Bruce Hornsby brought his solo show to Tucson’s Fox Theatre on Nov. 30. This was a solo show in the purest form, Hornsby and a piano. There was no set list. His guests were the fans that filled the theatre. It was a night filled with two hours of conversation and brilliant musical improvisations.
AXS was there to experience Hornsby and his talent. Here are five reasons to see him live.
1) Hornsby has an illustrious career that spans four decades
Hornsby boasted early in the show that he graduated from where he described as “Suntan U” in 1977. He was referring to the University of Miami. By 1980, he and his brother John Hornsby moved to Los Angeles and formed a writing team. He joined the band Ambrosia for their last album, Road Island. He also worked in Sheena Easton’s touring band in the early 80s.
‘Bruce Hornsby and the Range’ was formed in 1984 and signed to RCA Records. Hornsby like Marc Cohen started his career with the biggest hit record of his career, “The Way It Is” from their first album of the same name. The album went multi-platinum. The band was awarded a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1987.
By the end of the 80s, Hornsby had gravitated away from the “Range” and he slowly introduced elements of bluegrass and jazz into his music.
His evolution in music was highly visible throughout the show. Hornsby played an extended 15 plus minute version of “The Way It Is” that included embellishments from every genre of music imaginable from jazz, classical, rock, ragtime and bluegrass.
2) A purveyor of bluegrass, jazz and jam rock
By 1988, Hornsby started playing with the Grateful Dead. He honed his skills as a jam-band member until the death of Jerry Garcia and the dissolution of the band.
His bluegrass exposure began in the late eighties when Hornsby performed at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. He re-recorded “The Valley Road” with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for their Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two album. He got his second Grammy Award for the song as Best Bluegrass Recording.
He collaborated with Wayne Shorter, Charlie Haden and Bela Fleck on the 1990 album A Night On the Town.
3) An unpredictable show taking many requests
The show highlighted both Hornsby and the fans’ adventurous musical tastes. The show was a showcase of “obscure songs” as Hornsby mused. A request of “Michael Raphael” was shouted out from the balcony. “Hum, that’s a good one that I haven’t sung in a long time.” He pulled out his lyric sheet and started to sing it. He seemed to relish singing the lesser-known songs.
He did have a stack of 3 x 5 inch cards of written song requests taken before the show and pulled from that too.
The fans seemed to be aware of Hornsby’s show format and they loved it.
4) Fun and quirky sense of humor
The tone of the show was playful. The opening piano refrain of “The Way It Is” was immediately recognizable by everyone but within a few bars, Hornsby shifted into a classical mode that elicited a round of laughter from the crowd.
Hornsby responded to a request for “Hooray For Tom” with “That’s a great idea. I’ll do it now. The song was written for my son, Russell, who was known to always be bitching and moaning about going to school.” A fan shouted out, “Just like you.” The crowd responded with laughter. Hornsby continued, “The entire night is an attempt at deep musicianship. So I f**king mean it every time. As far as being a great French student. It was okay. Really it was boring as hell. I forget how I got off on this. If you don’t like the song you can talk to that man over there that requested it. I’m quite fond of the song.”
This was how Hornsby rolled all evening. We could have been in his living room while he sang songs and talked.
5) A musician’s musician
It’s easy to come to the conclusion that Hornsby is the preferred pianist of some of the most revered musicians over the last 30 years. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hornsby worked extensively as a producer and sideman. In 1989 Hornsby co-wrote and played piano on Don Henley's hit "The End of the Innocence." 1991 found him performing piano on Bonnie Raitt's hit "I Can't Make You Love Me." Hornsby gave a straightforward performance of this song at the concert.
He has appeared on albums by Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Crosby Stills and Nash, Stevie Nicks and Squeeze. He has maintained a working relationship with Pat Metheny since he met him in college. We cannot forget Hornsby’s collaborations with Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas and The Haden Triplets with Petra Haden. His experience with the Grateful Dead speaks volumes for the respect Hornsby has garnered.
It was a night of bliss for the packed house of Hornsby and Grateful Dead fans. For a complete set list, click here.