Darius Rucker rocks on in countryWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
TV, radio, national publications — Darius Rucker seems to be everywhere since his third country disc, “True Believers,” was released last month.
“It’s been crazy — crazy fun, though,” he said. “The stuff I’ve gotten to do, the NBA finals and ‘The Bachelorette.’ That show was fun. It’s cool to find different ways to get the word out that you’ve got a new record.”
The singer-guitarist with that familiar baritone voice took a few minutes for a phone interview from his bus in Charleston, S.C., before heading to Bristol, Conn., to do more press.
Rucker is on a roll. “True Believers” became his third straight No. 1 country disc, and its first single, a cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” that features Lady Antebellum, is his sixth song to top the country chart.
“I never thought about cutting ‘Wagon Wheel’ because it was such a big bluegrass song,” he said. “And I’m at my daughter’s high school talent show and the faculty, they put a band together and got up and were playing ‘Wagon Wheel,’ and it was just such a country version.
“By the end of the first verse, I’m like, man, I’m going to cut this song. And then I called up my manager and said we should cut it. … And then when we got Lady A on it, I actually thought to myself this song could be a monster.”
As the front man of Hootie & The Blowfish, Rucker knows all about monstrous success. The quartet’s 1994 debut, “Cracked Rear View,” sold 16 million copies, spurred by hits “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” “Only Wanna Be With You” and “Time.”
“We were a bunch of young kids who were making records when we didn’t feel like partying,” Rucker said then laughed. “It was just us out there trying to be a band.”
Going from rocker to country artist was always a goal for the songwriter.
“I wanted to make a country record. I had talked about it in the late ’80s and it was something I was going to do,” he said. “From the very beginning, when I watched ‘Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It’ climb up the charts and make it to No. 1, it’s all been shocking and amazing.”
That chart-topper from his 2008 disc “Learn to Live” made him the first African-American artist since Charley Pride to have a No. 1 country record. Two more followed — “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” and “Alright” — and Rucker won the Country Music Association’s New Artist of the Year Award in 2009.
His 2010 follow-up, “Charleston, SC 1966,” featured two more No. 1 records: “Come Back Song” and “This.” Last year, he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
“With Charley Pride’s career, I didn’t really think I’d be the first African American to do anything in country music. [The New Artist Award] was the one thing he didn’t win, and I won that. But, for me, anytime you say that, anytime you mention top 25s or No. 1 records, you have to say my name alongside Charley Pride, and that makes me so prideful that I get mentioned with one of the all-time greats,” Rucker said.
“Country music has such a bad rap, I think, sometimes when it comes to race. This shows if you put out great songs and you’ve got somebody at your label behind you, it doesn’t matter what color you are; you can have hits.”
Timing helped with his successful transition, he added.
“Country and rock ‘n’ roll are so different. I mean, country is family-oriented, so people are so much more laidback, and the competition vibe is not so strong,” the 47-year-old said. “I was in the perfect time of my life to move into country music. I don’t think if I had done this 10 years ago, 13 years ago, it would have been as successful because I just wasn’t the guy I was when I started it.”
Growing up in Charleston, the musician was drawn to that twangy sound.
“Back then there were only two places to see music on TV — ‘Hee Haw’ and ‘Soul Train,’ and I love them both. ‘Hee Haw’ was my weekend show and I watched it like a religion,” Rucker recalled.
“My mom was always very open to me and always let me listen to what I wanted to listen to. When my cousins or my brother would come in and I’d be listening to AM radio and Buck Owens would be singing and someone would ask me why I’m listening to white-boy music, my mom would always tell them to leave me alone; let me listen to what I wanted to listen to. And all that stuff led me to being here today.”
Rucker will bring his first solo headlining tour to the Toledo Zoo at 7 p.m. June 27. Jana Kramer and Rodney Atkins will open. Tickets range from $37.50 to $75.
“Every night I play a Hootie song,” Rucker said. “I do three of the big hits because I’d be ripping people off if I didn’t. Those songs are classics now and they were so big in America, you know, if people come to hear my voice, they want to hear those songs.”
Fans of the band have something to look forward to in 2014.
“We’re planning on doing a quick tour next year, maybe two weeks or so, just cause it’s the 20th anniversary of ‘Cracked Rear View,’ and I think we should,” he said.