From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Darius Rucker remembers first big country show
Former pop star recalls opening for Brooks & Dunn in Miami, OK
Darius Rucker experienced a revelation one night in Miami, OK.
Back in 2008, the former frontman for ‘90s pop sensations Hootie & the Blowfish was playing his first big concert as a country singer-songwriter, opening for Brooks & Dunn at Buffalo Run Casino.
“It was awesome. That was the first night that I really knew that my show would work. ‘Cause I’ll never forget, I’m sitting there, I’m playing, and people are there and my record’s not out yet, but they’re listening,” he said, adding that his first country single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” earned a good response.
“And I started to play (Hootie & the Blowfish hit) ‘Let Her Cry’ and when I did, everybody just exploded. And I realized at that point that I could play and everybody there knew (Hootie’s debut album) ‘Cracked Rear View.’ So I could just do it and it was fun. That was a great night,” he said.
“It was a really cool experience to see their crowd — because that was a Brooks & Dunn crowd — just listening and seem to be really happy with what I was doing.”
The Charleston, S.C., native shared the story for a national TV audience Sunday when the all-star tribute concert “ACM Presents: Brooks & Dunn – The Last Rodeo” aired on CBS. The show was recorded April 19, the day after the Academy of Country Music Awards, where Rucker competed for top male vocalist — Brad Paisley won the title — and closed the ceremony with his latest twangy hit, “History in the Making.”
During the TV special, Rucker paid homage to Kix Brooks and former Tulsan Ronnie Dunn with a raucous rendition of their smash “Hard Workin’ Man.”
“They’re just cool,” Rucker said. “They’re legends, and just the fact that they gave me that opportunity and just the guys they are, they definitely have a special place (in my heart).”
The duo announced last year their plans to split up after touring this summer, with their “Last Rodeo Tour” riding tonight into Tulsa’s BOK Center. Rucker, who is playing his own Oklahoma show Sunday night at Norman’s Riverwind Casino, said he is sad to see Brooks & Dunn going their separate ways.
“They make such great songs, such great albums. But I know that feeling: Everything comes to a point to where you want to do something else. I understand that,” he said. “I respect them for that, I respect them for knowing when it’s time to do that.”
After all, Rucker, 44, recently went through an equally momentous musical transition.
Back in 1986, he and three friends started Hootie & the Blowfish at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The pop-rock quartet’s become one of the biggest success stories of the ‘90s when its 1994 major-label debut “Cracked Rear View” spun off three smash hits in “Hold My Hand,” “Only Wanna Be With You” and “Let Her Cry” and sold more than 16 million copies. After releasing four more albums, the band decided a few years ago to take a break and Rucker set out to achieve a long-held goal: to make country music like one of his musical heroes, Radney Foster.
“Nobody was really expecting anything,” he said. “It wasn’t some big full-page ad in any magazine saying the Darius Rucker single’s coming out. It was just like, ‘All right, you go make the record you want to make and then we’ll see.’ Then, we’ll go put you in the car and you’re gonna drive around the country and you’re gonna take it to all these radio stations. And if it works, it works, and if not, you know, we might make you make another record.”
“Learn to Live,” debuted at No. 1 and notched platinum sales. The album’s first three singles — “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” and “Alright” — reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs list. Rucker was named best new artist at last fall’s Country Music Association Awards.
In addition to touring with Paisley and playing solo shows, Rucker is working hard on his sophomore country effort, with plans to release the first single later this summer and the album in fall.
“I didn’t think it would be, but I think it’s more stressful because I guess nothing was really being expected of the first one, so whatever happened, happened,” he said. “With this one, we’ve had success with the first one, so we’ve gotta make sure we put out a great record. … But it’s a good problem to have.”
Just as he did nearly two years ago in Miami, he continues to mix new and old material in his shows.
“I’d be ripping people off if I didn’t play Hootie songs; I’m pretty proud of those, too,” he said. “You know, me and the band want people leaving there going, ‘Man, I’d really like to see that again.’” “So we try to make sure everybody has fun.”
When: 8 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Riverwind Casino, 1544 W State Highway 9.
Information: 322-6464 or www.riverwind.com.