Bruce R. Hornsby

Si Twining

Bruce Hornsby’s official website:

“Whenever Bob Dylan is asked how you become a great songwriter, he has always said that you go back to the basics of traditional roots music … Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, and on and on. The fathers, who put all this music down that the singer-songwriter world has been drawing on for fifty years. It’s such a deep well of knowledge and it’s being lost. Kids don’t know them”.

Bruce Hornsby Hacyon Days 2004 concert poster I’ve long given up trying to categorise Bruce Hornsby, or attempting to summarise what he brings in a few short paragraphs. A Grammy award winner in pop and bluegrass, a graduate in jazz and a long-term affiliate of the Grateful Dead, it’s impossible to fit the music into a neat compartment to cover all.

It’s all about constant development, and reinvention into any genre imaginable – Bruce has never been one to rest on laurels or sit on hands. The direction changes constantly.After the first three albums with The Range sold eight million copies, Bruce decided to go it alone. Most noteworthy, the Grateful Dead came calling and with his own projects still in tact, he played to sold-out stadiums.

Synonymous with the piano and after developing an instantly recognisable sound, Bruce released an album with no piano. Further ventures into bluegrass and jazz produced CDs in both genres, alongside musical giants in both fields, to very positive acclaim. Throw in a movie score and a Broadway musical in the making, and it doesn’t leave much that Bruce hasn’t done.

Also Bruce Hornsby’s Wikipedia biography is a lengthy documentation of his career so far: Wikipedia entry

2005 interview

Bruce participated in one of several phone chats with me in April 2008. Here’s a transcript:

Bruce Hornsby promo photo “I got a great call about three weeks ago from Spike Lee”, Bruce says, in case anyone thought he’d been sitting on his hands lately.

“He’s asked me to score the music for a new documentary about Kobe Bryant; it’s a day in the life of Kobe. Spike was with him from sun up to sun down. I’ll have a rough cut in early June, Spike and I will get together, figure out where the music goes, and I’ll go write it. And the band are going to play on it, so it’ll be a Noisemakers scenario – that’s what he wants. It’s the first score I’ve ever done, and it’s nice to be able to get my feet wet in this arena”.

(Bruce ran over a story about negotiating with Spike “over the stall”(!!) and how John Shanks got his nickname…)

“I’m working a lot at the moment – seven long weekends in a row – Wednesday through Sunday. It’s a Skaggs/Hornsby time. I think the Noisemakers are getting a little fed up as we’re booked until the middle of October! The Noisemakers are touring in August, and we have a joint date in September with Kentucky Thunder. But when we’re touring – maybe four or five days in between gigs – that’s probably when we’re going to record the music for this movie.”

New record

“We are hot on the trail of a new record – we’ve been working on sixteen songs, that are going hand-in-hand with the musical, SCKBSTD. (That’s a little more enigmatic than what it spells out!) We recorded for four days back in October, cut a bunch of tracks and then since then we’ve written several more songs, all for the musical. We’ve got eleven songs written for the musical now, and we’ve probably cut fifteen or sixteen songs total for the album.”

“It’ll end up being one record. It’s almost crazy to talk about ‘albums’ these days, it’s a dying form. I’m trying to keep it to twelve or thirteen songs for the ‘album’, in whatever form that will take. There are a couple of songs that everyone has liked so much that they’ve tried to shoehorn those into the musical, even though they weren’t written for that originally!”

Bruce Hornsby The songwriting process

“The guys are coming here in May to record some more. A lot of the songs I’ve written with my old childhood friend Chip DeMatteo, with him writing all the lyrics on some songs. It’ll make you laugh, I think – we have such songs as “The Holy Trinity of Home Delivery” (quoted from it).

“I’m just trying to write songs that interest me, and so consequently the subject matter over the years goes out of the mainstream. I’m trying to surprise people on a lyrical level.”

“Our new song “The Black Rats of London” is about the unsung heroes of American history – the rodents and the bacterial strains that we brought over on the ships, and infected the Indians helping the English to prevail; also one and a half centuries later, infecting the red coats helping the colonists win. (Bruce quoted a couple of verses).

