Darius Rucker has his daughter’s high school teachers to thank for his latest hit record.
Bob Dylan too.
Rucker was at a talent show at his daughter’s school in Baltimore when he heard a group of teachers perform the song “Wagon Wheel.” He knew it as a bluegrass tune by Old Crow Medicine Show, but the teachers were doing it as a straight-up country song, complete with pedal steel guitar.
Turns out that the song originated as an untitled, unfinished song as part of Dylan’s “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” sessions in 1973.
Rucker took the song and made it his own, releasing it on his album “True Believers” this year. It became a cross-over hit, climbing to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart and 15 on the Billboard singles chart.
“I saw those teachers do it, and I told my producer that might be a fun song to do,” said Rucker, 47. “I’m a big Dylan fan, and I love the Old Crow version, but (the teachers) are the ones who put this in my mind.”
Rucker will be singing “Wagon Wheel” and his other country hits when he plays Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor on Friday. Rodney Atkins and Jana Kramer open.
It’s not surprising Rucker saw something in a song that began with a rock legend, got remade into bluegrass, and is now a country and pop hit. His entire musical life has been a mixed bag, and in a good way.
As frontman for Hootie & The Blowfish in the 1990s, Rucker co-wrote and sang lead on a slew of top 10 rock/pop hits, including “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” “Only Wanna Be with You” and “Time,” all from the 16-times-platinum album “Cracked Rear View.”
When he embarked on a solo career in 2008, he embraced country. At the time, it was seen as a risky move, but it paid off — to date, Rucker has charted several No. 1 country songs, including “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “Come Back Song” and “This.” He even became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the highest honor a country artist can achieve.
But Rucker says doing country music was really no big switch. Growing up in Charleston, S.C. (where he still lives) in the 1970s, he listened to AM radio and everything on it, including country, soul, R&B and disco. And the TV music shows of the day were intended for a broad audience — unlike today, when there’s a cable channel for every subsub-genre of music.
“When I was a kid and there were three channels, I watched ‘Hee Haw’ and ‘Soul Train’ every week,” said Rucker.
He took a ribbing from his siblings about his musical tastes as a kid, but his mother told his brothers and sisters to leave him alone and let him listen to “white boys’ music” if he wanted to.
Because he’s one of the few people of color performing country music, Rucker knows some people will view his career through the lens of racism. In May, someone Tweeted that Rucker should “leave country music to the white folks,” to which Rucker responded with a Tweet of his own: “Wow, is this 2013 or 1913. I’ll take my Grand Ole Opry membership and leave your racism.”
“I wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen this my whole life and my whole career. There’s always ignorance,” said Rucker. “With all the social media today, they can hide behind a keyboard. So it’s sad. I try to take the high road, but I’m always going to point it out when I see ignorance.”
Besides music, Rucker’s big passion is golf. He said he’ll probably look for a course near Bangor while in Maine.
Rucker’s mix of influences and styles seems to be the trend in country music these days. In fact, he thinks country music today is probably more like pop music of the past than any other genre.
“Back when we (Hootie & The Blowfish) were on the radio, you had rock ‘n’ roll, you had Notorious B.I.G., Garth Brooks, all on mainstream radio,” said Rucker. “Today, there’s no rock ‘n’ roll on the radio.
“But country music is expanding. You have pop country, soul country, hard country. I think that’s why people are attracted to country.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: