Darius Rucker on His New Book, Recent Arrest, Morgan Wallen and More

Sometime in 1986, Darius Rucker was singing in his dorm shower at the University of South Carolina when another kid on the floor overheard him. Mark Bryan grabbed his guitar and asked Rucker to jam in his room, leaving the door open. Within minutes, they were drawing their first crowd. From there, Rucker’s musical career has been more or less charmed, even if it took Hootie and the Blowfish years on the road before they got a record deal. Since 2008, he’s been a boundary-breaking country star, and he’s currently back on the road with Hootie, playing sold-out amphitheaters. With the release of his enjoyable new memoir, Life’s Too Short, Rucker was ready to look at his whole career — and reveal his new supergroup along the way. (To hear audio of the entire interview on our Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, go here for the podcast provider of your choice, listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or just press play below.)

It sounds like this Hootie tour is huge.
We’re at that point where I think most bands would love to be when they’re starting out — going out every few years when we feel like it, selling out these big arenas and amphitheaters, seeing all the people just having fun. It feels good to know that we can still do it.

I know you’ve always done covers, but to see you guys doing a Stone Temple Pilots song on this tour is pretty funny. It’s like the whole Nineties are somehow blurring together.
Oh, yeah, man, we do that song because I remember when it came out in the Nineties how jealous we were of how it sounded. It just sounded perfect on the radio and it was so hard. It was just like, “Man, why can’t we play that?” And so now I guess we’re just old dudes who play whatever we want to play. So I love rocking that song.

The other thing that’s been a constant for your band, even before you had original songs, was R.E.M. covers. It seems pretty core to what you do.
Oh, yeah. There was one point early on, in the mid-Eighties, where we probably did twelve R.E.M. songs in our set. We wouldn’t sound like we are or be who we were if it wasn’t for R.E.M..

They played one song together at the Songwriters Hall of Fame the other week. And they said they’re never doing that again. As a fan, does that drive you crazy or do you get it?
I get it, because I’m really good friends with Mike Mills, and I’m friends with Peter Buck, and I know the other guys. They really want to be the band that never does it again. They were like, “We went out where we wanted to go out.” I don’t think anybody in R.E.M. was worried about money. If they never do it again, I won’t be surprised. But if they do it again, I’m going to cancel my tour and go see every show that they play, I’ll tell you that much.

I didn’t know that “Let Her Cry” had its origin in your obsession with “She Talks to Angels” by the Black Crowes. That’s really interesting.
I still have an obsession with that song. It’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my life. I always say that “Let Her Cry” was me trying to write “She Talks to Angels” for Bonnie Raitt. You try to be a humble guy and you don’t talk about yourself, but “Let Her Cry” is a fucking great song. It’s undeniably great. Every time we play it, I go, “That’s what songwriting is all about.” It came from wanting to be the Black Crowes. 

You actually sang with them pretty recently.
Yeah, we did a crossroads together for CMT, and that was so cool, to play with Chris and Rich [Robinson]. And right now, I’m doing a rock project with Steve Gorman, who played drums in the Crowes for years. We’re putting together a cool little project with Mike Mills from R.E.M.

No kidding. Do you see that as a supergroup?
Everybody that hears it says it’s a supergroup. So if that’s what they want to call it, then call it that. But we’re just a band. We just, we’re friends and we just started. We jammed together one day at Steve’s kid’s school with [Nashville session player] Tom Bukovac playing guitar. We were just like, “Let’s go in the studio and see what happens.” And we went in the studio, and to be honest with you, magic happened. And I just can’t wait for the record to get out. We got to finish everything up. I think people are going to really be surprised at how good it is.

Steve Gorman’s tell-all book about the Crowes [co-written with Steven Hyden] is really fun. I don’t think the other guys in the Crowes are big fans of it, but…
I don’t think Chris and Richard are big fans of anything they’re not involved in. [Laughs.]

