Interview Date: 09/17/2010
Run Date: 10/07/2010
True story: Darius Rucker loves football. This fact will likely in no way affect your feelings on his music, nor is it probable that you will suddenly find new depth in the lyrics of your Hootie and the Blowfish albums, but, hey, maybe it means that you and he have something in common…and if you also happen to be a Miami Dolphins fan, then that’s something else. In addition to his new album, Charleston, SC 1966, which hits stores on October 12, Rucker also has a new website: End Zone Obsession, where he gives football fans the chance to square off against him with their weekly NFL picks…and, no, you don’t have to like his music to participate. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Rucker about this unique new endeavor, his career in music, and how he transitioned from rock to country with the help of a Burger King commercial
Bullz-Eye: So I’m down here in Hampton Roads, Virginia…
Darius Rucker: Oh, cool!
BE: …and I don’t know if you remember them or not, but I’m friends the guys who used to be in the band Hickey Necklace, who did a couple of shows with you guys during the early Hootie days.
DR: (Laughs) Tell ‘em Darius says, “Hey!” Yeah, I remember those guys! Please tell them I said “hello.”
BE: I’ll do it. Well, since it’s football that’s brought us together, let me start by asking you when you first remember getting interested in the game. Was there a formative moment that still sticks in your mind?
DR: Oh, God, yeah! I’m five years old, the Dolphins are playing the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, and I’m in the house with all my cousins. My two aunts are there. There’s, like, 14 kids, and every kid in there, everybody in my whole family, is pulling for the Cowboys. I decided that day that I was pulling for the Dolphins…and I remember crying when the Dolphins lost at the end. (Laughs) But the next year, I started playing little league football, and ever since then I’ve loved the game.
BE: Since you’re well-documented as a Dolphins fan, is there one moment throughout your devotion, a low point, where you considered changing teams?
DR: Yeah, when I heard that Dave Wannstedt told Dan Marino that he thought that he had a better chance to win with Jay Fiedler than him, I really thought about switching my alliances, because I thought we had the dumbest coach that had ever coached a game of football.
BE: Who was your backup team?
DR: Never had one. I mean, I like the Panthers, but if the Panthers make it to the Super Bowl, I’m not going to make sure I go. If the Dolphins go to the Super Bowl, I will be there. (Laughs)
BE: So what were the origins of End Zone Obsession? Was it your idea, or did someone bring it to you because they knew you were an obsessive football fan?
DR: It was really a joint thing. We were trying to figure out a way that we could get me to interact more with my fans, something that would get me and the fans excited, so we started talking about football and how we could do that. The great thing that I love about it, though, is that they’ve made it so easy. You’ve just got to go on, log in, and you pick the winner for every game. No spreads or anything. You just pick the winner and the loser of every game, and you’re in. I thought that was cool. And it’s so funny, because people have been challenging me, and I’ve pretty much accepted every challenge. Last week, everybody was talking trash before the weekend, and then I won, ‘cause I picked every game right. So I was on this morning, doing the trash-talking. (Laughs) I’m telling them, “Guess you’ve got to do better next week!”
BE: So how do you do the trash talking? Is it by Twitter, or do you make videos for YouTube?
DR: Oh, no, we do it right on the site. You log onto the site, it gives you a place to chat, and you can trash-talk back to each other. It’s pretty cool.
BE: You realize, of course, that everyone automatically presumes that you’re going to pick Miami to win every single week.
DR: (Laughs) Oh, it’s so funny that you say that, because I’m talking to my assistant yesterday, I’m making my picks, and he goes, “What do you think about the Dolphins game?” And I said, “Dude, I’m picking the Dolphins sixteen times in a row.” (Laughs) I can guarantee you that. I’ll be picking the Dolphins sixteen times in a row. And it’s not, like, I’m thinking in my heart, “Oh, well, I’ve got to pick the Dolphins.” I truly believe they’re going to win.
