NASHVILLE (Billboard) - In the past year, country radio has played songs by the Eagles, Bon Jovi and Jewel. And before year's end, it likely will play a new single from Jessica Simpson. The latest artist to make the jump from pop to country is Darius Rucker, singer for Hootie & the Blowfish.
"Don't Think I Don't Think About It," the first single from his as-yet-unnamed solo album, is No. 47 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart after two weeks on the list. The regret-filled cut, which Rucker co-wrote with songwriter Clay Mills ("Beautiful Mess"), is garnering airplay on stations in Minneapolis, San Diego, San Antonio and Salt Lake City.
Country KEGA Salt Lake City program director Cody Alan embraces the idea of cross-genre pollination. "I'm not much of an 'in-the-box' thinker, so I love the crossover acts, particularly those with instant pop-culture familiarity like Darius."
But Alan is adamant that the song has to be right. "Aside from it being Darius Rucker, it's a great country song and lyric. I could hear George Strait sing it."
It's an easy out for artists both country and otherwise to try to gain credibility by name-dropping Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson, for example, but Rucker has a genuine affection for the music.
"I think my biggest country influence is Radney Foster," Rucker says, citing Lyle Lovett, New Grass Revival and Dwight Yoakam as other examples. "The first time I heard Foster & Lloyd's 'Crazy Over You' on TV, I went into the record store where I worked early so that I could open the album and hear it."
Still, he understands if there's skepticism about his intentions. "You see a lot of people doing a one-off, saying, 'This is my country record.' But this is a career I'm trying to build. The people that say that they don't get it, I'll let the music speak for itself. I plan to do a lot of country records."
Rucker says that on his current radio tour "it's fun seeing people's reactions to the songs. The music is changing everyone's mind."
Produced by Frank Rogers (Brad Paisley), the album is tentatively scheduled for fall release on Capitol Nashville. After Hootie & the Blowfish finishes touring in August, Rucker hopes to hit the road with his own band.