NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Darius Rucker has spent the last few years reinventing himself as a country star. He's had a platinum debut, No. 1 hits and his follow-up, "Charleston, SC 1966," debuted this week with high expectations.
Rucker hasn't forgotten what made him one of music's most bankable voices, though. You know, a certain laid-back rock band that turned out to be the melodic antidote to grunge and one of the biggest acts of the 1990s.
Hootie & the Blowfish celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and Rucker says the band will record another album and tour at some point.
"This country thing is what I'm doing," Rucker said. "This is my career change. This is what I'm doing 'til I retire. But I know for a fact that — I don't want to put a time on it — but soon there's going to be another Hootie record, another Hootie tour because I love the guys and I think we will always be a band."
Rucker said the band never really broke up — though they haven't recorded together since releasing "Looking For Lucky" in 2005. They play together occasionally, including four dates this year, and bandmates see each other often. Rucker says the chemistry that helped them sell more than 25 million records remains strong.
"We could get together right now and have an album for you in three months," Rucker said. "We're all writing all the time. I was sitting down writing songs (recently) and I wrote a country song and then a song came out that sounded like Hootie, so I saved it for that."
Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan says he has an album's worth of songs alone. But with Rucker's new album fresh on the streets, he knows it will be some time until the singer is free of his country commitments to record with the band: "I'm probably not looking at another Hootie album for another year or two at the very least so I might as well make another album."
Rucker's solo country turn has turned in to quite a run. His first country album, 2008's "Learn To Live" spawned three No. 1 songs, sold about 1.5 million copies and earned him a Country Music Association Award for best new artist. Expectations are even higher for "Charleston."
Rucker's second act as a country music star is no surprise to Bryan. He's been listening to his friend belt out country tunes since they met in 1985 when Bryan heard Rucker singing in the shower of their University of South Carolina dorm hall.
"The very first show Darius and I did together at Pappy's with an acoustic guitar, we did 'Family Tradition' by Hank Williams Jr., which he's still doing in his solo country set," Bryan said.
After a few months, Rucker and Bryan decided to go for it and enlisted bassist Dean Felber and a drummer. Felber, who had played in a band with Bryan during high school, didn't really want to join but he said he'd fill in till they could find a permanent bassist. They played at Pappy's in February 1986, adding drummer Jim Sonefeld four years later after their first drummer quit to pursue a religious ministry following graduation.
"When we started this we said we wanted to be one of those bands that played for a long time," Rucker said. "And it's amazing 25 years after asking Dean to play with us, we're still looking for a bass player and we're still in a band. That's pretty awesome."
Friends will celebrate Hootie & The Blowfish's 25th anniversary with a concert and art installation unveiling in Columbia on Oct. 21. Bryan — now a solo artist, producer and music industry instructor at the College of Charleston — says "a light roasting" is expected.
"So it will be like a tribute, which makes me feel like I'm 80," he said.
It will be a cherished memory for Rucker, who admits many of his memories from the Hootie years are a "blur."
"We had just taken college and extended it a few years," he said. "Our tour was a travelling party every day. Every day, all day. I look back and I laugh, people will ask me things and they'll say things, and I'll say, 'I don't remember that.'"
He knows, for instance, that he spent time on stage with Michael Jackson. He knows the story and there's video to prove it. But one of the highlights of his career just isn't in his memory.
He plans to remember the next batch of Hootie milestones, though.
"I don't get drunk anymore," he said. "I made a conscious promise to myself to look around, to talk to people. At the Grand Ole Opry I want to make it a point to go up and talk to Little Jimmy. When I say, 'Thank you, guys, for this ride, I'm going to spend some time with my kids,' I want to make sure I have memories."