In 2008, Charleston native Darius Rucker stepped away from pop and alternative rock to aim for new musical adventures in the contemporary country world.
If you go
What: Darius Rucker 2014 True Believers Tour, with the Eli Young Band and special guest David Nail
When: Thursday, doors open at 6 p.m. with the show starting at 7 p.m.
Where: North Charleston Coliseum, 5001 Coliseum Drive
As the lead singer for the successful, Columbia-based band Hootie & The Blowfish, he had a solid reputation for crooning Southern-style guitar pop with a touch of Carolina soul.
Some naysayers predicted that Rucker's country detour would be a short-lived fluke, but three albums with millions in sales and multiple awards later, Rucker has proven himself to be an artistic and commercial success.
Still on a roll a year after releasing his latest studio album, "True Believers," Rucker will lead his band back to the Lowcountry when the True Believers Tour makes a stop at the North Charleston Coliseum tonight.
"It's been a great year so far," Rucker tells Charleston Scene. "I can't deny that. But we still have a lot of work to do and a lot of fun to have. It's just been one big rush, and I like it that way. I like to keep the ball rolling and not feeling like things are slowing down. It's great to be on my own tour and all of that."
The True Believers Tour kicked off Jan. 29 in Illinois and will continue through March 9 in Colorado. Rucker partnered with Tickets-for-Charity and CMT One Country to offer premium seats to benefit the USO and Pattison's Academy, a Mount Pleasant-based group that helps severely disabled children through education, interaction and professional therapy; the premium seats for Thursday's show are sold out, but general seating tickets are still available.
"We've got this touring thing down," Rucker says. "We've all been doing it for so long that it's like old hat. You just put the shows together and go do it every night. I love not worrying about small details and just being able to put on a great show."
A 'True Believer'
Capitol Records Nashville released "True Believers" last January to much fanfare. It was a collaborative project for Rucker, who wrote and arranged dozens of songs with various colleagues from Nashville, Tenn., and the Lowcountry before picking the top 12 tunes. Special guests in the recording sessions include vocalist Sheryl Crow and members of Lady Antebellum.
Rucker's initial country-styled album, 2008's "Learn to Live," featured the hit "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," which became Rucker's first No. 1 single that year.
In 2010, Rucker's biographical album "Charleston, SC 1966" struck gold with the radio hits "Come Back Song" and "This." Familiar bits of pop-rock, soul and Americana played in to the country stylings of the songs.
"Pop music and country music are such different animals in general," Rucker says. "For me, pop-rock was the experience of playing and writing all the time with the same four guys in a band. With country, I might collaborate with 20 or 30 different songwriters and musicians while working on an album. That's a big difference."
Producer Frank Rogers (Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Josh Turner) worked with Rucker on the "True Believers" sessions in Nashville and at the Charleston Sound studio in Mount Pleasant. The final mixes were warm and brassy, and the songs were melodic with sunshine harmonies and a general country/pop-rock blend. Rucker's deep-toned delivery sounds as sincere as ever.
"There are absolutely different types of songs coming from different sides," Rucker says of the newest collection. "I love being able to do a party song and then go into an anthem or one of those big country ballads. I'm not into just doing things one way.
"Once I start writing a song, I just try to be as honest as I can," he adds. "I'm the one who has to sing it on stage every night, so I try to be as honest and real as I can. For me, my guard is always down when I write because I'm shooting for my full self. Most listeners, especially country audiences, can tell if you're faking or not, being honest and genuine, so that's really important to me."
Earlier this month, Rucker released the love song "Miss You" as a single. The song is yet another success in a string of hits from "True Believers," including the title track, "Radio," and the Grammy Award-winning and Academy of Country Music-nominated "Wagon Wheel" (the ACM Awards take place April 6).
Rucker and his seven-piece band performed the tune on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on Jan. 24.
"When I'm playing new songs from the new records in concert - maybe songs that some people haven't heard yet - you can tell that they're getting it by the second chorus or so," Rucker says. "I still try to write about what I know. I want songs to come out that way. A song like 'Miss You' just goes back to life experiences. I think my songs are pretty relatable, and that might be why they've done so well for me. People can understand what I'm talking about, and they love that."
'Cracked Rear View'
As Rucker tours across the U.S. behind "True Believers" this winter, more and more old-school Rucker fans (circa Hootie & The Blowfish) seem increasingly fascinated and excited by the possibility of a reunion tour or special events connected with the 20th anniversary of the release of Hootie & The Blowfish's massive "Cracked Rear View" album, which hit the street July 5, 1994.
