Did you know that some of the most successful stars we see today were band members first? There’s Michael Jackson from Jackson5, Beyonce Knowles from Destiny’s Child, Dr. Dre from N.W.A., just to name a few. But of course, there’s still a hit or miss here. Unlike these big names, there are those who never really reach the quality of their early work as a band, probably because the magic happens when they’re together.
And here, we take on the country version. Here are ten country music artists who started in bands then eventually ventured out solo.
Kenny Rogers (The First Edition)
Kenny Rogers has always been known as one of the greatest country artists not only of his time but even today. The Grammy-award winner enjoyed exceptional success throughout his six-decade career — selling over 120 millions album worldwide, earning 24 number one hits and 25 Top 10 country albums, and charting more than 420 hit singles across various genres.
But probably only a few people know that Kenny Rogers got his start in a psychedelic rock band called The First Edition.
The First Edition was an American rock band infused with influences from rock and roll, R&B, folk, as well as country music. The core members of the band were lead vocals and bassist Kenny Rogers, drummer Mickey Jones, and guitarist Terry Williams. In 1967, they were joined by folk musician Mike Settle and opera-trained singer Thelma Camacho. They signed with Reprise Records and earned their first big hit in 1968 with the pop-psychedelic single “Just Dropped (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” After that, they bagged a few more hits with “But You Know I Love You” and “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town.” Rogers stayed with the band until the mid-1970s, before he ventured on a solo career and became one of the best-selling country artists of all time.
Darius Rucker (Hootie & the Blowfish)
Darius Rucker started his career as the frontman and rhythm guitarist of the GRAMMY award-winning band Hootie & the Blowfish. The band was first formed in 1986, and Rucker met fellow band members Mark Bryan, Jim “Soni” Sonefeld, and Dean Felber at the University of South Carolina. And their formula was a flipped version of the all-black band with a white frontman.
Soon enough, the band gained traction and recorded six studio albums which all charted within the top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100. They were definitely enjoying success and well-deserved recognition for their music. And as the frontman of the band (and his signature charismatic baritone voice), a lot of doors of opportunities opened for Rucker.
Later on, Rucker pursued a solo career and reintroduced himself as a country music artist. In 2008, he signed with Capitol Records Nashville and eventually released his first two country albums Learn To Live and Charleston, SC 1966, which earned him five number-one hits. His later releases continued to show strong success and earned him a new legion of fans. As for the band, Rucker said in 2011 that he thinks they will never break up totally. After being on hiatus for a decade, the band released an album in 2019 and toured with Barenaked Ladies.
Keith Urban (The Ranch)
The award-winning “Wild Hearts” singer has definitely won so many hearts throughout his career. Enough that when you say country music, he is one of the first few names that will pop out of anyone’s mind. But before Urban started hitting the solo road, he was a member of the country trio known as The Ranch. But unlike other country bands where everyone is equal, it wasn’t like that at all. While Peter Clarke provided the drums and Jerry Flowers the bass, Urban did everything in-between.
He sang lead, played the keyboard and other stringed instruments, and also co-written a lot of their songs. He was a triple threat. Unfortunately, shortly after the group’s debut, Urban developed throat problems and was then forced to take a break. The Ranch soon disbanded after.
But he still got opportunities to play the guitar on records for different artists like Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks. In 1999, he finally released his self-titled album, which produced four hits and paved the way for a successful music career. Ever since then, Urban continued to spawn hit singles one after the other.
Chicks (The Dixie Chicks)
There’s probably no denying that the platinum-selling country trio known as The Dixie Chicks are also three of the most popular, influential female country artists. Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Martie Maguire were the darlings of country radio of their time, and their group soon crossed over to become a banner mainstream act and also popular magazine cover subjects. Throughout their career, they sold 33 million albums and took home 13 Grammys.
But their fame seemingly disappeared like a ghost after one comment they made about the Bush administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq. Needless to say, they were canceled before even canceling was ‘cool.’ They were branded as pariahs, their songs were pulled off radio stations, and former fans publicly destroyed their CDs in the streets.
During the decade of their hiatus, the three women turned to different paths. Emily Strayer and sister Martie Maguire formed their own band, the Court Yard Hounds, which they clarified was no side project. They were definitely in love with their own sound as a duo, and this time around, they worked around with a lot of collaborators for their songs. On the other hand, Natalie Maines released a rock solo album. In 2020, the Dixie Chicks finally pulled out after their vindication and debuted their album Gaslighter, which was produced by Jack Antonoff.
Don Henley (The Eagles)
The Eagles are the most successful musical acts of the ‘70s in North America who are best-known for establishing and cultivating country-rock as a mainstream music genre. Their hits, including “Hotel California” in 1976, became a soundtrack for many 1970s rock kids who donned suede jackets and faded jeans. But as time passed by, their music slowly changed from country-rock to an unmatched country rock-pop fusion, and soon enough, they subsided and went underground.
