Bruce Hornsby’s brother (and R.S.’ father) Bobby Hornsby stopped by in 2002 to give us some behind the scenes perspective on Bruce. He gave some extensive answers to some questions I put to him. You’re a top man, Bobby – thank you..
You’ve (obviously!) been with Bruce since the start – but initially, he was in your band, right?
Bruce and I both started in bands about age 11 – I played organ in “The Gentlemen” – my first band — and he started with the “Fourth Dimension” two years later. (We are two years apart) I was older so I did it first, and he saw how cool it was, but I do not say that I got him started – we just all loved rock music and grew into it together. We have always turned each other on to different music to our mutual benefit – we still do!
Bruce started out playing guitar – the story of our first guitar and amp is told on the RS Hornsby web page (www.RSHornsby.com), but Bruce’s first guitar of his own was a red Vox Meteor electric that was a copy of a Fender strat. At the time I had shifted to bass and was in a band called “Luv Minus Zero” (named after the Dylan song) and Bruce started a band call the Fourth Dimension, which billed itself as “music for sub-teenagers”. I was 13 and he was 11 at the time. I would lend his band some of our bigger and better equipment which, combined with the natural talent of the group, made his band the most popular for the younger kids school dances.
Both of our groups won “Battle of the Bands” at the time, Bruce’s at the Norge Community Center, and mine at the Williamsburg Youth Center. This was about 1965.
What did you play back then? And now – are you still playing?
I started out playing guitar because of the Beatles, then switched to organ because the band I wanted to join needed an organist – like the Animals.
The next band I wanted to be in needed a bass player so I switched to bass. I was playing guitar (as well as bass) again in high school, but an accident with my left hand (broken window, etc.) left me with my index finger damaged so I stuck with bass from then on out because I could play it with 3 fingers on the frets.
As you know, Bruce played with me in “Bobby Hi-Test and the Octane Kids” in the ’70s, then we had the “Hornsby Brothers Band”, and then we went to Miami and started a band to play his original music. Our last and best band together was the Bruce Hornsby Band, with Bruce, Molo, me, Ann (my wife on vocals and percussion), and Steve Watson, a great guitarist and friend from U of Miami.
I have had a great career in music, playing with Bruce in bands until 1980 when R.S. was born. At that time we broke up the band and Bruce (and Molo) moved to LA to continue looking for a record deal. It took five more years before that dream came true, and that story comes in response to a later question. I do still play with different projects and friends – both rock and bluegrass. I also have the joy of playing with my wife and children, who are talented musically.
The Hornsby family
Was music in your family prior to yours and Bruce’s generation?
We grew up with music in a pretty big way. My father and his brothers had a group called “Sherwood Hornsby and His Rhythm Boys” sort of a swing/horn band playing Tommy Dorsey-Glenn Miller style stuff. My dad played sax (Valley Road video) and Uncle Sherwood (dad’s older brother) played Piano, uncle Charles (Spirit Trail cover) played clarinet, and other friends played as well. They played dances, parties, etc. in the era before we were born, and one of their big claims was to have played the big beach pavilion at Buckroe Beach in Hampton. They would sometimes play in our house and uncle Sherwood had a machine that would record them on these thin green records, I guess one of the early “home studios”.
Our mother’s father was a respected organist in Richmond, head of music for the City schools. He had his own radio show playing the big Mosque stage organ (now the Landmark Theatre) on WRVA, the 50,000 watt Voice of Virginia. He also was the organist for Santa Claus at the Miller and Rhoads Tearoom, a long-standing tradition for Virginia families.
Our grandfather he had a Hammond B3 in his living room (and a Leslie in the dining room) with a grand piano set up so he could play both at once. A few years ago Bruce and I went to a family’s home and bought their father’s Hammond B3 (and original Leslie) for the Hair Pub Studio – it was a chance to get one just like our grandfathers, and we used it extensively on Spirit Trail.
Many of us saw you up on stage at the Millennium Bash – have you done that often? Any plans to do it again?
I have done that fairly often, usually once a tour or so. Because of the many years of our playing together, Bruce will just get a wild hair, call up and say-“hey, bring your bass to this one, it’ll be fun” or something like that. I always have the most incredible time doing it, because it’s like old times but in the greatest band around!! I have good ears and I still hit the woodshed enough so I can get up and play without embarrassing myself musically – I do not want to get up there and suck – so I plan to do it whenever Bruce wants it done.
Your own son R.S. has sat in with Bruce since 2000. Had he worked or practiced with Bruce and the band often? It certainly came across that way.
My son is a really fine guitar player, and he has practiced very little with Bruce and the band because of the logistics. R.S. spends a lot of time practicing on his instrument and he has worked hard to learn many guitar parts and arrangements before he comes to play. The only trouble with that is that Bruce wings the show so much you never know just what to learn!!
R.S. played with the group for one rehearsal before the Telluride show. R.S. is blessed with good ears and a well-developed chromatic solo conception, so he can wing it and go with the flow, just following Bruce and the boys. You will note that he is not relaxing much up there because he has to really concentrate on what’s coming next – and Bruce loves to keep everyone on their toes.
In one special instance, the song Shenandoah at Asheville 2001, R.S. did not know Bruce was going to call on him to take a guitar solo, and had never been with the band when this song was played (it has always been solo piano anyway). Bruce started the song in one key and then modulated to another for the sake of the vocals. Fortunately, R.S. was looking at Bruce’s hands and could see what he was playing on the piano, so when Bruce gave R.S. the wave to solo, R.S. knew where to begin the completely surprise performance. You’ve got to pay attention on the stage with Bruce!
Bruce has asked R.S to play with the band at Hookahville May 25, 2002, and that is the only time I am aware of at this moment. It is a really special treat for R.S. to play with Bruce, and certainly a generous opportunity offered by Bruce. Our family is, of course, very fired up that uncle and nephew can share this musical relationship – and it brings the biggest smile ever to my face, because I know how great it is to play with Bruce and the band, and now my son gets to share that experience.
You have your own business in Williamsburg – can you tell us about that?
My father was in the real estate business in Williamsburg, and I joined the family business when I left the band in 1980, and expanded into building as well. We have a great business. We have won awards and stuff, but this is not really the forum for a real estate talk – you can find out all you want at www.realhornsby.com so I won’t bore music fans with “brown-shoe” business talk.
On the music front, however, I will say that Hornsby Construction Co. built the Hair Pub Studios where everything from Harbor Lights on has been recorded. It was one of the most challenging projects of my building career, and it turned out super. Going over there to work on the records with Bruce and Wayne is a total gas, because I constantly see the fruits of the building labors in successful operation– so it’s where building and music meet.