Rucker feels at home with country

By John Benson

Darius Rucker, the country singer with a rock ’n’ roll past, says he’s finally at home.

After fronting a successful and platinum Hootie & the Blowfish for over a decade, the South Carolina native made the improbable leap from adult-contemporary to country music.

“I think that was the biggest apprehension to country music and people in the business that I would be dabbling in country music,” said Rucker, calling from Oslo, Norway. “But this was a career move for me. I really think this is where it was supposed to lead to and home is the perfect word for it. I’m home. I’m a country music guy. This is what I do. I’m a country singer and this is where I’m going to be.”

Citing the fact his former band dabbled in country music storytelling and employed mandolin and lap steel on its records, Rucker feels his Music City arrival, 2008’s platinum effort “Learn to Live,” shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise. Still, scoring a No. 1 album with “Learn to Live” and No. 1 country singles “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” does seem like quite the accomplishment, not to mention his recently released follow-up effort “Charleston, SC 1966” and its No. 1 singles “Come Back Song” and “This.”

Clearly the elephant in the room is not only his rock past but the fact as an African-American singer he’s if not breaking down barriers then definitely opening doors wider. Rucker is following a path taken by classic African-American country performer Charlie Pride over a quarter of a century ago. Still, Rucker acknowledges the ride hasn’t always been smooth.

“I don’t let it bother me, it’s part of the nature,” Rucker said. “But I’m sure most country artists don’t have to read the comments on the Internet and read things said about me and to me. It’s wild and sometimes it bothers you but I let that go. I’m making the music I want to make. There’s a bunch of idiots in the world. They’re not going to buy the record anyway. I’m cool with it. That’s just the way the world is, there’s nothing you can do about it, and it’s not going to change because I’m playing country music.”

Still, does he feel his recent success has had an effect on the industry?

“I hope so,” Rucker said. “Somebody asked me if this was going to change country music, and I don’t think every label is out there looking for their African- American artist but I think if a CD comes over somebody’s desk they may actually give it a listen instead of throwing it straight to the trash.”

In and out of the trash is something the sports-loving singer has been feeling of late with his beloved Miami Dolphins. In fact, things are so bad for the 45-year-old that he said he won’t be drafting current Miami quarterback Chad Henne for one of his many fantasy football leagues.

Speaking of football, Rucker will be in Northeast Ohio on Saturday at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds, which is just down the road from the Cleveland Browns training facility. It turns out misery loves company, with Rucker having some Brown and Orange love.

“I’m pulling for the Browns,” Rucker said. “I like Colt McCoy. I think he’ll have a great season. And I have a keeper league where I kept Peyton Hillis. So my message to the Browns is, ‘Run the ball. Give it to Peyton.’”

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