Originally published in the November 17, 2008 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Darius Rucker was a 21-year-old student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., when he heard the 1987 Foster & Lloyd country hit “Crazy Over You.” “I ran to the record store and bought it,” recalls the singer, settling into a seat at the Country Weekly conference room table. “It just seemed so great. Plus Radney Foster’s voice was so much like mine that I thought, ‘I could do this.’”
And maybe he would have, except that Darius had already met three fellow students with whom he would rise to fame in the rock and roll world: As the lead singer for Hootie & the Blowfish, Darius sold 20 million albums and scored hits like “Hold My Hand” and “Let Her Cry.” But he remained a country fan, and in the 1990s he began investigating the Nashville songwriting community and guesting on albums by country pals like Radney, Charlie Daniels and Nanci Griffith.
Now Darius finds himself a newly minted country star. His Learn to Live album recently hit No. 1, as did its first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.” “I didn’t know what to expect,” Darius notes. “All I really wanted from this thing was a shot, and everybody gave me a shot. I’m on a cloud, man.”
“Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” made Darius the first African-American to top the country chart in more than two decades. It’s an accomplishment he’s pleased about, but not one he trumpets. “To say it’s not a big deal is not true,” he explains. “I know it’s important, but that’s not why I made the record and I didn’t want anybody playing it because of that. I wanted to make a record that I thought was great and that people would want to hear.”
Darius hopes to keep his roll going with Learning to Live’s second single, “It Won’t Be Like This for Long,” a gentle number about the fleeting nature of childhood. “Every time I sing it I think about my kids,” confesses the singer, who has a 7-year-old daughter, Daniella, with wife Beth Leonard and a teenage daughter, Carey, from a previous relationship. “My kids and my wife are the people who really suffer for my success, because I have to be gone a lot to be successful,” he admits. “And I know that everything that I miss won’t happen again. If I miss a birthday, that birthday’s not going to happen again. So that song’s real special.”
Darius and his family continue to live in his hometown of Charleston, S.C., which he calls “my favorite place in the world.” Darius saw Brad Paisley perform at a concert there, and subsequently drafted him to play guitar on the Learning to Live track “All I Want.” “I was really shocked, for lack of a better word, at how great the show was,” he recalls. “So after that, I called my manager and said, ‘Do what you have to do, but I want to play with Brad.’”
Now he’ll get an even better chance to do that—Darius is set to join Brad’s “Paisley Party” tour in mid-January, along with Dierks Bentley and Crystal Shawanda. He says that going from headliner status as the voice of Hootie and the Blowfish to the opening-act role doesn’t bother him a bit. “I’m loving it,” he says with a chuckle. “I like being the new guy, because I know that next time I won’t be the new guy!”
Indeed, Darius is eager to establish himself as a permanent fixture in country music. He plans to make at least two more country solo albums before returning to Hootie & the Blowfish, which is currently on hiatus except for occasional charity shows. “I’m concentrating on this now,” he says. “Hootie will do something again soon, but we don’t know when it’s going to be.”
And even when the band gets back together, Darius has no intention of abandoning his life in country music. “Fifteen years from now, I still want to matter to country radio,” he declares. “But right now I’m just trying to break in. I’m just trying to say, ‘Hey, can I come into your party? Let’s just make records.’”