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August 01, 1993|Bruce Haring

THE HOOTIE HOT LINE: Pop artists, especially those with teen appeal, often put phone numbers on albums. They're usually recorded messages about fan club merchandise or upcoming concerts.

So the last thing Bell Biv DeVoe fan Jon Guynn expected when he called the phone number listed in the trio's new album, "Hootie Mack," was to talk to a real person.

Especially this person: group member Ronnie DeVoe himself.

"We talked about the album, some of the tracks on it," said Guynn, who works in Billboard magazine's sales office. "He said he was trying to make a personal connection with his fans."

Guynn's experience wasn't unique.

DeVoe estimates he's received between 100 and 150 calls a day at his Canoga Park office since the album's June release--some from as far away as Australia, England, Germany and Holland.

When DeVoe works the phone, he takes callers' data and sends out such materials as pictures and tour schedules. Why would a big pop star go to all that trouble?

"I can turn this into a business after a while," DeVoe says. "I want to get into promoting and producing different groups. People have been sending in tapes, and once my company gets rolling, this will be a way to get in contact with people across the country." (DeVoe might get into the promoting/producing business sooner than he thought if "Hootie Mack's" showing is any indication--the highly anticipated album is already dropping down the sales charts after barely cracking the Top 20.)

Some of the fans apparently have more contact in mind when they call: DeVoe admits he's been propositioned via the phone line, but he says he's maintained a hands-off policy, though temptation has been strong.

The news that DeVoe was answering calls himself was as much of a surprise to MCA Records executives as it was to Guynn. Record company officials say they will now monitor the endeavor to see if some marketing ventures could spring from it, and if similar strategies could be used with other artists.

In the meantime, DeVoe says that his group-mate Michael Bivins was intrigued enough to take a few calls on the hot line himself, and that he'll keep picking up when he can until the group starts its tour, possibly in the fall.

Interested parties can reach out and touch DeVoe at (818) 340-2300.

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