Bayou City

Eight Famous Pop/Rock Artists Who Went Country

The 14th annual Ziegenbock Music Festival is scheduled for this Saturday at Sam Houston Race Park, and the annual country festival will feature the usual cast of characters. That includes country mainstays like Josh Abbott, Cody Johnson, Kevin Fowler, Roger Creager and Aaron Lewis.

Wait, Aaron Lewis?

That’s correct. Aaron Lewis, he of hard-rock fame and a Vermont upbringing, has gone country. Lewis, front man for platinum-selling rock band Staind, is known predominantly for hit singles like “It’s Been Awhile” and “Fade.” What he has not traditionally been known for, until recently, is his country catalog. That all changed in 2012 when Lewis released his full-length country debut, The Road, which went on to sell north of 200,000 copies. He followed that up with the release of Sinner in September, which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Country Albums chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

Lewis’s rationale for going country was a smart one. After all, country fans are some of the most loyal when it comes to purchasing music and listening to terrestrial radio. This has compelled any number of non-country musicians to abandon their preferred format – at least temporarily, for some – and give country a go. (This list is in alphabetical order.)

Michelle Branch should have been a bigger deal. Few pop stars have the combination of look, sound, credibility and likability that she did during a string of hit singles and a pair of platinum albums in the early 2000s. However, Branch opted to go country from there and teamed with her former backup singer Jessica Harp to form the Wreckers. The duo released one gold album, 2006’s Stand Still, Look Pretty, that featured a No. 1 country single (“Leave the Pieces”). Branch, who hasn’t released a solo album in more than a decade, is currently finalizing a new solo album, one rumored to have some country undertones.

To be fair, Jewel — aside from that weird little 0304 phase in the mid-2000s — was always a country artist at heart. She sung of broken relationships, humble beginnings and general hard times, and did so with an acoustic guitar. However, Jewel went full country with 2008’s Perfectly Clear and followed that up with 2010’s Sweet and Wild, both traditional country releases that fared well on the country charts. Not one to keep it to music, Jewel even went and married herself a rodeo cowboy, when she wed Ty Murray in 2008. They divorced in 2014, right around the time she got back to her more folksy roots. In short, Jewel really takes that whole life-imitating-art-imitating-life thing rather seriously.

Aaron Lewis was a somewhat surprising rocker turned country crooner. Kid Rock was a decidedly unsurprising rocker turned country crooner. The guy who came up singing of trailer parks and eggs-n-grits (dude even titled a hit single “Cowboy”), Kid Rock always reeked of a man who would ride his rap-rock roots to country gold. He did just that in 2002, when he teamed up with Sheryl Crow to record the country crossover smash “Picture.” Rock, despite his Midwest upbringing, has really gone all-in on Southern-flavored country over the years. Prior to 2015’s First Kiss, his three previous albums bore the titles Rebel Soul, Born Free and Rock N Roll Jesus.

Nelly’s breakout single was titled “Country Grammar,” but that’s not why we’re here. Rather, Nelly has recorded with both Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line. These were country tracks. These were not good tracks. Nevertheless, they were country tracks.

Kenny Rogers ranks among the most celebrated country artists of all time. But he didn’t start off that way. Rather, Rogers (who went by Kenneth back then) actually began in the jazz, rock and psychedelic space. He fronted a group called The First Edition, complete with punk sunglasses, long hair and an earring; he was even referred to as “Hippie Kenny.” Upon leaving the group in the mid-'70s, Rogers found his calling as a solo country artist. More than 30 albums and 80 singles later, it’s safe to say the Gambler's going country was a gamble worth making.

Sort of a country Dave Grohl, in that Darius Rucker has managed to distance himself from a pretty famous band – multiplatinum '90s bar-rockers Hootie and the Blowfish. Since becoming a solo country artist nearly a decade ago, Rucker has released four proper country albums, all of which have debuted atop Billboard's Country Albums chart; he has also logged six No. 1 country singles during that time. Rucker will inevitably get back to touring with Hootie at some point — if you think the band still can’t draw, you underestimate the children of the '90s — but for now, he’s about as defining an example of a country crossover success story as you'll find.

Not many musicians wait until their late sixties to make a change, but that’s exactly what the Aerosmith front man did when he released We’re All Somebody From Somewhere — a country album title if ever there was one — in July. The album is actually pretty good, and the commercial public ate it up; it debuted atop Billboard's Country Albums chart and inside the Top 20 on the Billboard Top 200.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale