"Church bells ringing on our wedding day/ climbed in that limo and rode away/ guess you'll always hear some people say/ they're never gonna make it/ we settled in and we settled down in this quite little seaside town/ you were the rock I built my world around/ and life won't ever break it." - True Believers - Darius Rucker-Josh Kear.

The first time I heard Darius Rucker singing with Hootie & The Blowfish I thought he was a vocal dead ringer for Lou Rawls and Marshall Tucker Band vocalist Doug Gray.

But now on his fourth solo album Rucker, who shares South Carolina roots with Gray, is one of the most distinctive baritones in the country genre.

And, with writing credits on 10 of the 12 songs, he's reaping rich royalties from the fruits of his labour.

Ironically, it was a cover of a Bob Dylan poem resurrected by Old Crow Medicine Show leader Ketch Secor as Wagon Wheel that scored sales exceeding two million.

The song, featuring label mates Lady Antebellum on harmonies, didn't surpass Hootie's 1994 debut mainstream Cracked Rear View that sold almost 20 million but it helped rocket Rucker, 47 and father of three, to the top of Billboard charts in May.

That's no fluke for the singer who was raised by his single mother, a nurse, and attended the University of South Carolina with his Hootie & Blowfish mates who grew from a duet in 1986 and cut six albums in 14 years.

After the sea water fish ran out of chart hooks Rucker made solo R&B debut album, The Return of Mongo Slade, for the Atlantic label in 2001.

Indie label Hidden Beach acquired the shelved masters from Atlantic and released it as Back to Then in July 2002.

In early 2008 Rucker signed to Capitol - first solo single Don't Think I Don't Think About It (written with Clay Mills) debuted at #51 on Billboard on May 3, 2008.

It was the first single from Learn to Live that he recorded with Frank Rogers who also produced Brad Paisley, Josh Turner and Trace Adkins.

"I love Frank's records, that's where it started," Darius says of Rogers who also grew up in South Carolina.

"When I met the guy and he asked me what I wanted and I looked in his eyes, I knew he got it. I really just knew that this was my guy. I say all the time, 'I can't see myself doing much in country music without Frank producing it.'"

Rucker made his Grand Ole Opry debut in July 2008.

Don't Think I Don't Think About It became first top 20 hit for an African American on country charts since November Aussie tourist Charley Pride's last Top 20 hit in 1988.

It reached #1 in September, 2008, making Rucker first solo, African-American artist, to reach #1 since Pride's Night Games in 1983.


"Heading down south to the land of the pines/ I'm thumbing my way into North Caroline/ staring up the road and pray to God I see the headlights/ I made it down the coast in 17 hours/ picking me a bouquet of wildwood flowers/ and I'm a hoping for Raleigh/ I can see my bay tonight." - Wagon Wheel - Bob Dylan-Ketch Secor.

Rucker entrees new album with the title track and first single that reached #24 on the charts.

"It's so me and so personal in my life," Rucker revealed.

"It's the story about a husband and a wife who all their friends said were never going to make it and all these years later all their friends are divorced and they're still together and everybody is still saying they're never going to make it. When I was singing it I was just laughing because it's such a defiant song," he continued. "It's a song that's saying to everybody, 'Screw you. I know we're going to make it. Through all the crap, we're going to be the two that make it.' And that's how my wife and I feel. I love the song. It's about my marriage, but it's also about my career. When I started this solo thing, it was just me and Mike Dungan, the guy who signed me (to Capitol Records). The day he decided to sign me, he called 13 people who he thought were movers and shakers in Nashville, and 12 of them told him it wouldn't work."

Rucker had no qualms about resurrecting Wagon Wheel as second single for True Believers.

"No, because I was so naive about how big the song was," Rucker revealed.

"I really didn't know it was this college staple. I haven't been in college in years. Old Crow, to me, was Tennessee Pusher and Cocaine Habit and Methamphetamine and Motel in Memphis and those really hard bluegrass songs they were doing. I'd heard Wagon Wheel but I didn't know it was that big. I'm glad I didn't know it was that big because I might not have cut it. It's such a great tune. And I never even think about cutting that song until I heard it one day at my oldest daughter's high school talent show. And the faculty band got up and played it. They did such a great country version of it that just blew me away. I was like, wow, I never even thought of that song was a country song, but it's a great country song."

So what was the reaction of Dylan to Wagon Wheel enjoying another lucrative spin?

"My manager talked to Dylan's manager, they're friends," Rucker explained.

"Bob actually was talking about maybe doing the video for me before the Duck Dynasty guys came around. He was real happy with it. He knew if it was a success, what it was going to do for him. So they said he liked it a lot. I've met him a couple of times. Briefly.

He's a really quiet guy. He's Dylan. There's an aura about him. I think if you walked in the room and didn't know who Bob Dylan was you would know he's somebody. He's a cool dude that I had a brief conversation with a couple of times. I'm proud to say I've met him. He's a true legend."

It's not the first time Dylan scored a paycheck from Rucker.

In the early '90s he sued Hootie and the Blowfish because of lyrics used in their hit Only Wanna Be With You.

Rucker admits it's doubtful Dylan knew anything about the lawsuit.

In an old interview he said Dylan's management was aware of their use of lyrics from Idiot Wind and had no problem with it.

Once the song became a hit they objected and Hootie was forced to pay up.

The lyrics in question were: "Said I shot a man named Gray/ took his wife to Italy/ she inherited a million bucks/ and when she died it came to me/ I can't help it if I'm lucky."

Only Wanna Be With You is a Dylan tribute - especially that verse.

Later in the song the band drops Tangled Up in Blue - title of another Dylan tune - on the hit from Cracked Rear View that sold nearly 20 million copies.


"Seventeen, the only way I had a car/ is after I dropped my mama off where she needed to go/ four bald tires, with the ceiling failing and the window stuck/ but the only thing I cared about was the radio/ we'd turn it on, turn it up to ten and everybody would jump on in." - Radio - Darius Rucker-Luke Laird-Ashley Gorley.

Rucker has long used cars as a vehicle for his love songs so it's no surprise Radio was released at the peak of the American summer touring circuit.

"It is one of those big summer songs where you just turn up the, you know, turn it up, put the windows down and get your friends in the car and drive and just sing along," Rucker says.

"And I love that tune."

It was chosen ahead of duets with Mallary Hope on I Will Love You Still and Sheryl Crow on Love Without You.

"The great story about that is that we put Mallary on there because we wanted a female to sing a guide track so we could get some big artist to sing on it," Rucker confessed.

"When she sang it, she was so absolutely amazing, Frank called me up and said, "I don't know who you guys are thinking about getting on this, but no one's gonna sing it this great." He sent it to me, and I called him and said, "You're absolutely right." So we decided to forget everybody else. We're gonna keep Mallary."

Sheryl Crow, who joined Miranda Lambert and septuagenarian icon Loretta Lynn on Coalminer's Daughter, has also recently released a country album Feels Like Coming Home.

"She's someone I love and have wanted to sing with for years," Rucker added.

"She gives me chills when I hear that song."

Miss You and Lost In You also explore Rucker's romantic rhythms - he describes Leavin' the Light On as a love letter to wife, Beth.


"November of '45 on a boat coming across the sea/ he left a boy, came back a man/ she started running when she saw his face/ it's been 655 days since she held his hand/ he got down on one knee and he pulled out that ring/ that he bought in Aberdeen/ and when it hit that New York sky." - Shine - Darius Rucker-Frank Rogers.

It's a far cry from his distant childhood when his single mother, Carolyn, a nurse, raised him with his three sisters and two brothers.

His father was in local gospel band The Rolling Stones and Rucker only saw him before church on Sundays.

Rucker had a typical Southern, African-American upbringing.

His family attended church every Sunday and was economically poor - at one time his mother, her two sisters, grandmother and 14 children were all living in a three-bedroom home.

His grandmother was inspiration for diamond wedding ring lit Shine from True Believers.

Rucker and Rogers trace the 55 year love journey that survived wars, atom bombs and a baby boom while celebrating Martin Luther King and the first man on the moon and passing down of the ring to the new Rucker matriarch.

The song, like True Believers, is a natural progression from his first two solo country albums.

"The first record, the mindset was we've got to make a country record that, for me, was the record I wanted to make," Rucker explained.

"But it had to be a country record - Frank and I. I don't know if anyone was expecting anything from us, so we just went in and wrote the songs made the record we wanted to make. We were so happy with it, with the second record, we even said, "Let's just pick up where we left with the first one and go on that route. With this record we knew how important it was for my career, so were like, "Let's get some amazing songs and make it sound a little brighter, a little countrier and really show people that we can be great."

So bluegrass ace Aubrey Haynie added fiddle and mandolin, Russ Pahl and Mike Johnson played pedal steel and dobro and Ilya Toshinksy added more mandolin and acoustic guitar.

"Yeah, and I like that, I don't think you can have too much fiddle or a slide guitar for me," Rucker added.

"I mean, Rogers has to tone me down. I'm always saying, "Put more on." He says, "Dude, we don't need any more." I felt that way. I felt like I was the new guy. I didn't want to come out and tell people how great I was and have to headline my tour or anything. I wanted to come in and be first guy on the tour. I wanted to start from the lowest rung of the totem pole and work my way up. That came from a lot of things. It came from, first of all, just being that kind of a guy and wanting to do that."


"You've got the keys, girl, I'm just a rider/ gas it up and get us out of here/ put the pedal down, I wanna fly girl/ crank it up and catch another gear/ let's go to Vegas, hit California/ or Carolina where the southern breeze blows." - Heartbreak Road - Darius Rucker- Dallas Davidson-Rhett Atkins.

Rucker also retreated to South Carolina to be with his family and write and record the album with peers.

