Darius Rucker  admits that the pressure's on, but he doesn't mind. The first three singles from his 2008 Capitol Records Nashville debut, "Learn to Live," hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. The album itself debuted at No. 1 on Top Country Albums and was certified platinum by the RIAA. And Rucker's hot streak continued as he won the Country Music Assn. new artist of the year award last November.
As a result, expectations are high for his follow-up Capitol set, "Charleston, SC 1966," due Oct. 12. "I took the same approach as I did with the first one: Don't try to force it, just write, write and write until you have the songs you like -- until you are happy," the longtime Hootie & the Blowfish  frontman says about crafting his second country album. "I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. I felt pressure, but it wasn't like I could do anything else than what I already do."
When his first Capitol single, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," debuted in May 2008, few would have predicted Rucker would enjoy such success in the country format. Rucker overcame both the race barrier and the stigma against pop/rock acts trying to break into country.
Though there have been others who scored minor hits, Charley Pride has been the only African-American artist to achieve major success in the country format until Rucker crossed over.
Darius Rucker, "Come Back Song"
When it comes to the dearth of African-American acts in country music, Rucker says, "I definitely don't think it's as big of an issue as it used to be. I really believe that if you can get a president at the label who believes in you and you have a few great songs, then you can have a career in country music. I'm doing it."
Rucker approached his entry into the country format like a newcomer to the industry, doing extensive radio promotional visits and winning over programmers with his knowledge of and obvious love for country music.
"When I was in the biggest band in the world, I didn't know the radio people in my town. I didn't know the program director of the pop station because it wasn't a relationship like that," he says of the difference in how the rock and country formats operate. "[Now] I pretty much know somebody at every radio station . . . We text each other. We're friends. We hang out."
"This guy wears his heart on his sleeve," Capitol Records Nashville senior VP of marketing Cindy Mabe says of Rucker's accessibility. "He sold nearly 30 million records before he ever got here, but he passionately wants to do this. He was going to do it with or without a record label. He was going to make a country record because it's who he is."
The title of Rucker's new record is a nod to singer/songwriter Radney Foster. "He came out with 'Del Rio, Texas 1959' back in '92 and it was a huge record for me," Rucker says of the album named for Foster's birthplace and year. "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 some day.' "
In recording "Charleston, SC 1966," the South Carolina native again turned to producer Frank Rogers. Overall, Rucker penned 77 songs for the new album, then culled it down to 13.
Among the new tracks is "Things I'd Never Do," written with Rogers and Clay Mills, which Rucker jokes "wasn't written about Tiger Woods." He and Rogers co-wrote "This" with former "American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi, and Rucker says the traditional "Whiskey and You," penned with Rogers, is as close to Merle Haggard  and George Jones  as he gets. The lead single from the new album, "Come Back Song," is No. 9 on Hot Country Songs.
Rucker is touring as part of Brad Paisley's H20 trek, which he'll continue through November. He feels that such high-profile touring -- and support from CMT on his videos -- has helped him gain fans. Next year, he'll kick off his own headlining tour supported by Coca-Cola.
In promoting the album, Mabe says the label is holding a national radio contest in which winners will "come back" home with Rucker, scoring a trip to Charleston where Rucker will show them around his hometown and do a private concert.
In addition, Rucker, a football fanatic, is the official spokesman for the NCAA's College Colors Day promoting the NCAA football season. He's also running a "Darius End Zone Obsession Game" on his website and offering prizes. "I'm doing a great football picking pool with the fans that will be a lot of fun," he says. "You do everything you can."
- News