Darius Rucker Reflects on His First Decade in Country Music

Talks Career Firsts, New Music and 5,000 Rejection Letters

It’s hard to believe that Darius Rucker‘s platinum country debut Learn to Live turns 10 in 2018. But it’s also hard to remember a time when Rucker’s music wasn’t part of the American consciousness.

In his first 30 years in music, he’s won three Grammys and sold millions of albums worldwide as a solo country artist and as the leader of Hootie & the Blowfish. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 2012; he’s scored several No. 1 hits in pop rock and country, and he’s become a radio host and TV star. In 2017, he launched a new golf show on SiriusXM’s PGA Tour Radio, and he acted in guest appearances on Hawaii Five-O and CMT’s Sun Records.

His fifth country album When Was the Last Time arrived on Oct. 20. His latest hit, “If I Told You,” is his seventh country No. 1, and his newest single, “For the First Time,” is steadily climbing the Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart.

For The First Time by Darius Rucker on VEVO.

Most recently, he became the first Opry star to headline the historic Apollo Theater in New York City.

“I’m never going to rest on what I’ve done before because there’s so much more I want to do,” Rucker told CMT.com during a recent visit to the network’s Nashville headquarters. “I think one of the things that keeps me hungry and keeps me going is I don’t look at the good things very much.

“At my house, you won’t see any gold records on the wall. You can’t see my Grammys unless I show them to you in the closet. I always think I’ve got to work harder than everyone else to get to where I want to be.”

CMT.com: Was the Apollo show the last time you did something for the first time?

Rucker: That was. That was a crazy great night. It really was. I mean, from the time we walked onto the stage from the time we left, it was magical.

Back in the Hootie club days in the ’80s, we didn’t think we were going to play the Apollo. We had our club in New York where we would play, and then when I came to Nashville, I thought, “Sure, I’d love to play the Apollo. How am I going to play the Apollo?” And then it finally happened.

It was great for me as a kid growing up who always wanted to play that venue, and it was great for me as a performer. But it was also great as the country guy bringing country music to the Apollo.

Tell me more about “The First Time.” Why was it important to kick off your new album with that track?

I thought it was the perfect song for the record when we wrote it because I’m the worst about getting into my routine, and I don’t try anything or do anything. Then that song made me sit down and go, “What have I done?”

I’m always talking about what I want to do, and I never do it. It inspired me to do something new. But that’s what the whole record encompasses is a feeling of living life and not just letting it go by. And so I thought it was the perfect song to start the record.

I also hear a lot of love for your wife and your family on this album. How do they inspire your music every day?

My family inspires everything. It’s just one of those things when you’re writing songs or your picking songs, and it’s easy to write about where you’re living right now, where you’ve lived before and where you’re living in the future. Those songs seem to come out and be great. I never sit down and go, “I want the record to be about this or be about that.” I always sit down and think, “I want the 13 best songs,” and those are the songs that were rising to the top.

At what point was Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s “Straight to Hell” the soundtrack of your life?

Oh goodness, ’89 or ’90? That was our jam. That wasn’t just our big party song on the bus; it was in the van. Also, when we were home, every bar we went to played that song probably twice a night for four or five years.

I was surprised that no country guy has ever cut that song because it’s just a great country song. So when Charles Kelley called me and said, “You should cut this song,” I really felt that the universe was saying that it was time to record it.

And those are three Georgia singers — Kelley, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean — singing with you on that song.

And to cut it with those guys is such a testament to country music. That’s what country music is about. It’s so different in other genres. But in country music, they go, “Let’s just get the song done, and we’ll figure the rest out.” I think that’s pretty cool.

Covering your No. 1 party for “If I Told You,” you mentioned that there were a lot of people on Music Row who told you, “No.” I wanted to know what you learned from that experience because artists come to Nashville every day and get rejected all the time.

I look back on all of it — my whole career and Hootie & the Blowfish — we have over 5,000 rejection letters from when we were trying to get a record deal. And for me, the word, “No,” especially in our business, it just means go ask somebody else.

Most artists have tons of rejection letters from where people say, “I don’t get it.” And then finally somebody gets it, and you become a big star. But I don’t worry about stuff like that. The naysayers are the naysayers. And I’m not even that guy that says after they make it, “See, I told you.”

I want to be your friend. I don’t know what’s going to happen on the next side. So I understand the “No’s” because you can’t take everybody. For everybody that succeeds there are 100,000 people that don’t. But knowing our business, you need to ask somebody else.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.