Friday, December 30, 2005

Bruce tells it 'the way it is'

From AZ Night Buzz:

Musician tells it 'the way it is'

Hornsby to headline Fox Theatre bash on New Year's Eve
By Cathalena E. Burch

On the walls of Bruce Hornsby's childhood bedroom, he hung posters of Elton John, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and the Band.

He would look up and daydream about being in that elite fraternity of brothers, musical storytellers and poets.

Never did he imagine he would one day stand beside them.

"You can't imagine that. It's sort of like painting yourself into the mural you were looking at as a kid. It's a picture of all these people, and now, all of a sudden, you're in it," he said during a recent call from home in his native Williamsburg, Va. "That's the dream, but you can't imagine it coming true."

But it has come true. All those greats he once admired from afar are close friends and colleagues.
"At this point, I've either worked with all these people or they're friends of mine," the singer, songwriter and pianist said in a tone that is familiar and comforting, and makes a stranger feel like an old friend.

On Saturday, Hornsby will work alone when he headlines the expansive, newly renovated Fox Theatre stage. Just Hornsby and a piano and 20 years' worth of rich stories he's spun to go along with his infectious piano compositions that have become richer over the years.

The story and its telling drive Hornsby, who came out of the box in 1986 with the hit-laden debut "The Way It Is." The title song, with its contemplative piano riff and subtle reflections on America's embattled civil-rights movement, catapulted sales of the record beyond 3 million and established him as a pop star.

The album spun off the hits "Mandolin Rain" and "Every Little Kiss," and it introduced pop music to Hornsby's unique Virginia sound — a mix of bluegrass, jazz and rock, with the soul of Southern storytelling.

As with the British popsters before him — writers such as John and his pen partner, Bernie Taupin — the sum of Hornsby the songwriter lies in the story he's telling.

"That's what I was always gravitating toward in literature and music. I just tried to perform my own version," he said, tipping his hat to other songwriters such as Dylan and Robbie Robertson of the Band.

Hornsby is perhaps best known for his successes in those first five years — the Grammy in 1987 for best new artist and hit singles including "The Valley Road," "Jacob's Ladder" and "Look Out Any Window." The run came to an end when Hornsby's band, the Range, broke up and Hornsby went solo.

Ironically, he will tell you that that is when he found his musical soul.

"To me, the best music I've made by a mile has been since then," he says, adding that in 1995 he rededicated himself to the piano.

"This is not what it started as," he said. "I'm still a singer and a piano player, songwriter. But it's way deeper. It's just transformed from the beginning to a new place.

"Basically, I always felt inadequate in a solo piano context. I always felt my left hand wasn't up to it."

In the years since, Hornsby — an occasional guest with the Grateful Dead from 1988 until the group's demise in 1995 — has gone off on musical journeys that have stretched his imagination and tested his courage. He has recorded nine albums. He has two new projects in the works: a bluegrass album with Ricky Skaggs and a jazz effort with a couple of the genre's titans, Jack DeJohnette and Christian McBride.

Columbia Records plans to release a box set of Hornsby's hits next summer, and he's still spinning singles off his last release, 2004's "Halcyon Days."
Just when some would think he has nowhere else to go from here, Hornsby reminds you that his evolution as a storyteller continues.

"I didn't get into music to fill up arenas," he said. "That's great and all, but that's not my intent. My intent is to grow, and that's what I'm trying to do."

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at 573-4642 or


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