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MINNEAPOLIS—Darius Rucker, the lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish, has gone country. Just look at them boots. Or look at Billboard’s country charts: He had the No. 1 single and the No. 1 album last week.


Even though he wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat, Rucker, 42, sure sounded country in a recent 75-minute set in Minneapolis. Backed by Nashville pros including a fiddler/mandolinist, he tore through the songs on his album, “Learn to Live”—including the chart-topping single ‘Don’t Think I Don’t Think About That”—as well as country classics associated with Hank Williams Jr. and David Allan Coe. And the South Carolina native saluted the fans and his success with swigs from a bottle of Jack Daniels.


Before getting all jacked up for his fifth gig with his new band, Rucker talked about the future of Hootie, his newly buff physique and his appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.


Q. Hootie’s show at the Minnesota Zoo this summer had a country vibe.


A. Our shows have always been like that. Our later records really showed the influence of “newgrass” and listening to Radney Foster records and Doc Watson records.


Q. What is harder work: country or rock?


A. Oh, country. Because of the relationship that artists have with radio. So many (program directors), I have their number and they have your number. We text each other, we talk to each other. And the relationship we have with fans. At Fan Fair (in Nashville), you see (artists) sitting there for five hours signing (autographs) for people. It’s hard work but I think it’s better. That’s why those guys have fans that are so loyal.


Q. What did you learn from working with Brad Paisley, Vince Gill and Alison Krauss on your album?


A. One thing I learned is the country-artist community is a lot closer than other communities. It was such an easy task to get all three of those guys on my record. I’ve probably learned more from the guys I wrote songs with. That’s where I was really at school. I learned so much about song structure and when rhyme scheme is necessary and sometimes when it’s not necessary. I co-wrote so little before this record.


Q. What was it like singing on the Grand Ole Opry?


A. That was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had musically. I was so overwhelmed. It happened so fast, it was like a blur. Bill Anderson goes on right after I did. That’s hard to take in.


Q. Is Hootie dead?


A. No, Hootie will never be dead. I’m sure we’ll do an album and a tour soon.


Q. So it’s just a Hootie-atus, so to speak?


A. Yeah. But this seems like where I’m supposed to be.


Q. This is quite a jump from your last solo album, 2002’s “Back to Then,” which was neo-soul.


A. Yeah. That album was such a big part of me too. As much as I listened to Buck Owens and “Hee Haw,” I listened to Al Green too. I knew I was going to make a one-off record and get right back to Hootie. Being so into Notorious B.I.G. and Lauryn Hill at the time, I love that record. But this is what I’m supposed to be doing.


Q. You look like you’ve lost a lot of weight and have been hitting the weights.


A. I had a knee problem and I was in the hospital for about six weeks and I lost a lot of weight. Then I gained some of it back. But, you know, these country guys are in shape, man. I gotta work out.

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