Forty-nine years ago today, Darius Rucker was born in Charleston, South Carolina, less than two hours away from the University of South Carolina campus where he would later form Hootie & the Blowfish.
Since those undergrad days in South Carolina, he’s funneled an appreciation for American roots music into nearly two dozen hits, first as a baseball-capped pop-rocker and, more recently, as a cowboy-hatted country star. Many rockers have turned to country music in the hopes of rejuvenating their careers, but Rucker is one of the few to pull off the transition seamlessly. And while there may appear to be a world of difference between “Hold My Hand” and, say, “Homegrown Honey” — the kickoff single from his newest solo album, Southern Style — Rucker was embracing country music long before country music embraced him.
Proof? This live performance of “Mustang Sally,” performed at the end of Hootie & the Blowfish’s Farm Aid set on October 1, 1995. With Steve Earle on rhythm guitar and a pair of country heavyweights — Radney Foster and Grand Ole Opry member John Conlee — on backup vocals, Rucker leads his beefed-up group through a loose cover that blurs the lines between soul, country and bar-band rock & roll. Foster, who’d climbed onstage earlier that evening to sing his 1992 deep cut “A Fine Line” with the band, looks especially excited throughout the performance, even jumping up and down as Mark Bryan rips into his guitar solo. Meanwhile, Earle — calm and collected, having served a short jail sentence the previous year — plays it cool in the background, while Conlee looks happy and perhaps a bit out-of-place on stage right, chiming in during the “ride, Sally, ride” refrain.
Two decades later, Rucker is still putting his own spin on the songs that have shaped his music, often covering Oasis’s “Champagne Supernova,” Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down,” Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition” and Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” which he turned into a Number One smash, in concert. He’ll return to the road again this week, launching his Southern Style Tour tomorrow evening in Holmdel, New Jersey.