Darius Rucker returns to Toledo with Sept. 8 zoo concert.Written by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker is bringing his solo country show to the Toledo Zoo Amphitheatre on Sept. 8.
Before he went solo, Rucker tried to convince his band to record a country album, but he said what they would have come up with wouldn’t be the same as the solo sound he has developed.
“It would probably sound a little different,” he said. “When you have four guys who are equal parts of a band, it sounds different than just one guy doing it. There are a lot of times when you want to do something that doesn’t go your way and you get outvoted. Doing solo, it’s all you. It’s easier. You get to make all the decisions.”
Even though Rucker is enjoying his solo career, Hootie & the Blowfish still gets together on a regular basis. The band has played six shows this year, and the band mates frequently play golf. Rucker tries to win as much as possible against them, because his other golfing partner is Tiger Woods.
“We both happened to be in the same bar one night in East Lansing,” Rucker said. “We’ve played a lot of golf together over the years. He always gives you a tip around hole 17 after he’s beaten your brains out.”
Aside from golf, one of Rucker’s favorite things to do in his free time is watch movies. He has seen his favorite, “Stir Crazy,” more than 100 times.
“I saw it again last week like I was watching it for the first time,” Rucker said. “My favorite movies in the world are ‘Godfather’ 1 and 2 and ‘Stir Crazy.’ Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor together are genius.”
Much like Woods in golf and Pryor in comedy, Rucker has become a pioneer in modern country music for African-Americans. In 2009, he became the first African-American to earn the Country Music Association (CMA) New Artist of the Year award. The only other African-American to win a CMA award is Charley Pride, who was named Entertainer of the Year in 1971 and Male Vocalist of the Year from 1971-72. Rucker hopes his success leads to more African-Americans emerging in country music.
“You hope so, but we thought the same thing about golf a few years ago with Tiger,” Rucker said. “I don’t think record labels are out looking for their African-American country singer. But those African-American country singers who send CDs, somebody might give it a listen now instead of it going straight to the trash.”
Before going country, Rucker started his solo career with an R&B album. He recorded “The Return of Mongo Slade” in 2001, but it wasn’t released by Atlantic Records because of contractual issues. Hidden Beach Recordings acquired the rights and released the album in 2002 as “Back to Then.”
“When I was a kid, Al Green and Gladys Knight were it for me,” Rucker said. “Then I started discovering The Beatles and other rock bands. ‘Hee-Haw’ has always been there for me. I still sing all those songs. The thing I always loved was that if you were someone in country music, you were on that show. So you got to see everyone in country music every week.
“When I got older, I discovered Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Foster & Lloyd, New Grass Revival, Doc Watson and Radney Foster, all these people that were blowing my mind. Ever since I heard Radney’s ‘Del Rio, TX,’ I said I was going to make a country record someday.”
Rucker recorded with Griffith on her 1997 song “Gulf Coast Highway.” In 1999, he provided backing vocals on Foster’s album “See What You Want to See.”
“Radney is my idol when it comes to country music,” Rucker said. “Every time I open my mouth to sing country, I’m trying to do Radney. He inspired me to make a record and to write songs for my record. Our friendship means the world to me.”
Rucker has also developed a solid relationship with Brad Paisley while touring this year.
“Brad’s awesome,” he said. “That was one of the best tours I’ve ever done. We had a blast. We’re going to Europe together in a few months. He’s my friend, he’s one of the best musicians I’ve ever played with and he’s an amazing dude.”
Paisley was featured on Rucker’s latest album, “Charleston, SC 1966,” on the track, “I Don’t Care.”
“The thing I like most about that song is it’s so Brad,” Rucker said. “It’s so funny and so out there. It’s unexpected by the two of us.”
Rucker brought one of his favorite legends into the country genre when Lionel Richie approached him this year to record “Stuck on You” for his album of country duets.
“Lionel Richie is more than an idol, he’s part of our DNA,” Rucker said. “Nobody calls me to do duets, and Lionel Richie called me. I was blown away. It’s one of those things I truly can’t tell you how great it was for me. I had a blast doing it, and when I heard it I loved it. Now, being friends with Lionel Richie is pretty cool.”
He met another legend Dec. 12, 1995, when he performed “The Lady is a Tramp” at Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday party.
“It’s still one of the great musical moments of my life,” Rucker said. “When we finished, he asked me to come over so he could shake my hand.”
Rucker grew up with many genres, but one idol helped show him it’s possible to cross over the lines.
“The guy I don’t give enough credit to is Kenny Rogers,” he said. “I know all his songs. The great thing about Kenny is you heard him on the country stations but you also heard him on the pop stations.”
Rucker’s show starts at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8. Tickets are available for $27.50 and $42.50. The Toledo Zoo Amphitheatre is located at 2700 Broadway St.