Darius Rucker can sing rock -- you might remember him from Hootie and the Blowfish, if you owned a machine that played music on it in the 1990s. He can sing country -- his two country albums, "Learn To Live" and "Charleston SC 1966" have secured his spot as the genre's most successful black artist since Charley Pride. He can sing R&B, as evidenced by his 2002 solo album "Back To Then." And he covered Lady Antebellum with Adele at last year's CMT Awards. There's not a lot this dude can't sing.
Yet still there's something surprising about seeing the marquee "The Big Band Sound of Darius Rucker," a semi-regular show he puts on in Charleston to benefit Medical University of South Carolina's Children's Hospital. The show finds Rucker singing the songs of Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima and the like, and is the third of its kind in Rucker's hometown.
"When I step on stage in that tuxedo, and everybody in there is dressed to the nines, and you hear that opening horn salvo for 'The Lady Is A Tramp' -- there's nothing like it," Rucker said.
Rucker said he's always been a big Sinatra guy, but the tale of his coming to do a series of Sinatra concerts begins with ... wait, Dan Marino is involved?
"I spent about three years of his career at every home game in Miami," Rucker said by phone last month. (Hootie fans will recall that Marino made a memorable and fumbly cameo in the band's video for "Only Wanna Be With You" in 1994.)
"We'd hang out, listen to music and watch films. And one night after the game we were hanging out listening to Sinatra and out of the blue I said, 'I'd love to sing that, do a Sinatra show sometime' -- no exaggeration, just as I said it to you. And about two weeks later Dan called me and said, 'How about March 22 for the Sinatra show?' And I said, 'For what Sinatra show?'"
That was in 2004; Rucker did a sequel in Charleston in 2008 and one in Florence in 2006. (And before that, Rucker had a chance to sing "The Lady Is A Tramp" at Sinatra's 80th birthday celebration in 1995; that song is a highlight of his shows now, he said.)
For the 2012 edition Rucker will be backed by Peter Graves, who comes with good references. "Peter was with Sinatra for about 25 years of his career, and he's the one who puts together the band for me," Rucker said.
The set list includes a lot of favorites -- "One For The Road," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and the like -- but it has a few omissions. "We went around with stuff like 'My Way,' but couldn't do it. It's such a Sinatra song, you know?"
"The best thing about being up there is having a 20-piece orchestra, all that noise behind you," Rucker said. "No matter what kind of music you play, whether you've got a rock band, sax, guitar, whatever, nothing sounds like 20 instruments playing. You feel it with everything."
And for the record, it's not all Sinatra -- there's some artists of the age like Louis Prima and (part-time Hilton Head Island resident) Mose Allison in there too, Rucker said, and it's here that he starts singing Allison's "Lost Mind": "If you would be so kind to help me find my mind/ I'd like to thank you in advance."
"All these terms -- country, big band -- they're just words," he said. "It's all music. What it comes down to at the end of the day is poetry in motion. We're all singing the same words."