Singer, songwriter, pianist
Success long eluded rock performer Bruce Hornsby. White many in the recording industry considered his work promising, he was rejected by all the major labels. “I was going nowhere fast,” he told Dennis Hunt of the Los Angeles Times. “I was writing these formula pop songs. It wasn’t what wanted to do.” In 1985 Hornsby decided to follow his instincts. He and his brother, John, began writing music that blended jazz, country-folk, and New Age. The result, an album titled The Way It Is, earned Hornsby and his four-man band, the Range, a Grammy Award.
A native of Williamsburg, Virginia, Hornsby grew up wanting to be a professional basketball player. While in high school he learned to play piano. He later studied at the University of Miami School of Music, where he learned classical and jazz piano. After receiving his degree, Hornsby returned to Virginia and formed a rock cover band that played in bars and clubs throughout the South. In 1980 he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a staff composer for 20th Century Fox.
During this time he recorded and distributed demo tapes. Some of the biggest names in the music industry took notice, and several record companies expressed interest. But Hornsby received no contract offers, so he enlisted in Sheena Easton’s road band for two years. In 1985 Hornsby recorded another demo. This time, he ignored the advice given him by industry insiders; he was tired of trying to write what other people thought was commercial. The tape consisted of four songs written by Hornsby and his brother, and it featured Hornsby, alone, singing and playing acoustic piano, bass, drums, and accordion. There was no electronic music. “I just wanted a tape to sound exactly like I heard the music in my head and not have to compromise with anybody about any of it,” he explained to Pam Lambert of the Wall Street Journal. The tape led to a contract with RCA.
The debut album of Bruce Hornsby and the Range, The Way It Is, went platinum. Its title track, a song about racial prejudice, topped the Billboard chart. Another single, “Mandolin Rain,” reached the top ten. Hornsby produced six of the album’s songs, three others were produced by Huey Lewis, an early champion of Hornsby’s work. The album’s style, which Lambert described as “jazz-tinged folk-rock,” and socially conscious material struck a chord with audiences and critics. Huey Lewis has called Hornsby’s music “rural Southern highbrow.” A People reviewer wrote: “With their small-town settings and common heroes, Hornsby’s are the sort of heartland tunes that just might knock a chip in the Springsteen-Mellencamp monopoly.” At the 1987 Grammy Awards Hornsby and his group were named best new artist.
Born c. 1954; married. Education: Attended Berklee College of Music; graduate of University of Miami, 1977.
Began playing in rock bands in the late 1970s; staff songwriter for 20th Century-Fox in Los Angeles; formed own band, Bruce Hornsby and the Range, c 1980.
Awards: Grammy Award for best new artist, 1987.
Addresses: Record compony —RCA Records, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.
A second album, Scenes from the Southside, has also sold millions. Homsby’s music has been influenced by jazz pianist Keith Jarrett and country singer George Jones; his lyrics are drawn from current events and social trends. Mostly, his work reflects his southern roots. “I guess this sounds pompous, but we want to create our own sort of microcosm of a place, “he told Rolling Stone. “Kind of like Faulkner, I guess, had a county where all his things were set. If there’s anything special about what we’re doing, that’s what it is.”
The Way It Is, RCA, 1986.
Scenes from the Southside, RCA, 1988.
Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 1987.
Detroit Free Press, March 31, 1987.
Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1987.
Minneapolis Star and Tribune, March 13, 1987.
New York Times, September 19, 1988.
People, October 13, 1986; November 17, 1986.
Rolling Stone, February 12, 1987.
Stereo Review, December 1986.
Wall Street Journal, February 19, 1987.
Singer, pianist, songwriter
Bruce Hornsby’s illustrious career has included just about every type of success a musician can experience. His musical roles have been varied—lounge musician, unknown pop song writer, successful mainstream musician, Grammy award winner. Audiences are most familiar with Hornsby’s work with his band, the Range. “The Way It Is,” recorded by Bruce Hornsby and the Range, was one of the most played songs on American radio in 1987. Hornsby embarked on a solo career in the nineties that combined many forms of music and met with critical acclaim. He is known for his acoustic piano playing and honest lyrics intensified by his strong vocals. Hornsby’s songs are real life stories about small-town people. His songs are so true to life that the citizens of his hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia, analyze every aspect of each one looking for similarities to their own lives. Hornsby told Jay Cocks of Time, “Sometimes they find themselves. Sometimes much to their chagrin.”
