Bruce Hornsby Biography

23 November 1954, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA. After many years working in the music business as pianist and contract songwriter for 20th Century Fox, Hornsby burst onto the market in 1986 with a superb debut. The single ‘The Way It Is’, with its captivating piano introduction and infectious melody, was a transatlantic hit. Hornsby has a technique of hitting the piano keys hard, which still results in a clean melodic sound, reminiscent of Floyd Cramer. The first album, part produced by Huey Lewis and on the RCA Records label, contained a plethora of piano based southern American rock songs, with Hornsby’s strong voice, reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, making it one of the year’s best rock albums. Many of the ‘American heritage’ songs on the album were co-written with his brother John. The line-up of the Range comprised David Mansfield (violin, mandolin, guitar), Joe Puerta (bass), John Molo (drums), and George Marinelli (guitar). Hornsby and the Range followed the first album with Scenes From The Southside, an even stronger collection including the powerful ‘The Valley Road’ and ‘Defenders Of The Flag’. The former song won him a composers’ Grammy for the best bluegrass recording, as performed by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The third collection A Night On The Town in 1990 was a move away from the piano-dominated sound and featured guest appearances by Jerry Garcia (guitar), Shawn Colvin (vocals), and Bela Fleck (banjo).

Following the death of the Grateful Dead’s Brent Mydland in July 1990, Hornsby joined as a temporary replacement. In addition to many session/guest appearances during the early 90s, Hornsby (by now recording without the Range and writing on his own) found time to record 1993’s Harbor Lights, a satisfying and acoustic sounding album. In forsaking an overtly commercial direction, Hornsby sounded both confident and happy with his recent ‘sound’. Hot House (1995) and its follow up Spirit Trail (1998) were both credible records, demonstrating Hornsby’s penchant for jazzy improvisation, yet commercially they were disappointing. Here Come The Noise Makers (2000) was a quality live album which allowed Hornsby (with his new band the Noise Makers) to stretch out and play some improvised jazz solos. The 2002 follow-up Big Swing Face found Hornsby using programmed drums and effects more suited to club music. Whilst the songs were up to his usual standard the listener was left yearning for some piano (the album was the only Hornsby outing on which he did not play the instrument).

Hornsby switched to Columbia Records for 2004’s Halcyon Days, recorded like its predecessor with the Noise Makers, whose line-up included John Thomas (keyboards), Bobby Read (saxophone/flute), J.V. Collier (bass), Sonny Emory (drums), and Doug Derryberry (guitar/mandolin). In 2007, Hornsby released two divergent albums. The first was a bluegrass set with Ricky Skaggs and the second a jazz trio outing with Christian McBride (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Hornsby also continues to perform regularly with the Other Ones, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s post-Grateful Dead unit. This hugely talented artist however, is sliding dangerously towards the ‘criminally underrated’ pages of rock history. Maybe it was a omen when chart success became hard to find that Hornsby simply decided to carry on playing the music he chooses to play at any one time. In 2007 he released his first pure jazz album in the company of Jack DeJohnette and Christian McBride; it was both adventurous and assured.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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