Darius Rucker is hard to define. If you read his blogs, you’ll find him talking about everything from the latest historical mini-series on HBO to wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes. So, it isn’t surprising, that Rucker, who is better known as the lead singer of Hootie and Blowfish, is at the top of the charts again — oh, that would be the country charts. Like I said, he’s something of a contradiction.
    Rucker rose to fame in the early ’90s when the band had a series of hits, “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be With You” off their Cracked Rear View Mirror. The band, which formed at the University of South Carolina, was a pop-hybrid that took the music world by storm. In 1994, the band won two Grammy Awards — Best New Artist and Song of the Year for “Let Her Cry,” as well as awards from MTV, the People’s Choice and Billboard. {mosimage}
In online interviews, Rucker said the band’s climb to fame was “dreamlike.” “I’d wished for it, but I’m not sure I believed it, even as it was happening. ... The whole thing was kind of a blur.”
    What was even more of a blur for Rucker was the way the band found fame. Having been raised in a home where country music reigned, he had long dreamed of fronting a country band. As he notes on his Web site, “I believe what we do with Hootie is not that far off from a lot of country music. I mean, when we first started out, I begged the guys in Hootie to be a country band, and I just got outvoted.
    “And I have always written country songs — in fact, a big joke in the band is that I write these country songs that they have to make rock,” he added. “So for me, this is really just part of the natural evolution of my career — inevitable, really.”
    The evolution, to date, has spawned one new song “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.” The song has already climbed the country charts and has put Rucker directly in the country spotlight. Following a brief tour with Hootie this summer, he’ll hit the recording studio in the fall to complete his first full-length country album for Capitol Records. In the interim, he’s been spending some time watching some of his favorite country music performers perform. One performer who blew him away was Brad Paisley, and one performer he’d love to work with is Hank Williams Jr., having noted that it’s his dream to record “Family Tradition,” Williams’ signature song.
    “I’ve been in that little twangy rock cocoon for a while,” he said. “But now I get to come out and sing these songs. I plan to be doing this for a long time.”
    Rucker said fans of Hootie shouldn’t be surprised with his move to country. “I love music and for years I’ve listened to country artists. I mean, I grew up in South Carolina in the ’70s, you know. Some of my favorite memories of being a kid is sitting in front of an AM radio and flipping through stations. You would hear a Stevie Wonder song or something, then hear a commercial so you’d turn the dial . . . hear a Kiss song, hit another commercial so you’d turn the dial again . . . and then Buck Owens jumps out at you. His guitar has no bass and the high notes are higher than anything you think you have ever heard — I didn’t know who it was, but I listened to the deejay to find out. I just had to know.
    “I grew up with a mom that let me listen to whatever I wanted to, and a grandmother that loved country music, so it’s just naturally part of my background. It might sound funny now, but Hee Haw was a religion for me.  Every country artist that existed was on Hee Haw, and I saw ‘em all,” he noted in an online interview.
    So fans who loved Hootie, and there are many in Fayetteville, as evidenced by the turnout for the band’s performance at the Dogwood Festival, will not be disappointed in Rucker’s new direction.
    Having heard “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” it’s not much of a leap from Hootie’s earlier music. Rucker’s distinctive voice does not take on a country whine, instead, it maintains that smooth, storytelling sound that launched the band in the first place. The lyric isn’t beer drinking, love ‘em and leave ‘em, and there’s nothing about trains, but Rucker has a definite country hit — you can catch IT on his Web site, DariusRucker.com or buy it via iTunes.

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