Sometimes a conversation enlightens you and broadens your ability to appreciate things even more so than you already do. This was the case after speaking with Darius Rucker. Known to most as the lead singer to the Grammy Award winning group Hootie and The Blowfish, Darius Rucker had already made his mark on music lovers nationally in the genre of rock/pop.
Why in the world would an artist of his caliber decide to switch genres and “go country?” How would the country genre accept him? What was the motivation behind this need to follow his musical journey down a new road?
I had an opportunity to speak with Rucker about his career, his beloved Charleston, South Carolina, and what motivated him to make this move towards what has become his true calling.
Kathy Stockbridge (KS): Hi Darius, thank you so much for speaking with us at NYSMusic. We are really looking forward to your shows here in New York and want to give you a warm welcome.
Darius Rucker (DR): Thank you.
KS: You were born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. Were you raised in a musical household?
DR: Well everyone in our house sang. We sang a lot. Especially my mom. She sang all the time. And my sister as well. There was always music being played whether it was the radio or the big ol hi-fi we had. So yes, I would say it was a musical household.
KS: What are a few of your earliest influences in music?
DR: Early on for me Al Green was just everything. I can remember being a little kid (around 4 or 5) and hearing his voice and hearing him hit those notes. I remember thinking ‘that’s what I want to do. I want to do what Al Green’s doing’. He, as well as Gladys Knight and the Pips. Then when I got a little older, like 6, 7, 8, or 9 I started really getting into AM radio and that’s when it just went across the board. The Opry shows, Kenny Rogers, or Cheap Trick. Anything I could hear (influenced me), literally anything.
KS: I, like many others, have followed your career since Hootie & The Blowfish days. You are one of those artists that have been able to successfully cross over from rock to country and you did it so seamlessly. Talk to me a little about that transition, and what made you decide to go from a very successful rock career into a new genre such as country music.
DR: You know, we had been touring for a while. We had been on the road pretty much every summer since we all got out of college. One of the band members mentioned that they didn’t want to do it every year any more. Ever since the late 80’s I was big into Foster and Lloyd. Then Radney Foster came out with his solo record Del Rio TX 1859, and I just remember hearing that record for the first time and after hearing that record I would tell anyone who would listen, that I was going to make a country record some day. I had never thought of singing it, until I heard that record. I just wanted to sing that record. I wanted to sound like that. I wanted to be that. So I said, someday when I get the chance I’m going to make a country album. When we decided to take a break, I was like, I’m going to make my country record. And to be honest with you I didn’t think I could get a record deal.
DR: I wouldn’t have given me a record deal. I mean why? There was this African-American guy that just came from a very successful rock band, they had a great run and are out touring, so why would some country guy go ‘yeah I’ll give you a shot’? I wasn’t even looking for a record deal to be honest with ya. I was going to do it here in Charleston with my buddies. And then my manager got me a record deal with Capitol. It was fun making the record and then all the hard work started with the tour; going to 10o something radios stations, shaking hands, saying hey, and playing for six people in the cafeteria or the conference room, a lot of work but all in all it was fun. I had a great time and I’ve made some great friends who are still great friends on that tour. And finally we convinced them (the radio stations) that “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” was a song that they should play, so they did.
KS: I have to tell you, to me it seemed very seamless. It was one of those things that just seemed like it was meant to be.
DR: I think so.
KS: So right now you’re touring with your new Southern Style album, which is your fourth solo album. Talk to me a little about this new album and what you hope listeners will take away from it.
DR: I hope they take away how much fun I’m having in country music. The songs are always important to me, that’s why I write so many, and to come down to such a small number of thirteen when you write 50 something, it tough to decide but you want great songs on it. You can expect great country music on it because it’s a lot of fun,this album. And it’s been great playing it live and seeing the crowds singing along with the songs.
KS: Is it tough to choose which you decided to put on an album? And the others, do you say I’ll put these back here because I’ll put those on another album.
DR: We keep a lot of them, but some of them we try to get cut by other folks. Every record there are 50 songs I think are great, that I love, but I just can’t cut an album with thirty songs.
KS: Right, exactly. Now I have to say, for several years I lived in Charleston and it became “my happy place”. When you live there it becomes something very special to you. It’s rich with history, culture, architecture, and has a peace that is tough to put into words. When listening to “You Can Have Charleston”, I think you captured some of that emotion I feel towards the city. Talk to me a little about that song and some of the others from that album that focus on that area.
DR: Yeah, Charleston, that’s a great way to say it. It’s “my happy place” That’s a wonderful thing you just said because I think it’s the most wonderful place in the world. I’ve been a lot of places and this is where I want to be. I choose to live here. I can live anywhere in the world I want, but I choose to live here, because this is where I want to be. “You Can Have Charleston”, is such a great song. I love it. When Frank Rogers brought it to me, I thought to myself I wish it was a little more positive but the positiveness of the song for me is how much he loves the city and can’t believe he is leaving it. He loves her and he just can’t stand it, as that’s the last thing in the world he wants to do. That beginning verse with the topsails and the Clydesdale, that’s my life. That’s my city.
KS: In 2012 you had an experience where you joined Old Crow Medicine Show on the stage at The Grand Ole Opry where you sang a little song that was originally sketched by Bob Dylan and modified by Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show — Talk to me a little bit about that experience.