"It was definitely much more laid-back for me," Rucker said.

"I think for some of the guys who came to write with me - Dallas Davidson and some of those guys - it was different for them, too.

They'd come and spend a day or so in Charleston, and then we'd get together and write, but I think lot of them got the feel of what I love so much about the Lowcountry.

Not a bad place at all. And I think that helped us write the songs that we wrote.
Rucker also recorded his vocals in South Carolina.

"For me, it was probably the first record I've ever made where I didn't feel like I was working when I was doing the vocals," he added.

"It was just part of my day at home. I'm not a studio rat. I do find sitting around playing the same song 12 times kind of tedious. I like to get in and get out. Frank knows that. I think that's why the Charleston thing worked so much. He could just get the best out of me and then go home."

It's a far cry from his roaring rock era.

"Second of all, I had been in Hootie & the Blowfish," Rucker recalled.

"With our first foray, we were the biggest band in the world, and then there was nowhere to go but down from there. So I wanted to build it up to where, three or four records down the road, I could be something in the country genre. But I didn't want to come out and make everybody think that I was something - 'cause I wasn't. I was the new guy making music. I was the pop guy - the carpetbagger - coming over here. I wanted to earn my stripes. I didn't want it to be just given to me. That was something that I had that was good. That was so important for me - that I wasn't worried about money. I didn't do this for the money. There was no moment when I was doing this for the money. I was doing it for my love of country music."


"I wanna feel that ocean breeze that's got me wrapped around its fingers/ I wanna hear a southern drawl and taste every word that lingers/ I need a Sunday morning song by a just got baptised singer/ I been away too long, somebody take me home." - Take Me Home - Darius Rucker-Frank Rogers-Monty Criswell.

When Rucker hit Nashville he had strong allies including Texan Radney Foster who had written songs with and for him.

Rucker's second country album, Charleston, SC 1966, on October 12, 2010 was inspired by Foster's solo debut album, Del Rio, TX 1959.

"The main reason is because of Radney Foster. He came out with Del Rio, Texas 1959 back in '92 and that was one of those light switch records for me," Darius says of the record that made him want to be a country singer.

"I wanted to pay homage to my idol, because Radney is my idol. He named his record after the year and the town he was born in, so I thought I'd name this record after the year and the town I was born in," Darius explains. "I've always been a fan of country music, and when Radney came along was when I first started saying 'I want to sing that music someday.' I would always tell the guys in the band, I'm going to make a country record."

So what was the Foster magic?

"I don't know what it is. I really wish I knew what it was because then I'd do it too,"
confessed Rucker who sang backing vocals on Foster's 1999 album See What You Want to See.

"It's his voice and his song-writing. I really love his song-writing. It's just something about the guy. I idolize him. He's the man."

Rucker's album's 13 new tracks included Might Get Lucky that he wrote with Foster.

"Radney and I were writing one day. We wrote one song, and then we started Might Get Lucky,'" Darius confessed.

"We got through the verse and the chorus, and then he went in and finished it. Radney demoed it, and you know how big of a Radney fan I am. Radney doesn't just demo it with vocals and guitar; he whole-band demos it! I'm not kidding! I'm telling you, I kept listening to this thing four or five times a day because it's such a great demo. When we went into the studio to record it, I kept wanting to sing it like Radney had, because I heard that demo for so long. I loved all the little phrasings he did and that Texas twang that he's got."

What did Radney think of his buddy's final version of their tune? "He called me the other day when he heard it, and he was real happy with it," Darius says, grinning. "He was real, real happy with it. To me, it's an honor to have a Radney song on my record."

Come Back Song, written with Chris Stapleton and Casey Beathard, was his fourth #1 country hit and peaked at 37 on the Billboard pop chart.

The album also included a duet with West Virginian country star Brad Paisley on I Don't Care that helped reach gold sales status.

"It was really great for me." Rucker confessed.

"I had Radney, of course, and Bill Lloyd and guys like that. But Brad Paisley became an instant ally even before we became good friends. He and Vince Gill were two people who really helped me so much. I don't think they understand how much it helped me. I heard this probably 15 times before my record came out - from people who said, "I just talked to Brad Paisley, and he said he heard your record and said it's just great." That's something he didn't have to do. That was huge for me. It helped a lot in the business, but it helped me a lot to feel comfortable in what I was doing."

Rucker met golf champion Tiger Woods in a bar when Woods was 18 and sang at his wedding with Hootie & the Blowfish.

He sang The Lady Is A Tramp at equally controversial Frank Sinatra's 80th birthday - that same week he had a voice cameo in an episode of the sitcom Friends.

Rucker's songs have also surfaced in movies diverse as Shallow Hal, The TV Set, Message In A Bottle, Desertion, The Still Life and Monte Carlo and TV shows Hart Of Dixie, The Bachelorette and Marley & Me.

He also joined Texan Nanci Griffith on Gulf Coast Highway for her 1997 album Blue Roses from the Moon.

top / back to diary