Hornsby was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1954 and raised in Williamsburg. He is an avid sports fan and once dreamed of a career in professional basketball after playing on the varsity team for James Blair High School. A few colleges sought after him, but Hornsby didn’t think that he could go far in basketball because he averaged only 11 points a game. He still reunites with his old high school teammates for a game of pick-up ball occasionally. He also loves baseball and golf, but it was his love for music that prevailed.
Hornsby practiced piano as seriously as he practiced basketball, even after years of disappointment with his music career. He told Mike D’Orso of Sports Illustrated, “I could’ve easily sacked it in, but I stayed intense. I still am. It goes right back to what I learned on the court.” Hornsby studied music at Berklee College in Boston and eventually earned a degree from the University of Miami School of Music in 1977. By 1980 Hornsby had formed a band with his brother Bob. They moved to Los Angeles but suffered through some lean years, which forced Bruce to sign with 20th Century Fox as a songwriter. Hornsby’s younger brother, John, co-wrote pop songs with him for 20th Century Fox and is still his songwriting partner.
While in Los Angeles, Hornsby performed in local bars and recorded demo tapes hoping desperately to be signed by a major record company. He did not enjoy writing for other singers and watching his music being altered. Even though celebrities like Huey Lewis tried to help Hornsby, no major labels were taking notice, forcing Hornsby to take a job playing keyboards for Sheena Easton on tour.
In 1984, Hornsby formed Bruce Hornsby and the Range. He recorded a demo tape of his own acoustic music that
Born Bruce Randall Hornsby, November 23, 1954, in Richmond, VA; son of Robert Stanley and Lois (Saunier); married Kathy Yankovich, December 31, 1983; children. Education: Attended Berklee College in Boston; Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Miami School of Music, 1977.
After college, played in local Virginia clubs; moved to Los Angeles, 1980; signed with 20th Century Fox to write songs for other musicians; toured as keyboard player for Sheena Easton, 1983; formed Bruce Hornsby and the Range, 1984; signed by RCA, 1985; released greatly successful The Way It Is, 1986; won first Grammy, 1986; released two more albums with the Range while also songwriting and performing with many other famous musicians, 1988-1990; toured as keyboardist with the Grateful Dead, replacing Brent Mydland, 1990-1992; released first solo album, Harbor Lights, 1993; released second solo album, Hot House, 1995; released double album Spirit Trail, 1998; continued to tour and perform with other distinguished musicians.
Awards: Grammy awards for Best New Artist, 1986, Best Bluegrass Recording, 1989, Best Pop Instrumental Performance, 1993; Down Beat Reader’s Poll Beyond Album of the Year, 1994; Double platinum certification for The Way It Is; platinum certification for Scenes from the Southside; ASCAP Song of the Year for “The Way It Is,” 1987; Emmy award for Best Original Score, 1987.
Addresses: Home— P.O. Box 3545 Williamsburg, VA 23187-3546. Website —www.bruce-hornsby.com.
drew major attention from the industry. By 1985, Hornsby and his band were signed by RCA. In 1986 they released The Way It Is to critical and popular acclaim. Nicholas Jennings of Maclean’s wrote, “Its warm, robust sound is something of a novelty in an age of synthesizers.” The Way It Is spawned three major hits: the title song “The Way It Is,” which reached number one on the pop chart, “Mandolin Rain,” and “Every Little Kiss.” The Way It Is earned Bruce Hornsby and the Range a Grammy award for Best New Artist and introduced the public to Hornsby’s style of tempo changeups, stiletto fingering and right-hand piano runs. The album sold over two million copies and raised the social consciousness about racism with the lyrics for “The Way It Is.”
