Change can be scary and when it comes to careers, no more so than when it comes to the fickle nature of the music industry, where there are no guarantees. But for Darius Rucker, the creative transition he made into full-fledged country music star is one that started a decade ago and one that is continuing to go full throttle. Last year saw the release of When Was the Last Time, his seventh studio album and the fifth country music record he’s released since putting out Learn to Live in 2008.
Ten years in, Rucker has been fully embraced by the Music Row community, a development no more fully realized than the fact that he was asked to join the Grand Ole Opry about five years ago. Currently on tour with co-headliners Lady Antebellum and opening act Russell Dickerson, the South Carolina native doesn’t take the honor lightly, particularly given how driven he’d been to become a country artist following a ridiculously successful run being the front man for 1990s roots-rock band Hootie & the Blowfish.
“Hootie talked about playing the Opry for so long and we never got a chance to do it. The first time I played was when my first single [‘Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It’] was out—I still remember that time vividly. It was amazing to be there and to be a part of that and to know that I was getting a little foothold into country music and getting to play the Grand Ole Opry, you’re about to do that,” he recalled. “I dedicated myself to the Opry instantly. I told my management that I wanted to play the Opry as much as I can and I did. I still play a lot, of course. Four or five years ago when they came and asked me to become a member, it meant so much to me. It meant that I wasn’t just being accepted, but that I was part of country music. It was amazing.”
Having already topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts a number of times, Rucker was looking to change things up for his most current studio outing. For this go-round, he changed gears from longtime friend Frank Rogers and instead tapped Ross Copperman (Keith Urban/Kenny Chesney) to produce. Rucker wound up having When Was the Last Time debut at No. 8 on the Billboard US 200 (his fifth Top 10 album) and also saw simultaneously it land at No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart as well. While the first two singles, the semi-autobiographical ballad “If I Told You” and the ebullient follow-up “For the First Time” both topped the Billboard Country Airplay chart, the third single, a cover of “Straight to Hell” holds special meaning for Rucker. A fan of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ and the song since it was released on the band’s 1989 album Mystery Road, he had wanted to record the song for quite some time and it was a sentiment held by close friend and Lady Antebellum founding member Charles Kelley who suggested the same to his tour mate.
“I’ve been wanting to record that since I came to Nashville. I go back to 1989 when that song was released and loving it so much. I thought about cutting it on pretty much every record that I’ve put out,” Rucker explained. “So I was making this record when Charles Kelley texted me out of the blue and said he was just listening to Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ and he thought I should cut that ‘Straight to Hell’ song. I said, ‘Dude, I’ve been thinking about cutting that for 10 years now.’ His next text was to say that I should let him sing on it too. That’s where that all started. Cutting it with Jason [Aldean] and Luke [Bryan] made it a totally different kind of thing. It became a big old fun drinking song.”
Fans can expect the upbeat vibe of Rucker’s latest single to carry over to the stage when they come out to see him. Having cut his teeth on the college circuit when he was coming out of South Carolina with Hootie & the Blowfish, it’s the only way Rucker knows how to perform live.
“We have a large party man. Our shows are high energy and a lot of fun. Playing with Lady Antebellum every night you have to go and deliver because those guys are going to deliver,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a great show. I love watching them and I love watching Russell [Dickerson]. If you come out and see us and you like the music at all, you’ll leave there very happy, I promise.”