Rucker: Retooling the country music he loves

Darius Rucker is fashioning himself a different kind of country singer ... From Charleston, SC.

The StateOctober 23, 2010 

  • Darius Rucker
    Age: 44
    Hometown: Charleston

    Highlights: Rucker rose to fame in the mid-90s with Hootie & The Blowfish, a rock band that cut its teeth in Columbia’s Five Points bars. The band’s debut album, “Cracked Rear View,” sold more than 16 million copies.

    Hootie won best new artist award at the 1996 Grammy Awards.

    In 2008, Rucker released his first country album “Learn to Live,” which yielded three consecutive No. 1 singles: “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” and “Alright.” His second country album, “Charleston, SC 1966,” was released Oct. 12 and sold more than 100,000 copies its first week.

    In 2009, Rucker won the Country Music Association’s best new artist award.

    In 2002, Rucker released the R&B album “Back to Then.”

  • 3 questions with Darius Rucker

    QUESTION: Hootie & The Blowfish’s 25th anniversary is coming up. That’s a long time. How does it feel?

    "You just sit back and laugh. That’s what life’s all about. Enjoy it and be able to laugh at yourself and be happy. There are so many times we could’ve taken ourselves too seriously."

    QUESTION: Does it matter to you whether your hometown, Charleston, embraces you like Columbia has as a musician - but now as a country singer?

    "I told my label that they had to break me out of Charleston and Columbia because I thought those two places were important to me. If we can’t break there, we have no shot at this. They know me as Hootie. If they can’t accept the change and see the change, then nobody will."

    QUESTION: Your album title, "Charleston, SC 1966," is sort of a tribute to Radney Foster, who released "Del Rio, TX 1959" in 1992. How did Radney take it?

    "We’ve been friends for years before all this came, and I let him know what I wanted to do. He was flattered. Radney is a great guy and just as humble as he can be."

    Otis R. Taylor Jr.

“My bad.”

Everybody has said or heard the expression that admits a mistake, offers an apology. The slang became a part of pop culture right as Hootie & The Blowfish was becoming a household name.

It rolls easily off Darius Rucker’s tongue in “Come Back Song,” the lead single of his new album, “Charleston, SC 1966.”

“So this is my my bad come back song,” he sings in the chorus, the words “my bad” emphasized by dramatic thumps in the music.

Wait, does Rucker, the lead singer for Hootie & The Blowfish who will perform at 6 today at the South Carolina State Fair, really say “my bad” In a country song?

“Someone said to me could you say ‘my bad’?” said Rucker, recalling a moment when he was writing the song. “I said, ‘Of course you can say ‘my bad.’ That’s a common thing now.”

Not in country music.

But if Trace Adkins can introduce badonkadonk — a reference to a woman’s ample backside — to country audiences as he did with “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” certainly Rucker can say “my bad.”

Beville Darden, editor of theboot.com, AOL’s popular country music website, said it’s the first she’s heard the phrase in a country hit.

“That’s a cleverly written song,” she said.

The song typifies Rucker’s approach on his second album as a country singer. The title and the pop-country beat suggest a puffed-chest return to the charts. But lyrically, “Come Back Song” is an apologetic love song.

And country fans are loving it.

“Seeing it go to the top five so quickly is a good indication of how the album is going to do,” Darden said. “The first single pushes album sales.”

Rucker and Charleston

Charleston, the oldest city in the state, wasn’t a tourist destination in 1966, the year Rucker was born. It didn’t yet have a national reputation. In fact, the city was a little decrepit, according to a local historian.

By the mid-60s, Charleston had grown beyond its peninsula. Suburbs such as West Ashley, where Rucker grew up, were being incorporated into the city. The downtown restaurants were dry until 1967, when a brown bag law was passed so patrons could bring their own alcohol.

“In 1963, that is when the race condition started to tip in Charleston,” said Harlan Greene, senior manuscript and reference archivist in special collections at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library.

That was the year of the marches on King Street against the merchants, and the city was in the midst of integrating its schools. In 1963, Harvey Gantt, a Charleston native, was the first black student admitted to Clemson University, the year before Strom Thurmond became a Republican.

Before Charleston could celebrate its tricentennial, there was the hospital strike of 1969 that brought black political activists such as Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young and Ralph David Abernathy to the state as black women protested their pay.

