The Hollisters played their first date together in June 1995, and by summer 1997 they had been voted the best country act in Houston. Their 1997 CD, The Land of Rhythm & Pleasure, became Houston's best-selling local release. Although this success story sounds like a meteoric rise to fame, the four bandmembers took varied paths through other musical outfits before coming together to form the Hollisters. Lead singer Mike Barfield's most obvious vocal influence is Johnny Cash, but he also credits George Jones, Johnny Horton, and Sun Records artists like Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley with helping to shape his sound. Barfield played in various blues bands in the Texas Gulf Coast area before founding the popular Houston country-rock band the Rounders with lead guitarist Eric Danheim. That group broke up when Danheim left to join Austin's Wagoneers and, later, Chapparal. At the same time, bassist Denny Dale was playing with Webb Wilder, and Kevin Fitzpatrick was playing drums in Atlanta. In 1994, they both came to Houston and joined Barfield and Danheim to form the Hollisters. After playing everywhere they could in Houston for two years, the group hit it big with the aforementioned Houston Press award and debut album, which they hoped would take them to a larger audience. Sweet Inspiration followed in early 2000.