Within months of its release, Hootie & The Blowfish - Rucker, guitarist Mark Bryan, drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld, and bassist Dean Felber - leaped from their Southeastern college radio star status to nationwide popularity.
"Cracked Rear View" became the best-selling album of 1995, and it eventually went on to sell more than 16 million copies.
Cleanly produced by studio engineer Don Gehman (John Mellencamp, R.E.M.), the 11-song collection opens with the upbeat rocker "Hannah Jane" before shifting into the first smash single "Hold My Hand." Propelled by a handsome music video featuring the foursome performing in the parlor of a stately Southern mansion, "Hold My Hand" climbed into Billboard's Top 10 in early 1995.
The soulful, harmony-laden "Let Her Cry" and the sugary, vibrant "Only Wanna Be With You" followed on the hits tally.
Then the catchy two-chord groove of "Time" caught on, too. Hootie & The Blowfish filmed a live music video for "Time" during their first-ever headlining show at the then-newly opened North Charleston Coliseum in 1995.
Some of the rootsy, twangy, Americana style of much of "Cracked Rear View's" second side foreshadowed some of Rucker's country leanings. The punchy "Running From an Angel" and the strummy "I'm Going Home" could almost fit nicely in some of the modern country radio playlists of today.
"It's funny to listen back to 'Cracked Rear View.' ... I'm so much older now," Ruckers laughs. "I wrote 'Let Her Cry' when I was like 21 years old. Now, I see the world in a slightly different light, but my love for the music is still the same."
In 2009, an hour-long documentary titled "The Next Big Hootie" aired on ETV as part of S.C. Educational Television's Carolina Stories series. Filmmaker Ricky Taylor and producer Amy Shumaker assembled various clips, interviews and concert footage to examine Hootie's climb to commercial success: from their earliest dorm-room rehearsals and bar gigs in Columbia to their national tours supporting "Cracked Rear View" and the effects and influence the album's success had on the S.C. music scene.
Last year, rumors began circulating that the original Hootie & The Blowfish members might be making plans for a commemorative "Cracked Rear View" anniversary tour, but the band has not issued an official statement confirming or denying anything.
Officially, Hootie & The Blowfish have never disbanded. While they haven't toured or recorded in quite a while, Rucker, Bryan, Sonefeld and Felber have regularly reassembled for philanthropic endeavors in the Palmetto State, including performances at the annual Homegrown Roundup concert series at Family Circle Magazine Stadium on Daniel Island.
In May, Rucker told The Hollywood Reporter that a moth-long tour was a possibility, adding that he and his bandmates were also considering recording a new studio album together.?"It doesn't feel like two decades ago, does it?" Rucker says of the "Cracked Rear View" release. "There is no official plan for Hootie this year, though. I can almost guarantee that we'll get together and do something; I just don't know where and when. We haven't even started shooting emails or texting one another yet."
While there's no concert announcements as of yet, Rucker seems willing to confirm the rumor of making new Hootie music, whether it happens in 2014 or shortly after.
"I am looking forward to writing the next Hootie record," he says. "I'm looking forward to seeing what we come up with. We'll still have the same elements of who the four of us are, and we'll still have the same voice and sound that we've had. Right now, though, my main goal is to do my best in country music. I'm trying to matter in country music for as long as I can. That's really my goal for myself. To be one of those people who get mentioned when people talk about country music, that's a goal and a dream."
Darius Rucker’s True Believer Tour will be at the North Charleston Coliseum on Thursday.×
David Nail will be a special guest at Thursday’s Darius Rucker True Believer show at the North Charleston Coliseum.×
The Eli Young Band will be the opening act at Thursday’s Darius Rucker True Believer show at the North Charleston Coliseum.×
Hootie & The Blowfish celebrates the 20th anniversary of the release of “Cracked Rear View” in July.×
A street sign honoring Hootie & The Blowfish was unveiled in Five Points in Columbia in October 2010.×
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Lowcountry native Darius Rucker pose with the street sign that hangs at the entrance to the North Charleston Coliseum on International Boulevard during Rucker’s street naming ceremony on Aug. 12.×
Darius Rucker sings the National Anthem at the RiverDogs home opener at Riley Park on April 7, 2006.×