Darius Rucker is celebrating his 51st birthday with Tucson.
Before he hits the stage at the AVA at Casino del Sol Resort and Casino on Saturday, May 13 — his birthday — you can likely find him hitting the links at the resort’s golf course.
“I’m pretty sure as soon as I get there I’ll be heading to a golf course,” he said unapologetically last week in a phone call from home in South Carolina. “The golf in that area is great.”
But the real party begins when he and his band hit the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“Just as long as the crowd’s having fun when I’m playing, that’s what it’s all about, having a party all the time,” said the former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman who launched a solo country career in 2008. “I’m just hoping a lot of people are there and they’re there to have a good time.”
This will be the first time Rucker has done a country show in Tucson, although he’s been to Phoenix plenty of times mostly on the marquee with more established country stars.
Rucker arguably can count himself among them after nearly a decade in the genre. He’s released four country albums on Capital Nashville — his 2008 country debut “Learn to Live” went platinum (1 million-plus in sales) and spun off a trio of No. 1 hit singles — and each of them topped the Billboard country album charts. In the fall, he will release his fifth solo country album; the first single, “If I Told You,” is climbing the charts.
Rucker’s solo career is act two in a 30-plus-years music journey that started when he was in college in South Carolina. His college band, Hootie and the Blowfish, went on to superstardom on the pop/rock side of the radio dial from the mid-1980s through about 2008; the foursome still does three or four shows a year and “we may do something again in the future, but we’ll know when it’s time.”
“Everybody’s got their own lives right now, doing their own thing,” said the father of three. “But when it’s time, and we’ll know when, we’ll do something.”
During our interview with Rucker, he talked about his career second-act, going from superstar to “Darius who?” and how his Hootie years prepared him for country music. He also told us about his perfect birthday.
What is your ideal birthday celebration?
“Probably get up in the morning, hang out with the family, go play golf with my son (11-year-old Jack). Go to dinner with the family. That would be good for me.”
You’re marking 10 years in country music in 2018. Is it everything you imagined?
“It’s been so much fun. I started this as a labor of love. I did it because I wanted to make a country record. I was going to do it in the basement with my buddies, then I got a record deal, which was a shocker to me. I never would have thought that anybody would give the African-American lead singer of a pop band a record deal in country music.”
Was it tough making that transition from marquee-topping pop star to country music up-and-comer?
“A lot of people said it would never work, making it from pop. But it was something that we worked hard at. I went to like 110 radio stations in a month and a half or something like that. Once I got in, it’s been pretty fun and I think I’m one of the guys.
“My first gig in country music was the baby band on the Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley tour. In one place we played, Hootie had just played there like four months before. But that’s the way I wanted it. I didn’t want to come to Nashville saying I did this, I did that. I wanted to start at the bottom and work my way up so that I could make it on my country record.”
In your live shows, you mix in a couple Hootie songs with your country hits. What Hootie hit is a must-do at every show?
“I didn’t realize it until the other day, until we didn’t play ‘Let Her Cry’ at a show and there was like 10 people on social media angry. I was like, ‘Wow, ok, I’ll play it’.”
You have a new album dropping in the fall. Will you give us a preview?
“Oh yeah, we’ll play three or four of the new songs” along with his country hits “Wagon Wheel,” “Alright,” “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “Come Back Song,” “History in the Making,” “True Believers” and his latest single “If I Told You.” “Sometimes you don’t get to all of them, but it’s a fun show. Me and the band really believe that if we’re not having fun, the crowd won’t be having fun. It’s high energy. Let’s go have a party, that’s what we want. We want people to leave there going, ‘That was a party. Let’s go see that again.’”
I heard your first brush with country music was watching “Hee Haw.”
“’Hee Haw’ was huge for me. And I loved it. I was an AM radio kid and I loved Kenny Rogers and Buck Owens. I was always about the song. I don’t think too much about genre of music. It’s do I like the song or not. Charlie Pride was huge for me. Charlie Rich was huge for me. Those songs came on the radio and I wanted to hear them over and over.”
That kind of explains the country feel to a lot of your Hootie songs.
“I’ve always thought that about us, especially our records. If you’re a ‘singles’ listener you might not have heard it. But if you listen to our albums, we were about as close to country as you could be without trying to be one. We had fiddle and mandolin and tried to write stories. I didn’t think I was doing much differently when I came to Nashville.”
You’ve teamed up with a who’s who of country and pop superstars in recording projects and on “CMT Crossroads,” including Adele. Which artist would you love to appear with on “Crossroads” or in the studio?
“Paul McCartney. If he wanted to sing ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb,’ we would be killing it. I wouldn’t sing lead even one time. I’d strictly be a background singer.”