Darius Rucker Just Wants to Sing After Winning His First CMA Award

Singer Talks About Gaining Acceptance at Country Radio, Respect of His Peers

Darius Rucker told reporters backstage that he’d be celebrating with a couple of beers following one of the biggest nights of his career — winning a CMA Award for best new artist on Wednesday night (Nov. 11) in Nashville.

“I can’t tell you how much this ride has been enjoyed, just making the record and how much fun I had doing that,” Rucker said. “I had so much fun on the radio tour, and now to be standing here a year later, I got a CMA Award. The acceptance is unbelievable. It’s really amazing how much country radio really said, ‘Hey, man, we’re going to give you a shot.’ And they did. I’m a country singer now. This is my day job. This is what I do.”

In the CMA pressroom, Rucker answered questions about gaining acceptance at country radio following success in the rock world as the lead vocalist for Hootie & the Blowfish, working his way into the crowd during his awards show performance and gaining the respect of his fellow country artists.

You talk about acceptance and thanking the fans, country radio and media for accepting you as a country artist. What does that acceptance mean to you?

Rucker: Oh, I don’t think I could define it. The one thing that I know is this is a record I made from my heart. I would have made it in my basement if I hadn’t gotten a deal with Capitol when I did. And the best part of all of this is, the people who program country radio and the fans that call in for the songs, they listened to the song, they said put all the pop stuff aside, give us a good song and we’ll play it, and if it’s not, we won’t. And they liked the song and played it, and here I am a year later with a bunch people taking my damn picture, and I’ve got a CMA award. When Jamey Johnson does ‘Give It Away’ live, he sings, “They gave me an ACM and a CMA.” Hell, they gave me a CMA, too, so I’m cool.

You looked like you were having so much fun out there during your performance. Can you talk about how exciting it was to go out into the crowd?

Oh, it was fun. We were talking about it at rehearsal, and they asked me what I was going to do. I said, “I’m probably going to face this way because that’s where the people are.” They were like, “That’s cool.” And I was like, “Well, can I go up there?” And they said, “If you want.” We worked it all out, and it worked out cool. You can’t really impress a bunch of musicians because they’re all great. They’re all there because we all have to be here, and want to be here, and it’s a great time. But those people up in the stands paid money for their tickets. And those are the people you really play for, so I wanted to have fun with them.

Going back to the release day for this album, give me the best-case scenario for how you thought it would work, and what if it hadn’t worked? Were you nervous?

Oh, very. I didn’t think it would do this. Best-case scenario for me was maybe our third single, we could get into Top 10. Then they’d let me make another record and then we could see what we could do. When I was making this record, I wasn’t thinking about it working or not working. I was really making the record for me, and then Capitol came along. … If it didn’t work, it was no big deal to them. Capitol has a lot of bands, and for me, I would have been happy because they let me make my record. Now I’m going to make a lot more records because of this, and that’s a pretty cool thing.

Can you talk about being embraced by your peers and the impression you’re leaving on them?

Probably the thing I will remember the most about winning this award is when I walked up to Zac Brown and I hugged him, and he said, “Man, you deserve it.” From the time we called Vince (Gill) and asked him to sing or the time we called Brad (Paisley) and asked him to play, everybody’s been such a champion of this record for me, especially the artists. Before this record ever came out, I would be in Nashville working and somebody would come up to me and say, “Brad Paisley just told me he heard four or five songs from your record and [said] it’s incredible.” I’d be like, “Wow.” It’s so great in country music because it seems like everybody realizes that there’s room for all of us. As long as you’re good, there’s room for you. That’s just cool to be a part of that.

What’s the mood backstage as you see Daughtry, Kid Rock and Dave Matthews at the awards show?

I met Daughtry tonight, so that was pretty cool. We’re pretty big fans of each other. Bob [Kid Rock] and I have known each other forever, so that was cool. I haven’t seen Dave yet. A lot of people don’t realize that Dave and Hootie played the same circuit, so we saw each other all the time. I’m looking forward to seeing Dave. The conversations … people have been really positive to me. I think artists know how hard it is to do what I just did, and they show me a lot of respect.

Could you comment on being the second black performer to win an individual CMA award, and also could you talk about your success as a crossover artist?

Making this record, I never thought about being an African American guy making a country record. I just thought I was a guy making a country record until my first song went to the Top 20 and people started to talk about that. I’m proud of that. I’m proud to be that guy who’s taking up where Charley Pride left off and to make country music that people want to listen to. I’m a musician, man. I just want to sing. That’s what I do. The other stuff is for you guys to talk about. I just want to sing.