Bruce Randall Hornsby (born November 23, 1954 in Williamsburg, Virginia) grew up listening to all types of music. He studied music at the Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami, graduating in 1977. He spent time in Los Angeles as a session musician and songwriter, before moving back to Virginia.
In 1984 he formed Bruce Hornsby and the Range, who were signed to RCA Records in 1985. Besides Hornsby, Range members were David Mansfield (guitar, mandolin, violin), George Marinelli (guitars and backing vocals), Joe Puerta (bass guitar and backing vocals), and John Molo (drums).
Hornsby’s recording career started with the biggest hit he would ever have. With a propulsive yet contemplative piano riff and the refrain, That’s just the way it is, some things will never change, the song was both catchy and reflective of the American Civil Rights movement, and it topped the American music charts in 1986. In years to come, the song would be sampled by at least six rap artists, including Tupac Shakur and Mase. It is also introductory music to Sean Hannity’s popular talk radio program.
With the success of the single worldwide, the album of the same name went multi-platinum and produced another top five hit with “Mandolin Rain” (co-written, as many of Hornsby’s songs were, with his brother John). “Every Little Kiss” also did respectably well. Other tracks on the album helped establish what some labeled the “Virgina sound”, a mixture of rock, jazz, and bluegrass with an observational Southern feel.
Hornsby and the Range would go on to win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1987.
The wave of fame continued to roll with Hornsby and the Range’s second album, Scenes From The Southside (on which Peter Harris replaced Mansfield). Released in 1988, it featured such hits as “Look Out Any Window” and “The Valley Road”. The song, “Jacob’s Ladder”, was featured as well, having originally been written by Hornsby for musician friend Huey Lewis. Lewis’ version became a number one hit from his album Fore!. Scenes was successful in its own right and it would also be the last to perform so well in the singles market.
In 1988, Hornsby first appeared on stage with The Grateful Dead. This collaboration would continue on an irregular basis until the Dead ended in 1995; in all he made over 100 appearances with them. In 1989 Hornsby co-wrote and played piano on Don Henley’s big hit, “The End of the Innocence”. In 1991 Hornsby played piano on Bonnie Raitt’s popular hit, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. Hornsby would feature both these songs in his own concerts.
A Night on the Town was released in 1990. A change in style became apparent as the album was much more guitar driven, while the others were centered around Hornsby at the piano. After the album, the Range broke up with each member pursuing respective musically careers.
Hornsby would go on to release his first solo album, Harbor Lights in 1993. This record showcased Hornsby in a more jazz-oriented setting and featured an all-star lineup, including Pat Metheny, Branford Marsalis, Jerry Garcia, Phil Collins, and Raitt. The tone was set by the opening title track, which after 50 seconds of the classic Hornsby Virgina sound, lurches into an up-tempo jazz number, ending with Methany’s guitar runs. The album closes the same way on “Pastures of Plenty”, this time with Garcia intertwined with Hornsby’s piano. The mid-tempo “Fields of Gray”, written for Hornsby’s recently-born twin boys, received some modest radio airplay.
Harbor Lights was well-received by critics and fans, but Hornsby acknowledged that his days of popular commercial success were behind him, saying in interviews that it had been an accident that his McCoy Tyner-influenced piano work ever found itself in the middle of a hit record in the first place.
In 1995, Hot House was released. The jazz feelings that peppered the previous album would be expanded on here, giving the album a constant up-tempo party sound. As is typical with Hornsby, the underlying messages behind the catchy tunes are often very dark, such as on “Country Doctor” and “White Wheeled Limosine”. Murder, nuclear disaster, adultery: these dark themes and more can be found in many Hornsby compositions. The album featured many of the same guests as on his previous record, such as Pat Metheny, and added folk music to Hornsby’s usual mix. Even though Hot House and Harbor Lights were not as popular as his works with the Range, many fans viewed them as some of his most satisfying works.
Three years later, Hornsby released a double album, Spirit Trail. Featuring a decidedly goofy picture of his uncle on the cover, the collection blends instrumental tracks with the story-telling, rock, jazz, and other musical forms Hornsby had delved into over his career. Hornsby’s piano playing gained further complexity here, as evidenced by his two-hand-independence on such tracks as “King of the Hill”.
Hornsby next worked with several Grateful Dead reformation projects, released a live album in 2000 entitled Here Come the Noise Makers, and did extensive touring.
It would not be until 2002 when he would release another album of new material, entitled Big Swing Face. Hornsby wanted to experiment and did so by dropping the piano almost completely and replacing it with synthesizers and drum beats and loops, combined with lyrics that seemed more eccentric and humorous. The album was not well-received by many.
However, in 2004, the elements he enjoyed using from that album were combined with more traditional piano stylings in the album Halcyon Days. Guests included Sting, Elton John, and Eric Clapton. With no signs of slowing down yet, Bruce Hornsby remains a musician more concerned with his devoted fan base and his own growth as an artist than with commercial success.
Following a critically acclaimed box-set, a duet recording with Ricky Scaggs and a jazz trio album with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette, the beloved songwriter/pianist/vocalist returns to the format that has brought his greatest commercial success. Accompanied by his seasoned touring band the Noisemakers, Hornsby’s stellar new songs in Levitate (2009) are presented in dynamic arrangements with his signature blend of rock, country, pop and jazz - featuring some of the finest vocal performances of Bruce’s illustrious career The title track is the end theme for Spike Lee’s documentary Kobe at Work about the NBA superstar Kobe Bryant.
Red Hook Summer (2012) is the original soundtrack to Spike Lee’s acclaimed motion picture composed by Bruce Hornsby. Exploring jazz through the lenses of gospel, R&B, and country, Red Hook Summer contains twelve exquisite solo piano inspirations and two vocal tracks sung by Hornsby himself.