BE: What’s your favorite piece of Dolphin swag?
DR: The very first Miami Dolphins game I ever got to go to, it was a Monday night game against the Steelers back in ’94, and I got to sing the National Anthem. After that game, Dan Marino took his jersey off and gave it to his assistant and had it framed for me. And that is my favorite piece of paraphernalia that I got. I’ve lived in my house for 12 years, and my decorator laughed at me when I moved in, because that jersey was up in the house before anything else could enter. (Laughs)
BE: I saw you perform down in Daytona for the Coke Zero 400. What was that experience like? Are you a NASCAR fan?
DR: Oh, yeah, I’ve been a NASCAR fan for years. I’ve gotten to do a few of their races, and it was fun. You know, it’s so funny, but I heard the other day that they put a time capsule under the new track at Daytona, and they included my CD in it.
DR: Yeah, I thought that was such an amazingly cool thing, you know? I was, like, blown away. But I love going to those events. They try to do so much for the fans at those races, and they do it so well. They put you in a place where everyone can see you, it’s always a great crowd, and you just have fun. I love those things. I’ll do them anytime.
BE: Now, I would argue that your transition from pop to country formally began when you sang about Burger King’s Tender Crisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch.
DR: I would accept that argument. (Laughs) That was funny, man, and what was fun for me was…well, you know, I did that for one reason: I wanted to work with Dave LaChappelle. I was a fan, and I said “no” a couple of times, but finally I realized what he wanted to do and how funny it would be, I did it. Somebody asked me the other day if I regret it, but, no, absolutely not. I had a blast! And, really, what did it do? So I did a commercial. Who doesn’t?
BE: Do you have that outfit framed on your wall?
DR: No! I didn’t keep it…and I’m so mad I didn’t! I’m so mad that I didn’t steal that outfit, you have no idea. I’d probably be wearing it on my album cover if I had.
BE: A friend of mine recently saw you perform Steve Goodman’s “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.” Were you familiar with the song through his version or through David Allan Coe’s?
DR: Oh, David Allan Coe. I’ve been playing that song for 25 years.
BE: Well, now, he’s a guy who, in the past, has been accused of being somewhat racist. Does that matter to you?
DR: Oh, God, no, man. Steve Goodman wrote the song, and it’s one of those songs where…I mean, I’ve talked about it, and people have made that point about it, but I’m, like, “Okay, what, so I’m not supposed to sing it?” As long as the songs aren’t racist, I’m cool with singing them. I’m sure a lot of people from his generation were racist. (Laughs) What are you gonna do?
BE: Do you have to battle racism at all in country music? I mean, it’s not like Charley Pride didn’t pave the way years ago, but is it still an issue?
DR: You know, it’s out there, but…well, I said to myself before I started this, “Nothing I’ll have to go through at this point will be anything like what Charley Pride went through back then, so I’ll be okay.”
BE: I didn’t realize until recently that you were as big a Radney Foster fan as you are.
DR: Love him! I mean, he’s the reason I’m sitting here talking to you!
BE: Yeah, I hadn’t known what a formative influence he’d been for you.
DR: Oh, yeah, he was the guy that made me think I could do this, man. Not that I could do it, but that I had to do it. Del Rio, TX 1959 was really…well, I’ve said the word before, but it was a light switch record. I just went, “Wow!” That record came out, I listened to it for a couple of days, and when I came out of that cocoon of listening, I really think I heard music differently.
BE: So are you and he friends now?
DR: Oh, we’ve been friends for years, yeah. For a long time. Actually, we wrote a song together for my new record.
BE: Is it weird writing a song with someone who’s so important to you?
DR: I think if we hadn’t been friends for so long…like, I sang on “Raining on Sunday,” which Keith Urban had a hit with, but I sing backgrounds on Radney’s version. That was, like, ten years ago, so we’ve been friends for a long time. If we hadn’t been, it probably would’ve been weird, but I know Radney now, and we’ve been buds a long time.
