Darius RuckerCountry music's reigning New Artist of the Year Darius Rucker, is anything but "new." Best known as the front man for Grammy-winning band Hootie and the Blowfish, Darius has actually been making music for more than 15 years. But while that band's chart-topping album, 'Cracked Rear View,' was labeled anything but country when it came out in 1994, Darius says now it would fit right in.

"I think if that record came out today, it'd have to be a country record," Darius tells The Morning Call. "It's a sign of how far country radio has come. Country radio's everything from the pop-country of Rascal Flatts to the dirt country of George Strait to R&B country and everything in between. That's all in there."

Darius thinks the progression of country music is only positive, even if plenty of people disagree with him. "I know a lot of people complain about that -- especially the purists, they want to hear these pure country songs all the time. But that 18-year-old kid who listens to country radio all the time really wants to hear that Taylor Swift song."

In spite of his success in country music, he admits leaving the band to embark on a solo career was a difficult decision, and one that he fought personally for a long time. He even tried to talk his band into making music "like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, just go play country music. But they didn't want to do it," he acknowledges, which ultimately led to the band's demise in 2008.

His band may not have wanted to embrace country music, but country artists were certainly ready to welcome Darius into the fold. After finishing writing 'All I Want,' from his debut country album, 'Learn to Live,' Darius had an idea he says would have never happened in the pop world.

"My producer [Frank Rogers] and I, who also produces Brad Paisley, finished writing 'All I Want,' and the first thing I said was, 'If you're willing, I'd love for Brad to play on it; sounds like a song that he would kill on and do great," he says. "And we just asked him and he said, 'Yeah, soon as I get in town I'll be there.' And as soon as he got in town, he came down and played."

A far cry from pop music, where record labels "want to charge you $30,000 to come down and play on your record," Darius was thrilled to realize that in country music, people just do it as a favor, which is exactly what another country superstar, Vince Gill, did. "I wanted him to sing on a song and my producer saw him in the gym and asked him if he'd do it. And I've known Vince for years, but it's still Vince Gill. And he said, 'Yeah, I'll be there in a couple of days.' And sure enough, a couple days later here comes Vince Gill."

Darius also encountered Alison Krauss in a restaurant, and asked her to lend her vocals, which she quickly agreed to do. "With all those people, we got like 42 Grammys between us -- and I've got two," Darius jokes.

With his platinum-selling 'Learn to Live' reaching No. 1, and spawning three No. 1 singles, Darius continues to look ahead. Working on another country album, he insists that in spite of his solo success, fans haven't heard the last of Hootie and the Blowfish either. The band will "make another record and do another tour," he says. "I'm positive of that. I don't know when; I honestly think it's going to be a few years down the road."

Look for a new album from Darius some time next year.