Of the many artists that you can meet over time there are only a few who’ve seen crossover success in the mainstream. No one has even done better than the singer-songwriter who ruled the 1990s, Darius Rucker. Performing as the frontman for his roots rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, it seemed impossible to escape Rucker’s music. Though, audiences didn’t expect that the singer would leap on his own. The solo career of Rucker had reached heights that no other African American achieved before since Charley Pride. From there on, Rucker’s dual role in his career became paramount as he ushered in a new era for roots and country.
The South Carolina native started his life as one of the youngest of 14 other children in his household. Financial struggles and an overcrowded house couldn’t contain the love of music for his family. Rucker spent many hours imitating the stage presence of Kenny Rogers in front of his bathroom mirror while also practicing for the high school choir. However, the idea of making a career off singing live shows wouldn’t be expressed until he started school at the University of South Carolina. There, he met future bandmates Mark Bryan, Jim Sonefeld and Dean Felber who shared his ambition and musical tastes. The group would name themselves Hootie & the Blowfish, the nicknames from beloved classmates, and tour the college scene of the south.
Through the next couple years of self-promotion and growth as songwriters, the band would sell over 50,000 copies of their EP from live shows. This tantalizing success would be noticed by Atlantic Records who wasted no time in signing the band to their first major label deal. The band cracked mainstream radio with their debut album Cracked Rear View reaching number one nationwide. The hit singles “Only Wanna Be With You” and “Hold My Hand” garnered tremendous airplay with their sound being unique from the 1990s pop scene. Critics praised their back roots sound and Rucker’s vocal performances on the album as the group claimed two Grammy awards. Today, the album has sold well over 16 million copies and is the best album of the decade.
The group would never reach the level of commercial success from their debut but would still enjoy critical praise. It was after the release of the group’s third album when Rucker started to seriously consider a solo career. He officially followed through with this idea on his release of Back to Then in 2002. An R&B heavily inspired record that expanded Rucker’s songwriting capabilities and audience for his work. However, it wasn’t until his sophomore album did Rucker critics and fans alike how masterful of an artist he is. The 2008 release of Learn To Live launched Rucker into the country scene as critics were marveled by his “honest and heartfelt” approach. As the hit single “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” soared the top of the country charts, the nominations and awards poured in. Including an invite to the Grand Ole Opry to perform the singles live.
Rucker’s country music career thrived on from there as he followed up his success highly touted albums. Among these included the 2013 release of True Believers with the featured cover of the perennial classic, “Wagon Wheel”. The album succeeded beyond expectations and the hit single awarded Rucker another Grammy for best country solo performance. In reflecting over the success of his cover, Rucker has stated, “Somebody played Wagon Wheel for me years ago. It was one of those things that I didn’t really get. When my daughter and the faculty band played it, I turned to my wife and said, “I’ve got to cut this song.” Rucker continued his sensational stride with a follow up Christmas album and another full studio release.
The latest album, When Was the Last Time, has shown that Rucker still power his way through country without losing any prowess in his voice. The single “Straight to Hell” showcases his wild side that had been noted from his previous roots band. Critics praised his return to a “rowdy” nature, though, many still questioned the fate of Hootie & the Blowfish. Regardless, the group would enjoy commemorative tours and brief reunions in between Rucker’s solo work. But Nashville was proud to announce the groups official reformation and release of new material in 2019.
The album Imperfect Circle remarked a long-awaited return from fans and critics after a 14-year absence. The group’s musicality and vocal performances showed familiar solidarity that set them apart from contemporaries. Currently, the album has shown stagnant success and even landed the group on top the country charts for the first time. This continued coalition of Rucker’s success as a band leader and soloist has proven one thing; no matter what path he chooses to stick with, he will continue to win over others with his voice. A modern-day crooner whose artistry and style grows inside the hearts of millions.
Written by Trenton Luber