There have always been a few artists who seem to have played with everyone and also have some solo success. Bruce Hornsby is an excellent example of this with his ability to play any style of music with any artist, and his creativity has gained him legendary status among numerous generations of music fans. Hornsby will play with his backing band The Noisemakers during the Rhythm & Roots Festival happening in Ninigret Park in Charlestown from September 2 through 4. Ahead of the festivities we had a chat about his musical versatility, who he would like to collaborate with next and his opinion on the state of music today.
Rob Duguay: Your material has always been very versatile with you tapping into genres like classical, jazz, bluegrass, jam, blues, folk and Motown. With so many musicians pigeonholing themselves to a certain style, what inspires you to go beyond that and maintain a variety when it comes to your music?
Bruce Hornsby: I’m a lifelong student. I’m always pushing into new territory, looking for new inspiration and learning new music, from old-time American music to modern classical music. “Harbor Lights” and “Hot House,” obvious forays into a musical area using more of the jazz language, was just one of several moves I’ve made over the years. So as you say, it was just where “the music was taking me” at that time.
RD: You’ve collaborated with The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Sting, Dave Matthews and Hall & Oates among many others. Out of everyone who you’ve worked with, who would you say was the most memorable experience?
BH: I’ve had lots of memorable studio experiences; recording with Vernon Reid and a string quartet for my score for Spike Lee’s “Sweet Blood of Jesus” film, recording with Justin Vernon and his old high school pals last year, recording with an orchestra two years ago for the Disney film Planes: Fire and Rescue, playing on a Bob Dylan record, with Bob, in 1990, Jerry Garcia recording on our third record, playing on Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me record, having Pat Metheny play on two mid-90s records for me, recording with Jack DeJohnette and Christian McBride, bluegrass with the Dirt Band on their second Circle Be Unbroken record, having Wayne Shorter play sax on Henley’s and my “End of the Innocence” song, Clapton playing on my Halcyon Days album, and so many more, I’ll stop here.
RD: Is there any artist out there today that you’ve considered making music with but you just haven’t gotten the chance yet?
BH: As far as a bucket list goes, I don’t have one. Any list I may have had has been pretty much filled in at this point. Paul Simon asked about my playing on his last record, and of course I said an enthusiastic yes, but alas, it never came together.
RD: Your main instrument has always been the piano. What made you want to start playing the keys rather than picking up a guitar or any other instrument?
BH: I played guitar as a kid, starting when I was about 11. I started playing, like so many in that era, because of the Beatles and the Stones. I had a band in sixth grade playing “Get Off My Cloud”, “Cherry Cherry” etc. We won a battle of the bands because we used my older brother’s band equipment and consequently were louder than everyone else. I was also a jock, and that interest took over until 11th grade when my older brother turned me on to two amazing piano-based records, Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen all with the great Leon Russell piano. Those records hooked me on the piano; I started playing and never stopped.
RD: What do you think of the state of music in the 2010s and if you were a young musician starting out today, what would you have done differently than what you did when you were starting out in the ’70s?
BH: There’s lots of fantastic music being made today, interesting and innovative, and for me most of it resides in the margins, under the mainstream radar screen. I don’t think I would do anything differently now. To me it’s still about the same thing, finding your own individual, unique voice stylistically, as a writer, instrumentalist and singer, and creating something original that reaches and moves people deeply.