“The city was probably more intergrated then than it is now,” Greene said. “As for housing patterns, black and whites lived closer than they do now. Especially downtown, because of gentrification.” Charleston has changed for the better, said Rucker, who hasn’t moved his family to Nashville, country music’s so-called capital.

“I found where I want to live,” Rucker said. “This is where we’re staying. I could live anywhere in the world I want to live, and I want to live here.”

“It’s a great place to raise a family.”

His sister still lives in the house where they grew up in a West Ashley neighborhood called Orleans Woods, and Rucker can still shop at Target and Publix in his hometown.

“People don’t care,” he said. “They see me all the time. I don’t feel any different than I felt before I sold one country record.”

The album title isn’t just a nod to Charleston. It’s also a hat tip to Radney Foster and his 1992 record, “Del Rio, TX 1959.” Foster, a former member of the country duo Foster & Lloyd who is respected by country music insiders and musicians, isn’t as well known by mainstream country music fans.

“That album was not a huge success,” said Darden, who noted that Keith Urban is also a Foster fan. “I think Radney

Foster owes Darius a big thank you. I want to go out and buy that Radney Foster album.”

It was the country music of Foster & Lloyd, along with Nanci Griffith and Dwight Yoakam that gripped Rucker as a young man and put him on the path to where he is today.

“From that point on, I would tell anybody to listen to country records,” said Rucker, who would play country music when it was his turn to drive the Hootie tour van.

Rucker co-wrote “Might Get Lucky,” a song about married friskiness on the new album, with Foster. The song captures the fleeting moments of intimacy couples have while raising children.

It’s the kind of song — and lyrical direction — that sets Rucker apart.

A domestic feel to it

Country music is a genre for female fans, but and until the recent surge led by Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, the performers were dominated by men.

With Lambert earning nine Country Music Association Awards nominations, and Swift taking entertainer of the year last year, it’s apparent the tide has changed. Country men will have to turn down the bravado, and Rucker is leading the way.

“You don’t hear the party songs. You don’t hear the I’m countrier than you. You don’t hear the staples,” said Brian Mansfield, USA Today’s Nashville correspondent. “People expect to hear those things so they notice them when they’re gone.”

Mansfield called “Charleston, SC 1966” domestic.

“You don’t find many good country albums with songs about figuring out how to be a good husband,” he said.

Rucker opens the album with “This,” and he tells the listener what’s important to him immediately.

“Got a baby girl sleepin’ in my bedroom / And her momma laughing in my arms / There’s the sound of the rain on the rooftop / And the game’s about to start,” Rucker sings.

“You just picture Darius, his wife and three kids,” Darden said of the track Rucker wrote with former “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi. “It’s such an insight into his life. I’m sure it’s going to be a single.

“He has the songs about his family that give you insight to his love for his wife and kids.”

Rucker does have a bad boy streak on the album, including “I Don’t Care,” a duet with Brad Paisley. But the antics extolled in the song are overshadowed by the rest of the record.

“Any idiot can write a song about drinking,” Mansfield said. “It actually takes quite a bit to write a decent song about being happy in a relationship.

“It’s that modern notion of what a man should be in a family situation. He expresses why those feelings are important to him.”

‘A chance to be one of those guys’

Rucker’s foray into R&B, 2002’s “Back to Then,” lasted just one album. He knows longevity in country could hinge on the success of “Charleston, SC 1966,” which sold more than 100,000 copies in its first week, debuting at No. 1 on the country charts. His label, Capitol Records Nashville, told Rucker to take his time with the follow-up to “Learn to Live,” which had three No. 1 hits.

“I know radio and the label are expecting big hits,” said Rucker, who would like to be positioned next to Paisley,

Urban and Kenny Chesney. “This is a very important point for me. This is a point where I can get my slot. I have a chance to be one of those guys.”

Mansfield said the album won’t make or break Rucker, “because it looks like he made it with the last album.”

Darden said Rucker will maintain his country popularity because of his charisma.

“He’s the country music star everyone wants to have a beer with because his personality shines through,” she said.

But Rucker knows how quickly the industry can write a performer off.

“Hootie went through that when we sold five million records and it was considered a flop,” he said, referring to “Fairweather Johnson,” the album that followed “Cracked Rear View,” which sold more than 16 million copies.

“That second record is so important.”

That’s why he wrote more than 70 songs before narrowing it down to 13 for this album. He didn’t want to have to say this to his label — or his fans:

“My bad.”

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

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