8″ x 10″ Signed November 17, 1997 through the mail
While recording his first solo album, it would have been easy for Darius Rucker, lead singer of ‘90s pop/rock phenomenon Hootie & the Blowfish, to simply draw from his musical background. It turns out he did.
The soul- and pop-powered “Back to Then,” his debut on Hidden Beach Recordings, is “the record I thought I was going to make before I joined Hootie,” says Rucker. “With this album, I’m just going back to where I came from.”
Two years in the making, the aptly titled “Back to Then” takes its cues from Rucker’s Charleston, South Carolina childhood—one peppered with living room sing-alongs to R&B music by such Rucker “heroes” as Gladys Knight, Otis Redding, and Al Green. Recalls Rucker; “It was always my dream to be a singer. I’d sit and listen to their songs and cry. Great voices always do that to me.”
Later inspirations include the late Notorious B.I.G., whose rap artistry “was a life-changing event” for Rucker. “After that I just wanted to devour all the good R&B and rap that I could. Then when Hootie & the Blowfish decided to chill for a while after spending the last 10 years on the road, I decided I’d finally make my R&B record.”
“The one thing I hate about a lot of today’s R&B, pop, and country music is that it sounds exactly alike,” adds the songwriter/guitarist who’s responsible for most of Hootie’s rapport building, every man lyrics. “With my songs, I want people to know it’s Darius Rucker.”
He accomplishes that goal on “Back to Then,” which reflects various moods ranging from experimental and mellow to fun loving and introspective. Rucker’s distinctive baritone weaves in and out of a colorful tapestry of up tempo funk, blues-tinged rhythms, slow-cookin’ R&B, body-shakin’ jams, and uplifting gospel vibes. Accompanying him on his musical mission is a who’s who in urban music, including Musiq, Lil’ Mo, Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Cozier, City High’s Ryan Toby, and premier Philadelphia production powerhouse A Touch of Jazz, headed by DJ Jazzy Jeff.
“I have to feel the beat and every word I sing from the heart or it’s not worth doing,” says Rucker, who describes his voice as “real.” A case in point: the easy-rhythmed first single “Wild One,” written with City High’s Ryan Toby: In it a man urges his significant other to help him curb his errant ways: “Baby, I’m a wild one, don’t let me run, don’t let me get away.” Laughs Rucker, “I asked Ryan if he’d been standing over my shoulder for the last 16 years. That could be my theme song.”
Another “Back to Then” highlight is the love ballad “Sometimes I Wonder,” which finds Rucker pairing with Hidden Beach label mate Jill Scott (“I found my Tammi Terrell”). The 12-track set also includes “Sleeping in My Bed,” featuring an “off the hook” Snoop Dogg, and the Lil’ Mo-accented “10 Years” in which Rucker comes to final terms with an earlier eight-year relationship first chronicled in the 1995 Hootie hit “Let Her Cry.”
He also pays tribute to his late mother, Carolyn, with a moving cover of Al Green’s “I’m Glad You’re Mine.” “I wanted to make this for my mom, who had an amazing voice,” recalls Rucker “I know somewhere in heaven she’s happy.”
And that’s how Rucker remembers growing up in ‘70s Charleston where he played broomstick guitar, sang in front of salt and pepper shaker microphones, and dreamed of being a singer. That dream began taking shape when Rucker and fellow University of South Carolina classmates Mark Bryan and Dean Felber came together in 1986, joined three years later by Jim Sonefeld. Propelled by the 1994 release of multiplatinum first album “Cracked Rear View,” the quartet—whose drawing power can still pack arenas—has gone on to release three more albums and ultimately sell over 20 million units. Darius and his band mates are putting the final touches on their fourth studio record to be released soon.
But whether it’s rock or urban music, switching between the two is no stretch for the Charleston-based Rucker because “it’s just about singing. I’m not trying to be anybody else.”
Or, as he so eloquently points out on the frank “This Is My World”: “This is who I am. I’m not trying to give up myself to make your life better. This is how it is. You can either accept me or…”