DR: Oh that was so great. Those guys have been so great to me. We had played the Opry two or three times together where we played “Wagon Wheel”. I can remember after I cut it and started hanging with those guys, I was talking to Ketch and he said ‘I heard your version of it and I love it’. I was like ‘thank you, that means a lot’. Their version is just perfect. And he was like ‘I realized when I wrote that song a long time ago I was going to have to play that song for the rest of my life. So you better look out, because you are going to have to play that song for the rest of your life’. Sure enough, he’s right. Every time I play a country show, I play that song. It’s so cool to have a song that iconic, and to just be a part of that song and the greatness of that song, it deserves to be in the Library of Congress. It will always be one of those american classics. Long before I remade it, it was just a perfectly great song. Written by two guys at two different times of their lives, and is just a wonderful piece of work.
KS: The interesting part of this is that the original lyrics were just a few lines jotted down by Bob Dylan and then Ketch Secor picked up and expanded upon it making it the iconic tune we know today. That song has actually taken you on quite a journey. Talk to me a little about when that song hit and what happened afterwards.
DR: We released it, and then all of a sudden it took off. It took off. You know, we play it everywhere and people love it, my fans just love it. It was one of those songs that you stand out of the way and let it happen.
KS: I can remember the night you received the Grammy for it. It was an amazing evening for you and the song. That same year you were invited to become a member of The Grand Ole Opry. Talk to me a little about that evening.
DR: When I first met with Mike Duncan to sign my record deal I told my management I want to play The Opry as much as I can because it’s important to me to some day be a member of The Grand Ole Opry. I want to be a part of that family. And we did, and we worked hard and when they asked me to be a member of The Grand Ole Opry that was probably the first moment that I thought ‘okay, this is really happening. I’m really a part of country music’, and it was a great feeling. It is truly amazing to me that they kept that from me for a month. My kids knew for like six weeks and didn’t tell me that.
KS: How did they do that? That’s so impressive.
DR: Yeah, they were like 8 and 12 back then, and they didn’t tell me. You’ve got to be kidding me? I’m there and I’m singing my song, and Brad (Paisley) comes up and he says that to me, and I look over and all my friends and family are there. I was like ‘wow, how did you pull this off?’ It was great!
KS: That’s wonderful. And speaking of wonderful, for some that may not know, each year you get back together with the guys from Hootie & The Blowfish to reunite to perform. Tell my readers why this is so special.
DR: Oh it’s a big thing for Charleston. There are people who have seen us for years around the country, some may live here, some even plan vacations around it. They come down to Charleston for the week, see our shows, and in turn we get to help our community. The great things we get to do, for example, the roundup where we get kids and give them haircuts, and dental exams, and eye exams, shoes, backpacks, and all the school supplies they need. And all of this comes from that show. So we keep doing it so that we can help out.
KS: Now you’ve done a Christmas album, Home For The Holidays. What prompted that particular album?
DR: Well I’ve been asked several times by people if I had thought of doing a Christmas record. I had thought about it, but didn’t think it was time. So last year when it was brought up, I thought it was time. So we sat around and we said ‘let’s make something old school’ like those Christmas records we used to listen to. So we tried to make something cool and laid back, and great cool arrangement. I’m so proud of that record, so proud of it.
KS: As a journalist I have this long list of people I’ve always wanted to interview, such as yourself. Who is on your bucket list, what is something you still would like to accomplish?
DR: Ohhh…good question. Lots of crazy stuff. I still want to be on the big screen at The Superbowl, I still want to meet Sir Paul McCartney, I still would love to be in a Martin Scorsese movie, see I want crazy stuff.
KS: Seems doable to me and I hope you can do all of those things! Thank you again so much for speaking with us and we can’t wait to welcome you to our area this October.
As I hung up the phone, I couldn’t help but feel like I had just made a new friend. What a great guy. What an honestly true human being. I had already felt a kindred spirit with him being that he’s from “my happy place”, Charleston, South Carolina. After our conversation though and learning so much about him as a person, as well as an artist, I truly admired his spunk, his vision for his life, dedication to achieving his dreams – TWICE, and his overall genuine demeanor.
It was a few weeks later after I conducted this phone interview that I had the chance to watch another interview Darius Rucker did with Dan Rather for his show, The Big Interview. I saw once again the same genuinely decent person speak of his journey, sharing intimate parts of his struggles, his losses, and victories. When asked by Dan “Why do you think it’s working for you in country?” Darius replies, “..I think the main reason is that people realized how real it was for me. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about trying to be a superstar. I was going to do this in the basement with my buddies. It was about the music. I wanted to be country. I wanted to play country music”.
Personally, I can’t wait to see his upcoming show and see my new Charlestonian friend rock the country music as he has rocked all the music he’s performed all these years. I strongly urge you to take in one of two shows he will be playing here this month in New York to see what I’ve seen. He will play Oct. 22, at the Oncenter War Memorial in Syracuse. Then he will trek on down the road to Albany on the Oct. 23 where he’ll play once again at the Times Union Center. Joining him on his Southern Style Tour are newcomers David Nail, and Cam. Both amazing artists that are blazing up the charts with hits.
If I had to describe Darius Rucker I would tell someone he’s a musician that is truly a risk taker, a trail blazer, a door opener, an odds beater, a hard worker, and a genuinely kind man. It was my pleasure interviewing him, and I can’t wait to see this low country fella tear up the stage living the dreams he always wanted and playing the music that was always in his heart.