Having amassed an impressive number of his own hit songs and performing on studio hits with everyone from Don Henley to Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby's plateau may have occurred in 1987 when his first single, The Way It Is, climbed the charts and helped him receive the trophy for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards.
While the accolades are certainly respectful to the career Hornsby has had, there have been many changes throughout his last few decades, including numerous hit songs (‘Mandolin Rain, and Valley Road amongst others), a brief stint in the Grateful Dead, and a new band, The Noisemakers, with whom he has been enjoying constant touring.
So, what can his longtime fans expect when he comes to the F.M. Kirby Center this Friday for a solo piano tour?
Sure, the hits will be there, but Hornsby has been dabbling in some new music which breaks away from the Adult Top 40 classification that followed him in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.
I consider myself to be really nice in playing four or five of the hits every show, Hornsby said from his home in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Actually, the most popular parts of my solo concerts are songs that I perform from our play, ‘SCK BSTRD.' I play two or three of the songs from it…There's a song sung by the FedEx driver, the UPS driver, and the postal delivery man known as The Holy Trinity of Home Delivery. ‘We are The Holy Trinity of Home Delivery/Guided by divinity, exemplary, proficiency/The three guys you admire most/FedEx, Brown and the Holy Post/Wives in our vicinity/We make their legs go quivery/We are the Holy Trinity of Home Delivery.'
There's another song that I sing as a woman, he said. A wife whose husband drives her so crazy, she fantasizes about taking a baseball bat and whacking his head off called ‘Where's the Bat.' 'It's morbid little fun to imagine that head/Louisville Sluggered and swept under the bed.' This is pretty entertaining stuff. As I get older, I just like to write funny stuff.
Aside from the ‘SCK BSTRD' tracks, Hornsby's solo shows allow the pianist more room to explore his music, which is something he enjoys doing in the band format, but finds different freedom in when it's just him on stage.
Musically, it's very different in some senses, and very similar in others,' he said.
Our Noisemakers gig is very free and we haven't had a set list in years. We take a lot of requests, so there's always a lot of spontaneity that's possible there. That's the same here (solo). What's different is, since it's just one person, I can really be even freer…I can go anywhere I want. I can slow it down if I want to, I can change keys or go into a different feel on the spot. We do that a lot, as much as any band I know does it. Obviously, it's easier to do when, as The Troggs would say, ‘there's just one (expletive) mind on it.'
That mind has been working meticulously to adapt his songs into a solo performance where he finds himself getting back to his musical roots, while adding different arrangements to some of the tracks.
There's a lot of rootsy playing in the solo shows, he said.
Like say ‘Valley Road' played blues style. That's more elemental and traditional in its approach than lots of things we'll do with the band. It's more singer/songwriter you can say…It's all about projecting a strong pulse, even when I'm solo piano. It's also very much about two-handed independence, which is something I've been heavily involved with for the last sixteen or seventeen years. Basically having a strong groove in the left hand, but being very free rhythmically in the right hand. It's sort of like splitting your brain.
As far as his Kirby Center show, Hornsby feels his audience has come to appreciate what can be done with only a piano, and promises a night full of hits, and more importantly, just some all-around good music.
Certain people come to my concerts to hear a nostalgic night out, and I'm feeling pretty kind about that, he said.
I even play a song I didn't write but played on the record, Bonnie Raitt's ‘I Can't Make You Love Me,' which has become a classic now…Often times the best moments of the concert are either the 'SCK BSTRD' songs or some of the songs that are sort of pianistic tour-de-forces. I think it's a very literate audience that comes to my concerts, and they really recognize what's going on.
And the beat goes on…
Ryan O'Malley is the music journalist for The Sunday Dispatch and a correspondent for The Weekender. He may be reached at email@example.com
2 – Bruce Hornsby, 8 p.m.
3 – Liza Minnelli, 8 p.m.
10 – Brian Regan, 8 p.m.
14 – Shaolin Warriors, 7:30 p.m.
17 – NEPA Philharmonic, 8 p.m.
24 – Shawn Klush and The Sweet Inspirations, 8 p.m.
Tickets and details at www.kirbycenter.org
Our Noisemakers gig is very free and we haven't had a set list in years. We take a lot of requests, so there's always a lot of spontaneity that's possible there. That's the same here (solo). What's different is, since it's just one person, I can really be even freer…I can go anywhere I want. I can slow it down if I want to, I can change keys or go into a different feel on the spot.