters remain a household name in 2024, driven largely by Hyman and Bazilian’s skillful songwriting. Their love of rock ’n’ roll has spurred them on, through good times and less than good. Despite the apparent decline of interest in rock ’n’ roll, The Hooters have helped to keep the genre alive and kicking, much to the delight of fans of all ages. 

“Rock ’n’ roll is timeless,” Hyman says. “Rock ’n’ roll existed on a simple formula: a combination of guitar, bass and drums. … It was a golden age, the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. We were all lucky to be young at the right time. It was a beautiful period, with beautiful, exciting music. And the radio played it all the time.”

It’s no easy feat to maintain momentum and create new songs to please fans, but The Hooters have managed to do just that for 43 years—minus a few lengthy breaks for family time and to work on solo projects. The band’s latest album, Rocking & Swing, has a few new singles and some previously released songs with a new twist. One particularly promising track is “Why Don’t You Call Me Back.” Hyman jokes, “I guess we’re not doing bad for a bunch of old guys.”

He also speaks to the challenges and rewards of life in a touring band.

“People like their freedom, and it’s hard to feel free when you’re riding on a crowded bus for long periods of time,” he says. “And there’s the packing and prep, and the packing can be physical. It’s a lot of work at times, and things don’t always go according to plan. But we work things out, we compromise and adjust. It’s all about getting along and having a common goal. Luckily, we have a good chemistry among us.

“The concerts make our day,” he continues. “We live for those moments. It’s hard to put into words, but there is an acceptance and enjoyment going back and forth between the audience and the band. There is a special relationship and a special energy between the fans and us.”

When we interviewed Hyman’s songwriting partner Eric Bazilian, in 2010, Bazilian shared a similar sentiment: “It’s like a 30-year marriage. We’ve lasted because we had a common goal, and we have so much fun on stage. We all get along, even though we all have strong personalities. … We did have a break, so we had eight years away from each other. When we got back together we were like, ‘What were we thinking?’”

The Hooters may not tour as often as they used to, but they keep plenty busy, faithfully promoting the music they love. In 2023, in support of the new album, the band did a six-week West Coast tour and another six weeks in Europe.

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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 21, Issue 3 (June 2024)

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