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 Addresses: Home-P.O. Box 3545 Williamsburg, VA 23187-3546.
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 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 change-ups, 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 Mydland, 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 small-town 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 the usual 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.
by Christine Morrison
Bruce Hornsby's Career
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.
Bruce Hornsby's 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.
- Selected discography
- with the Range
- The Way It Is (includes "The Way It Is," "Mandolin Rain," and "Every Little Kiss"), RCA, 1986.
- Scenes from the Southside (includes "The Road Not Taken" and "The Valley Road"), RCA, 1988.
- A Night on the Town (includes "Across the River"), RCA, 1990.
- Solo albums
- Harbor Lights (includes "Rainbow Cadillac" and "Talk of the Town"), RCA, 1993.
- Hot House , RCA, 1995.
- Spirit Trail , RCA, 1998.
October 4, 2005: Hornsby's live album with Marian McPartland, Piano Jazz: McPartland/Hornsby, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, October 7, 2005.
- 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.