Steve Helling
November 22, 2010 12:00 PM

These are some of the things that Darius Rucker describes as being “awesome”: his wife. The Miami Dolphins. Jelly beans. Beer. Justin Bieber.

Justin Bieber? “I was being a good dad,” he explains with a laugh, “and I took my daughters to his concert. When I saw the show, I was like, ‘Man, that cat’s got it. I get why these 18,000 young girls are screaming.’ But it was one of the loudest things I have ever heard. I had to put earplugs in.”

Yes, the former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman has officially gone unplugged. Switching to the country sound he lived and breathed growing up in South Carolina, Rucker, 44, has scored three No. 1’s on the country charts-with another radio hit, “Come Back Song,” off his new album Charleston, SC 1966. So these days, he admits, he doesn’t keep up with pop music. “If it doesn’t have a twang, I haven’t heard it in the last five years,” he says, laughing.

Rucker had to work hard to win over the doubters when he first traded the Blowfish for banjos. Some country radio stations initially dismissed him as a gimmick, so he crisscrossed the Southeast in his car, appearing on dozens of radio shows. “I would do three or four stations a day,” he recalls. “It was a Monday-to-Friday job.” Winning the Best New Artist trophy at last year’s Country Music Awards “was definitely a high point,” he adds. “I hope it showed that I’m here to stay.”

His second act in music has enabled him to spend more time at home near Charleston, S.C., with his wife of nearly 10 years, Beth, 42, and his three children, Cary, 15, Dani, 9, and Jack, 5. (He shares custody of Cary with an ex.) As a country singer, he’s usually on the road only three days a week. “With Hootie, we used to get in the tour bus from April to November, and we’d come home every two weeks for a day,” he says. “That’s exhausting. It’s tough on your soul-to not have some sort of roots somewhere.”

These days his roots are firmly with his family. In the Rucker home, together time is sacred, whether it’s playing miniature golf in the backyard or watching a Miami Dolphins game. “The second I hit the Charleston city line or the second I land at the airport, I’m Daddy,” he says. “I’m not Hootie. I gotta go pick someone up from school.” Says Beth: “He really lights up when he’s with the kids.”

Rucker’s family values come from a confusing childhood with an absentee father (his parents split when he was a toddler). “I remember times sitting in my room when I was growing up, really in tears, not believing I couldn’t just call my dad,” he says. “It’s tough for a kid to realize that his father isn’t interested in being around him.”

Rucker was determined not to make the same mistakes. “I don’t want my kids to grow up with daddy issues,” he says. “I don’t want them to question whether I love them.” And the love is seemingly without limits. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them,” he says. “I’d even go to another Justin Bieber concert!”

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