After college, the quartet embarked on a full-time touring schedule, often performing in exchange for free beer or very little money. In 1991, the group released their debut album, the self-financed Kootchypop, which they began selling on the road. The EP, only available at their shows, sold more than 50,000 copies—a big success for a self-promoted band. Their success gained the interest of an Atlantic Records talent scout, who signed the group.
In 1994, Hootie & The Blowfish broke into the mainstream on the Atlantic label with their album Cracked Rear View. The record skyrocketed to number one, and featured smash hits such as, “Hold My Hand,” “Time,” “Let Her Cry,” and “I Only Want to Be With You.” The group’s bluesy harmonica solos—working in tandem with Rucker’s deep, baritone voice—gave the band a unique sound that caught the attention of listeners. The album sold more than 16 million units. It also impressed musical critics, earning the group two Grammy awards.
In 1996, on the heels of their success from Cracked Rear View, Rucker and the group released their highly anticipated follow-up, Fairweather Johnson. The album didn’t enjoy the same phenomenal sales as their debut, but it still performed well on the charts. In 1998, after the band released the albumMusical Chairs, Rucker began focusing on a solo career. After a year-long delay on the album’s release, due to contractual issues with Atlantic, Rucker released his mellow R&B record, Back to Then, on the Hidden Beach Recordings label in 2002.
Rucker continued to tour and perform with Hootie & The Blowfish while working on his sophomore solo effort, a country album called Learn to Live. The album’s first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” jumped to to Top 20 on the Billboard charts in July of 2008, making Rucker the first African-American singer to reach the top of the country charts since Charley Pride in 1988. Rucker’s newfound fame in the country realm also earned him an invitation to the Grand Ole Opry later that year, and his performance earned a standing ovation.
Rucker’s single eventually hit number one on the country charts, and the album received platinum status in 2009. The album’s next two singles “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” and “Alright” also hit the top of the charts, making Rucker the first country music singer to have his first three singles reach number one since Wynona Judd in 1992. Rucker’s album also gained the attention of critics, and earned him two Country Music Association award nominations in 2009, including Male Vocalist of the Year.
Continuing to thrive as a country music artist, Rucker released Charleston, SC 1966 in 2010, which topped the country album chart and featured the hit “This.” His next record, True Believers (2013), helped him add another Grammy to his collection. The song “Wagon Wheel” earned him a win in the best country solo performance category in 2013. His most recent effort, 2015’s Southern Style, was another success, lifted up by such songs as the title track and “Homegrown Honey.”
In his private life, Rucker enjoys football, and hanging out with close friends Brad Paisley and Tiger Woods. He married long-time girlfriend Beth Leonard in 2000. The couple resides in Charleston, South Carolina, with their two children. Rucker also has a child with a former girlfriend.
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