The CMA Songwriters Series celebrates its 10th anniversary in New York this year and Darius Rucker was along for the party last night (Sept. 3). Just hours after he announced the nominees for this year’s CMA Awards, he joined songwriters Bob DiPiero, Rivers Rutherford and Luke Laird at Best Buy Theater to perform their hits and tell the stories behind the songs they’ve written.
Host DiPiero kicked off the night with his love letter to the South – “Southern Voice” – made famous by Tim McGraw. Rucker followed suit with his love letter to his wife – “Alright.” Co-written with Frank Rogers, Rucker explained how the previous time the two got together they wrote a divorce song and quickly decided that they should try to write songs they can play for their wives.
In addition to playing his brand new single “Homegrown Honey,” a song he wrote with Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley, Rucker debuted “Southern Style.” Written with Rutherford and Tim James, Rucker said the track will be the second single off his fourth country album due out next year. The soulful number praised a woman who was raised in Southern style and is a fan of Lil Wayne and Lynyrd Skynyrd. “I love that song. That song gives me chills,” Rucker admitted once he was done singing it.
Other highlights from Rucker included “Southern State of Mind,” in which he called out a girl in the front row with the song’s title tattooed on her. Earlier, he told the story behind “Let Her Cry,” a song he and his band Hootie and the Blowfish made famous. Written in college after a night of drinking, he explained how the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels” and Bonnie Raitt’s album Home Plate influenced the song. “I went home that night and I wanted to write ‘She Talks to Angels’ for Bonnie Raitt,” he said.
Standout songs throughout the night included Laird’s “Give Me Back My Hometown,” which he wrote with Eric Church. On his drive from Nashville to North Carolina to meet up with Church for a songwriting session his truck broke down so he bought a new one. Once he got to Church’s cabin he told him, “Man we gotta write a hit because I just bought a truck.” The song would later go on to No. 1 on the country charts, so he got his wish.
Meanwhile, Rutherford made the tears flow with his poignant ballad “Stealing Cinderella,” which he said he wrote with his father-in-law in mind and now dedicates to his two daughters who just left for college.
“It’s an amazing job. Making shit up and getting paid for it,” DiPiero joked during the show. After listening to the songwriters play and explain each song they wrote for two hours it was easy to see why. Rucker further showcased how inspiration could strike anywhere when he ended the evening with a spirited sing-along of “Wagon Wheel.”
“Wagon Wheel” was written in part by Bob Dylan and later finished by Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. Though Rucker didn’t write it himself, he managed to put his own personal spin on the track. He explained that the decision to cut the song came from his daughter’s high school talent show. In the midst of making his third album, once he heard the faculty band countrify the song he knew he had to record it.
“I won’t ever cut a song that I don’t want to play for the rest of my life,” he said. “I have to play this for the rest of my life.”