4 American Musicians Who Have a Larger Following in Europe than in the U.S.

The great writer F. Scott Fitzgerald was famously quoted as saying, “There are no second acts in American life” about the fleeting nature of fame. That’s undoubtedly true for musicians. Even those who have found some fame in the U.S. – even great fame – may find more respect and adoration in other countries. In fact, some American artists who have had great success in the U.S. (think Tina Turner) have a more significant following overseas. 

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1. Tina Turner

The late Queen of Rock became an icon in the 1960s when she performed with her then-husband, Ike Turner, in the Ike and Tina Turner Review. Born in Nutbush, Tennessee, the Turners built a significant U.S. fanbase with songs including “Proud Mary” and “River Deep – Mountain High.” Tina’s bold vocals were essential to the group and its success.

When the Turners divorced in 1978 due in large part to Ike’s abusive behavior, Tina’s career in the U.S. stalled. A few years after the divorce, she moved to Europe to restart her career and her personal life. 

Americans responded positively to her 1984 solo album, Private Dancer, taking it to No. 3 on the Billboard charts. The songs “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (which hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard charts) and “Private Dancer” (which went to No. 7 on the U.S. charts) were standout tracks. 

While U.S. fans applauded her solo work, fans in the U.K. and throughout Europe went crazy for the sound. The album went multi-platinum in the U.K., and European shows sold out in a matter of hours. She was a constant on European charts, in the media, and on heavy-rotation music channels.

Turner swapped her U.S. citizenship for one in Switzerland in 2013. She lived there with her German music executive husband, Erwin Bach, until her death on May 23, 2023.

2. Sixto Rodriguez

Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez released his first album, Cold Fact, in 1967. The local audiences responded well to the folk/rock songs on the album that mainly told the stories of vulnerable society members. His local shows in dive bars were well-received, but Rodriguez and his music seemed to slip into obscurity. Rumors swirled about how he reportedly killed himself; some said while onstage during a performance. Others thought he was in prison.

The 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man explains how a bootleg copy of the album made its way to South Africa. The songs about economic hardships, discrimination, and abuses by establishment resonated with those who heard the songs.

In the 1990s, Rodriguez was found alive in Detroit, where he worked as a laborer. During the 1990s, the album had turned Rodriguez into a superstar in South Africa. 

When Rodriguez was discovered, he agreed to tour South Africa, where he was met with sold-out shows filled with devoted fans. After the tour, Rodriguez returned to his life in Detroit. He suffered a stroke in February 2023 and died on August 8, 2023.

3. Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile, from Landsdowne, Pennsylvania, creates music that mixes folk, rock, and indie sounds and simple yet evocative lyrics. Although he has collaborated with other artists, including the band War on Drugs, it’s his solo work that draws sold-out crowds to his shows in England and other countries. 

When he plays concerts in the U.K., Spain, Denmark, and other countries, fans sing along to every one of his songs, including “Pretty Pimpin’, “Jesus on a Wire,” and “Air Bud.” He is also a headlining performer and a significant draw at major festivals, including Spain’s Primavera Sound and Denmark’s Roskilde Festival. Vile’s shows in Australia and New Zealand regularly sell out.

4. Ashbury

Soon after brothers Randy and Rob Davis of Tucson, Arizona, formed Ashbury in the early 1980s, they were courted by record companies that were drawn to their virtuoso guitar playing and songs that mixed rock with folk, much like Jethro Tull. Their album, Endless Skies, is a cult classic, and outsold work by major groups in Europe.

Although the band isn’t part of the British heavy metal scene, it has been adopted by the group primarily due to the album Endless Skies. The songs on the album are a mix of heavy rock songs, such as “Vengeance” (think Black Sabbath), and softer rock, such as the album’s title song. 

There were rumors as late as the early 2000s that the brothers had died. A telephone call from a fan confirmed they were not only alive but working in music. From there, the band’s music experienced a resurgence through Spotify and Reverb Nation which led to tours and sold-out shows and appearances in the U.K., Europe. Although the band hasn’t gained major awards, they have a large loyal cult following.

Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

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