Hornsby and his band followed up their first album with Scenes from the Southside in 1988. Although not as mainstream as their first effort, they scored a top ten hit with “The Valley Road.” Ralph Novak of People raved, “Most surprising and satisfying are the big splashes of jazz piano improvisations that Hornsby injects into such tracks as The Valley Road’ and ‘The Road Not Taken.’” Hornsby later re-recorded “The Valley Road” for a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album titled Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume II. That version of the song earned Hornsby another Grammy in 1989 for Best Bluegrass Recording.
Hornsby’s piano playing has been labeled everything from country to jazz to blues to swing. He fuses together a variety of styles in every song, and he has earned much admiration from musicians. Over his career, Hornsby has written songs and performed on over 70 albums with artists like Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Branford Marsalis, and Bonnie Raitt, among many others. In 1990 Bruce Hornsby and the Range released A Night on the Town, which reached number 20 on the pop chart and included the single “Across the River.” This album diverged from the first two musically and was not a huge mainstream success. In the meantime, Hornsby wrote and performed on a successful Don Henley hit, “The End of the Innocence.” In 1990 he toured with the Grateful Dead for nearly two years after their keyboard player, Brent Mydiand, died in July of that year. He performed over 100 shows with the group until 1992.
In 1992 Hornsby decided to disband the Range and go solo. He released his first solo album in 1993 titled Harbor Lights. Hornsby recorded the album in his home in Williamsburg to enable him to help his wife Kathy with their twin sons. The album went gold, and according to Jennings it represented “a welcome move away from Hornsby’s mainstream pop sound.” What amazed music critic Vic Garbarini of Playboy was “Hornsby’s skill at threading a folk-based melody through knotty rhythms, his rippling solo lines on folk-funk-jazz workouts like ‘Rainbow Cadillac’ and the strong lyrics on ‘Talk of the Town.’” Hornsby toured as a solo artist, performing with distinguished musicians. In 1993 he won his third Grammy award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for “Barcelona Mona” with Branford Marsalis, recorded for the Olympics held in Barcelona.
Hornsby continued his solo career in 1995 with the release of Hot House. The album contained songs longer than the four-minute standard in pop music. When Melinda Newman of Billboard mentioned to Hornsby that radio programmers might not understand him, he replied, “I’ve never been easily slotted. I’ve never been part of a movement or part of a new trend. I like that. My whole thing is about trying to find my own voice.” His songs always tell stories of smalltown people. Hornsby told Newman, “I have a friend who seems to be the gossip line of our town. I’ve gotten more songs from this guy riding around in his pick-up truck.” Guest performances on the album included Jerry Garcia, Bela Fleck, and Chaka Kahn. Hornsby was later nominated with Chaka Kahn for a Grammy for “Love Me Still,” a song for the “Clockers” movie soundtrack.
Hornsby did not release another solo album until Spirit Trail in 1998. It did not include theusual list of famous guest stars that his other albums boasted. Hornsby wanted his own music to be the focus of the album. Spirit Trail started out as a single album, but Hornsby couldn’t choose favorites from the 20 songs he created. He told Rolling Stone, “The record is very Southern so there are a lot of songs about race, religion, judgment and tolerance.” Down Beat reported, “Though Hornsby’s piano is less of a presence, his playing has never sounded better. Several tracks feature ringing, lyrical piano codas, which upstage the songs.” Hornsby continues to tour and perform and has remained true to his bluegrass roots.
(with The Range) The Way It Is (includes “The Way It Is,” “Mandolin Rain,” and “Every Little Kiss”), RCA, 1986.
(with The Range) A Night on the Town (includes “Across the River”), RCA, 1990.
Harbor Lights (includes “Rainbow Cadillac” and “Talk of the Town”), RCA, 1993.
Hot House, RCA, 1995.
Spirit Trail, RCA, 1998.
Billboard, June 10, 1995; October 14, 1995.
Down Beat, February, 1999.
Maclean’s, May 10, 1993.
People, May 9, 1988.
Playboy, June, 1993.
Sports Illustrated, April 2, 1990.
Time, May 24, 1993.
The All-Media Guide web site.
Rolling Stone Network web site.
