DARIUS RUCKER has become South Carolina’s biggest-ever country music star. You may now stop calling him Hootie.
(Hilton Head Monthly, November 2010) Veterans of the local music scene talk about a time, 20 or so years ago, when it was still possible to hit local bars like the Old Post Office and see bands on the brink of national fame. At the time Hilton Head played host to a good number of future stars, including Duncan Sheik and Edwin McCain, but nobody blew up nearly like the University of South Carolina classmates in Hootie and the Blowfish — which you already know if you ever left your house in 1994-95.
Popular music marched on, of course, but Hootie stuck around, dropping occasional records, returning to Hilton Head for big local gigs at Honey Horn and Sea Pines and generally maintaining a career of consistent, unsurprising solidity.
The surprise, when it came, was a good one.
In 2008, pretty much out of nowhere, Hootie singer Darius Rucker released his debut solo country record, “Learn to Live,” on the Capitol Nashville label. Haters chuckled, but the single “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” speedily reached the top of the country charts, making Rucker the first solo African-American artist to chart a No. 1 country hit since Charley Pride in 1983 — which is why, these days, you don’t find Rucker having a beer and feeling sorry for himself.
This month, Rucker releases his second solo country album, the hometown love note “Charleston, SC, 1966.” We caught up with him on tour to talk about old times, check in on Hootie’s 25th anniversary and attempt to instigate a rivalry with Stephen Colbert.
Q. What are your first memories of Hilton Head?
A. I got tons of them. My first memories are playing the Old Post Office — they used to have the band play all night, then they opened up the doors and let the sun come in. I remember walking over to the tiki bar the first time I saw Edwin McCain. I knew I was seeing something special.
Q. This is your second solo country album. Is it safe to say you’re sticking with the country thing?
A. I love it. I love where I am, I love doing what I’m doing. I’ll probably do it until I don’t make music anymore. Country music is my day job now.
Q. What music were you exposed to as a kid in Charleston?
A. In the ‘70s, especially when I was sitting around listening to AM radio, you could hear Buck Owens and Stevie Wonder and the Beatles on the same station. That’s one thing you always find on there: that country feel. We listened to so much country music at the time.
Q. Are the fans coming to your solo shows the same ones who come to Hootie shows?
A. It’s a little bit of both. When I play Hootie songs, I see some people who have no idea what I’m playing. It’s always amazing to me. You’ve got a brand new crowd.
Q. The city of Columbia announced they planned to erect a statue to Hootie and the Blowfish in October. How did that come about?
A. The city asked us to do it for a couple of years, and we agreed to it. We spent a lot of years in Columbia trying to make it. You feel really proud that the city wants to acknowledge you that way. We’re just some bar band that got lucky. It’s pretty wild that there’s going to be a statue in Five Points.
Q. I was at a taping of “The Colbert Report” and asked (Charleston native) Colbert about your getting a statue in Columbia before him. He said, “Oh, that doesn’t count. You want a statue in Columbia? I’ll get you a statue in Columbia.” So does that mean there’s competition between you and Colbert over who is really the favorite son of South Carolina?
A. (Uproarious laughter) That’s pretty good. Absolutely not. Stephen’s got a TV show. We can’t beat that.
Q. Next year is Hootie and the Blowfish’s 25th anniversary. Any plans?
A. We aren’t planning anything yet, but I’m sure we will. I didn’t even think about it until people started calling me. We played four or five shows last year, I’m sure we’ll do the same next year. We’ll probably eventually do another Hootie record, another Hootie tour.
Q: Your new song “Southern State of Mind” discusses what it’s like to be a Southerner traveling the country. What do you miss most about the South when on the road?
A.The big thing we do, every Saturday, we fly the Gamecock flag loud and proud over the bus wherever we are.