Darius Rucker picks 5 essential country albums
Darius Rucker boasts a massive vinyl and CD collection that numbers in the thousands, with country music accounting for over 1,000 of the selections. But the CMA-winning singer-songwriter and guitarist, who last year was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, says that his introduction to country music came not from records but from a certain '70s-era syndicated TV show, one that mixed a little pickin' with a little grinnin'.
"I was a big Hee-Haw fan," Rucker says. "It’s kind of funny to say that, but Hee-Haw was my show. I watched it religiously every week. I look back now, and I always say that I don’t give Roy Clark and Buck Owens enough credit for my country career. Those are the guys who got me listening to the music back in the day."
By the '80s, Rucker had become an ardent record collector – he even spent some time working in retail, at Sounds Familiar in Columbia, South Carolina, which helped expose him to music both old and new. "I discovered bands like New Grass Revival, and they really blew me away," he says. "Foster & Lloyd had a big, big impact on me, and Nanci Griffith I just can't get enough of. Artists like that changed my life."
Millions of music fans first came to know Rucker in 1994 as the husky-voiced frontman for the multi-platinum roots-rock band Hootie & The Blowfish, but in 2008 he followed his deep and abiding love for straight-up country music and segued seamlessly into the genre, racking up back-to-back smashes with that year's Learn To Live and the 2010 follow-up, Charleston, SC 1966. This summer, Rucker will issue his much-anticipiated third album, True Believers, a record that he calls "more country than my other ones. On songs like Wagon Wheel, there's a traditional bluegrass feel. We tried to harken back to the vintage days."
Of that ginormous music collection, Rucker says that his brother-in-law graciously loaded the whole lot into a hard drive, so now the singer can hit 'random' on his tour bus, in a plane or at home and listen to longtime favorites and current singles. "Right now, I'm loving that new song Downtown by Lady Antebellum," he says. "I can’t stop playing it. But then I always go back and listen to Foster & Lloyd’s first record. I like to mix it up."
On the following pages, Rucker narrows down his library and runs down what he considers to be five essential country albums. "These are records I would recommend to anybody," he says, "but if you're a real country fan, then you've just got to hear them."
Radney Foster - Del Rio, TX 1959 (1992)
“I was already a big Foster & Lloyd fan, so I was waiting for Randy to come out with his solo record. It was all I could have hoped for and more. In fact, this is the record that really made me want to sing country music. When I heard it, I said to myself, ‘I want to sound like that guy.’ I’ve played it and sung along to it more times than I can say. Its impact on me is deep.
“The songwriting, the production, the vocals – there’s nothing about this album that isn’t exceptional. It would be on my list of top five albums of all time period, so it’s definitely the top country record.
“Louisiana Blue is an amazing song; then there’s Old Silver – they’re all great. I can’t say one and not say the other. But I will say that Easier Said That Done is my favorite. It’s a beautiful ballad, and Radney’s delivery of those lyrics really gets it right. [Sings] ‘The words can’t rebuild all the trust my lies killed.” For me, that’s the definition of country music.”
Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger (1975)
“When I was growing up, my aunt Jeanette would play this record a lot. It was one of those things I could always count on: get in Mom’s car, you’re going to hear Al Green; get in Aunt Jeanette’s car, you’re going to hear Red Headed Stranger. [Laughs] You have no idea what it was like being a black kid who listened to everything, and then your aunt is listening to something that she probably wasn’t supposed to be, either.
“There’s so many standards on this record – Blues Eyes Crying In The Rain, Down Yonder. It’s a classic all the way, very simple and pure, with melodies that really stay with you. Willie’s guitar playing is fantastic. He uses that same old guitar that he’s used for decades, too. What a sound he has.
“Of course, I have a sentimental attachment to Red Headed Stranger, but I can also say that it’s filled with great, timeless music. It’s another one of the albums that made me want to pursue playing country.”
Patsy Cline - Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits (1967)
“I’ve listened to this record over and over and over, more times than you can imagine. I discovered it in high school, and in college it became something of a standard for me.
“She’s Got You is my song. [Sings] ‘I've got your memory, or has it got me?/ I really don't know, but I know it won't let me be…’ Patsy Cline’s voice and her delivery of that line, they just run right through you. Then when she sings, ‘I’ve got your class ring, that proved cared’ – she makes it so believable. You feel what she’s feeling.
“Crazy is probably my favorite Willie Nelson song, and his demo of it is unreal. When you hear it, you can understand why Patsy had trouble singing it at first. But she got something else out of it, which is remarkable. And we have Back In Baby’s Arms – [sings] ‘How I miss those loving arms/ I’m back where I belong, back in baby’s arms.’
“Patsy Cline’s voice is about as perfect as it gets. You know, when we record songs these days, we sing them five or six times sometimes, and they comp the takes into one great vocal. Patsy would get up and perform with the band, and she’d sing live straight through. No putting the vocal together. That’s incredible.”
Nanci Griffith - Once In A Very Blue Moon (1984)
“I discovered Nanci in the early ‘80s, back when I was getting deep, deep into country music. This is a live record with so many of my favorite songs on it. I’m a huge Nanci Griffith guy. I could have named you 10 of her albums, and they’d all be great, but something about what she does on Once In A Very Blue Moon, hearing her perform her songs live, it really brings it all home for me.
“The band is terrific, and Nanci’s stories are brilliant. She’s great in the studio, but the best way to experience her is live on stage, where she’s a force of nature. Nobody sings like her. She soothes my soul.”
Foster & Lloyd - Foster & Lloyd (1987)
“I used to work in retail, at a record store, and the thing about me was, I never got to the job early [laughs]. Everybody knew it. They didn’t put ‘10’ or ‘1’ on my schedule, they put ’10-ish’ or ‘1-ish’ – stuff like that. One day, I was sitting at home, I was supposed to be at work at one o’clock, but I’m watching TV, just flippin’ through the channels. A video came on CMT, and it was Foster & Lloyd’s Crazy Over You. I was totally blown away.
“I got up, went to work, and everybody was looking at me like, ‘What are you doing here?’ They didn’t expect me to be there so early. But I just said, ‘Man, I’ve got to open up this Foster & Lloyd record and check it out.’ We only had one copy, and right when I started playing it, four people wanted to buy it. So we would've made four sales if we had enough copies.
“For me, this record started it all. It’s so country. It’s not for the pop country music fans, though; it’s dirt country. This is a duo that writes songs that can cut you to the core. You know exactly what they’re saying.
“I love the album’s sound, too. You know how it is when a band comes out with their first thing? They’re young, they’re fresh, and they have this excitement like, ‘Oh my God, we’re really getting a chance to do this!’? That’s what I get from this album. It’s bursting out of them. ‘Look out world – here we come!’” [Laughs]