Take a stroll through Darius Rucker's four-bedroom plantation-style home in Charleston, S.C., and it's pretty clear the guy's gone country. A cowboy hat sits atop the water cooler and a personalized Houston Rodeo belt buckle is proudly propped on the bookshelf. But until recently, Rucker's kids (Cary, 14, Dani, 8, and Jack, 4) weren't convinced of Dad's country cred. Enter Taylor Swift. Backstage at a show in April, "she came tearing down the hall to give me a big hug. My kids were like, 'Wow, you really do know her!' " says Rucker with a hearty laugh. "Now I'm kind of a country star."
Actually, Rucker is a bonafide Nashville sensation. The frontman for the rock group Hootie and the Blowfish has scored two No. 1 country hits, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" and "It Won't Be Like This for Long," off his solo country debut, Learn to Live
, earned a standing ovation at the Grand Ole Opry and is touring with Rascal Flatts. "I expect to make a career out of country music," he says. And the best part of his new gig? Country fans "come to party!"
At home in Charleston, the singer is kept busy by his own party of five. "Darius does it all," says Beth Rucker, his wife of nine years. "He cooks breakfast and cleans up, and he's like, 'I've got to do the kids' carpool line.' " Cary, his daughter from a previous relationship, lives with her mom in Maryland but visits often. And Rucker loves playing video games with Dani and Jack and golfing with his son—whom he affectionately calls "Jack Jack." "My family lives a pretty normal life," he says.
Make that normal with some perks. The singer (who happily says he feels he has "a home" in country music) has introduced his kids to his buddy Brad Paisley, and he hits the links with longtime friends Tiger Woods and Samuel L. Jackson. "I've never come close to beating Tiger," he admits. And there's no shortage of television at the Rucker house—the singer has a custom-made TV room that boasts six flat-screens. "You can watch almost all the NFL games at once," says Rucker, who also has several footballs autographed by NFL stars—and named daughter Dani after his idol Dan Marino. ("I'm not obsessed," he jokes.) But even in the off-season, Rucker says home is truly his favorite place to be. "Once I get off that airplane, I stop being a country star," he says, "and I'm just Dad."