Darius RuckerDarius Rucker may have just been crowned the CMA's New Artist of the Year, but it was actually two decades ago that he first fell in love with country music, even before he would change the face of pop/rock music as frontman for Hootie & the Blowfish in 1994 with the 16-times-platinum-selling debut album 'Cracked Rear View.'

Darius was a college student working part-time at a record store when he first got hooked on a country song.

"I was watching TV one day in my apartment," Darius tells the Maryville Daily Times, "and Foster & Lloyd's video for 'Crazy Over You' came on. I remember it was like the first time I saw R.E.M. -- it was just huge. I sat there watching that song, and I got up and got dressed and went into work two hours early, because I had to find that song."

Just getting to work early was proof in itself how intense Darius' reaction to that country video had been.

"I was never early -- it was so bad that when I was supposed to come in at 1:00 PM, my boss would write down one-ish!" he remembers "Well, I probably played [that song] 20 times that day, and from that first day, I realized I could really sing to this music, as well."

These days, Darius is singing country so well he's notched three No. 1 hits and cultivated a whole new following of fans, many of whom aren't even aware of his pop/rock history. Darius recalls a couple of female fans who stood throughout his entire Houston show recently, singing along with him on every song. Until he launched into his Hootie & the Blowfish hit, 'Let Her Cry' that is. And then they sat down.

"They had no idea what I was playing -- no clue what it was!" Darius remembers. "I just laughed. All I could think was, Wow. There's just a whole new generation getting turned on to 'Learn to Live,' I found out that night. But still, it was just funny to me, man. I couldn't stop looking at them!"

Darius revealed to The Boot last week that his follow-up to the platinum-selling 'Learn to Live' is likely to include a duet with Brad Paisley.