It's not like musical success is something new to Darius Rucker, lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Hootie and the Blowfish. The band sold, oh, only about 16 million copies of their breakout record in the mid-'90s, with hits like "Hold My Hand" and "Let Her Cry." But when Rucker decided to make the jump from mainstream pop/rock into country, it was a risky move. It was so risky, in fact, that even after the Hootie singer had told his manager, Doc McGhee, that he wanted to make a country album, Rucker didn't immediately go looking for a record deal. Because, frankly, he didn't think he could get it.
But, as luck would have it, Rucker didn't pine for long, because four months later, over dinner with Capital Records Nashville President Mike Dungan, McGhee casually mentioned that he represented Hootie and the Blowfish's front man. According to Rucker, Dungan said that he had always thought of Rucker as a country singer.
"And that's just a lucky moment," says Rucker as he recounts the story.
After that conversation, the chance to make a country album was literally handed to Rucker by Dungan. Capitol Records Nashville signed him soon after and offered him a record deal. It is that "moment," and moments that have come before it, that make Rucker one lucky bastard. In fact, we think he just might be having his best year ever.
"Somebody told me today that they think I have a golden horseshoe up my butt, because of all the success I'm having," says Rucker.
Hey, if a golden horseshoe in uncomfortable places is what it takes these days, who are we to judge?
After about a decade out of the limelight, during which Rucker was busy being a dad to his children, exploring R&B solo artist endeavors, and doing trippy Burger King commercials, he finally found his niche: Country music. And it fits. Did it take hard work? Yes. Did it take talent? Hells yes, the man can croon. But, like the 43-year-old swears, "You gotta have some luck."
In 2008, Rucker tore onto the country music scene with three consecutive No. 1 singles, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," "It Won't Be Like This for Long," and "Alright," from his now-platinum debut album, Learn to Live. In November 2009, he won the ultimate nod of acceptance from the industry, the CMA New Artist of the Year award.
Truth be told, Rucker never had any trouble fitting in to Nashville, either with his former fans, or his country-music counterparts. He calls guys like Jamey Johnson, Dierks Bentley, and Brad Paisley his "buds." Meanwhile, the Rascal Flatts guys are his "boys." All of this points to another understated, yet significant difference between Rucker's old industry and his new one: They play nice.
Country artists, Rucker explains, just want to make their own music and have a good time. Which is another reason that the crossover to country seemed like a natural one for Rucker, who grew up listening to the music here in Charleston. He's pretty happy-go-lucky, an eternal optimist, always challenging himself, but never desperate for more.
"I [don't see the glass as] half empty or half full. I'm like, it's more than enough," he says.
Rucker loves the simplicity and honesty of country songs and how they're about everyday life. After all, three to four days of the week, Rucker's life is pretty normal with his wife, Beth, and their children. His home life is like a verse from a country song. He seems to thrive on keeping it simple and separating what he does at work and who they are as a family.
"I'm a dad," he says. "That's what I do. I drive [my kids] to school and pick them up, help with homework, do the dishes, take the garbage out, and all the stuff you're supposed to do when you're a dad."
Downplaying his status some more, he talks about loving Target. (Who doesn't?)
"I'm at Target all the time," he says. "Target or Walmart. I'm in. I'll be there. And where I go, [my kids] go!"
Hardly the declaration of a high-maintenance music star.
Rucker's days of being confused for a guy named "Hootie" are long over. While he laments the past football season — he's an avid Miami Dolphins fan — he says he's never really looked at anything that's happened to him as unlucky. It's just part of living, he tells us.
"If I had been raised anywhere else, I don't know if I could have done the things I've done," he says. "Being raised in Charleston is why I've had all the success. I really believe that."