From the 1980s until the ‘90s, vocalist and drummer Don Henley enjoyed a solo career as a singer-songwriter. At the time, the sound of The Eagles was envied by mainstream Nashville artists though no one was really able to exactly replicate it. In 1994, the band reunited again with a nostalgia-filled tour and album, and they proved that they are still one of country music’s biggest bands. And in 1998, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and continued to make music.
In 2015, Don Henley released a country album and first solo work in 15 years, which was titled Cass County.
Wynonna Judd (The Judds)
In her 34 years worth of career, Wynonna’s rich and commanding voice has sold over 30 million albums worldwide. The veteran vocalist-guitarist enjoyed success with her hit country songs, including “She Is His Only Need,” “I Saw the Light,” “My Strongest Weakness,” and “No One Else on Earth.”
But before she became the Wynonna Judd we know, she was first a half of the popular duo The Judds with her mother Naomi Judd. from 1984 to 1989, the mother-daughter duo earned an astounding run of 14 number one hits, including “Have Mercy” and “Cry Myself to Sleep” which made them one of the most popular country acts of the ‘80s. A lot of their appeal came from their sympathetic understanding of the long and hard struggles of working-class as well as small-town women earned through their own personal experiences.
The Judds retired from the industry in 1991 after the constant touring took a toll on Naomi’s health. Nevertheless, their influence remained and they are now enshrined in the Country Hall.
Chris Stapleton (The Steeldrivers and the Jompson Brothers)
Chris Stapleton is undeniably one of the most popular names in country music today. But before he stepped into the limelight himself, Stapleton ruled the stage as the frontman of the Nashville’s hard-edged bluegrass band, The Steeldrivers. The band, with its unique sound and dark, musty vocals, earned themselves a following and even more so, recognition from the industry. Sadly, Stapleton left the band in 2010 to pursue songwriting which he had been doing before joining the band. The Steeldrivers continued on and found new great additions to the team.
After Steeldrivers, Stapleton found a place as the lead vocals and rhythm guitarist for the American rock band The Jompson Brothers. The band released their self-titled album in 2010 and also toured with Zac Brown Band that same year. Soon enough, Chris Stapleton decided to pursue a solo career, releasing his critically-acclaimed smash debut Travellers that peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. And he continues to make great strides in his career years after his debut.
Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley (Lady Antebellum)
Lady Antebellum or now known as Lady A has long been a mainstream success known for their 9x Platinum hit “Need You Now,” which earned them countless music honors include five GRAMMY awards. And with their rich vocal harmony as well as vivid emotional writing influenced by a smooth fusion of country, rock, and pop, they continue to be one of country music’s most influential acts.
But during their hiatus, the members Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley decided to try out and carve solo paths. Hillary Scott collaborated with her family and released a gospel album in 2016 titled Love Remains. The album peaked at number 7 on Billboard’s 200. On the other hand, Kelley also worked on his own solo album while Dave Haywood (third member) spent his time working behind the scenes.
Lady A recently released their latest album, What A Song Can Do (Chapter One), with their climbing single “Like A Lady.”
John Rich (Lonestar)
Award-winning band Lonestar started their streak in 1996 with their second single, the rock-edged “No News.” And ever since then, they continued to spawn hits which soon established them as one of the preeminent pop-country bands in the industry. But in 1998, bass guitarist and vocalist John Rich departed the group and went on to become one-half of country duo Big & Rich.
Big & Rich exploded into the public in 2003 dubbed as the ‘true country music game changers.’ And in 2004, they released “Horse of a Different Color,” which turned out to be a triple-Platinum hit.
Aaron Lewis (Staind)
Aaron Lewis’ career started with the rock band that he founded known as Staind, where he was also the vocalist and rhythm guitarist. The band released their debut album Tormented in 1996 and went on to record six more studio albums over the years. But their activity started to become more sporadic after Lewis pursued a solo career in country music in 2010, just a year later before they released their self-titled album.
Lewis released his first country EP in 2010 titled Town Line, then followed with his first full solo album, The Road, in 2012. He continued to focus on his solo career until 2019, when the band more permanently reunited, making live appearances and creating music as well.
More Country Stars Who Went Solo
Here are some more country stars you probably didn’t know were in a band before they went solo.
- Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush (Sugarland)
- Meghan Linsey (Steel Magnolia)
- Rachel Reinert (Gloriana)
- Randy Owen (Alabama)
- Raul Malo (The Mavericks)
- Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel)
- Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)
Aaron Lewis, Charles Kelley, chris stapleton, darius rucker, Don Henley, hillary scott, John Rich, Keith Urban, kenny rogers, The Chicks, Wynonna Judd
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