“It’s comedic, but it’s got a point. It’s just a different take on American history, it’s so “live”. That’s going to be a big live song for us. It starts off with Sonny Emory just banging on the tom toms. To me it sounds like an old British pub-drinking song. Huey Lewis says that it sounds like an old Thin Lizzy tune!”


“This record that we’re making really captures the sound of our band, more than ever. Most songs are performed by the band together playing in a room. I think the people who like our band will really hear that it feels like us playing a gig, and that’s hard to capture. I think that on at least half of these songs where we’re all just wanging away, I think it really has that sound. So I think we’ll play several of them in our shows in August”.

“We’ve no idea of a release date, it all depends on the development of the play, and of the music business in the next year or two. It’s a very strange time to put out a record – you don’t know how to market it or what to do… do you try the Radiohead approach (pay whatever you want or nothing), do you try the Intersections approach where you go out and make the record part of the price of the ticket?”

(Bruce spoke briefly of the artist Rachel Griffin)

Staying busy

“We’ve had several offers to do the jazz trio gigs this year but everyone’s so busy that we haven’t been able to get together, and I’m so crazed with the other stuff that I’ve had no time to write new jazz music, but that will absolutely come to pass again. Jack talks about the promise that he sees for our trio, which was a really nice thing to see. He just called me last week to express his enthusiasm for more Trio work. Christian sat in with Kentucky Thunder in January, which was great fun”.

Bruec Horbsy and Spike Lee “I’ve also been a guest on the Charlie Haden country record. (Charlie and I wrote “Nobody There But Me” for Willie Nelson). He’d been talking about making this record for years, and he’s finally making it. We recorded in January. He’s got quite an array of guests – he just had Elvis Costello sing… Roseanne Cash, Vince Gill, Dan Timinsky, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Pat Metheny, and I reworked a great old Jimmy Martin song called 20.20 Vision. It’s quite a cast – Jerry Douglas is on it, Brian Sutton, Stuart Duncan – these are great Nashville virtuosos”.

“I also played on Cody Kilby’s record. (Kentucky Thunder’s guitarist) It’s available on the internet and it’s called “Many Road Traveled”, and I played on two tracks. Cody Kilby is a musical freak of nature, like Jerry Douglas; he’s an amazing virtuoso on the guitar”.

University of Miami Creative American Music Program

“I’m also starting a new music program at the University of Miami, called the Creative American Music Program. I’ve always thought that there was something missing in the curricula of the college music programs. Whenever Bob Dylan is asked how you become a great songwriter, he has always said that you go back to the basics of traditional roots music, everything from Stephen Foster to shape note singing and sacred harp music, and the “negro spirituals” as they’re called, and the blues and Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, and on and on. The fathers, who put all this music down that the singer-songwriter world has been drawing on for fifty years. It’s such a deep well of knowledge and it’s being lost. Kids don’t know them”.

“I was reading a Dylan interview and he was talking about this, and I thought that this is what needs to be done in the halls of academia”.

“So now at Miami there’s a program where you not only study this music, and are hopefully inspired by it, you’re also required to write songs in that style, and perform and sing them. It’s offered by audition only to fifteen students. I’m not sure it’s being done quite this way anywhere else, so it’s really exciting for me. We had a kick-off two days down at the school and the band came down. Sonny and JV did a bass and drums clinic and I did a whole bunch of masterclasses on lyric writing, melody writing, which is the whole idea of this program And then we played a concert at the end of it. I love playing with Kentucky Thunder, but there’s nothing like playing with our band for me”.

In addition – Bruce Hornsby in 2005

Also Bruce talked to us on January 10 2005 and we covered a wide range of topics, including:-

  • New artists that have impressed him
  • Looking for a record deal today
  • British bands today
  • His concerts up for download and choosing shows to make available
  • Future plans for this
  • DVD plans – “Three Nights on the Town”
  • Live concert broadcasts over the ‘net
  • Improvising on stage
  • Calling the shots
  • Preparing for a show
  • Sonny Emory
  • Playing the big hits on tour
  • The old songs of his that he doesn’t care for
  • Playing Big Swing Face songs live
  • Touring plans/burnout
  • Pre-show nerves
  • The current band
  • What he’s up to currently
  • The Ricky and Bruce record
  • What became of the original record replaced by BSF
  • Inspiration for songs
  • The next record

We have the audio of the 2005 chat up for you also.