Darius Rucker: Stepping into his past and finding his future

Darius Rucker

Darius Rucker’s career-turn from front-man for’90s feel-good pop band, Hootie & The Blowfish, to one of today’s top feel-good country artists has been like one long wagon ride — one that’s had its share of twists and turns but that has delivered the singer to new heights.

Rucker’s “True Believers” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in May, following predecessors “Learn To Live” (2008) and “Charleston, SC 1966” (2010). All three debuted in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200. The South Carolina native went on to become the first black artist in 26 years — since Charley Pride’s “Night Games” in 1983 — to score a No. 1 single with 2008’s “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.”

His first single off “True Believers,” a revamp of the Bob Dylan/Old Crow Medicine Show song “Wagon Wheel,” has gone on to become his sixth No. 1 Country hit and has racked up a strong following on CMT with the video which stars many of the cast members of the A&E reality-series “Duck Dynasty” and features guest stars Lady Antebellum on the track. How Rucker went on to score a big hit with a cover of a bluegrass song sort of goes back to his role as a father and family man.

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“I’d been hearing that song for years as an Old Crow bluegrass song,” he said. “I went to my oldest daughter’s high school talent show and the faculty band performed it as a country song and I knew that I wanted to give it a try.

“Lady A and I were on the road together and we’d become good friends. I called them up and they recorded it with me and it took the song to a whole new level. Before they were on it, I wasn’t thinking about the song as a single.

“I’m a huge ‘Duck Dynasty’ fan and when we were kicking ideas around about what to do for the video my wife suggested that I try to get the guys from the show. I didn’t think we had a chance, but I called them up and they were so laid back and into it. They’re the reason that video has become so popular.”

Rucker’s new single, “Radio,” is a nostalgic throwback to his days as a teen when he drove his mom’s beat-up Chevy, but was happy to have a radio to listen to.

When Rucker transitioned from a rock singer to a country artist, the shift was more natural than some might think. The singer grew up listening to country music and in 2012 he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

“Being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry is amazing,” he said. “I grew up listening to the Opry and was a big fan of Hee Haw and all those guys were members. I still get chills every time I play there.”

For the first time since he went solo, Rucker is headlining shows.

“Before it was just me opening for 45-minute sets,” he said. “I used to headline with Hootie, but there was four of us in the band making decisions, now it’s just me.”

Rucker still performs a handful of shows every year with his old band and college friends, Hootie & The Blowfish, but it’s mostly charity events. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s smash debut, “Cracked Rear View,” an anniversary that makes Rucker laugh with disbelief.

“It’s amazing to think that it’s been almost 20 years,” he said. “It sure doesn’t seem like that long ago. I’m sure that we’ll do something to commemorate it.”

When he’s not touring or spending time with his family, the singer can be found raising funds for charities or playing a round of golf. Sometimes he blends the two. He has partnered with the PGA Tour and written, recorded and released “Together Anything’s Possible” in support of the PGA Tour’s charitable initiative.

Rucker performs Aug. 9 as a headliner at the Bethlehem Musikfest, a festival that he’s played before.

“It’s a great festival and I look forward to seeing the other bands play,” he said. “The crowds are great because they’ve been there all day and they’re ready to have a good time.”