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  • Be anything you want, except president or a country singer

    There's an article in the Washington Post about Darius Rucker, (possibly) former frontman of Hootie and the Blowfish, and his transition from Rock & Roll to Country, that I found entertaining in a lot of ways. I don't actually own any Hootie music (nor, for that matter, have I pirated any), but I've respected their ability to crank out catchy songs, and always liked Rucker's voice.

    Hopefully I haven't exerpted too much here from the three-page article to run afoul of the board's copyright policies.
    ...

    The South Carolina singer-songwriter with the gruff, brawny baritone is lunching at the Palm steakhouse, just a boot-scoot from Music Row -- or trying to. His meal keeps getting interrupted by country power players stopping by to offer their congratulations.

    It's Country Music Association Awards week, which is something like prom season for Nashville stars and rookies alike -- and Rucker happens to be both. This year, at 42, he recast himself as a country singer after leaving Hootie behind, maybe for good. "I love Hootie & the Blowfish and what we do, but that's not my main focus anymore. This is a career move for me. I'm gonna be doing this until I've got my own theater in Branson," he says, laughing about the Missouri entertainment town where old singers go to keep singing. "I'm a country singer now."

    ...

    "We were a bar band that got lucky," Rucker says with a shrug. "We were just in the right place at the right time with the right record. People were tired of being depressed; they wanted to be happy. We told them to 'hold my hand' and we sold 16 million records." We still believe that nobody does what we do better than us. But . . . we knew we hadn't made 'Abbey Road.' "

    The thing that made Hootie so successful -- the stickiness of those songs, which even detractors found impossible to forget -- eventually worked against the band, which suffered a backlash and became something of a pop-music punch line. Radio play dried up, and Hootie's album sales dropped sharply, to 5 million ("Fairweather Johnson," released in 1996), then 1 million ("Musical Chairs," 1998). None of the band's last three albums even cracked the half-million sales mark, though the group continued to thrive on tour: "We went out every summer," Rucker says, "and we made millions."

    ...

    "I was never really sure it would work," [Capitol Nashville president Mike] Dungan says. "With somebody that big, you worry: Are you going to be kind of a joke coming into this format? But every time I'd see those guys on TV, I thought the black guy sounded like a country singer. I couldn't even remember his name, and I was really disinterested in those records. But Darius felt like a country singer to me, with the inflections he used. I thought that if you just tweaked this guy a little bit to the right, he'd be country."

    Turns out Rucker was more country than expected: Most of the early songs he showed the label "sounded almost too country," Dungan says.

    "They were Vern Gosdin-style tear-in-your-beer ballads or Texas two-step shuffles, neither of which is the flavor of the month. If we had to adjust anything in our thinking, it was to come back a little more to the pop side. I told Darius: 'You're a guy who sold 25 million in the rock format, you're doing Texas shuffles, which George Strait can't even get played on the radio -- and, gee, you're black! Don't handicap me too much here!' "

    ...
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