Rucker returns to Toledo as country superstarWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
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F. Scott Fitzgerald said “there are no second acts in American lives,” but Darius Rucker’s rebirth as a country music star is evidence to the contrary.
When Rucker last sang in Toledo, at a July 2008 event for the Jamie Farr golf tournament, his solo album “Learn to Live” was still three months from being released. He was then best known as the lead singer for the Grammy-winning group Hootie and the Blowfish, which conquered pop radio in the second half of the 1990s with hits such as “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna be with You.”
As Rucker prepares to open for Rascal Flatts on Jan. 24 at the Lucas County Arena, he continues to ride a wave of success from that 2008 country debut. “Learn to Live” spawned three No. 1 songs on the Billboard Top Country Songs charts — “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “It Won’t be Like This for Long” and “Alright,” with a fourth, “History in the Making,” leaping into the Top Country Songs Top Ten on Jan. 9 — and has been certified platinum. The country music industry has embraced Rucker with a 2009 Country Music Association Award for New Artist of the Year.
During a Jan. 12 telephone interview from Nashville, where he is in the studio recording his next album, Rucker was quick to laugh in his Paul Simon-meets-Bill Withers baritone and was openly grateful for his country music success.
One might think “Learn to Live” was a low-expectations project for Rucker and that recording its anticipated follow-up would be a pressure-laden experience, but he dismisses that notion.
“We have already recorded a couple of sessions for the new album, and I feel the opposite of that suggestion,” he said. “With the first album we felt all kinds of pressure because we did not know what was going to happen; now, all we have to do is deliver the songs, and radio is probably going to play it. It’s up to us to come up with the great songs. I feel more relaxed in the studio this time.”
Part of that relaxed atmosphere stems from the return of “Learn to Live” producer Frank Rogers, who has also steered albums for Trace Adkins and Brad Paisley.
“Frank and I talk about the songs and what I want the record to sound like, but after that, he produces and I sing,” Rucker said.
Rucker said recording in Nashville also eases the artistic process.
“Nashville is music,” he said. “When you get off the plane, it’s music. It’s always around. Hanging out in Nashville, walking down the street, music is everywhere.”
Music City’s pace also contributes to his confidence, Rucker said: “When we recorded the Hootie albums, we went in for six weeks or so and made the record. Here, I do a couple of days here, then go back and work on vocals and new tracks a couple of weeks later. The only time I wish I didn’t live in Charleston is when I am in Nashville recording.”
The in-progress album features collaborations with Rascal Flatts and “American Idol” songwriter Kara DioGuardi. Does that relationship mean audiences will see Rucker perform on “Idol’s” current season.
“I wish,” Rucker laughed heartily. “I wouldn’t turn that down, but there hasn’t been any offer yet.”
Rucker said there is a key difference between his days as a Hootie pop idol and his current success: “I’m paying attention this time,” he said earnestly. “Last time was a party. I was lost in the party. I was happy to be there and grateful, but this time I am making better decisions, waking up early. I won’t say I am enjoying it more now, but this is so much fun, you know, getting up the next day and remembering what I did the night before.”
His favorite new memories include playing onstage with Charlie Daniels and appearing at the Grand Old Opry with Charley Pride, an experience Rucker described as “amazing.”
He said he hopes to record or share a stage with Carrie Underwood and he “would kill to sing a song with Reba.”
Rucker said he always wanted to record country music but could never convince his Hootie bandmates to go that direction.
A suggestion that Rucker’s first public flirtation with country music was the campy 2005 commercial he recorded for Burger King’s “Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch” sandwich (in a purple cowboy suit) was met with silence.
While he does not plan to debut any of his new songs at his arena gig, Rucker did say he is looking forward to returning to Toledo.
“Toledo is one of those cities, like Detroit or Chicago, where the people spend hard-earned money to see you and they are going to let loose and have a good time,” Rucker said. “It’s fun to play a place like Toledo because people know how to live life and have a good time.”
On the Web: www.dariusrucker.com.