Several artists have left a successful band for a successful solo career.  Peter Gabriel, Rod Stewart, Lou Reed and Michael Jackson are some of the more prominent names, but it happens quite regularly.  However, those artists never drastically changed their sound when they went solo.  Darius Rucker became a star in an entirely different genre.  It’s one of the most unique career moves in modern music.  Rucker’s voice was iconic for a generation, and now it’s winning over a completely new group of fans.

On September 18th, Darius Rucker will be performing at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheatre, with special guest Chase Rice and Sam Hunt opening for him.  He will be the last in a line of country musicians on the Amp’s schedule this summer, which includes Miranda Lambert and Jake Owen.  However, Rucker is not your typical country artist.  First, he’s one of the few African-American artists to ever score a hit on the country charts.  Second, for most of his career he was famous for being the lead singer of a wildly successful alternative rock band.

In the 1990’s, Hootie and the Blowfish dominated mainstream rock radio.  Rucker’s voice fit the Eddie Vedder/Scott Weiland model that had proven effective in alternative rock, but Hootie’s songs were much more radio friendly and appealed to wider audiences.  Their debut album Cracked Rear View was certified platinum 16 times, and they went on to sell 21 million albums in the United States alone.  Songs like “Only Wanna Be With You”, “Hold My Hand” and “Let Her Cry” were all top ten hits and remain staples of alternative radio to this day.  However, their albums in the latter half of the last decade failed to make any significant impact on American charts, and the band went into hiatus in 2008, performing just a few sparse charity events since.

It’s not every day you see the leader of one of the 90’s biggest alternative groups begin a successful country music career.  But that’s exactly what Darius Rucker has done.  After an early R&B album went unnoticed, Rucker found success in 2008 with his first country album Learn to Live.  The album spawned the hit “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”, which made the Rucker just the second African-American to have a top 20 song on the country charts (the other being Charlie Pride), eventually reaching number 1.  Two more singles reached number 1 as well.

Skepticism surrounded his foray into country, with many in the industry and media assuming it would be a short experiment.  However, Rucker has released two more country albums since and had two more number 1 country hits.  He was also invited by Brad Paisley to join the Grand Ole Opry, officially cementing his status as not just a country musician, but one who was at the top of the genre.  He also won a Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance for his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” off his 2012 album True Believers.

Darius Rucker used to be annoyed that despite his early success, people still referred to his as “Hootie” (the band was named for two college acquaintances that were not members of the group).  Now he has blazed a new trail that has everyone getting his name right.  His ability to move from one genre to the other is a testament to his song-writing ability, and his “alternative” voice has proved to be more than just a gimmick.  Generation X will still remember him as “Hootie”, but Millennials will remember him for a successful crossover into country that shows no signs of slowing down.

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