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Darius Rucker reflects on his diverse career and his personal new album


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: Darius Rucker first achieved multi-platinum status with the band Hootie & the Blowfish, which has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide.

Rucker has won all of the big awards many times over, and just this month added a few more accolades to the list.

I caught up with him in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, to talk about his new solo album and his new outlook on life.

It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Darius Rucker, Musician: I always wanted to have my own festival. It's so beautiful out here.

Geoff Bennett: And to do it at home too is pretty incredible.

Darius Rucker: There's no place else I'd want to do it, except for Charleston.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

Darius Rucker willed this Riverfront Revival music festival into existence, and on the eve of its second year in Charleston, South Carolina, he reflected on what it means to him.

Darius Rucker: It's great. I mean, I — this is mine. This is my festival.


Geoff Bennett: The 57-year-old Rucker headlining his own music festival and celebrating the release of a new country album, promoting it with an in-store performance at Charleston's Monster Music.

We were there as Rucker entertained the crowd packed into this old-school record store with a trio of hits, including this one, "Wagon Wheel." This song dates back a decade to 2013, when Rucker rode this smash single to number one on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and made it one of the top five bestselling country songs of all time.

Darius Rucker was inducted into Nashville's Music City Walk of Fame in early October and will soon receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, fame that Rucker could never have imagined. Raised by a single mother, money was hard to come by. At times, his three bedroom-house held as many as 14 children and four adult family members.

But they were always rich in love, in large part, Rucker says, because of his mom, Carolyn, the namesake of his newest album.

Tell me about her.

Darius Rucker: Yes, you know, she was awesome. She was my biggest champion and my biggest supporter. She was — she died young. She died at 51.

And I think I was 25 or something like that. And it was — she was just — I always say she's the reason I was sitting here because she was always the one giving me permission to do and — whatever I wanted to do. And she just believed in me.

And she was a great mom.

Geoff Bennett: How is this album an homage to her?

Darius Rucker: Oh, man, my whole life and career I think has been an homage to her. You know, I mean — and I was making the record, and I was having a bad day.

The first day in the studio was — I was just not having a good day. And I just sat down and I said to myself out loud, I said: "Well, at the end of the day, I'm just my mama's boy."

And I thought right then that I was going to pay the love and respect to her name it "Carolyn's Boy."

Geoff Bennett: And this is your first solo album in six years; is that right?

Darius Rucker: Yes, it's been six years, which is crazy to think about. Yes, six years.

Geoff Bennett: It feels more reflective than your previous works.

Darius Rucker: Yes, I think that's probably the most personal record I have made, just because so many things that happened, the pandemic, things that happened in your life, kids growing up and leaving the house and all this, all the stuff that was going on.

I just think, when I was writing with guys, the stuff that we were coming up with and the stuff that I wanted to write was all stuff that just, for me, instantly became true. And so, yes, this is definitely the most personal record I have made.

Geoff Bennett: Darius Rucker debuted as a solo country artist 15 years ago following breakout success as the front man for Hootie & the Blowfish, six studio albums charting in the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 six times.

And the awards piled up too, Grammy for best new artist in 1996, Billboard Music Award for Top Billboard 200 album for "Cracked Rear View," which remains among the top 10 bestselling studio albums of all time, a Grammy Award for "Let Her Cry" in 1996 and an MTV Music Video Award for "Hold My Hand" in 1995.

"Hold My Hand," I did not know this until doing the research and speaking with you, but you wrote that as a protest song against racism.

Darius Rucker: Yes, people didn't see it. And that was fine. People, I'm like, why would you see it?

But it was, and against all — it was racism and hatred, all hatred. It was just a thing of trying to bring people together.

Geoff Bennett: I first met you 15 years ago when I produced an interview that you did for NPR.

During that transition into country music, it was not guaranteed that you would be successful.

Darius Rucker: No, I always tell people that I thought I might get talked about for a second, because I come from Hootie, and you made this record at Capitol Nashville.

And I always say there wasn't anybody that looked like me on country radio. And I was being told that the audience would never accept a country singer that looked like me, so I just wanted to make country records. And my biggest goal with my first record was that they let me make another one.


Geoff Bennett: Well, where did that sense of persistence come from?

Darius Rucker: I'm going to work no matter what. I mean, I'm just going to work.

I work. I have work ethic. I'm going to go work. You tell me what you need me to do, let's go do it. Doing the radio tour, we went to like 110 radio stations, just going out there and actually saying to my label that I wanted to be treated like the new guy. Whatever the new guy does is what I want to do.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

Darius Rucker: I think that went a long way in getting it.

But — and we had the songs, man. We just had the songs.

Geoff Bennett: Those songs led to four number one albums on the Billboard Country chart, and his third career Grammy, this one for best solo country performance.

I remember watching, it was back in 2008, and you won the CMA best new artist, which, again, is hilarious because you weren't…

Darius Rucker: I was 41.


Geoff Bennett: You're 41, and you weren't entirely new to the music industry.

Darius Rucker: Yes. Yes.

WOMAN: Well, come on down, Darius Rucker.


Geoff Bennett: You thanked country radio.

Darius Rucker: Yes.

Geoff Bennett: Because, as you said, people were telling you that country wouldn't accept…


Darius Rucker: Yes.

Country radio, you took a chance on a pop singer from Charleston, South Carolina. And God bless you all for that.


Darius Rucker: As much as people want to talk about streaming and everything, country radio is really still king. And that's where people are hearing most of the songs.

When you're riding around in your car, a lot of people still listen to country radio to hear the new stuff. So, it's like country radio was so huge in me winning that, because they played my songs. There were a lot of people that thought they wouldn't play my songs. And that was big.

Geoff Bennett: And now fast-forward to the current moment. You are no longer the only prominent Black country music artist.

Darius Rucker: Yes. I love that.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

Darius Rucker: I love that. I love the fact that Kane is there and Mickey's doing her thing, and Chapel Hart, and Blanco, and Breland and all these — we could keep going on and on.

I was thinking the other day that BET needs to get them a Black country artist category going on.


Geoff Bennett: That's right.

Darius Rucker: That's how it is now, you know?

But I love it. I love to see that my success helped country music to see that that stigma wasn't true.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

Darius Rucker: And so now we can let great people in, without having to worry about that.

Geoff Bennett: You mentioned your mom passed before you found music success. What do you think she would think about the man you are today?

Darius Rucker: I think she would be really proud of me, especially with how hard I work and as much as I try to give back and help charities and — I think she'd be really proud of me.

She'd also say, man, I got a big house.


Geoff Bennett: And big crowds too. On this day, Rucker played to thousands of fans at his festival. Darius Rucker is continuing his tour across the U.S. and Europe, running through may of next year.

And, as always, there is much more online. I asked Darius Rucker about his favorite songs to play. You can hear his answer on our YouTube page.

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