MODESTO, Calif. - If you pressed your ear to a bottle of Southern Comfort, Darius Rucker's voice is what you'd hear.
When Hootie and the Blowfish reached astronomical heights in 1994 with their debut CD "Cracked Rear View," it was a case of the right band hitting the airwaves with the right sound, the right hook-filled tunes, at the right time.
Bands with a hard edge, as Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Wheezer and Blur were achieving critical success in 1994, but operating well out of the mainstream's flow.
Hootie and the Blowfish, which began as a college bar band at the University of South Carolina, jumped right into the middle of that mainstream and rode it as hard as it could for 14 years on the strength of its singular unique quality - Rucker's instantly recognizable voice.
It was a feel-good baritone in a world of falsetto-strained tenors. In no way is it a typical rock voice. It's a country voice.
So the question isn't why Rucker put Hootie and the Blowfish on hiatus in 2008 to embark on a country career - it's why Rucker didn't start his career as a country act.
Rucker's third country solo album, "True Believers," will be released Tuesday, and he's already touring ahead of the CD drop.
In interviews, Rucker has said his desire to do a country album extended back to the days when Hootie and the Blowfish were still headlining arenas.
He broke the idea to his bandmates, who weren't interested in crossing genres, and the idea was put on hold.
By 2008, Hootie and the Blowfish still could make a living on the road (and they continue playing four or five established charity gigs per year) but Rucker was ready to branch out.
He had recorded an R&B album in 2001 that barely made a ripple, but had a hunch he'd have more success as a country artist.
"I have been talking about making this record for as long as I can remember, even before I made the R&B record," Rucker told blog critic Clayton Perry. "I started telling the guys in the band, 'I want to make a country record. Do you want to make a country record?'
"They didn't, so when we decided we weren't going to tour as much and we were taking a break and taking time off, I felt the time was right. I ended up getting a record deal with Capitol. And I got to be honest with you, I didn't think anybody would give me a record deal."
Capitol made the right call. Rucker's first country album, "Learn to Live," went platinum and contained three songs that went to No. 1 on the country charts. He earned a Country Music Award for best new artist.
His second album, "Charleston, SC, 1966," was released in 2010 and produced two more No. 1 singles. And even before the drop of his new CD, the single "Wagon Wheel" - co-credited to Bob Dylan and Old Crow Medicine Show - has reached No. 1 on on CMT's Hot Country Songs list.
So Rucker's desire to record a country album has resulted in a second career - one he admits he didn't see coming.
And whether with Hootie and the Blowfish, as an R&B crooner or a country solo act, it's all the same to Rucker.
It's all just music.
"It took me a long time to realize that all singers can't just get up and sing everything," Rucker told Perry.
"I thought they could. I love getting up and singing with Brad Paisley. I love getting up and singing a country song. I love getting up and singing Sinatra. I love singing any song. For me, I've just been blessed by God and I don't know why. I just sing with the music."
Distributed by MCT Information Services