More than a few heads on Music Row were wagging in disbelief when Capitol Records Nashville signed Darius Rucker to a solo contract in 2008.
No one doubted his talents as a performer. His lead singing for the wildly successful Hootie & the Blowfish had long since proved he could deliver the goods. But a country singer? Wasn't that a stretch?
TV actors, movie stars and over-the-hill rock acts had been flocking to Nashville since the Urban Cowboy craze of the early '80s, each convinced that anyone could sing country music. It was so simple. But the cannonade of reality soon reduced most of them to footnotes and sent them packing. Would it be any better for Rucker? Well, yes -- a whole lot better.
As Rucker celebrates his 53rd birthday today (May 13), he can look back on a country career that includes one platinum and two gold albums, nine No. 1 singles, tours with Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley, a Grammy and membership in the Grand Ole Opry. No cultural tourism here.
Rucker's assimilation into country music has been facilitated greatly by music videos saturated with such country imagery as acoustic guitars, rural scenery, battered old cars and trucks, guys in Levi's, girls in Daisy Dukes and plenty of drinking. Whatever the array of props, Rucker seems completely at home with them.
Here are five of his best videos:
2008: "Don't Think I Don't Think About It"
Director: Wayne Isham
Writers: Darius Rucker, Clay Mills
In this, his first country-pitched video, Rucker stands in a broad field, mountains in the background, while strumming a guitar and singing about the emotional fallout of impulsive actions. Acting out that theme is a young man who's speeding away from his girlfriend down a country road in an old car -- all the while wondering if he's done the right thing and imagining her seated provocatively beside him. Could it get any countrier?
Director: Trey Fanjoy
Writers: Rucker, Frank Rogers, Kara DioGuardi
The song is a thematic twin to Garth Brooks' "Unanswered Prayers." But the video imparts a few comic twists to the otherwise serious lyrics. Once again, Rucker stands apart from the action he's describing. This time, he's jamming with his band on the stage of the empty Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the fabled home of the Grand Ole Opry. The narrative opens with a boy getting turned down by the girl he's hot for and driving away heartbroken. His drive takes him past a "Help Wanted" sign, which leads him to taking a job he's soon fired from. One unplanned consequence after another finally leads him to an elevator encounter that turns his life into domestic bliss. Rucker beams with delight as he tells the story.
2013: "Wagon Wheel"
Director: Jim Wright
Writers: Bob Dylan, Ketch Secor
In this epic, Rucker is the center of the action, not just a commentator on it. He dreams that he's a wandering minstrel, walking and thumbing his way south to rendezvous with his sweetheart. Along the way, he comes across various members of the Duck Dynasty clan, as well as Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum. Lots of good banjo picking keeps the mood light and hopeful. The recording of this song earned Rucker a Grammy for best solo country performance.
2017: "For the First Time"
Director: Jim Wright
Writers: Rucker, Derek George, Scooter Carusoe
A paean to racking up new experiences. Rucker reverts to his usual role here as observer/commentator, chronicling the evolution of a young couple's relationship from first meeting to courtship to home ownership to parenthood. Smooth and neatly packaged.
2018: "Straight to Hell"
Director: TK McKamy
Writer: Kevin Kinney
Rucker enlists Charles Kelley, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan as his buddies in this Old West costume drama, which, anachronistically, appears to be taking place during Prohibition (1920-1933). But no matter. When you're playing "dress up" and having a roaring good time at it, anything goes. Rucker usually looks cheerful in his videos, but in this one, he seems absolutely giddy.
“Straight to Hell" is nominated for collaborative video of the year at the 2019 CMT Music Awards. Voting for your favorites in each category continues through June 4 at 11:59 p.m. ET via CMT.com. The final nominees will be announced the morning of the show on June 5 and voting will continue through the show on CMT.com and via Twitter. Little Big Town will host the event live from Nashville June 5 at 8 p.m. ET on CMT.
On May 30, Rucker rejoins Hootie & the Blowfish for the Group Therapy Tour that opens in Virginia Beach and runs through six October dates in England.