Hornsby, Bruce, one of the most challenging musical storytellers of the 1980s and 1990s; b. Williams-burg, Va., Nov. 23, 1954. Music was a family affair for Bruce Hornsby. His maternal grandfather was a theater organist and supervised music in schools. His father played sax in his uncle’s band. Through high school, Hornsby played piano in the hotel lounges of Williams-burg and elsewhere throughout the southern states with his brother Bobby’s band. After a stint at the Univ. of Miami (attending with such heavyweights as Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius), he returned to music- making with fellow alum, drummer John Molo, a fixture in Hornsby’s bands since. When he went to try his skills in L.A., he worked for three years writing songs for 20th Century-Fox with his younger brother John.
In the early 1980s, Hornsby worked with other musicians and recorded countless demos. He played keyboards in Sheena Easton’s band and befriended artists including Huey Lewis. All that hard work and determination worked out, as he and his band The Range signed to RCA in 1985.
Their debut album, The Way It Is, went triple platinum, reaching #3 in the charts. A balladeer, Hornsby sang of homelessness and social responsibility in his cool baritone, weaving little duplet fillegrees into the title track. Despite its flying in the face of the feel-good, love song pop of the time, the tune topped the pop and AC charts and won ASCAP’s “Song of the Year” in 1987 as the most played song on American radio. They followed with the #4 “Mandolin Rain,” which also topped the AC chart, and “Every Little Kiss,” which hit #14 in a remixed version. The band won 1996’s Best New Artist Grammy.
After spending close to a year on the road, Hornsby and The Range put out Scenes from the Southside. The album went platinum, climbing to #5. It featured the hits “The Valley Road” (#4 pop, #1 AC) and “Look Out Any Window” (#35 pop). Hornsby’s compositions and collaborations were also getting notice. Huey Lewis topped the charts with his version of a tune from Scenes,“Jacob’s Ladder.” Hornsby cowrote, coproduced, and played piano on Don Henley’s hit single “The End of the Innocence.”
The Range’s 1990 swan song, A Night on the Town, found the band fairly bursting to try something new. Hornsby’s piano work was becoming jazzier as John Molo’s drumming became more aggressive. The album went gold and spawned the #18 single “Across the River.” Ironically, Hornsby won a Grammy in 1990, but as a songwriter, for a bluegrass version of “The Valley Road” on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken II.
For the next couple of years, Hornsby worked with the spectrum of stars in contemporary pop music, including Bob Dylan; Crosby, Stills Nash and Young; Bob Seger; Willie Nelson; Bonnie Raitt; Squeeze; jazz sax player Bill Evans; and Shawn Colvin. He became an honorary member of The Grateful Dead, filling in on the road after keyboard player Brent Mydland died. Hornsby cut a track with Branford Marsalis called “Barcelona Mona” for the 1992 Olympics that wound up winning a Best Pop Instrumental Performance Grammy in 1993. He worked with Robbie Robertson, who encouraged him to show a little more “bad Bruce” on some of his albums. He also built a studio on his property.
When he finally got busy on his first post-Range record in 1993, he put together a bunch of his friends, including Branford Marsalis, Jerry Garcia, Pat Metheny, Fishbone, and drummer John Bigham. Harbor Lights is a looser, funkier, jazzier album than anything he had done before, and pointed a new direction for Hornsby. Without benefit of a hit single or much radio play, the album still went gold.
In 1995, Hornsby put together the star-studded Hothouse.The album had almost as many music juxtapositions as it did lyrical ones: On “Cruise Control” the soul band Black Street and Jerry Garcia played together. Soul singer Chaka Khan and nouveau banjo picker Bela Fleck both got paired with jazz stringbender Pat Metheny. Songs quoted Sam Cooke, John Coltrane, and Theloni-ous Monk.
In 1998, Hornsby released a double CD, Spirit Trail, an album that built on the funkiness of his previous two releases. Hornsby started exploring new technology and expanded his piano skills, and wrote one of his best crop of songs. The album, however, didn’t produce any hits. He continues to tour, play and explore, and if he doesn’t sell as well as he once did, he continues to grow as an artist.
therange:The Way It Is (1986); Scenes from the Southside (1988); A Night on the Town (1990). solo:Harbor Lights (1993); Hot House (1995); Spirit Trail (1998).