Will this project tour?
We’re going to play some shows. I don’t know if we’ll do a full-fledged tour, but we’re going to play a bunch of underplays, clubs and stuff, and just have a great time with it. Hopefully we can get [the album] done before the year, but there’s no guarantee just cause I’m on tour with Hootie. I don’t know when we’re going to get back in the studio and to finish it up. If not the end of the year, early next year, hopefully.

In the book, you talk about discovering rock & roll as a kid, which wasn’t the kind of music your family listened to. And you said they put up with almost everything. But Kiss was a bridge too far. They just could not stand Kiss.
I was a big Kiss fan. I’m still a big Kiss fan. They just didn’t get it. They didn’t get “Detroit Rock City” like I did, they did. They’ve always been a great rock & roll band to me. Three chords and you’re out. And I love that. I love the lyrics. I love everything about them. 

So Blowfish took a really long break between albums and then put one out in 2019. Any thoughts of another album by the band?
Oh, no. When we were talking about going on tour this year we thought about it, but I don’t think anybody was really inspired. Nobody had a bunch of songs they were thinking about. So it was like, we don’t want to make an album just to make an album. Maybe in the future, no time soon. 

And what’s going on with your next solo album?
Oh, I’m starting to write another solo record. I’m going to go over to Europe to write with a bunch of people over there when the year turns, and go see what happens with a bunch of country artists and other artists over there. I don’t have a timeline for it, but it’s coming.

So you’re going to work with country artists in Europe?
Yeah. You’d be shocked at how big it’s getting over there. We did it the right way where we went every other year [to play live], basically for the last 16 years. So you know, I’m actually playing the O2 Arena in October over there. It’s growing so much. It’s becoming such a thing.

I had specifically heard that about the U.K., actually.
Yeah. The U.K. has been getting big and also in the Scandinavian countries. I was over there for a month right before the Hootie tour, playing some nice sized places, and it was all sold out, and it was just fantastic to be over there seeing a whole new group of people loving country music.

Hootie really got their start in a word-of-mouth, live-driven way that was very pre-internet.
You go to the Tip-Top Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama, and there’s nobody there except the bartenders, and you have to play anyway. And then the next time you go, there’s 40 people there because the bartenders told everybody how great you are. Doing stuff like that was awesome. Nowadays, people want to get on TikTok, explode, and get a record deal. By the time we had our record deal, we had honed what we were. We had honed our craft. We had played in front of audiences for years in hundreds of shows before we ever got a record deal. The seven years we didn’t have a record deal were so much fun. Those are the days I miss. I don’t miss playing to 70,000 people in East Lansing, Michigan. I miss playing to 500 people at the Mad Monk. Those were the great days.

I’m sure everyone assumed you guys drank, but it turns out from your book that you guys were absolutely raging.
People were surprised when they read the book at how raging we were. We were in our late twenties, and all this money’s coming in. It had been a party since the club days. Drinking heavy and doing what we do. And then you get into the big world and you realize how easy things are to get and how much fun they are. And we were out there, man. Every night we were out there having a blast, and like I said, the party was great until the party was over.

You guys played the Grammys drunk?
[Laughs.] We were feeling pretty good that night. We were nervous and just sitting around. And yeah, after we won Best New Artist, we went backstage and probably polished off half a bottle of Jim Beam before the next one. That was just what we did, and I’m glad we all made it out the other end, because we went hard. I don’t miss it. But it was just what we did.

In your book, you describe a bulk purchase of $32,000 worth of Ecstasy from a drug dealer.
Yes. That happened. That was a different time. That was a different time. It wasn’t just us. It was everybody. It was the crew. Everybody was out here doing it. We bought in bulk what we could. 

How do you guys have any serotonin left after that?
I don’t know. I’m sure they’re going to study my brain when I’m dead. I’ll let them study my brain and tell you if I have any serotonin.

Your ex gave you an ultimatum on partying, and you cut it off pretty suddenly and successfully, right?
Yeah, for me, it wasn’t rehab or AA or any of that. It was just, I’m done. And I was done. I was done with the hard partying and I was done doing the hard drugs. I just moved on.

