Be sure to high five Darius Rucker if you pass him in the street, as the former frontman for Hootie & the Blowfish (and now country star) turns 44 years old today. Rucker has had something of a dream career, as his old band released one of the biggest-selling albums of the 1990s, and he has since reinvented himself as a country star with quite a bit of Nashville credibility.
He didn’t grab anything he didn’t earn, though. Hootie & the Blowfish formed way back in 1986 when Rucker and his bandmates were freshmen at the University of South Carolina. They became local favorites for their straight-ahead, country-infused take on classic bar rock and for Rucker’s powerful, soulful voice. They released a handful of independent EPs in the beginning of the ’90s and caught the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed them and released their debut album Cracked Rear View in 1994. Full of big hooks, singalong choruses and Rucker’s everyman lyrics, Cracked Rear View struck an unusual chord with audiences. Though it came into the world quietly, the single “Hold My Hand” eventually caught on and catapulted the album up the charts, peaking in the top spot on the Billboard 200 nearly a year after its initial release. (Strange fact: It was unseated by Pink Floyd’s P.U.L.S.E., which shows you how weird the music world was in 1995.)
Cracked Rear View sold over 10 million copies in its first year of release (to date, it has moved nearly 20 million copies), and the band went on to score more hits with follow-ups Fairweather Johnson and Musical Chairs. Latter day albums Hootie & the Blowfish and Looking for Lucky were not as successful, and the band eventually drifted apart so Rucker could cut an R&B album (the underrated Back to Then) and then begin his country career (where he has had three chart-topping hits). Rucker is a tremendous songwriter, distilled best by “Let Her Cry,” one of the massive singles from Cracked Rear View.