"Hold My Hand" was a big hit in the '90s for the band Hootie & the Blowfish and lead singer Darius Rucker. He's traveled a country mile since then, in more ways than one, as he tells our Jan Crawford:
At the Grand Ole Opry, on country music's biggest stage, he's one of the biggest stars.
Heading down south to the land of the pines,
I'm thumbing my way into North Caroline,
Staring up the road and pray to God I see headlights,
I made it down the coast in seventeen hours,
Picking me a bouquet of dogwood flowers,
And I'm a-hopin' for Raleigh, I can see my baby tonight.
So, rock me momma like a wagon wheel,
Rock me momma any way you feel,
Hey, momma rock me.
But Darius Rucker's journey to the mecca of country music hasn't been easy, or straight-forward.
"First of all, you had the pop guy coming over to country, which we see people try to do all the time, and it never works," Rucker said. "And coming over as the African American kid. So I just figured that was another strike that was gonna be hard to get by."
If Rucker seems like an unlikely country star, that's OK with a guy who first hit it big as an unlikely pop star, as lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish.
To watch Hootie & the Blowfish perform "Only Wanna Be With You," click on the video player below:
Back in the late '80s, Rucker and three friends from the University of South Carolina were playing frat houses and beach bars, like the Windjammer in his hometown of Charleston. "At the beginning, you know, some nights it'd be 200 people; some nights it'd be 40 people," he said.
But in other places, the issues were bigger than the size of the crowd, such as when Hootie & the Blowfish played at all-white fraternity houses.
"That was probably the hardest days of all of 'em," Rucker said. "You play these frat parties, and the things you hear. … I can't tell you how many times we heard, 'You know, that's a great band, even though they got a n***** singer.'"
Rucker ignored the hate, and kept doing what he loved. In 1994, the band's debut album, "Cracked Rear View," became a phenomenon, selling 16 million copies.
To watch Hootie & the Blowfish perform "Let Her Cry," click on the video player below:
"For a generation of college students," Crawford said, "you were the man."
"Absolutely," Rucker replied.
"I'm sure now in your shows, you've got 40- and 50-year-olds who, when you play 'Let Her Cry' …"
"They lose their minds!" he laughed.
But when the band didn't match its early success, the record company lost interest. For Rucker, it was a defining moment … and a second chance.
"I've always loved country music," he said. "It was always a big part of my life since I was a kid. I think I saw every 'Hee Haw' that came on, because it was something for me!"
"I just have to stop you right there," interjected Crawford. "If you tell people that 'Hee-haw' was something you listened to every week, people are gonna go, like, 'Yeah, right.'"
"It was huge! There was only three channels, you know?" he laughed. "And 'Hee Haw,' I mean, my family, 'Hee Haw' was huge for me!"
He was one of six children raised by a single mother, in a house on the north side of Charleston. Walking past his old home, Rucker said, "This is who I am. I mean, this neighborhood is who I am."
And for his improbable journey, he credits his mother and the values she instilled. "I wouldn't have made it in country music, I wouldn't have made it in any kind of music if my mom wasn't the person she was, and taught me always be humble and always work hard," he said. "And, you know, 'You're not that great! You know, and just go out and do what you're supposed to do.' And those lessons still stick with me to this day."
But in Nashville, no one was buying this former pop star-turned-country. Before Rucker, there had only been one well-known African American country music star: Charley Pride.
"I had radio station guys tell me, 'I didn't think my audience would accept it,'" Rucker said.
"Because you're black?"
"Yeah. And I was like, 'Wow!'"
Once again, Rucker got to work. He went from selling out arenas with Hootie to playing 30-minute sets as the warm-up act. "I couldn't have come here and be bragging about, you know, I sold this many records. I've won this many Grammys. That's just not who I am. I wanted to come in and work. I wanted to come in, start from the bottom, and see what happens."
To watch Darius Rucker perform "Come Back Song," click on the video player below:
What happened was, Darius Rucker proved everyone wrong … and became a country music star. He won the 2013 Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance," for "Wagon Wheel."
With "If I Told You," off his new album, "When Was the Last Time," he's now got eight #1 one country hits ...
To hear Darius Rucker perform "For the First Time," from his album "When Was the Last Time," click on the video player below:
… and a permanent plaque on the wall of country music's most elite club. "I can't say enough about what it means to me to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry," he said. "This is something, as a kid, I couldn't even dream of!"
After 25 years in the music business, Rucker is blending all the different labels people have put on him. And as if to complete his charmed musical circle, last Thursday night he headlined at another legendary music hall: the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
When asked what he thought about being on that stage, Rucker replied, "I think in a strange way that little six-year-old kid, seven-year-old kid running around, that little kid inside of me is saying, 'You finally made it. We're gonna play the Apollo Theater. You finally made it.'"
For Darius Rucker, it's more than all right -- it's a dream come true.
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