Editor’s note: CMT Crossroads: John Mellencamp and Darius Rucker airs exclusively on CMT on Friday (March 24) at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
When Darius Rucker and I sat down to compare notes on growing up with a John Cougar Mellencamp soundtrack — in our cars and in our minds — the first thing I wanted to ask him was which concerts he’d seen.
Sadly, none. Rucker never got to see any of the Mellencamp shows in the ’80s.
“I never saw him when I was a kid. I didn’t see a lot of any concerts, really. We just, well, couldn’t afford it. And nobody was coming through Charleston,” Rucker told me.
“But I am going to see him this summer — maybe even a few times,” he said.
I’d had my first Mellencamp experience in 1982, when he was opening for Heart at Pine Knob outside of Detroit. And Rucker said that Mellencamp had just told him all about that tour and how much it meant to him.
“We were just talking about that Heart tour. At that point in his career, John said he was so glad to be on a tour that was that big. Because you’re just taking your steps, and trying to get to the point where you can finally have your tour like that.
“He was just John Cougar trying to get by, and he loved it,” Rucker said.
Those early Cougar/Mellencamp records were just a part of who Rucker was growing up, he said, because they were everywhere.
“I knew all the words instantly. We all did,” he said of albums like Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did, American Fool, Uh-Huh, Scarecrow and Lonesome Jubilee.
“I remember riding around with my friends with ‘Ain’t Even Done with the Night’ cranked up and my windows down. Those were great days. And those were great songs.”
And now, some 35 years later, Rucker is singing them with Mellencamp, and Mellencamp is singing Rucker’s songs.
When the two Grammy winners joined forces for the upcoming CMT Crossroads, their set list included Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” “Cherry Bomb” and his new single, “Grandview,” plus Rucker’s “Alright,” “Wagon Wheel,” “If I Told You,” along with “Hold My Hand,” one of Rucker’s Hootie & the Blowfish hits.
When they were taping the show, Rucker told me how incredible it felt to be working side by side with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
“To have John Mellencamp compliment my songwriting? That was unreal. When we were rehearsing and we sang ‘Alright,’ he leaned over and said, ‘You know that line about forever in her eyes staring back at me? I wish I’d written that line.'”
Rucker said that when he heard that, he remembers thinking, “Did John Mellencamp really say just that?”
“To hear that from him,” Rucker said, “nothing better could’ve happened this weekend.”