The prospect of a co-writing a song with, and for, Darius Rucker was certainly exciting for J.T. Harding.
But the virtual session itself — just getting to it, in fact — proved to be even more dramatic for the Grosse Pointe-raised songwriter.
"Beers and Sunshine," released by Rucker in August, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay Chart last week, the Hootie & the Blowfish frontman's 10th chart-topper as a country solo artist. It was written by Rucker, Harding, Josh Osborne and producer Ross Copperman via Zoom last May 5, a meeting that was complicated by a tornado that ripped through Nashville just a few days prior.
"The tornado knocked my power out for five days, and Nashville was shut down, everything closed," says Harding, who's also written big hits for Keith Urban ("Somewhere in My Car"), Blake Shelton ("Sangria"), Kenny Chesney ("Somewhere With You") and Uncle Kracker ("Smile"). He was unable to find a hotel or even a Starbucks where he could log into the session, and in desperation wound up at the home of his longtime publisher Rusty Gaston of Sony Music Publishing.
"I knocked on his door, and his little boy was there in a Hulk outfit, doing a karate pose," Harding remembers. "Then Rusty appeared and I was, 'Hey man, I'm supposed to write with Darius. I'm already late. Can I sit on the porch and use your wi-fi?'"
Gaston went a step further, however.
He found a safe place for his wife and kids to go, and he worked in the back yard and set me up in his office," Harding says. "It was, 'Everyone out of the house! I want J.T. to write a hit with Darius Rucker!'"
The quartet wound up writing two songs that day. After the first was finished, Harding — noting that "I'd never been with Darius before, didn't know if I was gonna see him again" — threw out another idea, the lyric "the only B.S. I know is bikinis and sunshine." Everyone liked the idea and the song took shape, with Rucker suggesting "something more common," changing bikinis to beers and the others throwing out more lines while Copperman worked on the music.
For Rucker, the song was an opportunity to express what he felt was a timely sentiment.
"When I got home from being on the road last March and we parked our tour bus for the foreseeable future, we had no idea what our future would actually look like," he said in a statement. "I don't have the answers for how we fix the complex issues that we're facing. ... However, while we work through this time, I think it's important that we balance the heaviness by finding the silver lining, where we can really enjoy the simple joys this song talks about, like time spent together with friends and family."
"Give Darius credit," Harding notes. "He was all about, 'Let's make it very relatable to the fans,' and that's exactly what it is. Darius played it for his label and they liked it and said, 'Let's put it out as a single.'
"When you combine the quarantine, the tornado, me running around finding somewhere to write, it's pretty magical."
The song was also a bit of a full-circle moment for Harding, who was a fan of Rucker's band Hootie & the Blowfish since its multiplatinum major-label debut album, "Cracked Rear View," was released out in 1994.
"I was working at Tower Records in L.A. when it came out, and I just fell in love with that record," Harding says. "Grunge was so big, but I wasn't writing grunge. I couldn't play like Eddie Van Halen. But the Hootie record clicked and I started writing singer-songwriter stuff, which got me here."
And appropriately, for the "Beers and Sunshine" session Harding "wore my Tower Records T-shirt, for good vibes."
Harding has more sessions set up with Rucker, while he also co-wrote "Sober As a Drunk," the new single by Kameron Marlowe, a contestant on "The Voice" in 2018.
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