With your recent misdemeanor arrest [for possession of a controlled substance], I think some people were wondering, “Oh, is there an issue with his sobriety? Is Darius OK?”
Yeah, a couple of friends called, “Am I OK?” Yeah, I’m OK. It was something that I had in my car, which I shouldn’t have in my car. The police and everything, they were so great. They treated me with so much respect. Like you said, it’s a misdemeanor — it was reported on like I had three felonies on me or something. But when you’re known as the nice guys and the good guys, when something like that happens, people want to take any chance to knock you down. I accepted it and went on with my life, and the case is still pending, so we can’t talk about it much. But I’m going to accept whatever I get and move on with my life. It took 57 years before I ever saw the inside of a jail cell. That’s just amazing.

It’s still not fun though, I’m sure.
No, it’s not. It wasn’t fun at all. No.

Your point is well taken about the good guys/nice guys thing, because it’s possible that if people knew how hard you guys were partying back then, you would have had a cooler image.
[Laughs.] You’re right. You’re right. There wasn’t any social media or anything back then. The only time you saw us was onstage or on VH1. And so no one knew, and it wasn’t something we talked about. Even writing the book, I had trepidations about telling the truth. We probably would have had a cooler image, but I don’t think that was the kind of image we wanted, because we are nice dudes. We are nice guys. We are the guys that you could go have a beer with, and if you didn’t know what we did, you probably would never figure it out. We didn’t care about changing our image. It was what it was.

It’s still wild that David Crosby came in and sang harmony on “Hold Your Hand.”
I still can’t believe it. It was funny because after he had sung, he said to our producer, “Next time, could you have me sing with a band that is going to matter? That’s going to be important?” 22 million records later, I guess it got important. But for us, it was surreal because first of all, our label really didn’t give a shit about us. They had no promises about the record coming out or anything, and they didn’t care. Because we weren’t grunge. We weren’t hip. We didn’t have any edge. And at that point, music was all about the edge. It was all about grunge and all about that stuff. So for David Crosby to walk in and sing “Hold My Hand” — still, to this day, I still can’t believe it happened.

People might not realize it, but on Cracked Rearview, you were singing about the Confederate flag still flying over statehouses and about racism.
We played songs that were real to us, and that was stuff we were experiencing. We were living in South Carolina, and that was when the rebel flag was still flying over the statehouse. When you look back at it, that’s just amazing to me, because as much as people want to say whatever they want to say, that’s the flag of insurrectionists and traitors who tried to try to destroy the Union. How could that be flying over the statehouse? Governor Haley basically took it down. I don’t know if she took it down wholeheartedly, but she did take it down. Even “Hold My Hand” is about that. It comes across as a song about peaceful love and hippie shit, but it was a protest song. The country was so divided. The idea was, we can get together. We’re better than this.

“We’ll rise above the mess.”

Especially after the debate the other night, are you still optimistic about the country?
I always have to be optimistic about the country. There’s that part of me that just believes America’s going to do what’s right. Every now and then, the country proves me wrong. I always think we’re going to do what’s right. And the most important thing about a country is clinging to our faith in democracy. And I think as long as we do that, we’re going to be OK. And when we stop doing that, that’s when our country is going to be in a lot of trouble.

You went into the world of country music with full knowledge of the pitfalls there. And the success you had was against the odds. As a Black man in America, you knew that was not necessarily going to be a welcome world for you, and yet it was the thing you wanted most. How much was that on your mind?
Yeah. It was the music for me. I just wanted to, I just wanted to sound like Radney Foster. I never gone into these situations thinking that. I could have thought the same thing with Hootie, going to these frat houses in the South, being called the n-word, and dealing with all that stuff, just cause I wanted to play rock & roll. And when I was doing that, there wasn’t anybody but me and Lenny [Kravitz] doing it, and Living Colour was out there killing it. There weren’t any other Black faces in rock & roll at the time. I love R&B. I’m not an R&B singer. I’m a country singer. I’m a rock & roll singer. That’s the stuff that my voice fits and what I should be doing. And so I never looked at it as, “You can’t do this because there’s this certain group that’s going to keep you.” In country, I wasn’t thinking this [level of] success. I really wasn’t. Because on paper, I wasn’t going to have the success, but I just wanted to make the music. 

