Darius Rucker enjoys being part of country music’s “Family Tradition.”
When the former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman embarked on a country solo career, he sang the Hank Williams Jr. cover as part of his set list.
Back then he opened for the likes of Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum.
Now, Rucker, who will be dropping his third country album “True Believers” on May 21, is the headliner. He starts the tour in Estero at Germain Arena, also featuring Justin Moore and Jana Kramer, on Thursday night.
Rucker, the 2009 Country Music Association’s New Artist of the Year, said being a solo headliner wouldn’t be possible without the country music community making him feel at home.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was fun,” Rucker said about the genre jump from pop/rock to country. “It was hard work, and you have to have the right songs, but once it got rolling and people started to know me, it got easier and easier, and now I am part of the family.”
But Rucker made it look easy. His first album “Learn to Live” produced three No. 1 songs — “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” and “Alright.” He became the first country artist in 16 years, since Wynonna Judd in 1992, to record three chart-topping hits on his first album.
When he’s not on stage
Darius Rucker is a golf fanatic, he’s friends with Tiger Woods, and every year he hosts a pro-am tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., called “Monday after the Masters.” The Daily News got the scoop on his golf game.
Lowest score: 72
Favorite club: Driver
Favorite course: Augusta National in Augusta, Ga.
Ultimate foursome: Me, Tiger Woods, Dr. Martin Luther King and Jesus.
How many strokes does Tiger give you? 18
What is the usual bet with Tiger? Let’s just say enough to make me nervous.
The 46-year-old from Charleston, S.C., said his third country album is even more country and he’s enlisted his new friends to help out.
On his current radio hit, a remake of “Wagon Wheel,” originally released by Old Crow Medicine Show, he enlists his pals from Lady Antebellum. Rucker said he thought the song need some harmonies so he picked up the phone and called Charles Kelley and then he ran into Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood at a concert. Two days later, the trio was in the studio with Rucker to put the finishing touches on the classic song.
“It was so organic and so easy and so funny,” Rucker said. “I told them afterward it would never happen that easy in any other genre of music.”
Rucker also collaborates with Sheryl Crow on another song on the album.
This genre fits Rucker, who says in his concerts that “Let Her Cry,” a No. 1 hit for Hootie & the Blowfish, was the first country song he ever wrote.
He wrote 10 of the 12 songs on “True Believers.” While he said the TV show “Hee Haw” and Kenny Rogers were his country influences growing up, it’s the songwriters such as Randy Foster, Foster & Lloyd, Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett that inspired him to be a country music artist.
“Coming into country, that’s what I enjoyed most,” Rucker said. “Here are some guys who really know how to write some songs.”
And for Rucker, there’s nothing like paying tribute to those writers by playing their song at his concert. Besides “Family Tradition,” Rucker has put his own spin on Jamey Johnson’s “In Color” and Prince’s “Purple Rain.” He wouldn’t say what covers he might be playing on this tour.
“I just try to think about what songs are going to make the crowd move,” he said. “For me, I wouldn’t even do a cover if it’s not going to make the crowd go crazy.”
Last October, Rucker became an official member of the country family: he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. Vince Gill formally inducted Rucker and said, “Thanks for wanting to be a country music singer.”
Rucker couldn’t hold back the tears.
“What an honor; I still can’t believe it,” Rucker said. “Now to be part of that family makes me feel a little bit taller and just honored.”
If you go
What: Darius Rucker, featuring Justin Moore and Jana Kramer
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 9
Where:Germain Arena, 11000 Everblades Parkway, Estero
Tickets: At the Germain Arena box office, 800-745-3000 or www.germainarena.com