BE: How surreal is it to know that there’s going to be a Hootie monument in Columbia, South Carolina?
DR: (Laughs) It’s pretty weird. It’s one of those things where I thought…when we heard they wanted to do it, we said “no” for as long as we could, because, you know, we’re humble guys. But then we realized it’s a cool thing. It’s just that…we started this band to get drunk and meet girls, you know? (Laughs) And it’s just funny. We got lucky, we had some success, and we decided that we were going to be good guys, do the right thing, and help people when we can. For our state to be recognizing us 25 years after we started this thing, it’s pretty amazing…and it’s pretty damned cool.
BE: So should we view Looking for Lucky as Hootie’s swan song?
DR: Oh, no. There’ll be another Hootie record sometime. I’m sure it won’t be this year or next. But soon.
BE: Were you surprised by the way your solo career has taken off?
DR: Shocked. I just didn’t expect it. Like, the way it started, with “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.” Being #1 wasn’t even in our wheelhouse of possibilities. We were just trying to have a hit, but then that song just took off and kept going and going. So we didn’t expect this. But thank God for it!
BE: Do you think you’ll ever revisit the sound of Back to Then?
DR: Nah. That was a place in time in my life when I wanted to do that, and it was fun, I loved it, and I still love that record. But…nah. (Laughs)
BE: Well, I mentioned that I’m from Hampton Roads. I was wondering if you have any specific recollections from the area.
DR: Oh, man, we played tons of clubs down there. What was so great was that Mark and those guys…they weren’t actually from the Hampton Roads area, but they were from close to there, so everytime we played that area, all of their friends would come by. It made it seemed like we were stars. But we weren’t. (Laughs) We were just playing these little clubs. But it was always fun.
BE: I know I saw you guys at the Peppermint Beach Club.
DR: The Peppermint…?!? (Bursts out laughing) Oh, my God, I haven’t thought about that place in years. Great place. Lots of good times.
BE: I think everyone to whom I mentioned that I was talking to you offered up a different club where they’d seen you play.
DR: That’s because we played there all the time! We were there every six weeks. That was our job.
BE: In regards to your peers, I just have to ask you: can you believe Dillon Fence never broke big?
DR: Nope. I’m with you on that, man. Of all the bands that we played with, I knew Dave (Matthews) would be big, but I thought Dillon Fence would be the biggest one of them all. But I was wrong. It was Dave.
BE: I’ll start wrapping up, but…what do you think is the most underrated Hootie album?
DR: (Long pause) I think Looking for Lucky. I think that, with Looking for Lucky, we really hit something good. I was really proud of it. I thought there were hits on it, lots of great songs, but…what can you do?
BE: Do you think it was still residual backlash from Cracked Rear View?
<DR: Oh, yeah, we dealt with the backlash. But, you know, all the stuff that happened...? It happened. You can’t regret it. We couldn’t have changed anything. We couldn’t have done anything different. We were just riding a wave, you know? We were caught in an undertow that we couldn’t do anything about. Even from when the record first hit all the way up until the backlash, we were caught up in things we had no control over, and there was nothing we could do about it.
BE: Lastly, does Neil Osbourne send you a Christmas card every year, thanking you for covering 54:40’s “I Go Blind” for the Friends soundtrack?
DR: (Laughs) No, but he should, probably, because I’m sure we’ve made him a lot of money! At the very least, when they’re out playing, they should thank us for putting tires on their bus.
BE: Did you ever confirm which of you guys supposedly gave Monica a hickey on “Friends”?
DR: It was Mark. If it was me, they would’ve said, “That would be the work of Hootie.” But if it was a Blowfish, then it was definitely Mark. (Laughs)
BE: All right, man. Good luck to you for the next several Sundays…and good luck to the Dolphins, too!DR: Luck…? (Laughs) We are Super Bowl bound!