Right now you have the Beyoncé album breaking down barriers in country music. And then there’s Morgan Wallen‘s continued success, which some people find problematic. How do you balance those two things in your mind as far as where country is right now?
The best thing for me is I don’t have to balance it. Firstly, I just make my records. And when it comes to listening, I listen to all that stuff. I love Morgan’s records. I get why it’s so big. I love Beyoncé’s record. I love, that new Shaboozey song. But then I also love Jason Aldean. I think his songs are great. I love Luke Bryan. I love Luke Combs. I think he’s amazing. And the one thing I’ve always realized is, you don’t have to like the people making the music to like the music. 

Do you feel that Morgan should be forgiven? Do you have thoughts on that?
Yeah, I do. I do. I think Morgan’s become a better person since that. I’ve known Morgan a long time. Since all that happened, Morgan’s tried to really better himself and become a better person and see the world in a much better way. And he’s not forgiven. He’s still not out for CMAs and ACMs. They can say what they want, but the fact that Morgan Wallen is not up for entertainer of the year and those things is crazy. Cause no one’s selling more tickets than Morgan. Maybe Luke Combs is right up there with him. They’re playing stadiums, man. 

You had a great performance at a Frank Sinatra tribute in the Nineties, which Frank himself loved. Any thoughts of a standards record someday?
I do it every now and then for charities. I’ll sing with a big, 30-piece orchestra. .And I’ve thought about doing a record. I’d like to do a record. I think I’ll do that when the time’s right.

I learned from your book that when Biggie mentions you on “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” — “Stay humble, stay low, blow like Hootie/True pimp n—-s spend no dough on the booty” — he was referring to something he actually heard you say in an elevator.
Yeah, that was pretty cool. When it came out, I was so shocked. That’s all I said. “I bet I can get it, but I’m not gonna pay for it.” That was big. Having a shout-out on a Notorious B.IG. record? That’s another one of those things you can never take away from me. That’s unbelievably awesome.

It’s one case where you’re referred to as Hootie where you’ll let it slide,
Oh, every day. When he said that on the record, and when Tiger [Woods’] dad — God rest his soul — used it, those are the only times somebody said Hootie and I was OK with it.

You must have known that was going to be a danger when you accepted that name for the band.
I’m telling you right now, I named the band and never once thought people were going to call me Hootie. Never once! I’m such an idiot. I look back now, I go, “You’re such a friggin idiot.” But I never once thought about it. And then when it started happening, I was like, “What did I just friggin do?” And when we named the band, we were like, “We’ll change it later. We just need a band name ’cause we got these shows coming up.” And we just never changed it.

Do you want to be doing Hootie tours in 20 years?
I don’t know if I want to be doing Hootie tours. I’ll be honest with you. I love them, the ones we do, but it can be work sometimes. Going back to the four personalities and everything about it can be a little hard to work. I hope I’m still playing country music in 20 years. That’d be cool. Hope I have my own theater in Branson or something, really doing it, having a great time. And every now and then, if Hootie feels like getting together every five, seven years, or something, and we can still do that.


Could it be another five years after this for Hootie?
It would be five or more, if we ever do it again. I was surprised I agreed to this tour. Because for me, it’s just I’m going backwards. As an artist, sometimes you don’t want to go backwards. 

You start the book with a near death experience where you’re swimming with Woody Harrelson and almost drowned. What did you learn from that experience?
You learn how strong you are, and how hard you fight. And you learn what friends are. That was the moment Woody and I became brothers. We were real close before that, but that was a moment when he looked at me and said, “Not on my watch.” That was a moment that was solidifying our relationship. And it also makes living life so much better. Because there was a moment where I was ready to die and I thought I was going to die. And I got myself OK with that. I just learned that life is great. You got to live every day because you never know when it’s going to end.

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